By David Sabino
June 24, 2010
Nine For Now

Most fantasy owners have a tendency to overlook middle relievers, holding the belief that they won't produce enough strikeouts, wins or saves to make keeping them on your roster worthwhile. However, even with the resurgence of starting pitching around the big leagues, quality relievers still have a substantial place on teams both real and fantasy. Some of the players below are closers in waiting and some of them are in the twilight of their careers, but what they all have in common is that they will all help your chances of winning, providing much more reliability than many of the starting pitchers who you're currently employing.

Note: Last week's column on biggest comebacks among offensive players contained one major oversight that I'd like to correct this week. Braves first baseman Troy Glaus should have been on the list. Having played just 14 games for the Cardinals last season, Glaus ranks second in the NL in runs batted in with 55, one behind fellow comebacker David Wright, and tied with another, Corey Hart. He certainly deserved mention.

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1 Tyler Clippard, Nationals
Tyler Clippard, Nationals
Few starting pitchers have been as valuable as Clippard has been out of the bullpen. In just his second season as a full-time setup man, the ex-Yankee leads all big league relievers in wins (eight), which is tied for sixth in the NL and 10th overall. Throw in a 1.58 ERA, 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings, a 1.03 WHIP, a career 12-5 mark from the pen, and, most impressively, the fact that 34.2 percent of his pitchers are swung on and missed (the highest rate in the big leagues among all pitchers) make him the perfect middle man.
2 Luke Gregerson, Padres
Luke Gregerson, Padres
Since he reached the majors at the start of last season only Jonathan Broxton and Carlos Marmol have fanned more batters out of the bullpen than the 6-foot-3 righty acquired from the Cardinals as the player to be named later in the deal that sent Khalil Greene East. The cornerstone of baseball's best pen, Gregerson has heled opposing batters to an NL-low .121 against him. His walk rate of fewer than one per nine innings has helped him limit teams to 4.86 baserunners per nine, the best in the majors.
3 Evan Meek, Pirates
Evan Meek, Pirates
overpowering stuff (95 mph fastball) nor an imposing figure (6-feet, 225 lbs.), but once you look at the stat sheet, you can't keep yourself from obsessing over him. One day the Meek shall inherit the saves in Pittsburgh, but for now his 0.66 ERA, .215 opposition slugging percentage and 37-strikeouts-in-41-inning rate. He's thriving when he doesn't have to pitch in back-to-back games, posting a 0.50 ERA and 0.93 WHIP with at least one day between appearances.
4 Daniel Bard, Red Sox
Daniel Bard, Red Sox
The more games Jonathan Papelbon blows, such as Wednesday night's in Colorado, the closer Bard is getting to becoming Terry Francona's top ninth-inning choice. Until then, the second-year setup man with a fastball in the high 90s, a strikeout rate of more than one per inning, and 0.87 WHIP remains one of the AL's most reliable moundsmen.
5 Jonny Venters, Braves
Jonny Venters, Braves
A surprise entry on this list, Venters has gone from middling minor league starter to a very effective lefty setup man for the first-place Braves. Just 25, Venters has used his 95 mph fastball with tremendous movement to fan 34 in 31 innings. And although he hit a recent skid in coughing up two runs to the Rays last week that saw his ERA rise from 0.98 to 1.45, his stuff will make him a reliever to covet for the remainder of this season and beyond.
6 J.J. Putz, White Sox
J.J. Putz, White Sox
With his disastrous stint in New York a distant memory, Putz has returned to his status as one of the game's most effective relievers, regaining his control to the tune of 1.4 walks per nine innings, down from 5.8 last season and half his career average of 3.0. That added precision has lowered his WHIP to 0.82 and made him one of the top choices to replace Bobby Jenks should he falter. Putz's 8.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio ranks fourth among all relievers behind Washington's J.D. Martin, and two Padres, the aforementioned Gregerson and Edward Mujica.
7 Sean Marshall, Cubs
Sean Marshall, Cubs
As the Cubs languish nine games out of first you can be forgiven for forgetting Marshall, but the former promising starter has thrived in his role in the Cubbies' pen. Marshall has limited the long ball against him, allowing his first home run in 33 2/3 innings to Seattle's Michael Saunders Wednedsday night. Only the resurgent Carlos Silva has more wins (eight) for the Northsiders than his five.
8 Arthur Rhodes, Reds
Arthur Rhodes, Reds
In his 19th season and with his seventh franchise, Rhodes, 40, has become baseball's most unhittable pitcher. Since allowing a solo home run to Jeff Baker on April 10, nobody has crossed the plate on his watch, a span of 32 straight appearances, the longest since Scott Eyre's 33-game streak from 2007 to '08. In 31 innings over 34 appearances, his ERA is 0.29, and though he has a long way to go, he's in position to challenge the all-time standard for low ERA, set by Boston's Buck O'Brien in 1911 with a 0.38 in 47 2/3 innings of work.
9 Eddie Bonine, Tigers
Eddie Bonine, Tigers
The Tigers have been kept in the pennant race on the strength of their bullpen, and the underrated Bonine has been a big part of that success. He's taken full advantage of Detriot's come-from-behind offense, winning three games in long relief without the benefit of a single hold all year. With a career record of 3-2 and 4.38 ERA as a starter, he's been even better out of the pen with a 1.05 WHIP and 2.10 ERA. Teamed with fireballer Joel Zumaya and southpaw Phil Coke, the Tigers are a rich source of quality fantasy innings and given the struggles of Tigers starters, he's bound to at least double his wins total by the end of the year.

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