Fantasy Island: Middle relievers can go a long way

Middle relievers, long spurned in rotisserie leagues as non-essential roster fill, will serve a greater purpose this season.

There simply is no other affordable alternative for owners who have watched their ERA and WHIP numbers soar in yet another season when starting pitching is getting bashed.

That said, middle relievers can't be counted on entirely to stop the bleeding, especially for 5-by-5 league owners who need strikeouts to compete.

But the right kind of relievers - those that win games and get strike outs - could be the tonic.

Ideally, owners should seek relievers on winning major-league teams who are hard-throwing, right-handed set-up men with high strikeout-per-inning and high strikeout-per-walk ratios who also have been tagged as potential closers.

Reasons for such specifications are obvious, but worth explaining:

- Relievers on winning teams have more chances to win games.

- Hard-throwers who have high K/IP and high K/BB ratios get more strikeouts and allow fewer base runners.

- Right-handers are more likely to pitch more innings and get more wins and strikeouts because they usually pitch to more than just one batter per outing.

- Set-up men pitch the seventh and eighth innings when a win or long save can be earned, and they are candidates to step in for closers who become injured or ineffective.

- Potential closers can become closers, giving owners saves for cheap.

Here are some American League relievers who come closest to fitting that profile, who may be obtainable in your league:

- New York RHP Jeff Nelson: Striking out batters and looking like this season's win vulture.

- Chicago RHP Sean Lowe: Durable and throws strikes.

- Tampa Bay RHP Rick White: Good pitcher off to a good start and Roberto Hernandez has been awful.

Here are two left-handed relievers worth considering:

- Baltimore's B.J. Ryan: Has good control and Orioles plan to use him as a late-inning set-up man. Low ERA with more than one K/IP makes him attractive in a bullpen with an unsettled closer situation.

- Cleveland's Ricardo Rincon: Has closer experience and good career ERA and WHIP.

These are relievers performing well under most of the criterion, who may be frauds, so watch them before going after them aggressively:

- Kansas City RHP Jose Santiago: Has two wins and a save, but isn't a strikeout pitcher.

- Baltimore LHP Buddy Groom: Your basic left-handed specialist; his two saves are fool's gold.

- Boston RHP Tim Wakefield: Too many walks.

- Oakland RHP Doug Jones: Turns 43 in June.

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