Welcome back to The Hold Up, where we’ll take a look at some relief pitchers who are worth targeting in leagues that value holds. I say it every year, but if you don’t happen to be in any leagues where holds are counted, I highly suggest you try to find one (or convince your commissioner to add them) as you are really missing out. The league is rapidly adapting to more of a closer-by-committee approach, making these leagues more relevant than ever before. In my opinion, it makes leagues more realistic because you can get value rostering guys in setup roles who may be more talented than other teams’ closers.
My personal strategy when it comes to holds, especially at draft time, is to put a priority on the high-upside relievers over the safer, floor types. In reality, “safe” and “reliever” are like oil and water anyway. I’ll take a chance on someone who has shown an ability to miss bats at a high rate early on in the season and adjust as the year goes on. You may notice some names missing, but anyone who is competing for a rotation spot or expected to open the season on the injury list was left off for the time being. With that being said, let’s get to the player notes and rankings.
- Tier 1 are the two guys who role or not, should probably be rostered in every format to start the season. Andrés Muñoz and Jhoan Duran are two of the most exciting relievers in baseball and don’t be shocked to see 100 K’s from either one of them this year with an ERA under 2 and WHIP under 1. Two guys with some unhittable stuff.
- Tier 2 represents the rest of the might-be closers but will at least turn in great ratios crowd. Except for A.J. Minter, who will likely not eclipse 10 saves on the season, but he is coming off a league-leading 34-hold season. He lowered his walk rate last year leading to a 29.2% K-BB rate while his 2.18 SIERA was good for 8th best amongst all relievers.
- José Alvarado was a new pitcher last season, especially over the second half, allowing just one earned run over his final 21 innings while striking out 35 and walking just 4. Things did unravel a bit in the postseason though, but it looks like the Phillies have tapped into something with him as an electric sinker/cutter lefty.
- Tier 3 is the best of the rest of the top set-up men in baseball. Joe Jiménez had a nice breakout in 2022, finishing the season with a 27.7% K-BB rate and 2.30 SIERA. Moving to Atlanta, Jiménez should be in line for more hold chances.
- Abreu was one of the unsung heroes of the Astros bullpen, at least until the playoffs when we all got to see just how nasty his stuff truly is. Abreu held a 39.1% Whiff rate last season, with his slider doing most of the work here (44% thrown, 51.3% Whiff rate). The only “concern” with Abreu is his role, as he only had 8 holds last season and the Astros are returning their entire bullpen for the most part. Still, 5 holds in the playoffs are promising, and hopefully an indicator of what’s to come moving forward.
- Tier 4 features some veteran set-up options who can still provide holds while (hopefully) not wrecking your ratios. Joe Mantiply will not be of much help when it comes to strikeouts, but he will help when it comes to SV+HLD’s and keeping your WHIP low thanks to a 2.5% walk rate.
- Matt Bush enters the season locked into the Brewers’ top set-up role and is coming off his best season as a pro. His 33.4% CSW last year was 10th best amongst relievers and his Stuff+ numbers graded out in the top 20.
- Tier 5 has some higher upside options, albeit with risk. Caleb Thielbar is someone I was probably undervaluing last year. Thielbar was able to improve on his K rate last year, leading to an impressive 25.3% K-BB rate with 80 K’s over 59.2 IP to go along with a nice 2.59 SIERA.
- Joe Kelly and Tanner Scott are two guys with intriguing stuff, Kelly was severely unlucky last season (.382 BABIP, 60.8% LOB) while Scott continues to tease us with his strikeout upside. Maybe this is the year the walk rate finally comes down closer to 10%?
- Tier 6 is basically tier 5 except we aren’t sure what these guys’ roles will be. The tier starts out with three pitchers who missed all or most of last season in Drew Pomeranz, Lucas Sims, and Tejay Antone. It’s tough to predict what we will get out of this trio this season, but all three were top 10-20 relievers at some point as recently as 2021.
- There are also the two starters turned relievers in Adbert Alzolay and Aaron Ashby. Both have the potential to be weapons in middle/later stages of games with their ability to miss bats and go multiple innings, but they may not be huge assets in the holds column as a result of this usage.
- Tier 7 is kind of the best of what’s left. These guys could be streamable throughout the season. There’s a chance we even see a closer or two from this tier, with Dany Jiménez and Kevin Ginkel being the favorites in that regard. There’s talk of Jiménez starting the year as the A’s closer, but I’m just not sure I see it with how bad his fastball is.
- Tier 8 is mostly made up of speculative names worth monitoring. If I’m throwing a dart on someone in this tier, Jeremiah Estrada has been getting some hype this offseason, with some talk of him potentially becoming the Cubs’ closer eventually. He impressed in his 5.2 IP last year (18.8% SwStr rate, 8 K’s, good FB velo at 96.5 MPH), and if he starts the season in the MLB bullpen, could be worth the speculative add.
Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)