I was driving home last Wednesday afternoon, listening to the Athletics game, when Oakland's brainiest (he went to Yale) player, Craig Breslow, came in to relieve with none out and the bags juiced. He got a pop out and two whiffs, and out of the inning with no damage. Now, I have had Breslow on my Tout Wars team for almost a month now, and in a deep AL or NL only format, guys like Breslow are essential.
Same with leagues where holds are counted, but, the reality is there are a lot of things to love about middle relievers. They do earn whiffs. They eat innings. If they get hit, it is usually minimal damage, such as a couple of runs over two-thirds of an inning. They also grab the occassional win or save, and, even in a shallow league, as the season progresses, they can come in and stabilize and protect good numbers. Oh yeah, and there are usually a handful available in any given league at any given time.
So, this time I thought we could take a look at middle relievers of note, starting with Mr. Breslow himself. Plucked off waivers from the Twins last season after struggles (1-2, 6.28 over 14.1 innings) Breslow has been nothing short of brilliant in green and gold. Over 60 games and 55. innings, he was 7-5, 2.60 last season for Oakland, appearing in a total of 77 games. This year is no different, as Breslow is 3-1, 2.60, with a WHIP of 0.96. What more needs to be said?
Arguably the best set-up guy in the Show is Tyler Clippard of the Nationals, who toiled 60.1 innings over 40 appearances last year for a 4-2, 2.69 mark. The nice thing about Clippard is he can do two innings, not to mention last year he allowed only 36 hits. This year Clippard is 8-5, 2.21, over 47 innings (32 hits, 53 whiffs, 20 walks). Simply said, he is the best right now.
Boston's pen is pretty good, and a lot of the strength comes from youngster Daniel Bard. A big (6'4") hard thrower, this is the year that Bard has come into his own (though he is just 25). Over 38 appearances, the Bard has gone 39.1 innings allowing 22 hits and 12 walks for a staggering WHIP of 0.86. Bard also has 42 strikeouts and a 1-2, 2.06 ERA with three saves.
Sometimes it takes a transition or two before a pitcher discovers his talent for setup, and Sean Marshall seems to be such an animal, as he was a starter (9-29, 4.56) with marginal effectiveness. This year, though, Marshall has realized himself, going 5-2, 2.29 over 35. innings and 36 games. He has 42 whiffs and has allowed just 2 walks and 26 hits for a good WHIP of 1.07. Oh yes, he also has a save.
Ineffective in the AL with Seattle, Eric O'Flaherty began to put it together when he joined the Braves last year going 2-, 3.04 over 78 games and 56. innings (52 hits, 39 stirkouts, 8 walks). This year he has indeed kicked it up a notch, going 2-1, 2.25, over 37 games and 28 innings. He has allowed 23 hits, 24 strikeouts and 3 walks for a WHIP of 1.28. As a situational lefty, O'Flaherty is kind of the opposite of Clippard in that he will rarely go more than an inning. It also means he will rarely get lit up.
Part of the Padres success this season is due to the dominance of Luke Gregerson, the 26-year old who earned his first save of the year Sunday while I was theorizing this very piece. Gregerson has gone 38. innings over 36 innings, and has allowed 16 hits and just four walks, to 49 strikeouts. That makes for 2-2, 1.64 totals, with an absolutely sick WHIP of 0.52.
As good as Gregerson has been, the Reds Arthur Rhodes, now 40, and in his 19th season, has had numbers that are off the chart. He has thrown 33 consecutive innings as press time, without allowing a run, tying the major league record for relievers. That makes his numbers 2-1, 0.28 over 32 innings. He has allowed 5 hits and walks, while striking out 30, and well, with an 0.81 WHIP, I cannot wait to get my hands on his Strat-O-Matic card next year.
Now 34, Scott Downs was cruising following a monster 2008 (0-3, 1.78, five saves) and actually earned the closer gig in Toronto last year before an injury pulled him from cruise control. He is 2-5, 3.13 this season, but the 24 strikeouts to just seven walks, and 26 hits over 31.2 innings reveal a 1.04 WHIP.
I noticed Darren O'Day last season, as he (and Downs, and the last guy on this list, Matt Guerrier) was one of the middle guys I used from my pen and reserve list moving them in and out. O'Day went 55.2 innings last season with a record of 2-1, 1.94. He struck out 54 and walked just 17, while allowing 36 hits (0.95 WHIP). This year is nearly identical, though over just 30.1 innings, with a mark of 3-2, 1.78, with 21 each of hits and whiffs to seven walks (0.92)
In 2008 Matt Guerrier led the AL in appearances with 76, though his record was 6-9, 5.19, but last year though he again led the league, this time with 79 appearances, a 5-1, 2.36 record, and though a lesser 47 whiffs over 76 innings, a very good 0.96 ratio. This year Guerrier is much the same at 1-2, 1.64, with an 0.93 WHIP. As noted, Guerrier is not the strikeout machine as some on this week's roster, but he is dependable, and he is on a very good team that knows how to win.