Forget streaming fantasy starters — middle relievers are King

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There are dozens of fantasy stories from any night in baseball. Here are a few things that are on my mind.

There is fantasy value in middle relief

Middle-relief heroes can be godsends for a fantasy roster. They smooth out the ratio stats, score an occasional win, might even grab a save or two. And they don’t command hefty acquisition costs.

In truth, we like to get them for free. That’s how we landed Nick Anderson and Devin Williams and Chad Green in previous years, and that’s the storyline Michael King is following in 2022.

King wasn’t on anyone’s draft board in the spring, though he had a respectable 2021 season for the Yankees. But his 2022 stats jump off the page: 13 IP, 10 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 3 BB (one intentional), 20 K.

The good old strikeout and walk ratio is your best friend with this stuff. Occam’s Razor. The simplest answer is often the best.

King is getting ahead of hitters and putting them away. He’s also working in high-leverage spots for the Yanks, already scoring two wins and a save. The Orioles managed just one hit in 2.1 innings against him Wednesday.

New York Yankees starting pitcher Michael King is providing fantasy value
Michael King has been unhittable in the first month of 2022, making him a huge fantasy value. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

There are other King-similar options if you missed out on him. Jhoan Duran is throwing pellets for the Twins (two walks, 15 strikeouts over nine innings), although he’s given up four runs. Trust more in the WHIP, which is a tidy 1.11. Or how about unheralded Brock Burke in Texas — 9.2 wipeout innings, three walks, 16 strikeouts. His roster tag is under one percent.

Modern starting pitchers have never been as marginalized as they are today — the aces don’t work as deep as they used to, and the lesser rotation guys are often lucky to see the fifth inning. More wins are filtering into the middle-relief area, and many of these non-closing relievers will be candidates to score those wins.

Sometimes I think middle-relief chasing is the new streaming. Wipeout innings are always welcome on my page.

Odubel Herrera perking up in Philadelphia

The Phillies generally operate with indifference to defense, much to the chagrin of their pitching staff. But getting Odubel Herrera back in the mix is a boost.

Herrera’s not going to make anyone forget Andruw Jones in center field, but he’s a quality defender. And Herrera’s had his moments with the bat, too. He’s 5-for-14 since returning, with a couple of homers. He slotted ninth in his first three starts before getting the leadoff assignment Wednesday.

Herrera enters his age-30 season and was a plus offensive player in his first three seasons. Since then it’s been a litany of problems, some on the field (with injuries) and some off the field. But perhaps he’s ready to make a contribution now. Medium-league managers can monitor the story, deeper-league skippers might act sooner. Herrera is rostered in just three percent of Yahoo leagues.

With Adalberto Mondesi hurt, Nicky Lopez needed in KC

Those that opted to fade Adalberto Mondesi, you win this round. He’s hurt, again. He suffered a knee injury Wednesday and an MRI revealed structural damage. This sounds like an extended absence, and we can’t be sure he’ll be eager to run when he does return.

Mondesi wasn’t slotting near the top of the order anyway, but I wonder if his absence makes things more secure for Nicky Lopez. You remember Lopez, a low-power, high-average hitter who batted .300 last year and stole 22 bags in 23 attempts. You’ll need to get your pop elsewhere, but he’s capable of being a mixed-league asset, especially now that he’s percolating to the top of the Kansas City lineup.

Lopez hasn’t attempted a steal yet this year, which is surprising. But the .271 average plays, and the .364 OBP justifies a spot near the top of the lineup. Rabbits can be frustrating to roster in some fantasy formats, because you’re taking a hit in homers and RBIs. But some rosters might be interested in this kind of specialty play. Lopez qualifies at both second and shortstop, and is available in 85 percent of Yahoo leagues.

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