There’s been a shift in MLB to emphasize relief pitching in recent years, and our game of fantasy baseball should reflect that. That’s where holds leagues come in. In holds leagues, good relievers that help in multiple categories have value whether they are getting saves or not. Some leagues count holds just as valuable as saves, in which case you just want to roster the relievers with the best skills to help you win your categories. In this article, I give you some of the top setup men and middle relievers you’ll want to roster in these leagues.
In fact, some people are buying into middle relievers even in standard saves leagues. Check out Doug Anderson’s 7 Reasons to Use Middle Relievers in Mixed Leagues.
If you’re like us, you can’t wait until spring to get the 2020 fantasy baseball season started. Well, you don’t have to. Leagues are already forming at Fantrax.com, so head on over and get your league started today.
Top 40 Relievers for Holds Leagues
1. Ryan Pressly – Houston Astros
2019 Stats – 54.1 IP, 2.32 ERA, 11.93 K/9, 0.90 WHIP
Ryan Pressly excelled in his first full season as the Astros’ primary setup man, leading all of MLB with 31 holds. He was able to maintain the strikeout gains he made once joining Houston with a career-high 17.7% swinging-strike rate. Since joining the Astros, Pressly has a 1.85 ERA after posting a 3.75 career ERA with Minnesota. The team context and exceptional ratios make Pressly one of the premier relievers to own in holds leagues.
2. Will Smith – Atlanta Braves
2019 Stats: 65.1 IP, 2.76 ERA, 13.22 K/9, 1.03 WHIP
Will Smith made his return from Tommy John surgery in 2018 and has pitched dominantly since. Smith recorded 48 saves in his time with San Francisco and now finds himself setting up for fellow former Giant Mark Melancon. Melancon enters the season as the closer, but there’s a chance we see Smith get his fair share of save opportunities. His 15.5% swinging-strike rate and 13.22 K/9 are both career-bests for Smith. Expect prime numbers and a combination of holds and saves throughout the season.
3. Seth Lugo – New York Mets
2019 Stats: 80 IP, 2.70 ERA, 11.70 K/9, 0.90 WHIP
Seth Lugo was invaluable to the Mets as one of their only dependable relievers. Lugo finished the season with 21 holds and six saves. With a total of 80 innings, his phenomenal ratios carry more weight than many on this list. Likely closer Edwin Diaz is expected to bounce back by many. But if he struggles, we could see Lugo come in to save the day for New York once again and take over the closer role.
4. Drew Pomeranz – San Diego Padres
2019 Stats: 104 IP, 4.85 ERA, 11.86 K/9, 1.43 WHIP
Drew Pomeranz signed with the San Francisco Giants in hopes of reviving his career. After failing as a starter, he was traded to Milwaukee and used as a reliever. And boy did it work for him. As a starter, Pomeranz had a 5.97 ERA. That was a far cry from the 1.88 ERA he put up as a reliever. His WHIP also dropped from 1.66 to 0.84, with his strikeout rate also improving from 24.9% to 47.2%. That was enough for San Diego to buy-in with a four year, $35 million contract.
5. Emilio Pagan – San Diego Padres
2019 Stats: 70 IP, 2.31 ERA, 12.34 K/9, 0.82 WHIP
In a somewhat surprising move, the Padres acquired Emilio Pagan from the Tampa Bay Rays, giving them one of the most formidable bullpens in the league. Pagan was excellent for the Rays, stepping in as the primary closer through the second half of the season. Only Josh Hader, Yusmeiro Petit, and Giovanny Gallegos had better WHIPs among qualified relievers. The Padres are expected to compete this season and raise their win total, giving this bullpen plenty of opportunities to hold leads.
6. Tommy Kahnle – New York Yankees
2019 Stats: 61.1 IP, 3.67 ERA, 12.91 K/9, 1.06 WHIP
The Yankees have a monster bullpen, and Tommy Kahnle is a big part of that. One of three Yankees in the top 30 of 2019’s holds leaders, Kahnle is the best of them. With a 50.3% ground ball rate, 27.4% K-BB rate, and 17.9% swinging-strike rate, what’s there not to like?
7. Adam Ottavino – New York Yankees
2019 Stats: 66.1 IP, 1.90 ERA, 11.94 K/9, 1.31 WHIP
Pick your poison with the Yankees bullpen. New York had three relievers finish in the top 10 in holds for 2019. Adam Ottavino finished sixth in baseball with 28 and had some of the best ratios. His 1.90 ERA was second-best, only behind Will Harris among the top 30 holds leaders for last season.
8. Matt Barnes – Boston Red Sox
2019 Stats: 64.1 IP, 3.78 ERA, 15.39 K/9, 1.38 WHIP
Of the top 30 relievers in holds for 2019, no one had more strikeouts than Matt Barnes. Barnes finished with 26 holds and 110 punchouts. He won’t be going into the season battling for a role this time. The closer job belongs to Brandon Workman. Battling his control is another thing. You have to take the strikeouts with the WHIP, so you’ll need to be steady in that category.
9. Dellin Betances – New York Mets
2019: Injured 2018 Stats: 66.2 IP, 2.70 ERA, 15.53 K/9, 1.05 WHIP
Seth Lugo and Edwin Diaz have some help in New York with the addition of Dellin Betances. While he missed just about all of 2019 due to injury, Betances has been among the best relievers for holds over the last six seasons. Only Tony Watson and Bryan Shaw have accumulated more holds since 2014. In those six seasons, Betances has managed a K/9 of at least 13.50 and put up no lower than a 15.08 from 2016-2018.
10. Will Harris – Washington Nationals
2019 Stats: 60 IP, 1.50 ERA, 9.30 K/9, 0.93 WHIP
Will Harris joins the Nationals after an excellent five-year run with the Astros. He finished last season with 26 holds and has accumulated the second-most in baseball over the last five seasons with 103. Harris has just been consistently good for a long time. Doolittle is notorious for his lack of ability to stay healthy. Harris could end up in a timeshare for saves with Daniel Hudson should Doolittle be unavailable at some point this season.
11. Pedro Baez – Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 Stats: 69.2 IP, 3.10 ERA, 8.91 K/9, 0.95 WHIP
A season of 69.2 innings, a 3.10 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 25 holds. It doesn’t get much better than that. Then again, I didn’t think the Dodgers could get much better, but they did. The 3.10 ERA was actually Baez’s highest since the 3.35 he posted in 2015, so he’s got one of the better track records of all the relievers on this list.
12. Andres Munoz – San Diego Padres
2019 Stats: 23 IP, 3.91 ERA, 11.74 K/9, 1.17 WHIP
The final numbers for Andres Munoz don’t paint the whole picture of just how good the 20-year-old was last season. Munoz totaled 58.2 innings between his time in the minor and major leagues. He had pitched only 24.2 innings the year prior, less than half of his 2019 total. Munoz was shut down in September after two rough three-run outings. Before those two outings, Munoz had a 1.69 ERA. Expect the young reliever to get plenty of run in high-leverage situations this season.
13. Trevor May – Minnesota Twins
2019 Stats: 64.1 IP, 2.94 ERA, 11.05 K/9, 1.07 WHIP
The late-innings in Minnesota were a revolving door of relievers for much of the season. Trevor May and Taylor Rogers were by far two of the more consistent ones. Though May only totaled 17 holds, he provided excellent ratios and perhaps more trust in high-leverage situations going into this year.
14. Diego Castillo – Tampa Bay Rays
2019 Stats: 68.2 IP, 3.41 ERA, 10.62 K/9, 1.24 WHIP
Diego Castillo is one of my favorite reliever targets in all leagues. With everyone paying up for Nick Anderson, I’ll sit back and take Castillo much later. I wouldn’t expect Castillo to be the primary closer by any means, but he did total eight saves for the Rays last season with 17 holds. I would expect more of the same in 2020.
15. Tyler Duffey – Minnesota Twins
2019 Stats: 57.2 IP, 2.50 ERA, 12.80 K/9, 1.01 WHIP
Tyler Duffey seems to be the forgotten man in Minnesota despite having some of the best stuff in that bullpen. Perhaps it’s because he was never in the closing mix. But he was pretty damn good. His 34.4% strikeout rate is supported by his 15.3% swinging-strike rate. And his ERA indicators don’t suggest the 2.50 ERA is a fluke. Expect the 15 hold total from last season to rise considerably this year.
16. Ty Buttrey – Los Angeles Angels
2019 Stats: 72.1 IP, 3.98 ERA, 10.45 K/9, 1.27 WHIP
Ty Buttrey took a step back from the excellence we saw in a small sample during the 2018 season. His swinging-strike rate declined from 14.3% to 11.9%. And his ground ball rate dropped by 11.1%. Despite all this, he recorded 26 holds in 72 innings of work, with a couple saves thrown in for good measure. His 3.98 ERA did come with a 3.49 FIP, so perhaps Buttrey was a bit unlucky. Regardless, he goes into 2020 as one of the top setup men for Hansel Robles and should be in line for a similar holds count this season.
17. Aaron Bummer – Chicago White Sox
2019 Stats: 67.2 IP, 2.13 ERA, 7.98 K/9, 0.99 WHIP
The White Sox look to be in line to compete for the AL Central title. Aaron Bummer was eighth in baseball with 27 holds and could be in line for a similar output, if not more. Strong ratios could be expected, though he won’t be an asset for strikeouts.
18. Daniel Hudson – Washington Nationals
2019 Stats: 73 IP, 2.47 ERA, 8.75 K/9, 1.14 WHIP
Daniel Hudson split closing duties with Sean Doolittle down the stretch for the Nationals. He’s back with Washington and ready to take on a similar role. Hudson stepped in for Ken Giles to close games in Toronto last season as well before he was traded. He had an exceptional year and should be in line for plenty of holds with stable ratios and a chance to close out some games.
19. James Karinchak – Cleveland Indians
2019 Stats: 5.1 IP, 1.69 ERA, 13.50 K/9, 0.75 WHIP
James Karinchak has the potential to be one of the game’s premier relievers. He’s never pitched more than 27 innings at any level. So, we’re dealing with small sample sizes against various levels of competition. But collectively, Karinchak has blown away the opposition with a 53.8% strikeout rate in 17 Triple-A innings and a 66.7% strikeout rate in 10 Double-A innings during the 2019 season. With Emmanuel Clase out for the next few months, Karinchak has the chance to solidify himself as the next closer in line behind Brad Hand.
20. Michael Lorenzen – Cincinnati Reds
2019 Stats: 83.1 IP, 2.92 ERA, 9.18 K/9, 1.15 WHIP
Twenty-one holds, seven saves, and a strong ERA and WHIP over plenty of innings made Michael Lorenzen an underrated reliever in holds leagues.
21. Kevin Ginkel – Arizona Diamondbacks
2019 Stats: 24.1 IP, 1.48 ERA, 10.36 K/9, 0.99 WHIP
Kevin Ginkel is a hot name going around after he flashed some skills in 2019. Ginkel contributed eight holds in 25 appearances and put up good ratios helped by a 14.1% swinging-strike rate. This one could be a slow play as I think he’ll gradually earn his way into high-leverage situations.
22. Emmanuel Clase – Cleveland Indians
2019 Stats: 23.1 IP, 2.31 ERA, 8.10 K/9, 1.11 WHIP
The new Cleveland Indian has a lot to live up to after he was traded for Corey Kluber. Unfortunately, Emmanuel Clase won’t get the chance to show what he can do right away with a back injury keeping him out for eight to twelve weeks. So we’ll have to wait a bit to see his 100mph heater. Clase doesn’t get the strikeouts you’d like to see, but he’s got excellent control with a 1.11 WHIP. And he generates an absurd amount of ground balls at a 60.6% rate. Clase will be middle reliever worth owning in most leagues upon his return.
23. Jose Alvarado – Tampa Bay Rays
2019 Stats: 30 IP, 4.80 ERA, 11.70 K/9, 1.87 WHIP
The 2019 season started off so promising for Jose Alvarado after picking up four saves through the first 10 days of the season. Things took a nosedive after that as he struggled to find his control. Alvarado also dealt with injuries and family troubles, making it hard for him to get on track. After an incredible 2018 season in which he totaled eight saves and 32 holds, I’m willing to give Alvarado another shot this year. I’d expect Alvarado to play a similar role as he has in recent years, stepping in for a few saves and tallying up the holds.
24. Seranthony Dominguez – Philadelphia Phillies
2019 Stats: 24.2 IP, 4.01 ERA, 10.58 K/9, 1.46 WHIP
Dominguez had a stellar 2018 rookie campaign in which he put up a 2.95 ERA and 11.48 K/9 with 30 total saves and holds. He wasn’t healthy last season and struggled. Dominguez still showed some good skills with a 54.5% ground ball rate. Hector Neris enters the season as the closer, and the Phillies didn’t do much to add help behind him. Dominguez should slot right back in as the setup man in hopes of having a bounce-back season.
25. Zack Britton – New York Yankees
2019 Stats: 61.1 IP, 1.91 ERA, 7.78 K/9, 1.14 WHIP
While Adam Ottavino supplied the strikeouts, Zack Britton steadied the WHIP, with better control. At 1.91, his ERA was third among the top 30 holds leaders. Britton finished with one more hold than his teammate with 29. With the Yankees expecting to compete as one of the best teams in baseball, expect plenty more holds to go around.
26. Yusmeiro Petit – Oakland Athletics
2019 Stats: 83 IP, 2.71 ERA, 7.70 K/9, 0.81 WHIP
Yusmeiro Petit is a high-volume ratio stabilizer that will accumulate a ton of holds. He might not be too exciting with a low strikeout rate, but he’ll seemingly never hurt your team. Petit has been able to outperform his expected ERA indicators year after year due to his outstanding control, with a BB% under six every year since 2013.
27. Chaz Roe – Tampa Bay Rays
2019 Stats: 51 IP, 4.06 ERA, 11.47 K/9, 1.57 WHIP
Chaz Roe made some drastic improvements in the second half of 2019. Before the All-Star break, Roe had a 5.27 ERA. After the break, it was 2.66 through the end of the year in 23.2 innings. A .368 BABIP in that first half suggested better luck was coming. And better control, dropping his BB% by 5% led to an encouraging finish to the season. Roe recorded 31 holds in 2018 and 23 last season, so with a Tampa Bay team that has its sights on the AL East title, he should be in line for plenty more holds.
28. Amir Garrett – Cincinnati Reds
2019 Stats: 56 IP, 3.21 ERA, 12.54 K/9, 1.41 WHIP
Amir Garrett is going to have to keep up that 16.2% swinging-strike rate and 31.7% strikeout rate is he’s going to continue to be successful. Otherwise, his 14.2% walk rate is going to come back to haunt him. Garrett did make some great strides in his second full season as a reliever and could continue to grow in his role as an excellent setup man.
29. Rafael Montero – Texas Rangers
2019 Stats: 29 IP, 2.48 ERA, 10.55 K/9, 0.97 WHIP
Rafael Montero is another reliever that saw his numbers improve drastically after converting as a starter. And now, he might just be the best part of the Rangers bullpen behind Jose Leclerc after posting a 30.1% strikeout rate and a 4.4% walk rate.
30. Andrew Chafin – Arizona Diamondbacks
2019 Stats: 52.2 IP, 3.76 ERA, 11.62 K/9, 1.33 WHIP
The only real blemish in Andrew Chafin’s profile is the high walk rate leading to an inflated WHIP. Otherwise, Chafin is one of the Diamondback’s best bullpen arms. His 3.25 FIP and 3.24 xFIP suggest he was a bit unlucky. Even so, he recorded 23 holds for Arizona in 2019.
31. Rowan Wick – Chicago Cubs
2019 Stats: 33.1 IP, 2.43 ERA, 9.45 K/9, 1.14 WHIP
Rowan Wick is an intriguing name to consider. Wick was called upon to contribute in the ninth inning during Craig Kimbrel’s absence. He performed well enough for the Cubs to let Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop go in free agency. This clears some space behind Kimbrel as Wick should be the next man up and in line to accumulate holds.
32. Tyler Rogers – San Francisco Giants
2019 Stats: 17.2 IP, 1.02 ERA, 8.15 K/9, 0.85 WHIP
Tyler Rogers, the sidewinding right-handed twin brother of Taylor Rogers, had a great MLB debut for the Giants last season. Rogers limits the few baserunners he allows by inducing a ridiculous 69.4% ground ball rate. Even if you can get someone on base, good luck doing any damage. Rogers could be a dark-horse candidate to close at some point this season, but he should be among the team’s top setup men regardless.
33. Luke Jackson – Atlanta Braves
2019 Stats: 72.2 IP, 3.94 ERA, 13.13 K/9, 1.40 WHIP
Luke Jackson was a pleasant surprise in the first half, posting a
2.66 ERA and 1.27 WHIP with 14 saves before the All-Star break. Things got ugly after that with a 5.65 ERA and 1.60 WHIP in the second half, costing him the ninth-inning role. The thing is, his 2.53 xFIP in the first half and 2.51 xFIP in the second half suggests he really wasn’t much different. What happened was he gave up more home runs. And with a less than stellar walk rate, that’s going to come around to hurt you.
34. Sergio Romo – Minnesota Twins
2019 Stats: 60.1 IP, 3.43 ERA, 8.95 K/9, 1.11 WHIP
Sergio Romo and his 87mph fastball just keeps getting the job done. Romo was brought in to Minnesota to share closing duties. But Taylor Rogers had other ideas, locking down the role for himself. Regardless, the Twins should be in line to win a lot of games this season, so there will be ample opportunities for the bullpen to hold leads late in games.
35. Joe Kelly – Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 Stats: 51.1 IP, 4.56 ERA, 10.87 K/9, 1.38 WHIP
Joe Kelly seemed to run into some bad luck with a 3.78 FIP and 3.19 xFIP that suggest he pitched better than his 4.56 ERA indicated. Although, he’s stayed consistent with a swinging-strike rate around 10% over the last three seasons, but his K% jumped by four percent up to 27.4%. So, I wouldn’t expect the same strikeout rate, but he should improve on the ERA nonetheless.
36. Ryne Stanek – Miami Marlins
2019 Stats: 77 IP, 3.97 ERA, 10.40 K/9, 1.30 WHIP
Ryne Stanek is one of my favorite late-round reliever targets. I just don’t buy Brandon Kintzler as the Marlins full-time closer for the year. Stanek has been consistent in his swinging-strike rate year over year at about 15.3%. But his strikeout rate went down by 3.6%, so he underperformed a bit in strikeouts. He was primarily an opener for the Rays, so now with the Marlins, he won’t have to come in facing the top of every order.
37. Jake Diekman – Oakland Athletics
2019 Stats: 62 IP, 4.65 ERA, 12.19 K/9, 1.42 WHIP
Jake Diekman was a bit of a mixed bag in 2019, as his 4.65 ERA and 1.42 WHIP didn’t help anyone, but his 31 holds certainly did. Diekman was a bit unlucky, as his 3.55 FIP was over a run lower than his ERA. He also had a career-high 15.6% swinging-strike rate. The problem is the 13.8% walk rate. Going from Kansas City to Oakland should keep him in line to accumulate holds and strikeouts. Just don’t expect too much help in ERA and WHIP.
38. Blake Treinen – Los Angeles Dodgers
2019 Stats: 58.2 IP, 4.91 ERA, 9.05 K/9, 1.62 WHIP
Blake Treinen had a season to forget, and one fantasy his owners would like to forget as well. It was a steep fall from the top. But here are Treinen’s K% over the last five years from 2015-2019: 23.2%, 23.9%, 22.8%, 31.8%, 22.2%. Yeah, that 31.8% is from 2018. So it looks like we all bought into a career year. Fortunately, there isn’t a better team to hope for bounceback with than the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even if he can’t get back to his 2018 level, Treinen could contribute to holding leads late in games.
39. Scott Oberg – Colorado Rockies
2019 Stats: 56 IP, 2.25 ERA, 9.32 K/9, 1.11 WHIP
For two seasons, Scott Oberg has beaten Coors Field. He’s now beaten his blood clot issues. Next, Wade Davis. If Davis performs like he did in 2019, Oberg should slot in as the Rockies’ closer in short order.
40. Corey Knebel – Milwaukee Brewers
2018 Stats: 55.1 IP, 3.58 ERA, 14.31 K/9, 1.08 WHIP
It’s easy to forget about Corey Knebel as he missed the entire 2019 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Before the injury, Knebel had a dominant 2017 in which he recorded 39 saves, a 1.78 ERA, and 126 strikeouts in 76 innings. Knebel is on track to return sometime in May and could step into a setup role or even share closing duties with Josh Hader. The best part is you won’t have to draft him. Just keep an eye on his progression and be ready to pick Knebel up.
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