The Middle Man. Middle men are one of my secrets weapons to building a solid NL Only league pitching staff. These pitchers don't normally get much consideration but when you think about it, they really should. If you can have 3 middle relievers give you between 60 to 70 innings of strong K's, ERA, Ratio and throw in some wins and a few saves, that in a word is HUGE! That would be 200 innings of strong numbers for players who go between $1 to $5 per player. So for let's say $10 to $12 for the right middle men, they can give you ace starting pitching numbers. As you know aces are very expensive. Now he is the rub a lot of middle relievers can be strong one year and the next year not so good. So we are going to take a look at the top middle men in the NL today because if you can land the right trio it can lead to a very strong pitching staff.
Listed in no particular order...
Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters - ATL - Freddi Gonzalez has said recently that he will use both Kimbrel and Venters in save situations this year. I am sure that Gonzalez is saying this right before Spring Training to take the pressure of both of these young pitchers. As the season progresses my guess is one will emerge as the closer. Venters was a stud in the Braves bullpen last year putting up a 1.95 ERA with a 1.20 Ratio in 83 innings with 93K's. Throw in 4 wins and a save he was great middle man to have, only concern is Bobby Cox pitched him in 79 games for his 83 innings last season. Kimbrel blew hitters away last year, he had 40K's in 20 2/3 IP. Kimbrel had a 0.44 ERA with a 1.21 Ratio and 4 wins. He also walked 16 batters in 20+ innings which is really bad. Two things you don't want to do as both a closer-reliever is give up HR and BB. If Kimbrel can get more command he may just be one of the top relievers in the NL over the next few years. Keep in mind come opening day Kimbrel will just be 22, a lot of times being a closer in addition to the stuff more importantly is can he handle the job mentally. A lot guys fail because of the mental aspect of the job and Kimbrel is just 22. Venters is only 25.
Ryan Webb - FLA - When the Marlins traded Cameron Maybin to land Ryan Webb with Edward Mujica it told me either they must be down on Maybin or they love Ryan Webb. Because of San Diego's depth in their bullpen it's easy to have overlooked Webb but the 25 year old had a real good season last year. His ratio was a bit high at 1.41 but in 59 innings had a 2.90 ERA. Now I like to see his ratio come down and average more K's per inning (44K's in 59 IP) but since Leo Nunez lost his closers role the last couple of months of the season who gets saves in Florida is very much up in the air. Webb could be high on that list.
Bobby Parnell - NYM - Have to love his nearly K per inning stuff and with K-Rod on the last year of his contract and the Mets need to save money Parnell could be auditioning to become the Mets closer of the future sometime this summer. Like to see his ratio come down a bit but only gave up 8 walks in 35 innings last year which is a good sign.
Ryan Madson - PHI - After a horrible April which included breaking his toe after blowing a save (during the time when Lidge was on the DL to start the season), Madson came back with a vengeance the rest of the season. Last two seasons Madson has been one of the strong middle men who gives you excellent numbers in K's and the percentage categories not to mention a few wins and saves. One of the top middle relievers in the NL.
Tyler Clippard and Sean Burnett - WSH - Even if Drew Storen shows he is ready for prime time both Clippard and Burnett showed they can help your NL only teams last season. I don't think Clippard will win 11 games again as a middle reliever but should be good for half that as he comes in a lot of tie games late and his 112K's in 91 innings were pretty awesome. Throw in strong ERA and Ratio numbers and Clippard was a stud last year. I like him for 2011 as well. I think Sean Burnett was the best 1-7 pitcher in the history of baseball last year, as he had a 2.14 ERA with a 1.14 Ratio along with 62K's in 63IP. Last two years has been a real good middle man.
Kerry Wood - CHC - Hanging out in the Yankee bullpen last summer Kerry Wood picked up a cutter and quite simply never gave up a run for the Yanks. If he can stay healthy should provide a lot of K's, a few W's, a good ERA and a pretty good ratio.
Aroldis Chapman - CIN - This guys has nasty stuff and with Cordero potential being on the last year of his deal could be the Reds future closer. Can provide huge K, ERA and Ratio numbers this season and may at one point take over the closers job. One of the top middle men to get.
Takashi Saito - MIL - As long as he can hold up old man river can still pitch. Again great numbers across the board but can the 41 year old hold up. Also if John Axford struggles the former closer for the Dodgers would be first in line to get the ball.
Evan Meek and Joel Hanrahan - PIT - Both Meek and Hanrahan had strong 2010 and with Dotel now gone it will be a interesting spring training battle to see who the Pirates decide will be the closer to start the season. Besides possible saves both can be great middle men for 2011 as they were last season.
Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan - STL - Ryan Franklin turns 38 this spring and has said he will retire after the 2011 season when his contract ends. That begs the question who will be the Cards closer going forward? Ideally given Matt Holliday's recent contract and having to sign King Albert I am sure the Cards would like to find an in house candidate (that would be a lot cheaper). Both Motte and McClellan pitched well all year last year, Motte throws more gas as he had 54K's in 52+IP last year. Motte's 2.24 ERA and 1.13 Ratio look real good and he has the stuff to be a closer. McClellan in 75 innings had a 2.27 ERA and a 1.07 ratio with 60K's. Saves aside both guys are real good middle men.
Chih-Hung Kuo and Kenley Jansen - LAD - In addition to being stud middle men both Kuo and Jansen may have a chance to get some saves as well as Broxton enters Spring Training as the closer (that's what manager Don Mattingly says) but needless to say early struggles by Broxton or a bad spring and he can lose the job. If Kuo is healthy he is dominant and last year he was ridiculous with a 1.20 ERA and a 0.78 Ratio along with 73K's in 60IP. Jansen came up last summer and was equally as dominant as Kuo, in 27IP Jansen had a 0.67 ERA with a 1.00 Ratio along with 41K's in 27 innings. Jansen did walk 15 batters in that time which was his only flaw. Keep in mind Jansen is only 23. Both guys are bare minimum middle men studs.
Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson - SD - The last 2 years both Adams and Gregerson have been studs. Simply put they have been ERA, Ratio and K machines. Also unless Heath Bell gets an extension sometime this season he will be a free agent come next off-season. Will the Padres keep the 33 year old Bell and have him as their closer the next 3 or so or will they trade him for some much needed young talent come July? One thing is for sure both Adams and Gregerson have the stuff to close.
Santiago Casilla - SF - stud year - All Casilla did last season was go 7W, 2SV, 1.95 ERA, 1.19 Ratio, 56K's in 55+IP. That is the essence of a middle man secret weapon. Hey we talk about how great Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez is but Casilla had more than half of their wins last year. You might think that's a fluke and wins for a middle reliever will fluctuate from year to year but how many times during the season are the Giants in a 3-3 game in the 7th or 8th? So it's no fluke that Casilla had that many wins last year. Great middle man to get.
NL King - C.Lizza