To any reader who thinks they don't have a voice here at RotoBaller, let it be known that this article came from a simple Reddit comment about how those seeking Saves+Holds reliever ranks were often overlooked. Poof, and here we are. Allow me, Nick Mariano, 2018's most accurate draft expert and sharer of names with the best reliever of all-time, to supercharge your bullpen.
While the closer's role is important, some managers are moving their best arm into a flexible role while shuffling who gets the ninth. Saves+Holds leagues help fantasy leagues reward the best arms regardless of the inning, though it still favors closers in a vacuum. Alongside the short-season craziness with expanded rosters (mostly for bullpen arms), all pitchers must face a minimum of three batters per appearance or pitch to the end of the half-inning. While Rob Manfred has ID'd short RP appearances as a scourge, one-batter relief appearances reached a 13-year low in 2019 per SI's Tom Verducci. That same article says, "The proposed rule would eliminate one mid-inning pitching change every three or four games." Don't overreact.
Reminder: A hold is recorded when a relief pitcher enters with a lead of three runs or less, or with the tying run on-deck, at the plate, or on base, and maintains that lead while recording at least one out. Read on and you'll see where I rank each player, what tier they're in, and their "Team Rank" (spot in their team's bullpen hierarchy via me, but committees can muddy those).Editor's Note: Get any full-season MLB Premium Pass for 50% off. Get access to our exclusive articles, rankings, projections, prospects coverage, 15 in-season lineup tools, daily expert DFS research, powerful Research Station, Lineup Optimizer and much more! Sign Up Now!
Updated Saves+Holds Relief Pitcher Ranks - Mixed Leagues
|152||14||Carl Edwards Jr.||SEA||5|
Josh Hader was electric in 2018, and many metrics improved in 2019 but were overshadowed by an issue with homers. His swinging-strike rate soared, from 19% to 22.7%, which yielded a 47.8% strikeout rate -- over six percentage points higher than the next-best qualified RP, Nick Anderson. His 43 Saves + Holds tally led the Majors and this format means you can get away from his being left-handed or used in “fireman” late-inning situations outside of the ninth. It sounds like Milwaukee wants to avoid lots of back-to-back nights of work, but we’ll see what that looks like when the season begins and wins are on the line. Especially if Corey Knebel isn’t available on Opening Day.
He did this while trimming his walk rate to 6.9% from 9.8% and his .232 BABIP was close to the career .228 mark, but homers don’t factor into that. His 21.4% HR/FB rate and 1.78 HR/9 did all it could to inflate his 2.62 ERA. Strikeouts and homers, the 2019 way. Still, his 1.78 SIERA made him the only qualified RP with a mark south of 2.00 and I’m here for his being the first off the board.
I won’t begrudge anyone for going with Yates over Hader, as his 41 SV+HLD barely trailed Hader while his 1.19 ERA was far cleaner. Still, we know the surface stats for a reliever are highly volatile. Yates’ 2.05 SIERA was second to Hader’s rate, while his 41.6% strikeout rate was third-best, just behind Nick Anderson. Speaking of...
Nick Anderson’s numbers once joining the Rays.
Ranks among relievers
1.62 FIP - 4th
17.30 K/9 - 1st
0.66 WHIP - 7th
50% K-BB - 1st
52.6% K rate - 1st
2.6% BB rate - 10th
41 Ks - 4th
1.0 WAR - 4th
— Jorge Montanez (@Roto_Nino) January 9, 2020
I cannot dance around Anderson anymore. He was simply lights out after joining the Rays. 2019 was his first MLB season, and Anderson was inconsistent in Miami, throwing more breaking balls instead of ripping into hitters with his elite heat. Then he was traded to Tampa Bay at the deadline and proceeded to log a whopping 41/2 K/BB rate and 2.11 ERA (1.03 SIERA!) across 21 ⅓ IP. Tampa may get “cute” with when they deploy their relievers, but they’re still an above-average team in the top-heavy East for this short season and should have many leads to protect.
Hendriks’ stock gets more comfortable with Treinen going to LAD. His average fastball velocity went from 94-95 MPH to 96.5 MPH, his curveball rose from 82 MPH to 84 MPH and the rate at which he threw it soared, from 1.8% in ‘18 to 7.8%. The added heat helped, as hitters pulled a career-low 26.5% of batted balls off of him, which eased the damage done by the 49.5% fly-ball rate.
The other non-closer worthy of the elite Tier One label is Ryan Pressly, who put up stats nearly identical to teammate Roberto Osuna. His 72 strikeouts in 54 ⅓ IP offer a better K/9 than Osuna’s 73 K’s in 65 frames, while also putting up a top-10 SV+HLD total for 2019 (34) with a beautiful 2.32 ERA/0.91 WHIP. Houston may be mired in scandal, but the Pressly-Osuna bridge at their endgame should remain steady. Honestly, if someone wanted Pressly over Osuna here then I wouldn’t fight it.
Rogers’ argument for Tier One comes via the incredible 2.61 ERA/1.03 WHIP, 90 K’s, and 40 SV+HLD in 69 IP last season. The Twins are in a fantastic spot in the top-heavy AL Central and Minnesota’s defense only got better with the addition of Josh Donaldson. That’s only if hitters are fortunate enough to put bat on ball, as Rogers’ 2018 28.9% strikeout rate jumped to 32.4% as he posted a 50.6% groundball rate and 4% walk rate. Getting to first base is tough sledding there.
There are some huge beneficiaries from the SV+HLD format, with less value tied up in needing to retain permanent closer status. Emilio Pagan stepped up for the Rays after Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo were injured or inconsistent down the stretch, but now he retains that value in San Diego as their setup man. This also clears some work for TB arms, but Pagan is a fine first bullpen arm to tap.
Meanwhile, Jansen had to miss a few games at altitude due to a heart condition, but his overall 3.71 ERA/1.06 WHIP and 80 K’s in 63 frames remained strong. He’s always been a fly-ball pitcher and as such, 2018’s and 2019’s “higher” (for him) ERAs with a low WHIP add up with homers and fly outs. The last two seasons have also seen him post mortal 6% walk rates after that incredible 2.7% clip in ‘17 -- just small things worth noting. He remains a top-10 option, but he’s no longer in the upper echelon. There's enhanced risk as he just reported to camp on July 12 after testing positive for the virus, but early reports indicate he'll be ready by July 23.
Seth Lugo is far more stable than Edwin Diaz, but could see earlier work as a multi-inning horse. Last season, Lugo turned in 80 innings with 27 SV+HLDs, 104 strikeouts, and pristine ratios. When the Mets had six starters, I felt better about Lugo working late. With Noah Syndergaard out and Michael Wacha needed in the rotation, it’s possible the Mets need Lugo and Robert Gsellman to step up earlier if Walker Lockett, Paul Sewald, Corey Oswalt, and other “longer” arms with lesser abilities aren’t working. And then news broke on the other side of the city...
With Aroldis Chapman having tested positive for COVID-19, Zack Britton would be a "natural guy" to install as the #Yankees closer, Aaron Boone said.
Boone said that Chapman will not be with the team "for the foreseeable future."
— Bryan Hoch (@BryanHoch) July 11, 2020
No Chapman to open the season, and that ominous "foreseeable future" bit, obviously knocks the flamethrower's stock. While Britton steps up in the hierarchy, his SV+HLD prospects aren't altered much. This is about weighing risk and upside with the pinstriped southpaw, and my assessment has him ahead of other (different) risks that kick off the third tier. His ceiling is still that of the game's best reliever, but everyone's recovery is unique and news must be monitored closely.
The Mets will have to decide on how to best use Edwin Diaz given his loss of command in ‘19 and Dellin Betances coming off a lost season. Diaz has the raw ability to be the game’s best reliever, which floats his rank, but the floor is low. I had more concerns about Betances coming off a lost 2019 when a full season was on the table, but a shortened campaign sees his stock rise as a premier strikeout arm.
Giovanny Gallegos is dealing with COVID early on and may not be game-ready by season’s start, but until we receive clarity on those effects we can simply analyze his performance heading into 2020. That is, how he posted a 2.31 ERA and 0.84 WHIP over 74 IP in 2019, but didn’t see consistent late-game work early on. The SV+HLD format shields you from the shadow that is Jordan Hicks’ recovery and Andrew Miller’s role as a late-game lefty with closing experience, as well as recent comments from GM John Mozeliak giving Ryan Helsley a vote of confidence for the ninth innng.
Iglesias inspires many as a steady name, as you will recall his 37 SV+HLDs were seventh-best in the game last year. So, why isn’t he higher? Well, the 12 losses hurt, but underneath the surface you’ll see how the 3.22 SIERA is consistent with his 3.31 career mark and the 31.9% strikeout rate was a career-best alongside a slight drop in walks (8.6% to 7.5%.) His HR/9 has been 1.50 and 1.61 in the past two seasons, but it was ramped up by allowing more fly balls in ‘19. After surrendering an average 35.2% fly-ball rate in ‘18, he was crushed by a 43.9% mark in ‘19. Soft contact went up, but so did hard contact. Welcome to modern-day baseball, land of the extremes.
The SV+HLD format really helps most of the Red Sox relievers retain a high floor as well, with Workman boasting the greatest skill set on the surface. Most are aware of him after a brilliant 2019 where he recorded 10 wins, 16 saves and 15 holds with a 1.88 ERA/1.10 WHIP. Critical to that was his leading the league with just one barrel allowed across the whole season, which means we need to prepare for regression. Matt Barnes is also in this group, as his 110 strikeouts in 64 ⅓ IP was outstanding but the walks and subsequent 1.42 WHIP were tough to absorb.
I’ll cheat and talk about Tiers 3-5 for a second, as Washington is another bullpen with several reliable arms on a team likely to deliver Ws. With Sean Doolittle’s left-handed and eased usage giving way to plenty of late work for the righties in Daniel Hudson and Will Harris. Whether it’s a matchup decision or Davey Martinez is trying not to overwork Doolittle, Hudson is almost guaranteed to work those late frames on defending World Series champs that should vie for another division title while Harris likely sets them both up.
Now, Doolittle has sounded unsure of playing and has the aforementioned workload ceiling. His 5.8% walk rate was his worst in four years, same with his 66.9% first-strike rate and 12.1% swinging-strike rate. But the workload management could solve that. Meanwhile, Hudson posted one of his best years with a 2.47 ERA/1.14 WHIP, though his 4.21 SIERA and 5.08 xFIP were his worst marks since being a rookie in ‘09. Harris enjoyed some lucky peripherals (.245 BABIP vs. career .288) but a 3.18 SIERA and 3.04 xFIP for Houston gives him a leg up over Hudson to me.
While one could argue that Zack Britton belongs higher, the poor strikeout rate stands out more in today’s world. While that sinker yielded amazing ratios for the Yankees and fantasy owners alike, a reliever that isn’t getting dedicated late work better give you plus whiffs to make it worth your while. You can’t rely on the holds racking up here this early in drafts, and I’m wary of ratios being the main reason to draft a reliever this early. At least his repertoire is good at mitigating dangerous fly balls. He may earn a few more SV+HLD opportunities than Tommy Kahnle, but the southpaw’s lower K% suppresses the value when banking on “ratio relief” is more volatile.
Yusmeiro Petit has been a beast over the past three seasons, posting ERA’s of 3.00 or less while tossing 83-93 innings with a collective WHIP below 1.00. His 19.8% K-BB% blends with Oakland’s pitcher-friendly park to yield BABIPs around .230 as an Athletic. You’ll find lesser K’s (71 in 83 IP last year) but in this case, his ratios appear safer on a year-to-year basis and Oakland is a great spot for churning Hold opportunities.
You’ll find both Alex Colome and Aaron Bummer here too, as I expect the White Sox to improve their lot. The issue here is both are finesse rather than flamethrower, like Petit, offering less than a strikeout per inning in exchange for plus ratios. The flipside of these guys are the Jose Leclerc and Matt Barnes types with stronger K’s, but higher ratio risk. The increased reliability of K’s keeps those names in the third tier rather than here, but you get the point.
If I knew Drew Pomeranz was going to stay in the late innings all year long and not be drafted into opener duties then I’d have him higher, especially after he turned in a 1.88 ERA/0.85 WHIP with 50 K’s in just 28 ⅔ IP of relief for Milwaukee last season. I wish he was still throwing to Yasmani Grandal, but Buster Posey and spacious San Francisco will do just fine.
Will Smith is out with COVID and we’re unsure about his game shape to open the season, but he’d be in my second tier if the southpaw was healthy. Plus ratios, big K’s, and the lefty component to the late frames for a strong Atlanta team that works with a shakier arm in Mark Melancon. Many other arms in that ‘pen will appear here, as they’ll help bridge the starters to Smith in pursuit of wins.
Another premier setup man pops here, with Ty Buttrey bringing in around 30 SV+HLD over the year with plus strikeouts and average ratios. The raw SV+HLD volume is what buoys his value behind Hansel Robles in a subpar bullpen.
Here is where you start to find players with some greater fleas, but presumed late roles and/or big upside. You’ll find higher WHIPs on the whole, younger players with less certain roles, and a couple injury risks.
Melancon, Ian Kennedy, and Joe Jimenez are a mixed bag, posting WHIPs of 1.30 or higher last season, but not banking on low-ratio guys to replicate their efforts swings both ways. Jimenez has the highest ceiling as Detroit’s “arm of the future” but the Tigers may not have many leads to close.
I want to believe in Joe Jimenez over the long term, but the 3.14 SIERA in 2018 was tied to a 4.31 ERA and his 3.41 SIERA last season hid behind a 4.37 ERA. At some point, the results have to be there. After a rough July 17 outing, Jimenez posted a 2.55 ERA with 31 strikeouts to seven walks over 24 ⅔ IP. Of the seven runs allowed, five of them came on solo homers. He didn’t issue a walk over his final eight appearances of the season, so there are hints of greatness, but we must keep our heads on straight.
Andrew Miller had a 4.45 ERA/1.32 WHIP. Miller had poor ratios in 2018 as well (4.24 ERA/1.38 WHIP) but maintained hope in the 3.51 FIP/3.29 SIERA. With similar surface stats in ‘19, his FIP ballooned to 5.19 while the 3.87 SIERA wasn’t as dramatic. Be careful, but the opportunities for SV+HLDs will be there as long as he’s healthy, and he’s been cleared as of early July.
I'd have Rafael Montero higher in Texas if he was ready to start the season, but a family emergency kept him from camp early on and so he's likely unavailable for a little at the starting gun. Still, his 34/5 K/BB ratio makes him the second-best arm in that 'pen, and one that's a little more consistent than Leclerc. The new pitcher-friendly park may have big returns here too, as he pitched to a 1.62 ERA in 16 2/3 IP on the road, posting an elite 21/2 K/BB ratio. It's a smaller sample size and might just be noise, but there's hope for more here.
Here comes the upside speculation, as I can’t get away from the Nick Anderson potential that lives in James Karinchak. Perhaps the Indians don’t use him in enough Hold opportunities to excite you, but he could top 35 strikeouts in just 20 innings.
Seattle's Austin Adams had a 42.1% strikeout rate last season as an RP, trailing only Josh Hader (min. 30 IP; 249 Ps)
2.52 xFIP was 5th, trailing Pressly, Yates, Hader, & Anderson. Now healthy, minimal competition for 9th
NFBC ADP 6/1-7/9: 449th - giddyup
— Nick Mariano (@NMariano53) July 10, 2020
He’s fetching several headlines, but you may get Seattle’s Austin Adams for cheaper with better results. He hurt his knee last season and is only now reported as 100%, but people haven’t reassessed him on this new timeline. The Mariners don’t have a closer, Matt Magill and Yoshihisa Hirano aren’t huge threats, but the SV+HLD format largely protects you from Scott Servais’ role decisions regardless. Adams had a whopping 51 strikeouts in just 31 innings last season, posting a 2.78 SIERA and 2.50 xFIP with a 41.1% strikeout rate that ranked fourth in the Majors (min. 30 IP). That mark trailed only Hader, Nick Anderson, and Kirby Yates. Yeah.
The risk profile grows here, but you can find a lot of K’s in Scott Barlow, Colin Poche and Amir Garrett, who had an unwieldy 1.43 WHIP last season, but the 3.21 ERA had him mitigating the potential damage while logging 22 holds. Poche offers a similar profile with lesser strikeout upside and perhaps greater bullpen volume, but throwing his fastball around 85% of the time makes him prone to the longball as a result. Hence the gorgeous 1.04 WHIP but 4.70 ERA. Barlow may turn in the most innings with the most strikeouts, but the Royals won’t win many games and his 11.9% walk rate from last season (1.44 WHIP) is tough to stomach.
While everyone’s looking at Karinchak, folks may let Nick Wittgren and his 2.81 ERA/1.10 WHIP with a strikeout per inning slide. And then Bryan Abreu could be a starter or reliever for Houston, but 13 K’s with one earned run in 8 ⅔ IP during his age-22 cup of coffee offers upside either way. His spot on the Astros means he’ll have a good shot at either wins or SV+HLDs.
Keynan Middleton is another forgotten arm who missed time due to injuries, but should step into the late innings unless his command is ruined. Speaking of ruined command, Blake Treinen has a lot to prove but his upside on the Dodgers in this format is easily top-50. Ditto, Wade Davis.
Luke Jackson had a roller-coaster season, but 106 K’s in 72 ⅔ IP with a 2.80 SIERA and 2.52 xFIP is incredible. With 10 strikeouts and three walks over five scoreless innings in the Grapefruit League before play was suspended in March, the promise remains. Whether he, Shane Greene, and Chris Martin can get consistent Holds work is another story, but his upside is easily the highest of that trio.
I’d rather not rely on Joe Kelly rebounding when you can just buy into Pedro Baez or Blake Treinen instead, with Treinen’s rebound ceiling higher than Kelly’s. But the Dodgers bullpen use is typically structured and Kelly shouldn’t fall far down the totem pole. Kyle Crick’s control left him entirely through 2019, but he’s still at least a top-three arm in that rebuilding ‘pen with plus strikeout ability. The same goes for Lou Trivino.
Crick could emerge should the rebuilding Pirates deal Keone Kela. Crick has reported no setbacks in recovery from tendon repair surgery on his right index finger, an injury suffered during a fight with Felipe Vazquez. Shocking that someone would fight Vazquez, I know. Crick’s command left him in ‘19, with an awful 15.5% walk rate and 1.84 HR/9 mark, but he’d posted a 2.39 ERA/1.13 WHIP in ‘18. Just keep an eye out on his spring command.
I wouldn’t be shocked if Tyler Clippard returns the most value here after the 2.38 ERA/0.87 WHIP from last year, but life may be difficult beyond Rogers, Romo, and May in the ‘pen. I’d rather have Tyler Duffey, who had 23 more strikeouts in just one additional inning last season and won’t grab anyone’s attention by name.
Here’s where you have to start making roster-dependent decisions and truly split between taking skills and roles. Several players are the closer or setup men on lesser teams here, such as Tony Watson and Brandon Kintzler. While the entire risk profile must be weighed, the two arms I’ll likely have rostered the most are Trevor Rosenthal and Hunter Harvey.
Dayton Moore, the Royals GM, said Rosenthal was one of the team’s best relievers in camp and the competition is minimal. His 2019 was atrocious, but 2018 saw him rack up 76 whiffs in 47 ⅔ IP thanks to an incredible 15.9% swinging-strike rate. He's reunited with Mike Matheny, who knows just how good an "on" Rosenthal can be.
These three K's from Trevor Rosenthal
— Alex Fast (@AlexFast8) March 4, 2020
Another bullpen in flux saw Orioles manager Brandon Hyde talk up Harvey as a high-leverage arm, an option to close, who anchored the bullpen. The 25-year-old only yielded one run while striking out 11 across 6 ⅓ IP, though a .200 BABIP helps anyone. Don’t expect the world, but don’t be shocked at all if he outperforms Mychal Givens with double-digit SV+HLDs.
Now the arms whose skills outweigh their opportunity are more frequent, with Chad Green embodying this as the Yankees’ usual opener. Perhaps he piggyback-starts his way to an Aaron Small-like campaign and a handful of wins. Kolarek and Perez are both lefties on teams expected to win a lot, but we’ll see how they and their managers handle the new reliever rules.
Poor Tyler Rogers is stuck in San Francisco while his twin brother, Taylor, thrives in Minnesota, but the righty has seemingly earned a share of the ninth for Gabe Kapler alongside Tony Watson. A 1.02 ERA/0.85 WHIP with a mere 4.3% walk rate and huge 69.4% groundball rate can do that, but he’s lucky to log a K per inning. Hope for double-digit SV+HLDs with plus ratios on a bad Giants squad.
A trio of Brew Crew arms reside here, and while Brent Suter may offer some reliable holds and low ratios, it’s Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes who are magnets for fantasy owners. They may both operate out of the ‘pen to start if Eric Lauer takes the fifth rotation slot, with gigantic strikeout potential. Peralta (30.1% K rate in ‘19) and Burnes (29.8%) can bring the heat if you can stomach a likely negative in the WHIP department. Once again, Peralta had a 1.14 WHIP and Burnes carried a 1.00 WHIP in limited MLB work two years ago, so don’t be too skittish of floors. But their work as pseudo-starters may not yield many hold opportunities.
Another high-strikeout target lies in Darwinzon Hernandez, where you have to hope his command improves enough to be trusted with hold-worthy innings. Tanner Rainey offers incredible K upside (74 in 48 ⅓ IP last season) but you know you’re soaking in a 1.50 WHIP and lower-leverage innings with recent signings on the team. And keep an eye on Nick Burdi, who could become Pittsburgh’s closer if Keone Kela starts hot and the Pirates can get some future pieces for him. Burdi’s biceps injury tanked most of 2019, but 17 K’s in 8 ⅔ IP tells you how his stuff can play in today’s swing-happy game.
Here are those project relievers who have multiple things to work on and/or don’t offer much upside for SV+HLD seekers. I think Matt Strahm is mighty talented but figure he’s not a late-game arm, instead serving as either an opener or a piggyback. Perhaps Jairo Diaz and Carlos Estevez can carve out enough late work in Colorado to be relevant, but you need the Rockies to win as well as dance around Coors.
The Cody Allen reclamation project in Texas may yield a star, but he didn’t have the same rebound show in camp that Trevor Rosenthal displayed. Youngsters such as Boston’s Josh Taylor or St. Louis’ Junior Fernandez have some intrigue in deep leagues, with Taylor likely closer to the holds conversation.
If your league has several IL slots this season then I’m okay stashing Jordan Hicks a little earlier, but I don’t love waiting on any pitcher that isn’t available due to an arm/shoulder injury at the jump. Roster spots are precious, and missing out on the early bullpen shuffle is tougher to come back from without a marathon to run.
I know recent buzz has surfaced around the Yankees with Clarke Schmidt (and Michael King, to an extent) but while they may see some work in this sprint season, the odds they significantly help in the SV+HLD category are slim. The Yanks have so many veteran arms that getting to the valuable frames is a steep climb. The ceiling is likely the Chad Green role, but if you must speculate this far down then targeting Yankees is a solid first step.
Some of the better names that I think could quickly rise are Houston’s Joe Smith, Seattle’s Erik Swanson (if he stays in the ‘pen) and Carl Edwards Jr. (if he can regain his pre-injury form), and Philadelphia’s Tommy Hunter (should no complications from Covid arise). Darren O’Day is within a loaded Atlanta bullpen, but may earn some holds if they don’t swiftly stretch out starters.