With an increasing number of teams utilizing a closer by committee strategy this season, fantasy baseball leagues that track both saves and holds are becoming more popular.
That trend isn’t due to a lack of saves in the game of baseball. Last season there were a total of 1232 saves recorded in the major leagues, the most since 2018. The problem for fantasy managers is that those saves are increasingly being distributed among a larger group of relief pitchers.
During the 2011 baseball season 125 pitchers recorded at least one save. That number grew to 148 pitchers in 2016. Last season 222 pitchers saved at least one game.
During that same time frame, starting pitchers have been logging fewer innings per start. Back in 2011 starting pitchers averaged 6.0 IP per start. Last season, starting pitchers were only averaging 5.2 IP per start.
As a result, holds have become more prevalent. During the 2011 season there were 2122 holds recorded in the major leagues. Last season 2472 holds were recorded.
In the next few paragraphs, we’re going to put the spotlight on relief pitchers to target in saves and holds (SOLDS) leagues. Many of the pitchers featured in this article can be considered closers in waiting who can also provide your fantasy team with excellent ratios.
A.J. Minter, Braves
We can’t write an article about pitchers who’ll likely be significant contributors to the holds category without focusing on Minter. He saved five games, but more importantly he led the major leagues with 34 holds last season and he’s expected to pick up another 20 plus this season. Minter used his four-seam fastball (.152 BAA) and changeup (.102 BAA) a bit more last season and as a result he posted a 94/15 K/BB ratio and recorded his highest K rate since his 2017 rookie season. The Braves led the NL with 114 holds last season and have plenty of live arms in their bullpen. Joe Jimenez, Collin McHugh, Lucas Luetge, and Kirby Yates are all expected to produce double-digit hold totals this season.
Giovanny Gallegos, Cardinals
As we alluded to last week, Cardinals’ manager Oliver Marmol has been hesitant to name a designated closer in the past, but by the end of last season it was clear that Ryan Helsley was the teams’ closer. Helsley will likely open the season in that role and that leaves Gallegos as his handcuff, and a good resource for both saves and holds. With Marmol frequently hoping to exploit best matchups Gallegos will probably have a hybrid role in the Cardinals’ bullpen. Gallegos keeps the ball in the park, and he'll provide fantasy managers with good ratios (11.14 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9 last season) fueled by a slider that generates a 47.5 Whiff% and that has a .183 BAA. As one of the slowest working pitchers in the game the biggest concern relating to his 2023 season might be how he reacts to baseball’s new pitch clock.
Joe Mantiply, Diamondbacks
Mantiply enjoyed a breakout season in 2022, posting a 2.85 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and he also recorded 22 holds. He had a huge drop in walks allowed lowering his BB/9 from 3.86 in 2021 to 0.90 last season. Mantiply had a phenomenal 61/6 K/9 ratio. He also got opposing hitters to chase his pitches outside the strike zone. Per Statcast his chase rate was in the 99th percentile, driven in part by his curveball which generated a 44.9 Whiff%. With the Diamondbacks yet to name a closer Mantiply could still be in the mix for save opportunities, but he’ll likely provide most of his fantasy production as a setup man. Look for a handful of saves and a hold total approaching 20 for Mantiply this season.
Jason Adam, Rays
As a team that’s notorious for utilizing several different pitchers to close out games, the Rays have traditionally been among the league leaders in holds. Their 106 team holds last season were the second most in baseball. While many believe that Pete Fairbanks will lead the team in saves this season, Jason Adam remains a resourceful reliever who must be rostered in saves and holds leagues. He saved eight games and held 21 others last season while pitching to a microscopic 1.56 ERA and equally impressive 0.76 WHIP. Adam turned his career around last season when he started using his fastball and curveball less and used his dominating slider, (.096 BAA, 46.1 Whiff%) and changeup more. The change in his pitch mix also helped him induce soft contact while raising his ground ball rate which in turn helped to lower his HR rate. If you miss out on Adam, Jalen Beeks, Garrett Cleavinger and Colin Poche are three other Rays pitchers who are expected to be good resources for holds this season.
Evan Phillips, Dodgers
The Dodgers are expected to use a best matchup strategy in determining who’ll close out their games this season. Until one of them stands out from among the rest, Phillips, Daniel Hudson, Alex Vesia, Brusdar Graterol and Caleb Ferguson all have a chance to fill a hybrid role in the Dodgers’ bullpen this season. Phillips is coming off of a huge 2022 season and may see a bit more work in late inning high leverage situations to start the season with the news that Hudson may not be ready for Opening Day (ankle). Phillips had a huge 2022 season pitching to a 1.14 ERA and 0.76 WHIP. He held 19 games and saved two others. Phillips saw a slight uptick in velocity across all of his offerings and he also added a cutter (.169 BAA, two extra base hits allowed) and sinker (.188 BAA) to his repertoire. The Dodgers have a deep bullpen with Vesia, Graterol, Ferguson and Hudson (along with Phillips) all expected to register double-digit hold totals this season.
Joe Kelly, White Sox
With no timetable available for Liam Hendriks’ return to action (we wish him the best) and White Sox manager Pedro Grifol suggesting that the team won’t have a designated closer to start the season there are going to be a lot of moving parts in the White Sox’s bullpen this season. It appears that Kendall Graveman, Reynaldo Lopez, Aaron Bummer and Joe Kelly will all have hybrid roles working in high leverage situations allowing them to contribute to both the saves and holds categories. Kelly is the sleeper of the group and is a pitcher whose injury history and recent overall stats cause him to be overlooked. Last season’s 6.08 ERA is ugly, but his 3.15 xERA suggests that there may be hope for him in 2023. He’s an extreme ground ball pitcher (64.4% GB rate last season) who picked up 15 holds in limited action last season. Most of the major projection models agree that Kelly will produce hold totals in the double-digit range again this season and pitch to an ERA in the mid three range.
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