When it comes to relief pitchers most leagues pay attention to one category, saves. The elite closers give you a boost in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, but the fact of it is in the majority of leagues relievers are looked at for that one category.
This leaves a lot of relief pitchers on the waiver wire for the entire season. This is a shame too because a lot of these guys can really help you keep your ERA and WHIP down.
For those of you who are new to the category let me explain what a hold is. A Hold is credited any time a relief pitcher enters a game in a Save Situation (see definition below), records at least one out, and leaves the game never having relinquished the lead (thanks stats.com).
Now some of you will be in leagues where you add holds as a separate category and some where you combine saves and holds, or as it is often called, solds. There is absolutely a different strategy involved with each setup. I’ll go into each one briefly.
In leagues where holds is its own category, you will have to go after the pitchers who get holds. Those eighth inning guys are the ones you will want to target, but realize that at any time in the season those holds can turn into saves, due to injury, ineffectiveness from the original closer. You will then have to readjust and find your holds from other places.
In leagues with solds, my personal strategy is to let everybody pay top dollar for the relief pitchers who get saves and instead I go after some of the elite guys who will get me holds. They tend to be cheaper than the elite closers, but often times they will be better overall pitcher than the closers. Below I go through the best possible pitchers to help in both of these formats.
Best Relief Pitchers for Holds
Dellin Betances, New York Yankees
Betances has been down right dominant the last two seasons for the pinstripes. In 2014 his K/9 was 13.50 and shockingly it was actually better in 2014 at 14.04.
He and the next guy on our list will hold down major spots in what is looking like the best bullpen in baseball. His under two ERA and right around one WHIP makes him one of if not the most elite setup guy in baseball.
Andrew Miller, New York Yankees
If Betances is considered one of the most elite setup guy in baseball, Miller is right there with him. His K/9 is has been better than Betances, but his ERA and WHIP, although good, have been slightly worse.
Another case for Miller to be better is he is likely to be the eighth inning guy in New York, which will lead to more hold opportunities.
Both of these guys will likely go early in your drafts that include holds, so if you want them you’ll have to pay a high price.
Tony Watson, Pittsburgh Pirates
Watson has one of the better ERA and WHIP combos out of all the pitchers on this list. The last two seasons his ERA has been no worse than 1.91 and his WHIP no worse than 1.02.
What puts him below Miller and Betances is his much lower K/9 rate. (9.43 in 2014 and 7.14 in 2015).
Great news for him is the Pirates should be good once again in 2016 and help Watson defend his holds title from 2015.
Sergio Romo, San Francisco Giants
I bet if you had to guess who was second in the league in holds in 2015 you would not guess Romo. Well he indeed did finish second with 34 holds.
Romo lost his closer job in 2014 after he saw his ERA balloon up to 3.72 and never got it back.
He bounced back though by dropping his ERA to under three with FIP and xFIP numbers saying he was better than his posted ERA.
Carter Capps/A.J. Ramos, Miami Marlins
I put these two together because they are fighting for the closer spot this spring. My guess is Ramos keeps the job, because he held the job for most of the season last year and did nothing to lose it.
Ramos posted 2.30 ERA and 1.01 WHIP and had a 11.13 K/9, leading him to 36 saves in 2015. Not too shabby.
Capps is the more overall dominant pitcher of the two though. His 16.84 K/9 led all of baseball last season. He also had a 1.16 ERA and 0.81 WHIP. In standard leagues he is likely to be the first non-closer taken off the board because he could very easily take over the closer role and his stuff is ridiculous.
In leagues where you count holds, to me he is just behind Betances and Miller because the Marlins won’t have as many hold opportunities as New York this season, limiting his value.
Luke Gregerson, Houston Astros
Gregerson wants to be in the closer this season for the Astros, but I just don’t see that happening since they traded for Ken Giles.
Gregerson pitched very well for Houston last year on his way to 31 saves, but he has plenty of experience and more success in the eighth inning.
The Astros should be good again this season, providing plenty of opportunities for Gregerson to tally holds. Then if for any reason Giles falters, Gregerson can slide right into the closer role and get you saves.
The strikeouts are not elite like some of the guys on this list, but you can’t sneeze at a 8.70 K/9 for one of the top hold candidates out there.
Darren O’Day, Baltimore Orioles
O’Day has improved his ERA in all four seasons with the Orioles, all the way down to a 1.52 last season. His K/9 rate went up to 11.30 last season too. Even though those numbers may not repeat, he is back for a fifth straight season and that can only be a good thing.
One thing that really helps him is he has lockdown closer Zach Britton behind him, so as long as he gets through the eighth inning, he should get the hold. This is not much of an issue at all for him as he has only 13 blown saves total over the last three seasons.
One reason why I think he gets overlooked some is the fact that his holds numbers are lower than some of the guys on this list. Ignore that. He also has 10 saves over the last two seasons. Add that that to his holds total and he is in the top-10 easy.
Hunter Strickland, San Francisco Giants
This is a good sleeper that I don’t think a lot of people are talking about, and I can’t understand why.
Strickland is a failed starter that has settled nicely in the bullpen. It is also rumored that if Casilla falters at all then Strickland would be the new closer, even over Romo. That news gives him a bit more value that counts saves.
However in holds leagues he still has fantastic stuff and that is proven by his below one WHIP last season in his first full time stint out of the bullpen. You would hope the strikeouts would be higher, but you can easily get him for $1 in most leagues. I’d be very happy with spending that much for him.
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