Why not stream setup men?

Holds guys are often more reliable -- yet less popular -- than subpar starters

Updated: August 27, 2012, 2:55 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

With September nearly upon us, the fantasy baseball season is starting to get to the nitty-gritty, especially in leagues with playoff formats.

Many owners have gotten this far by streaming pitchers. After all, once a starting pitcher has taken the mound on a Wednesday or Thursday, he is pretty much done for the scoring period, and his spot in the starting lineup no longer serves any purpose. Subbing in a revolving door of middle-of-the-road names from the waiver wire has long been recognized as a viable strategy in head-to-head weekly leagues.

Vantage Point

It goes without saying that the more points you can accumulate, the better your chances of winning. However, gamble with a pitcher such as Lucas Harrell, Jake Arrieta or A.J. Burnett at the wrong time and you've shot yourself in the foot. To avoid catastrophic outings in which a pitcher is hung out to dry as the opposition treats the bases as their personal merry-go-round, why not instead stream holds?

In many scoring systems, you don't get points for holds, but the fact remains that the pitchers who are getting them most often are among the safest pitching options in the game. Take a look at the leaders in this category and their fantasy points on the season:

As the ownership numbers indicate, most of these guys will be on the waiver wire in your league. Without saves to their name, these setup men don't interest most rotisserie-league owners, and they often get overlooked in points leagues as well. But they really shouldn't be outright dismissed. One alone might not do much for your weekly bottom line, but an army of them could tip the scales.

Some of these pitchers have saves because they have either filled in for save situations or failed previously in a closer role, so their point totals are inflated a bit. Regardless, the majority of the names on this list are just as effective, if not more so, as any ninth-inning specialist. The only difference is that they don't get the extra points for saves. They do pitch multiple times during the week and, unlike starters, usually get pulled quickly if they have a bad day. The risk is not nearly as high.

So which sounds better to you: Rotating three to five of these steady guys into your lineup daily with the hope that each gives you two to four points an outing all seven days of the scoring period or rolling the dice that the sum total of the run-of-the-mill starters you're streaming into those same spots end up netting you positive points when the final tally is taken?

Toss in the good chance that, when streaming starters, I'd likely have to compete with other owners for the same small pool of daily probables versus gaining a stranglehold on these holds specialists as the only person attempting the strategy in the first place, and I'd much rather take my chances with the setup men, even if it comes in smaller doses.

Pointing Up

Angel Pagan, OF, San Francisco Giants: Although he ended this past week meekly (0-for-8, three K's), since Aug. 10, Pagan has hit .343 with 10 extra-base hits, 15 runs scored and two steals. He even went 6-for-14 at Petco Park. While Melky Cabrera may have let his team down, Pagan has certainly picked up the slack and then some.

Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee Brewers: He has thrown five straight quality starts and won all five of them, with a 2.02 ERA and .205 batting average against in the process. Add to that a K/BB rate of 3.5 and there should be no surprise that he was one of the biggest movers in our Top 100 rankings over the past week. It also wouldn't be surprising to see him rack up double-digit strikeouts in his next couple starts.

Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers: Speaking of strikeouts, Scherzer continues to rack up fantasy points, not only thanks to a 4-0 record and an impressive 1.33 ERA over his past four games but also thanks to a stellar 12.4 K/9 rate in August. We've seen him hit rocky patches several times this season, but when he gets on a roll like this, his upside is tremendous. Ride the hot streak, especially since the 5.4 runs of support per game he has been getting this season has been way more than he has needed to earn those wins.

Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Miami Marlins: For the season, Stanton is hitting .273 on the road, compared to .300 at home. Yet on the 11-game road trip that the Marlins just had, he hit .310 with eight home runs and 13 RBIs. Sure, his lineup-mates aren't getting on base in front of him, but with a nine-game homestand on tap, Stanton should do OK.

Aaron Hill, 2B, Arizona Diamondbacks: With 70 fantasy points (ESPN standard) over the past two weeks, no hitter has been hotter than Hill. Six home runs in nine games will do that, but with an OBP of .447 to go along with the power and only three strikeouts in his past 38 plate appearances, there's little negative to be said about this second baseman.

Nick Swisher, 1B/OF, New York Yankees: August has been good to Swisher, who not only has a 1.001 OPS for the month but continues to sport an improved K/BB rate. Over the past 30 days, it sits at 1.36, compared to 1.98 for the season. It's easy to look at the year-to-date stats (.278-19-73) and be a bit underwhelmed, but few players have come on as strong down the stretch.

Pointing Down

Bud Norris, SP, Houston Astros: He has had some issues with his foot recently, making his chances of recovery from a huge dry spell all the more unlikely. Norris hasn't won since May 21, and he has a 5.72 ERA and an ugly .304 BAA in his past five starts (dating to July 30). Coming off a six-inning outing in which he struck out just a single batter, this Bud's not for you.

Hunter Pence, OF, Giants: Since being shipped out of Philadelphia, Pence has hit just .214 with a whopping 29 strikeouts in 98 at-bats. When he left the Phillies, he was hitting .271 with a slugging percentage of .447. Today, his season numbers stand at .260 and .421, respectively, with no signs of light at the end of the tunnel. Not all deadline deals work out, and this one seems to be falling into the dud category.

Jason Kipnis, 2B, Cleveland Indians: Not only has Kipnis struggled in August (.186 batting average), but his K/BB rate is 4.75. Even with three multihit games in his past eight starts, he has managed just eight hits in his past 34 at-bats (.235), so unless you're guessing right on which days to start/sit him, Kipnis simply isn't worth being in your lineup at all.

Colby Rasmus, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: A 1-for-37 slump is pretty much all you need to know about Rasmus. Even the two weeks prior to this drought weren't all that exciting (.271, run production of seven, 17 strikeouts). As the only hitter in the game to be putting up double-digit negatives over the past 15 days, how can you trust him?

Drew Stubbs, OF, Cincinnati Reds: Since Aug. 15, he has had more than one fantasy point in a game only once, along with four goose eggs and three games of negative production. He is hitting just .171 since Aug. 7 and has struck out once every 2.62 plate appearances in that stretch, depleting his value even further.

Joe Saunders, SP, Baltimore Orioles: On the one hand, a move away from the Diamondbacks and spacious Chase Field might help Saunders improve from a recent run of starts in which he went 1-4 with a 6.60 ERA and .313 BAA. Then again, three of those starts were on the road, and generally speaking, National League lineups are easier than their DH-laden American League counterparts.

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