We started in my last article considering if Wins, Quality Starts, or some other statistics are best for reflecting starting pitching value. Today we continue that exploration by looking at how we should evaluate relievers.
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For a long time saves, just like wins, have been the gold standard in fantasy leagues. However, the movement of the last few years, at least in many leagues, has been away from saves only to also caring about how the other relievers in a pen are performing. This consideration started with the tracking of reliever holds. Per MLB.com:
A hold occurs when a relief pitcher enters the game in a save situation and maintains his team’s lead for the next relief pitcher, while recording at least one out. One of two conditions must be met for a pitcher to record a hold: 1) He enters with a lead of three runs or less and maintains that lead while recording at least one out. 2) He enters the game with the tying run on-deck, at the plate or on the bases, and records an out.
As a statistic, holds are designed to credit late-relief pitchers who are not closers. For those pitchers, their primary job is to not relinquish the lead, while getting the ball to the next reliever in line. Every save opportunity in which a pitcher records at least one out will result in either a save, a blown save or a hold.
So, since holds are designed to credit middle and late-inning relievers who do not hold the vaunted closer role, many of us in the fantasy community want to include this in the scoring of our leagues. While the best relievers are still often the closer, plenty of MLB managers deploy their bullpen to get their best reliever in the biggest spot. So, if you’re facing the heart of the order in the eighth inning of a tight game, it is not uncommon to see that reliever there, and unless they do a 6 out save, they will not get a save for your fantasy team.
While some people in both fantasy and real-life baseball will contend that the best reliever should always be in the ninth, this is not always the case. For example, when the White Sox added Craig Kimbrel who had 23 saves, a .49 ERA, 1.10 FIP, and 15.71 k/9 over 39 games and 36.2 innings on the north side, they put him in the eighth inning role because they already had one of the best closers in baseball closing for them. So, this decision made sense, one of the elite closers would not be closing. While La Russa has since made comments about Kimbrel needing to be in a closer role (and we as fantasy and baseball community have a lot of learning to do about the mental side of the game), they never moved Liam Hendriks out of that role into the eighth and tried reversing the order of their two elite relievers. The team certainly had the ability to do this given the Grand Canyon level gap between them and second place in the central, but they never did. Even with Kimbrel posting a 5.09 ERA, 4.56 FIP, and 14.09 K/9 with 1 save while pitching for the south siders, they kept him largely parked in the eighth. And while we can question the real-life strategy of that as much as we want, and while Kimbrel’s performance for the Sox made him droppable in most redraft formats, if you played in a league that uses holds, you likely would have kept him for a little longer. And rightly so.
Just because Kimbrel got traded, his value shouldn’t have taken the hit it did in fantasy before he threw a single pitch at Guaranteed Rate. But, that’s what happens in saves-only leagues – it doesn’t value the skill of a player – it values the role that the player is in.
This same thing is seen in San Diego. Heading into this season there was some confusion about who would be closing for the Friars – yet Mark Melancon ended up running away with that job and leading the league in saves with 39. He was closely followed with 38 from the aforementioned Hendriks and Kenley Jansen, with Will Smith giving Braves fans heart attacks all season pairing 7 loses with his 37 saves. Then you had Josh Hader, Raisel Iglesias, Edwin Diaz, and some of the usual suspects. But then throw in Alex Reyes, Ian Kennedy (with 26!!)…
Some of those names ended up high up in saves even on teams without very many wins like the Angels, but also you have Ian Kennedy up there who, from January 1- March 31 before the 2021 season, was going 516 overall.
So – if we’re trying to best capture real-life value a player offers to their MLB team, does using holds help?
First, I will say, I’m not a fan of using holds as a separate category with saves, but, a combination can be quite effective. When you use a standard save+hold format you make it so that players who rack up holds as a great seventh or eighth inning reliever still offers a ton of value to your fantasy team.
Consequently, many of the teammates of the players who racked up saves above were pulling in a ton of saves this year with Blake Treinen leading the way with 32, Luke Jackson with 31, Tyler Rogers with 30, Genesis Cabrera with 28, Tyler Matzek, and Giovanny Gallegos with 24, and the man who can’t punch through walls, Devin Williams, his teammate Brad Boxberger, and another Brave in A.J. Minter with 22.
Moreover, at the end of the season many of those relievers actually ended up at the top of a saves+hold leaderboard:
|Hansel Robles||– – –||31|
|Craig Kimbrel||– – –||30|
|Andrew Chafin||– – –||27|
|Diego Castillo||– – –||26|
|Ian Kennedy||– – –||26|
So is saves+holds the answer?
I used to think it was… but now I’m starting to think maybe we over-corrected. While we need to certainly include the value that middle and other elite late relievers offer, should it be equal to a save? This is a question I think we need to ponder – do we want that to be equivalent, or should we perhaps still give greater weight to saves while still valuing holds?
I’m starting to think that a saves + holds*X is the way to go.
For example – if we did a league where X was either .5 or .75 this would be how the leaderboards for would look:
|Craig Kimbrel||– – –||30||27|
|Ian Kennedy||– – –||26||26|
|Hansel Robles||– – –||31||22.5|
|Brad Hand||– – –||24||22.5|
|Diego Castillo||– – –||26||21|
|Craig Kimbrel||– – –||30||28.5|
|Hansel Robles||– – –||31||26.75|
|Ian Kennedy||– – –||26||26|
|Diego Castillo||– – –||26||23.5|
|Brad Hand||– – –||24||23.25|
These lists keep the top closers at the top of list, but those who had a number of saves and holds, or just enough holds, still ended up at the top of this list. I think these offer some good alternatives to just saves or a standard save+hold, but before we close out – let’s also look at some of the more interesting options that could also be helpful here that Fantrax offers:
|RPC *||Relief Pitching Contribution||(Saves x 2) + (Relief Wins x 2) + Holds – (Blown Saves + Relief Losses)|
|RPC2 *||Relief Pitching Contribution 2||Saves + Relief Wins + Holds|
|RPC3 *||Relief Pitching Contribution 3||(Saves + Relief Wins + Holds) – (Blown Saves + Relief Losses)|
|SVH3 *||Saves + (Holds / 2)||Saves + (Holds / 2)|
|SVH6 *||Saves + (Holds x 0.35)||Saves + (Holds x 0.35)|
|SVH5 *||Saves + (Holds x 0.9)||Saves + (Holds x 0.9)|
|SVCG *||Saves + Complete Games||Saves + Complete Games|
|SVGF *||Saves + Games Finished||Saves + Games Finished|
|SVH *||Saves + Holds||Saves + Holds|
|SVH2 *||Saves x 2 + Holds||Saves x 2 + Holds|
|SVH4 *||Saves x 3 + Holds||Saves x 3 + Holds|
|IRS+H *||Inherited Runners Stranded + Holds||Inherited Runners Stranded + Holds|
While some of these are variants or exactly the options we offered above, there are some other options that try to capture even a broader spectrum of relief options. While I largely don’t care at all about relief wins for some of the same reasons I don’t care about starter wins (but even more so), I wouldn’t lean toward those options – but you can go with any of these sorts, or even more options I havent’ pulled in here in our system if you want!
With any stat decisions – these should almost NEVER be made in dynasty/keeper formats in existing leagues. Changing stats, even slightly, impacts team builds. This is why knowing your scoring is so crucial when drafting and doing a startup. There are some leagues I am in or run that I would happily adjust some of these scoring categories if I think they are better – but to do so would completely compromise the integrity of the league. So, these should be considered for startups, they shouldn’t be looked at for already existing leagues.
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