Middle Reliever Hotsheet: Volume IV

For those of you that know it from the message board, you’ve seen previous volumes of the Middle Reliever Hotsheet, but for many others this may be your first look. It has been two months since I last did an update and I don’t have any particular reason behind why I waited so long to do another one, but it’s basically a comprehensive look at the best middle relievers in baseball for the current season. Before the season, I covered the Middle Reliever Methodology, which is really just the utilization of middle relievers in various quantities to counter stockpiling mediocre or below average starting pitchers just because they are in the rotation.

Determining who the best will be from year to year has proven difficult and nearly as volatile as their parent subset of closers. You needn’t look any further than Rafael Betancourt‘s disastrous 2008 season for proof of this volatility. However, some of the success stories from last year, specifically Heath Bell, have proven to be solid bets once again this season. Anyway, I digress. I put together the MRH to update the middle reliever landscape so that those using the method will know where to look for their next diamond in the rough. Oftentimes players are held onto because of name recognition when better options exist (see: Broxton, Jonathan & Marmol, Carlos). But even when those established middle reliever names are performing, there still may be equal or better options available at a hugely discounted rate and that’s really the benefit of this strategy: top-flight production at a replacement-level cost. Bell & Hideki Okajima have paid dividends for their owners this season, but they were two of the hottest targets with Betancourt, whereas a Kyle McClellan or Matt Thornton was (or still could be) had for nothing as a waiver-wire pickup.

Volume IV turns in the lowest count of “Top Non-Closers” since I started doing this back in April with nine. I’ll show those nine in the charts that follow this writing, but for now I am going to look at some relievers that don’t meet some of the requirements for middle reliever stardom, but have skills that point to potential excellence going forward from now until the end of the season:

(numbered, but in no particular order)

1. Joel Peralta, Kansas City Royals – Peralta has seven strikeouts per nine and just 1.3 walks per nine in his 28 and 2/3 innings pitched for a Royals bullpen with some solid parts in it. OK, what’s the catch? A 5.65 ERA is enough to get Peralta overlooked in the search for a reliable middle reliever. His penchant for the blowup has done in the 32-year old. He has given up two runs in seven of his 23 appearances and that’s just not going to cut it. The quality peripherals point to talent, but perhaps he lacks that mental edge necessary in relieving.

2. Manny Delcarmen, Boston Red Sox – On May 27th, his ERA was 5.14. A month later, his June 27th clean inning had lowered the ERA to 3.27, but then he allowed six runs in his next three appearances spanning an inning and a third bringing the ERA back up to 4.72. That’s the long of saying that he is like Peralta in his gas can-like tendencies that balloon an ERA in a moment’s notice. His strikeout rate is at a healthy one per inning, but the walk rate is a tad high at 3.4.

3. Sean Green, Seattle Mariners – Usually the attention goes to J.J. Putz when you’re talking about the Mariners’ bullpen, but he’s been rendered ineffective due to injuries this season which left the door open. Unfortunately for Green, Brandon Morrow and 12.5 strikeouts per nine innings walked in and snapped up the available attention. That doesn’t mean that Green hasn’t been awesome. In fact, he has a 2.72 ERA despite the fact that he was dumped for nine runs in 13 innings during May (6.23 ERA). Green’s 53 innings are tied for 6th among relievers making his tiny ERA, solid 1.21 WHIP and quality 8.2 K/9 rate that much better.

4. Chad Durbin, Philadelphia Phillies – Until Brett Myers was recently sent down to the minors, the Phillies had the same starting rotation all season long. This gave their bullpen a steadiness in roles that has no doubt contributed to their success. Durbin has been the link from those starters to the sweet back-end of the bullpen headlined by Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero. He has the most innings of any non-starter on the Phillies, but given his previous time as a starter the Phillies know they can stretch him out a little bit. He hasn’t disappointed with a 1.89 ERA and 7.4 K/9 in his 52.1 innings.

5. J.P. Howell, Tampa Bay Rays – Though prone to a walk (4.3 BB/9), it is due more to stinginess than a lack of control (6.0 H/9). This stinginess has suited Howell quite well as he’s become a true middle relieving ace for one of baseball’s best teams in 2008. He strikes out nearly a batter per inning (8.7 K/9) and has yielded a meager 2.68 ERA in his 57 innings (3rd-most amongst relievers). He is the least likely of these five to be available in your league, but he is the perfect anchor for a team using the MR Method.

To the charts we go:

You should aim to land one of the “Nifty Nine” found on the right if you’re employing the MR Methodology on your team. They represent the middle relievers with best, most complete skills to date. And given that we’re at the midpoint of July, sample size issues are eliminated from the equation meaning these are rather sturdy bets for at least the balance of the ’08 season.

The following two lists present the top skills in power and control regardless of anything else. These are just your premier flamethrowers and pinpoint control artists absent filters of innings pitched except that they reside in the top 200 relievers in terms of workload.

Finally, we filter down the top strikeout and walk rates based on workload. Using the top 200 innings-loggers, we get an average of 36 and a 1/3 innings which is what I used as the requirement to make either of these lists.

And finally, a look at how some combos of middle relievers have performed against some of the best starting pitchers in baseball:


One Comment to “Middle Reliever Hotsheet: Volume IV”

  1. Nice work once again.

    Thanks for getting Grant Balfour on this list – he is doing some amazing work this year and not a lot of people are talking about it. JP Howell should be the MVP of the Rays this year.

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