Baseball has changed since Rollie Fingers was relieving games for the Padres. It's a specialists game today. You have the LOOGY (Lefty One Out GuY), the long men/spot starters, middle relievers, set-up men and closers or stoppers. They each have a defined role and executing that role is essential to their team's success.
"Now you've got the long reliever, the middle man, the set-up man, the short man, the stopper, whatever you want to call it, guys who just pitch one inning at a time. I came in with Gaylord Perry winning by a run and saved 14 of his 15 games. I was pitching four or five innings sometimes. There was no such thing as a set-up man. I was my own set-up man." - Rollie Fingers, San Diego Padres Relief Pitcher.
In the SFRRC Fantasy Baseball League we measure the success of the late-inning relievers. In today's game, that's the LOOGY, the set-up men, and the closers. Of all the bullpen pitchers, they must perform flawlessly because they pitch with the game on the line.
Today's post looks at set-up men, which includes the LOOGY. Set-up men are brought in by the manager, usually in the seventh or eighth inning and often with men on base, to protect a team's lead. Only the best can survive these high-leverage situations. Statistically, they are rewarded with holds (holding the lead for their team) but they mean much more than that for our fantasy teams. They add strikeouts to our totals and successfully lower our team WHIP and ERA.
If you have a premier set-up man, he's as important as an ace pitcher, base stealer, or home run hitter. Entering the 2012 season, here is a list of set-up men that you should consider keeping.
Tyler Clippard, Mike Adams, Luke Gregerson and Rafael Soriano have been the league's premier set-up men for the past three years. The ancient Arthur Rhodes is the league's best LOOGY, shutting down opposing left-handed hitters with the game on the line. Sergio Romo, Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty and David Robertson have emerged over the last three years as the next generation of great set-up men.
Bullpen roles change often so drafting set-up men can be a tricky proposition. The above players are established and should be solid contributors in 2012.
Francisco Rodriguez will earn you holds and a few vulture saves but he could hurt your ERA. The remainder of the names on this list are solid, if unspectacular set-up men. They'll earn you holds while lowering your staff ERA and WHIP. That's exactly what you want when you draft these players. If you are building a power-hitting team with a strong bullpen (one strategy to win a pennant) you'll want a minimum of two players from these two lists. Sticking to that strategy means foregoing starting pitching early in the draft knowing that your bullpen will lower your ERA and WHIP.
Vinnie Pestano's 12.43 strikeout rate is eye-popping and his projected WHIP of 1.08 would look great on any staff. Hong-Chih Kuo was expected to be one of the league's premier set-up men last year before he suffered anxiety attacks in Dodger Stadium. Now he moves to Seattle where, if his anxiety problems are cured, he could be a sleeper in this draft.
Notice the save projections for Addison Reed. The White Sox are a team that will hold auditions for closer with Reed and Matt Thornton vying for the role. If Thornton becomes closer, Reed will be a set-up man and will likely earn double-digit holds. A similar situation exists in Oakland, where Fautino De Los Santos will audition for closer this spring. His strikeout rate is sensational so he's worth keeping an eye on heading into the March draft.
Tom Wilhelmsen is projected to have a decent WHIP and ERA and will likely be a steal in the draft. He's penciled in as a set-up man for the Seattle Mariners. If he can keep that role, he'll easily surpass his projected hold total.
Mike Stutes has earned greater responsibility in the Philadelphia bullpen and is projected to have 13 holds with a decent WHIP and ERA. He's also worth a late pick.
Going into the draft, be sure to have a plan for how you are going to use your set-up men. If you are willing to invest in premium set-up men, you can set yourself up to win the hold, ERA and WHIP categories on a regular basis. That will require additional work to locate sleeper picks on offense and starting pitching. If you invest earlier in hitters and starting pitching, you'll need to identify sleeper bullpen arms. Either way, devise a plan and stick with it.