So you’ve seen the closer rankings and traditional fantasy players must be thinking, “what else is there to say about relievers?” Well, just as the save is a bit of mythical creature, another somewhat recently created stat is finding it’s way into fantasy leagues: the hold. This stat primarily applies to setup men working the 8th, but can be accumulated by good 7th inning guys as well. There aren’t a slew of good setup men, but there are some that are worth owning if your league counts these stats. Here are my top hold-accumulators:
1. Johnny Venters: the Braves have the best back-end punch of any bullpen with Venters bridging the gap to Kimbrel. He’s a strikeout artist who almost never surrenders the lead. He’s durable and even gets a few saves throughout the year whenever Kimbrel needs a rest.
2. David Robertson: the Yankees are lucky to have this guy in line should anything happen to Rivera. He k’s a ton of hitters and is absolutely dirty. He forces a ton of grounders whenever players are lucky enough to make contact
3. Tyler Clippard: while Storen gets the attention, the Nats’ Clippard is arguably their most important reliever. Another high-strikeout guy, he almost never walks anyone. His only problem was allowing 11 homeruns last season, a number he’ll be looking to cut down on in 2012.
4. Sean Marshall: pitching for a lackluster Cubs squad, Marshall shines bright. He was truly one of the best relievers in the game in 2011, striking out a batter an inning and only issuing 17 walks and one homerun all season. He’s absolutely solid.
5. Mike Adams: I think we saw just how much Petco was helping Adams once he moved to Arlington mid-season. That’s not say he was bad as a Ranger, he just wasn’t as good. He still strikes out enough batters to hold his own and keeps his walks way down. He’ll pitch a lot for the Rangers this season and get a lot of chances to protect the lead.
6. Francisco Rodriguez: K-Rod is in the setup role for the Brewers and offers great strikeout potential. If he can limit the walks, all the better. He will get a lot of leads to work with before handing them over to Axford in the ninth. He could also be mid-season trade bait if the Brewers struggle.
7. Daniel Bard/Mark Melancon: the remade BoSox bullpen features these two young strike-throwers. It’s a little unclear just how these two will fit in at the moment, but both offer upside, especially given the injury potential to Bailey. I like Bard a little more, but Melancon saved 20+ games for the Astros last year. Take your pick here; both should see plenty of hold opportunities.
8. Eric O’Flaherty: another Atlanta Brave, O’Flaherty is a bit of a specialist but another filthy reliever. He only allowed eight earned runs in nearly 74 innings last year, while striking out nearly a batter per inning.
9. Joaquin Benoit: setting up Valverde in Detroit, Benoit is a very capable reliever. He gets his strikeouts and keeps his walks down, a recipe for success. Expect him to get a lot of holds and even some save chances is the dicey Valverde should struggle.
10. Sergio Romo: likely the Giants’ best reliever, Romo strikes out a lot of batters and doesn’t issue free passes (only five walks all season in 2011). If the Giants are improved, as I think they’ll be, he will get more holds than he did last year.
There are a number of relievers that can be had late in drafts or picked up off waiver claims. A pair of young Dodgers look like great late-round pickups in Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra. Jansen should setup up Guerra in that situation. Fernando Salas was really good for the Cardinals last year, as was Jason Motte. Look for Salas to setup Motte in St. Louis. Addison Reed of the White Sox looks like the real deal and could be a great grab late in drafts, especially if you’re in a keeper-league. David Hernandez of the Diamondbacks was fantastic last year, too, and should be considered as a strong option to rack up holds.
The main idea here is to stay away from aging relievers with diminishing velocity and/or strikeouts. These would be guys like Francisco Cordero, Kevin Gregg and others. Also, be sure you don’t draft Neftali Feliz an Aroldis Chapman as relievers since they are projected to joining their respective rotations this year. Whether that happens or not is another story, but that’s the current plan. Monitor spring training to verify their situations.