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The era of the home run has been a bit of a double-edged sword for fantasy owners. On the one hand, the bench bat drafted in the 27th round can emerge as a 20+ HR hitter, adding value from an unexpected source. On the other side, pitcher ERAs are up, and the value of the pitcher as a whole has changed.

While all teams are affected in some similar manner by the increase in home runs, one position so far has escaped fantasy analysis: the set-up man.

This article will introduce the idea that set-up men have a ton of value even if they are not on your roster. Basically, how do quality 8th inning pitchers maximize the potential saves that your closers are locking down later in the game?

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The Anatomy of an Effective Setup Man

Looking to Roster Resource’s projected 8th inning pitcher for 2018, and these pitcher’s past stats, some interesting trends emerge. The average expected set-up man gave up 4.33 HRs in 2016, and 6.86 in 2017. Of these, 0.53 lost leads in 2016, and that number ballooned to 0.87 in 2017. The interesting note is that of these pitchers the majority of HRs came when behind. In 2016 the average was 2.2, and in 2017 it was 2.3. Overall more balls are leaving the yard when the pitcher is behind in the score, but that number narrows when the team is in the lead. Perhaps this means that pitchers are more cautious in lead-saving roles, or maybe more aggressive when pitching from behind? Whatever the case in 2017 the average closer lost close to a save opportunity a year, which might not seem like much, but when taken into context with individual pitchers the number is much starker.

Below are closers that we want you to target and avoid due to their set-up pairing.  When possible buy-low, and when you have a closer we do not like, sell while you have the chance.


RP Pairings to target

Carl Edwards Jr (RP, CHC) - Brandon Morrow (CL, CHC)

Edwards Jr. tops this list for a few reasons. First, there is little safety in relying on Morrow all season with his late run in the playoffs and increased risk for injury. This means Ewards Jr. will be the closer at some point this year. Second, in 2016-2017 Edwards Jr. gave up a total of 14 home runs. Only one of these lost the lead for the Cubs with four coming while pitching from behind. In a year (2017) when more leads were lost Edwards Jr. did not give up a single lead via the HR. Even more, Edwards was below the average HR rate in both 2016 and 2017.

Expected Saves saved: +2

Bryan Shaw (RP, COL) - Wade Davis (CL, COL)

Shaw is a personal favorite of this analysis because he pitches a ton of innings. To put a finer point on it, for the past four years Shaw not only led Cleveland in relief appearances but in fact, the majors as a whole. Since 2014 Shaw has run in from the bullpen, in order, 80, 74, 75, and 79 times. No one can say if Bud Black will use Shaw in the same manner, but this skill set gives the reliever a unique place in most bullpens. Between 2016-17 Shaw gave up a total of 12 home runs, but like Edwards, only one lost a lead for his team. The extra usage means Shaw will pitch more often back-to-back increasing his value at holding opposing teams.

Expected Saves saved: +1

Ryan Madson (RP, WAS) - Sean Doolittle (CL, WAS)

Madson assumes a unique role in Washington with some save opportunities already this year, but for the most part, will be used in a set-up role. In 2016-17 Madson gave up nine home runs with none giving up the lead. In fact, seven of his bombs came with his team behind and only two with a tie game on the line. Madson, based on past track record, is the safest set-up man on this list.

Expected Saves saved: +2


RP duos to avoid

Kyle Barraclough (RP, MIA) - Brad Ziegler (CL, MIA)

Often tossed around as the future replacement to Brad Ziegler Barraclough offers an exciting mix of stuff with a lack of control. A career WHIP of 1.282 reflects a high dosage of walks and therefore base runners. Between 2016-2017 gave up fewer HRs than other relievers but a staggering two-thirds lost the lead for this team. With the lack of saves for a bad Marlins team already, every home run with a lead matters more.

Expected saves lost: -3

Craig Stammen (RP, SD) - Brad Hand (CL, SD)

With Kirby Yates heading to the DL, it looks like Stammen will take most of the 8th inning opportunities for the time being. The problem? 12 HRs in 2017 which is close to six more than league average. Even worse? Three of this bombs in 2017 lost the lead for this team.

Expected saves lost: - 2

Jose Ramirez (RP, ATL) - Arodys Vizcaino (CL, ATL)

The emergence of AJ Minter might change this one a bit, but for the time being it looks like Ramirez will jog out before Vizcaino. Ramirez sits right at league average with 11 HRs over the past two years, but in both 2016 and 2017 he gave up two leads via the HR.

Expected saves lost: -2


More 2018 MLB Advice and Analysis

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