Men in the middle
The widely-used 5x5 fantasy scoring system employs two ratio categories for pitching, but only one for batting. What makes the ratio categories special is that every single player contributes to them. Not all of your position players will steal a base, and not all of your pitchers will record a save, but every hitter will affect your batting average and every pitcher will shape your ERA and WHIP. So every pitcher you draft will contribute to 40 percent of the pitching categories, but they will do so to varying degrees based on the amount of innings they pitch.
Some fantasy owners skew their staffs toward low-risk pitchers who help them win their ratios while keeping them competitive in the other three pitching categories (wins, strikeouts and saves). To achieve their goals, they draft a couple of Stud Starting Pitchers (SSPs) and 1-2 stud closers, and then fill the rest of their staffs with middle relievers.
I am not a proponent of this process as I've rarely seen it work, and usually when it doesn't, the end-of-season response starts with, "It was a good plan, but ..." These are the same sour grapes espoused by the proponents of communism, the AMC Pacer, and the books of
For example, what if you identified
Having said all this, there is a place for good middle relievers on a fantasy pitching staff. They can be a Band-Aid on hemorrhaging ratios, and, in some cases, can help your strikeouts and wins when they are in the enviable vulture position. Of course, you can also score big when you get the heir apparent for saves -- usually the eighth-inning setup man -- and he gets the closer gig during the season. Also, if you have an innings pitched limitation for the year or week, you can get more bang for your buck. For example,
How do we find these quality middle relievers? First, if they thrived in the vulture job or a setup role last year and were not promoted to closer or starter, look for them to continue to be the solid middle men they are. Second, holds are a great indicator of a manager's trust, and he may see them as the tools of the vulture or setup man for the coming year. Third, look for a shaky closer whom everyone but their manager realizes will not have the job in a couple of months. Fourth, look for any reliever with eye-popping strikeouts rates (say, K/9 > 8.0). Last, look for a reliever who plays for a team with good but not great starters, can score a lot runs, and has a decent bullpen. That team is likely to be behind when the starter exits and then can come back and win while the bullpen doesn't blow the lead.
And while I'm concentrating on typical rotisserie 5x5 scoring, there is merit to having a middle reliever or two on your head-to-head team, as a reliever can come into any game. However, unless your league has found a way to drastically limit weekly pitching pickups for two-start pitchers or you're in a crazy deep league, I'd only carry at most one middle reliever on a standard H2H team.
Here are top middle relievers in both leagues, in order of draftability: