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Imagine, being able to be magically whisked away to… Reliever Week! Hi… it’s… Reliever Week…

As another wise man from another 80s cult classic once said, no matter where you go, there you are. And, indeed, here we are in middle of everybody’s favorite week of the positional series. I guess I’ll start by reiterating a couple things I said in this very column last year: I wholeheartedly endorse the strategy of deploying multiple middle men in a given week to help balance out your back-of-the-rotation ratios, but I believe that attempting to project middle reliever performance pre-season is largely a fool’s errand, and there are more than enough pop-up arms in the course of a given spring to snag a couple with early FAAB dollars and go on about your business that way. Sure, there are a couple elite options who’ve proven durable and effective in the middle innings over multiple seasons (hello, Dellin Betances and Darren O’Day). But for every one of those there are a good half-dozen or more guys like Will Harris or Kevin Siegrist every year who go completely undrafted in virtually every format, then go on to post $10 or $11 seasons (as those two did last year, respectively). Joe Blanton? Yeah, he put up eight bucks last year. Think about him when your finger is hovering over the “DRAFT” button next to the picture of Setup Man X’s inevitably-goateed mug.

Before we get down to brass tax in this, the final installment of the Adjuster series for this year, here’s a catalog of handy links to the previous articles in this series:

Of course, if you play in a standard league that only bothers with Saves as a relevant relief category (outside of ratio support, anyway) you’ll certainly find yourself better served by checking out our top-30 tiered rankings, courtesy of J.P. Breen.

One final disclaimer, since I can’t emphasize this strongly enough: speculating on Holds is a generally poor investment of time, energy, and resources. Just seven guys in the top 25 of the Holds category occupied a slot on the previous season’s list, and one of them (Will Smith of the Brewers) figures to ascend to the closer’s role this year. That’s turnover, baby. So, against long odds we forge ahead.

Arrows Up

Dellin Betances, NYY – Yes, he gets even better in Holds leagues.

Tony Watson, PIT – Watson has made possible the impossible, posting the second-most Holds of any reliever in 2014 and then following it up with a league-leading performance last year. That is a truly breathtaking accomplishment given the middle relief attrition rate noted above. Lots and lots of Holds has been a staple of Clint Hurdle’s Pirate bullpens—one of three managers to exhibit any notable semblance of consistency in his Holds-generating bullpen management over the past five years, causally or otherwise—and Watson has been right in the middle of it these last couple seasons since he inherited the Holds Guy championship belt from Mark Melancon. He can get overlooked in standard leagues because his strikeouts are pedestrian—poor, by reliever standards, really—but the ERA and WHIP are not, and in Holds leagues he should be one of the first middle men off the board.

Sergio Romo, SFG – Bruce Bochy’s Giants are one of the other crews to consistently roll up top-10 Holds tallies, and they collectively led all of baseball in the category last year. After coughing up his closer role Romo was back to being himself, more or less, allowing the fifth-lowest average exit velocity and striking out more than seven batters for every one he walked. That performance translated to big Holds production—he finished second to Watson with 34—that kept him relevant in leagues where that mattered. With a better rotation rolling into town and a chance at creating more leads for protection, Romo’s value sees that much more of a bump in Holds leagues. In fact…

Hunter Strickland, SFG – Might as well toss the number-three guy on their bullpen depth chart into this mix as well. Strickland was able to roll up 20 holds to knock of the door of the top-20 despite not debuting until the end of May. Strickland’s excellent control makes him a WHIP asset, and packaged alongside solid (if unspectacular) strikeout potential and the organizational context, the combination makes him an excellent investment.

All of the Marlins relievers that throw 95 – Want to know something interesting? The third manager whose bullpens have consistently produced high Holds totals every year? Yep, it’s Donnie Baseball. Recent Dodger pens have ridden low HR rates and high strikeout totals to Holds glory in spite of relatively weak topline performance, and that formula is basically there for the making in Miami. The Marlins have approximately 4,768 pitchers who sit in the mid-90s with poor control either on their 40-man roster already or lurking in the high minors. Their relievers threw more pitches 95-plus than any other teams’ relievers last year. Even with the likely loss of Carter Capps to probably-inevitable Tommy John surgery, the depth chart is still stacked with guys like Brian Ellington, Kyle Barraclough, Mike Dunn, and Jose Urena, all of whom can light up a gallery of Stalkers with the best of ‘em. Any number of those guys could emerge as strong middle relief options, and Dunn has cracked the top-25 for Holds in each of the past two years as the only left-hander in the ‘pen. Topping off the mix, this offseason the franchise added former Pirates pitching guru in the School of Searage, Jim Benedict. Check those Marlins box scores in the early going.

Bob Wickman, FA – I think we all know he could come out of retirement tomorrow and lock down a bunch of Holds. He’s in shape, baby, he’s round.

Joaquin Benoit, SEA – There’s probably greater risk of an ascent into the closer’s chair here than anyone else we’ll discuss here, but if healthy Benoit is one of the safer setup guys around. The “if healthy” flag probably starts flapping a little harder in the breeze above Benoit, as he’s getting up there, he’s got a lot of miles on his arm, and he’s already battling through little injuries this spring. But he’s shown himself as one of the most durable, consistent middlemen in the game over the past half-dozen seasons now, even dabbling at times closing games with solid conversion rates. He can get bitten by the longball every now and again, and his walk rate slid a bit last year, but he’ll be in a solid ballpark to support his skill set, and the Mariners have collectively posted top-six Holds tallies in each of the past couple seasons. That he posted the second-lowest average exit velocity of any pitcher last season should tell you all you need to know about the quality of his stuff, even as he enters his geriatric years.

Darren O’Day, BAL –O’Day is 1-B to Benoit’s 1-A on my list of consistent middle relievers, and while he hasn’t traditionally racked up a ton of Holds—his 18 last year was good for just 30th—he gets enough to add extra value to his outstanding ratio-and-whiff profile. He just doesn’t give up much hard contact, and that’s a guy you want to invest in if you’re so inclined to invest in middle relievers for whatever reason.

Kevin Siegrist, STL – After teasing his potential in a stellar 2013 rookie campaign, Siegrist grabbed the reigns as one of the most taxed (and successful) relievers in 2015. He posted dramatically reverse splits on the back of an absurd whiff rate with his four-seamer (he generated a miss on over 30 percent of the fastballs righties offered at; big league average was 18.8 percent) and much greater consistency with his changeup. His control remains a bit iffier than ideal, but if he can ever find an even marginally better slider to keep lefties in check he’ll be positioned to make The Leap. As is, a Holds total in line with last year’s fifth-ranked showing should be attainable again before Matheny runs him into the ground.

Carson Smith, BOS – Smith would have easily tallied more than the 22 Holds he did last year (tied for 16th among relievers) if the Mariners hadn’t gone and given him the keys to the ninth inning for a decent chunk of the year. Fortunately for Holds leaguers, he’ll slot in below Craig Kimbrel and Koji Time (and possibly Junichi Tazawa as well) in Boston, and a potent-on-paper lineup and not-that-deep rotation should give him plenty of opportunities to unleash his filthy arsenal with a lead to protect. It’s worth noting that his velocity flagged down the stretch last year, so standard health concerns may bump up to elevated levels. Otherwise his elite whiffs and ratios make him a compelling target.

Mike Migillivray, FA – Migillivray is apparently a 28-year-old right-hander who posted the worst ERA and percentage of strikeouts-minus-walks of any pitcher in the Australian League this winter. We all know that everything is backwards in the Southern Hemisphere though, so keep an eye out for him if he signs a minor league deal somewhere. The inverse production suggests the potential for something special, and he’d obviously jump right into the mix given his age.

Kevin Jepsen and Trevor May, MIN – These two guys both offer their own bills of goods. In Jepsen’s corner, he’s wrangled top-25 Hold figures in each of the past two years, and the Twins managed to tame his bugaboo control after a mid-season trade last July. On the other hand May has the stuff of a starter and as I recently noted he made significant and impressive strides with his bugaboo control last year. The underlying metrics spiked in a good way once he took to his relief role, and if the control remains intact and he can hang onto the two extra ticks of velocity he found in the bullpen he can be a formidable asset.

Bryan Shaw, CLE – He’s produced a bunch of holds and an okay ERA over the last couple years, but his performance declined along with his velocity last year as he lurched close to 300 appearances over the last four seasons. Still, he’s a guy that sources say will probably pitch in Cleveland’s bullpen again this year, so hey, he’s an option.

Silvino Bracho, ARI – Bracho’s a little guy without a particularly appealing secondary pitch and a really quick, jerky motion that can give you a seizure if you look directly at it. But good gravy does his fastball do some things. Hitters at every level, including a brief debut in the majors last summer, have struggled mightily to make contact with the pitch, let alone square it with any consistency. He makes for one of the more fun speculation plays for big ratios and, at worst, a bunch of Holds.

That Guy Too, Yeah – Yup, I probably should have mentioned him. He’s pretty good, you should draft him.

Arrows Down

I don’t know, James Russell or Edward Mujica maybe? The Phillies rotation isn’t going to be good, their offense is going to be terrible, and there aren’t likely to be very many (relative) opportunities to hand off leads to the vaunted soft underbelly of what’s likely to be a terrible bullpen. But that’s the thing, isn’t it? The value of all of the remaining middle relievers in the pool doesn’t necessarily go down in a Holds league; they’re still bad, unownable options all the same.

Thank you for reading

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davinhbrown
3/08
In the unbalanced NL this year we have contenders, middling Padres and Marlins, and a bunch rebuilding.

For leagues with holds.... Would that push the amount of desirable holds targets to just the contenders?


Also, any idea for LA and NYM holds?
alwaxman
3/08
The Mets setup guy is likely to be Addison Reed, with Bastardo as first chair lefty specialist. Dark horse for late inning work is Hansel Robles. Collins is formulaic with his bullpen so I'd expect gaudy holds numbers from any Mets reliever who proves to be moderately successful.
jfranco77
3/08
Robles looks like a really interesting target for those who just can't get excited about Addison Reed.

(If you *can* get excited about Addison Reed, that's a different issue)

I love Siegrist's ratios, but that bullpen is crowded now with Oh and Broxton in the mix.
BuckarooBanzai
3/08
Well, thing about Holds is, there's not much of a correlation between overall team performance (or even overall bullpen performance) and Holds. That's one of the many reasons projecting this kind of thing is so tricky. The top three teams in Holds last year won 76, 80, and 84 games respectively. Last year I referenced a nice study by Jeff Zimmerman (linked again below) which basically found that, shockingly, talent/performance was the biggest indicator of likely holds.

That's a solid summary of the Mets' situation, and then Howell and Hatcher probably start the year off in the inside lanes in LA?

http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/predicting-holds/
BCermak
3/08
I came for the holds speculation but stayed for the Bob Wickman imagery