Welcome to the Swat Box, your all-purpose strategy and advice column for single-universe and keeper leagues, and home of the MRI. No, not the kind of MRI that Mark Prior just took, but rather the MRI that helps you beat teams that rely on getting as many innings out of their starters as they can, regardless of the results. In other words, we're trying to dominate the two most misunderstood and undervalued categories in fantasy sports: WHIP and ERA.
Riddle me this, dear reader: In a 12-team, 5x5 roto league, how many points do you get for having the most home runs? Twelve. And how many for the most wins or saves? That's right, it's still 12. Now how many do you get for coming in with the lowest ERA or WHIP? Twelve, you say? Imagine that. Yet, while we've all heard of chasing power, chasing wins and chasing saves, rarely do you hear of anyone chasing WHIP or ERA. Rarely does anyone go into a draft with a strategy designed to win them the ERA and WHIP categories.
That's where MRI comes in: the theory of Maximized Relief Innings. If you take two stud, high-strikeout ace starters, a good value closer and six elite "MRI" relievers, you can win ERA, WHIP and saves and finish top four in wins and Ks without breaking the bank on pitching.
There are three kinds of pitchers who have low ERAs and WHIPs: stud starters, closers and middle relievers. Stud starters cost a lot of money and high draft picks. Closers, the same. Middle relievers? Not so much.
Stud starters throw a lot of quality innings and rack up wins and Ks, true four-category horses you can build a pitching staff around. Closers get saves, and while we advise you never to pay for saves, that's because they're held to such a value that your opponents will chase them and drive up their relative value. Saves can be an expensive category to win. Middle relievers' values on draft day, however, are usually tied up in just how likely it is that they will get save opportunities or be promoted to the starting rotation.
What becomes, then, of Scott Linebrink? Dan Wheeler? Rafael Betancourt? On most teams, their only contribution is a handful of strikeouts and the fact that they're not Doug Waechter or Wandy Rodriguez. That's worth about a buck in AL- or NL-only leagues, but not much more.
The reason for this is pretty straightforward: When dealing with a nine-man pitching staff that puts up 1,200-1,500 innings, one man's 60-inning WHIP is worth, according to the standard mathematical formula, roughly nothing.
Of the 116 major league pitchers who recorded at least 40 innings last season with better than a 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, only 41 were starters. That's barely one third. Yet of the 75 relievers, how many would you wager were owned in your AL- or NL-only league? Let me give you a hint: 25 of those relievers had at least five saves. That's it. The rest had to get by on their strikeouts, wins, ERA and WHIP. They featured such luminaries as Rudy Seanez, Jay Witasick, Al Reyes, Matt Wise, Neal Cotts, Scott Eyre and Dan Wheeler. Resembles your waiver wire a bit, doesn't it? I'm losing your attention, aren't I? Don't give up on me yet.
Now, what if I told you that there was a way to take those unwanted pitchers and turn them into a staff that can fetch you 50-55 pitching points? Would I have your attention then?