Fantasy Baseball Position Preview - Relief Pitchers: Hold Monsters
Andrew Copper breaks down the top relief pitchers to target for your fantasy baseball leagues that feature the Holds and Holds+Saves category
At a certain point every league has to decide what they are going to be. Are they going to be a friendly family league where luck determines the winner and everyone has a good chuckle? Or are they going to be a REAL league where pseudo-GMs flex their skills and true baseball knowledge wins the day. If, like myself, you take this kind of thing seriously and are tired of Todd making deep playoff runs despite drafting out of a gas station fantasy magazine, then you probably already are in a league that counts holds as a stat. If not, then you’re still playing standard in a PPR world.
Since we have assumed throughout this series that you’re a serious fantasy gamer of fine taste, we imagine that your league values holds in one way or another. We’ve given you the guys we think are the safest bets at for saves. We’ve laid out which other pitchers are currently in line to start the season as closer. And we’ve told you which bullpen arms are the closers in waiting that are most likely to steal the job. Now we are going to give you the holds monsters who will likely fly under the radar in your drafts but should rack up holds for you to dominate in any format that values holds whether it’s a points league, a holds + saves league, or, my personal favorite, a league where holds is its own, individual category.
A guy we consider a “holds monster” has a number of qualities. First, he’s likely on a team that has a solid incumbent closer or we likely would have mentioned him in the previous articles. Second, he’s one of the best relief pitchers on the team, or possibly even in the league, meaning he will be pitching a lot of high leverage situations. And third, the team he’s on is at least decent meaning they will be in enough high leverage situations throughout the year for him to collect these precious pitching stats.
We’re going to give you our favorite strictly holds guys momentarily but first, it would be disservice to not list a couple guys we mentioned before who should be in line for a bunch of holds if they don’t take the closer role at some point we predicted last article. These guys should all be considered either before or at least right around the first holds guy given the value and scarcity of saves. Pop back over to that article to see our full thoughts on them.
Will Smith – Atlanta Braves
Scott Oberg - Colorado Rockies
Daniel Hudson – Washington Nationals
Diego Castillo – Tampa Bay Rays
Ryan Helsley – St. Louis Cardinals
James Karinchak – Cleveland Indians
And now for our feature presentation.
With the coronavirus delay, we’ve got all the time in the world to cover relief pitchers so what we are going to do here is give you three tiers of the safest most reliable holds studs and then next week we’ll give you the scorching hot takes for holds guys that could emerge. But first, lets cover the tried and true animals that should easily notch 20+ holds and make you look like you know what you’re doing.
Tier 1 – Save Potential Boost
Seth Lugo – New York Mets
Seth Lugo checks all of our boxes we discussed above in identifying a late innings beast and he finds himself at the top for two reasons. One, is that, on top of being the preferred set up guy on a decent team, he had phenomenal ratios last year with a matching 2.70 FIP and ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 104 Ks in 80 innings, all while racking up 21 holds. And two is that, in the very limited spring training we had before COVID19 stole baseball away, Edwin Díaz showed some of that shakiness from last year that made people question his role. That extra glimmer of closer potential is enough for us to give just a little extra value to Lugo.
Matt Barnes – Boston Red Sox
We just talked about that light at the end of the tunnel that looks vaguely like the closer role for Seth Lugo and, in our second article in the series, we told you why that train might come down the tracks in Boston one way or the other. If the outbound train comes for Brandon Workman , Matt Barnes is the next man up. That said, this article isn’t about saves – it’s about holds – and Barnes not only had 26 of them last year but he punched out 110 batters last season which was good for 4th among all relief pitchers. Despite losing Mookie and, more importantly, Brock Holt , the team is very much capable of winning games and Barnes is squarely in that setup man role for the club.
Ryan Pressly – Houston Astros
Last season’s holds leader with a mean 31 had to be near the top of this year’s list, especially since there’s no indication that his role should change going into the season (whenever that is). I don’t know what the Astros are doing down there but the same magic that turned former Pirate Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton into strikeout wizards also turned former Twins pitcher Ryan Pressly into a force with him registering ERAs of 0.77 and 2.32 in his two seasons with Houston after having an ERA or 3.50 over five and a half years with Minnesota. We snuck him into the “save potential” tier because the Astros are clearly in a battle for positive public perception and Robert Osuna was a negative press target even before the cheating scandal. If they find themselves needing to lighten the load of negative karma, I would not be surprised to see Osuna go overboard first.
Tier 2 – Just Win Baby!
Adam Ottavino – New York Yankees
We quoted the late Al Davis for this tier because you can’t have holds without having leads late in games and the guys in this tier are all lined up for set-up roles behind incumbent pitchers on teams slated to be really, really good this year. Before a lot of the books froze their season over/under win totals due to the current health crisis, the Yankees had the highest win total over/under at 102.5. With his 1.90 ERA from last year and a clear grasp on high leverage situations, Ottavino is a safe bet for 20+ holds this year.
Tommy Kahnle – New York Yankees
Would you look at that – another Yankee! These two could possibly be interchangeable and both actually threw exactly 88 strikeouts last year. But Kahnle actually had an ugly 2018 which was limited due to injury while Ottavino has 112 Ks in 2018 so we like him just a bit better, but you can’t go wrong with either.
Pedro Báez – Los Angeles Dodgers
The Yankees weren’t the only ones slated to win over 100 game – Caesar’s Palace Sportsbook in Las Vegas also had LAD at an O/U of 102 wins for this upcoming season. Last year Pedro Báez handed the ball to Kenly Jansen on 25 save chances and we don’t see any reason that wouldn’t be the case again. Baez has been insanely consistent with a 3.03 career ERA in 6 seasons with his season long ERA always ranging between 2.63 and 3.35. He’s unlikely to really blow you away with a 100-strikeout season like Barnes or some of these guys but the game here is holds and Baez plays it well.
Tier 3 – Next Best Thing
Drew Pomeranz – San Diego Padres
As the title suggests, this next group might not be on absolutely dominant squads but they’re the next best thing and should be a consistent source of holds and decent stats when the team does win. Pomeranz slid graciously into a bullpen role last year with a 1.88 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP. He also gets a boost in certain formats from having starting pitcher eligibility which we will touch on in our article on format specific relievers to target.
Dellin Betances – New York Mets
There’s inherent risk taking a guy coming back from injury but anyone familiar with the work of Dellin Betances is aware of the upside. There is nothing sexier for a pitcher than a strikeout and Betances is one of the pen’s great strikeout masters – before missing last year with injury he had 5 straight seasons with 100 or more Ks and in three of those seasons he had over 125. The injury lowers the floor for him but the ceiling doesn’t get much higher if he comes back spitting hot fire like he did in 2018.
Will Harris – Washington Nationals
We’ve mentioned in twice now but Sean Doolittle is one of the few guys who truly has earned his injury prone label. With a guy like Doolittle in the pen, nothing gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling quite like the consistent and reliable Will Harris having your back. For five straight years he’s been reliably pitching high leverage situations for the Astros which includes both set-up and closing roles. He should be good for between 60 and 70 strikeouts like he always seems to be and, over that five year span, he’s accumulated over 100 holds. That’s why the Nationals brought him in and it’s why you can likely trust him in your league.
Zack Britton – New York Yankees
Not exactly the imposing force that he once was and he’s not going to knock your socks off with Ks. But we told you we were going to give you the best bet for holds and my man here does the most important thing in baseball on the defensive side of the half inning – he gets outs. Sporting a 1.91 ERA over 61.1 inning last season while handling some game duties for the Bronx Bombers should put him in line for lots of outs and lots of holds.
Emilio Pagán – San Diego Padres
The Padres did us a favor for one article by acquiring Pagan from the Rays – it would have been a lot harder to predict whether he or Nick Anderson would be Tampa Bay’s closer. The left a lot of people asking why the would even acquire Pagan but the answer is simple. They are focused on using a strong bullpen to win games. Bringing the walls in by 10 feet might have made Petco Park less pitcher friendly than it previously was but it’s still probably in the top 10 for pitchers. Combine that with Pagan having one of the lowest WHIPs of all relievers last year and the combination of Yates, Pomeranz, and Pagan should bring a lot of Ws home for the Padres.