How To Assemble a $40 Rotation

Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t like leagues that use Quality Starts as a category, which is a purely selfish reason, being that I’ve won 5 fantasy baseball leagues while barely rostering any starting pitchers. The strategy is called Maximizing Relief Innings (MRI) and I’ll explain step-by-step how to use it this season. It’s unconventional, so if you’re a touch hesitant, I’d suggest you give it a spin in your second or third league where you have more freedom to experiment.

Utilizing cheap middle relievers allows you to drive down ERA and WHIP, while saving draft resources for hitters.

I’ve encouraged fantasy baseball players to use the MRI strategy several times now. I’ve used the $3 Kershaw Method so often that I should name a fantasy team the 3 Dollar Kershaw. But I want to give it one more go because I truly think this can give you the edge you need to win consistently. I give you the “$40 Rotation“, which oddly consist of just 3 starting pitchers as you’ll soon see. (Granted, “$40 Rotation” is a really poor name for a fantasy baseball strategy, but good names are hard to come by, you know?)

Here’s a step-by-step:

  1. Understand that you are trying to line up approximately 1200 innings for a typical fantasy baseball team. Most leagues have some sort of an innings cap anyway, but 1200 innings is typically the sweet spot you are aiming for (Trivia: An average MLB team needs to throw about 1450 innings per season).
  2. Draft 3 starting pitchers and pay only about $25 for them total. You are hoping for about 180 innings each from these 3 guys, giving you 560 innings so far. These three starting pitchers will break into 2 types, but you are looking for the same qualities. You want insanely high K/9 guys, you want them to be command pitchers (meaning they don’t walk many guys), and you don’t want them to give up more than a home run a game (look for high GB%).
    • Spend $15-20 on an “Ace.” Obviously, $20 bucks won’t get you Justin Verlander but you aren’t looking to pay big money for pitchers. You are looking to get a good deal on a guy that meets the above criteria. (Think Madison Bumgarner, Gio Gonzalez, Mat Latos, Chris Sale, Kris Medlen or Jordan Zimmermann, taking the one you can get at your $15-20 price.)
    • Spend $2-3 each on two more starters. These are guys that fit into the old LIMA mold. To keep this post under book length I’ll let you read more about LIMA here. (Lance Lynn, Matt Harvey, Marco Estrada, or Shelby Miller might be a fit.) It takes constitutional fortitude to be this patient in waiting on pitching, but choke back the urge to splurge. Be confident that you’ve researched high-K, low walk guys.
  3. Draft 2-3 closers. You’re only going to pay $12-13 bucks for these guys and you’ll want approximately 50 innings each from them. 3 x 50 = 150 + 560 = 710 innings thus far.
    • Spend $10 of your closer budget on one solid guy. Make sure he’s high K and generally healthy. (Sergio Romo or J.J. Putz are good here if you’re willing to gamble in the injury risk column.)
    • Spend $2-3 and take a flyer on a high upside closer. Get him late in the draft and look for potential. (Jason Grilli, Glen Perkins, Ernesto Frieri, and Greg Holland will work.)
    • You won’t pay a dime for your 3rd closer. There are always saves on the waiver wire during the season. Jump on a guy early and you have a source of saves for free.
  4. Notice you’ve only spent about $37 on pitching and that’s all you’ll spend. The bulk of your remaining innings will come from middle relievers.
    Over the course of the season you’ll want to grab about 4 middle relievers and count on them for about 50 innings each. These extra 200 innings take you to 710.The beauty of middle relievers is that they are free, over abundant, and they have insanely low ERAs and WHIPs. You’ll win the league in those categories (I’ve finished leagues with a sub-3 ERA, which can’t be touched). They’ll also grab you an occasional vulture WIN, but you’ll trail in this category most likely. Keep your middle relievers in a pitching slot and only remove them if you have to replace them with one of your starters, and only replace them on the day that your starter is starting. This is how you maximize your innings. (Last year I used guys like Vinnie Pestano and Edward Mujica in this role.) Read the $3 Kershaw if you don’t trust me on the numbers.
  5. Finish off your innings with spot starters by streaming in pitchers under ideal circumstances. These pitchers are also from the waiver wire and free. If you stream well you are collecting WINS and racking up Ks.Best of all, by spending less than $40 on pitching you have a mint to spend on hitters.
I can say that you can absolutely win your fantasy baseball league with this strategy. Not only will have a pitching staff that will get you maximum roto points for ERA and WHIP, but you’ll do very well in the other pitching categories. But the biggest benefit is how cheaply you can put together this fantasy baseball pitching staff, meaning you have money to burn on hitters and will dominate that side of the roto equation as well.

Topics: Chris Sale, JJ Putz, Kris Medlen, LIMA, Madison Bumgarner, Middle Relief, Middle Relievers, MRI, RP, SP, Starting Pitching, Strategy

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  • Mike C.

    Is this strategy for an 8 team mixed league or really inexperienced players?

    Guys like Holland, Grilli, Perkins all go in the teens. Supply and demand dictate that any decent closer goes for a fair price. In a 12 team mixed league or in NL or AL Only league, this plan can’t possibly work. Every team wants at least two closers and bargains do not exist.
    Guys like Estrada are no longer sleepers. This is not the 1980s. He has gone for $17 and $21 in my two leagues. He had elite K/9 and strikeout to walk rates last year.

  • Clave

    Just drafted a 12 Team highly competitive league. I mentioning in the article that this takes confidence and patience. I waited until the very end, purposely staying out of bidding wars for guys in the teens. I got Glen Perkins for $4, Mike Minor for $2, Kenley Jansen for $1, Vinnie Pestano for $2. If you are confident enough that you know the player pool you can wait and get bargains at the end of an auction. You don’t have to pay $21 for Estrada.

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