Moving on with our fantasy baseball rankings today, we now take a look at some relief pitchers who likely won’t be a major factor in save only leagues, but perhaps can give you double-digit 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 we all know the Devin Williams of the league are typically considered “better real-life than fantasy” players.
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.
- After a slow start to the season, Devin Williams caught fire in the middle of the year, going on a 29 IP stretch where he allowed just one earned run while striking out 45 and picking up 14 holds (plus three saves). His season ended on a sour note but the good news here is that he is expected to be 100% to start the season following hand surgery. The most dominant non-closer in baseball, Williams should be on draft boards no matter the league format you play in.
- While the lockout has certainly hindered a trade, Craig Kimbrel still remains a member of the White Sox at this moment in time so technically he would be a setup man if the season started today, a role he was not particularly great in once he moved to the south side last year. Prior to that trade, Kimbrel was amongst the best closers in baseball so teams looking to acquire him should not be to put off by his stint with the White Sox. What I may worry about is the mileage on his arm though. That said, he still remains a must draft in basically every format as we wait and see where he winds up for opening day.
- Despite losing a grip on the closer role he held early in the season, Héctor Neris managed to have a great season, especially in the second half where he had a 2.70 ERA and 35.8% K rate over 40 innings. Despite the tendency to get hit hard, Neris remains one of the best relievers at missing bats and getting hitters to chase. He heads to Houston this year, a team notorious for getting the most out of their pitchers so I’d expect him to become one of the better setup options in all of baseball this year.
- Jonathan Loáisiga is coming off a breakout year for the Yankees as his shift to a full-time bullpen role paid off brilliantly as he was able to consistently show off his upper 90’s fastball. A lower-than-expected K rate shouldn’t worry you as Loáisiga was a master at inducing weak contact and getting hitters to chase. I actually like him to improve on his 2021 season and entrench himself in the top group of relievers.
- Perhaps the top two remaining RP’s on the market appear in this tier, with Kenley Jansen and his 39 career holds leading the way with 2021 breakout reliever Ryan Tepera right behind him. I’d say there’s about a 75% chance or higher that Jensen is closing out games wherever he signs, but you never know. Despite some signs of decline in previous years, Jansen was closer to his prime self last season, posting his best numbers since 2017. Tepera’s elite swing and miss ability (16.3% SwStr) led to a career year and the veteran reliever should get a nice pay raise once the lockout ends.
- Art Warren is one of my top picks to break out this year, assuming he can remain healthy for the full season. It was a small sample size and with just 21 IP, he did not qualify to be amongst the league leaders in any reliever category. However, had he qualified, he would have been in the top 5 of all relievers for pCRA, xWOBA, K%, SwStr%, and Whiff%. His slider is emerging as one of the better pitches in baseball and with a lack of depth in the Reds bullpen, Warren should find himself in a high leverage role early on.
- 2021 was a bit of a rollercoaster for Alex Reyes who made the All-Star team in the first half before having perhaps the most epic meltdown of the season in August and eventually losing his closer role to Giovanny Gallegos. To his credit, he bounced back nicely in September and finished the year on a high note (with the exception of one game) and should have an important role in the Cardinals bullpen for the upcoming season. The worry with Reyes has always been health and command, and while he remained healthy in 2021, his command was still an issue as he finished with a 16.4% walk rate.
- Kendall Graveman signed a three-year $24 million deal with the White Sox this offseason, and adds to one of the deeper bullpens in baseball (especially if they keep Kimbrel). While he didn’t wow with his ability to miss bats (10.7% SwStr), Graveman did a great job limiting hard contact and inducing ground balls, making him something of a Loáisiga-lite. He’ll have other talented relievers to contend with in that White Sox pen, but given the contract, he should begin the year in a setup role.
- It looks like the Brewers have found another stud reliever in Jake Cousins, who impressed in his first 30 innings of MLB action last year. With a 40.5% Whiff rate and 37% CSW, Cousins ability to miss bats is clearly evident. The concern here is health and command, just like with Reyes above. The command actual has never really been an issue in his minor league past, although the 15.2% walk rate last year is less than ideal.
- Brooks Raley landing with the Rays this offseason just feels natural on so many levels. Raley’s been quite the xStats darling for some time now despite average results but expect him to take a step forward working out of the Rays bullpen now. Since coming off from the KBO in 2020, Raleys has sustained a 30%+ K rate and should see his ERA closer to last years xFIP (2.90) with his new team.
- Tyler Rogers is coming off what will likely be the best year of his career, and while we can’t expect him to contribute in the strikeout category he should be just fine at adding to your hold totals while lowering ratios. My main concern is the fact that the Giants save rate from last year is just not sustainable, so I wouldn’t expect 30 holds again. He still remains one of the higher floor holds options, despite the limited ceiling.
- Yet another high upside oft-injured younger arm I’m intrigued in is Guardians reliever Nick Sandlin. Sandlin made his MLB debut last year, working 33.2 innings while also missing time with a shoulder injury. Sandlin too drops down to the side like Rogers (although not as extreme) but he generates tons of Whiffs with his slider (47.7%) and has a fastball in the mid-90s. If he can remain healthy, he should be a key cog in the back of that Cleveland bullpen…
- As could James Karinchak, who struggled mightily following MLB’s rule change regarding stick substances. After dominating in the first month of the season, Karinchak had a 6.42 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, and just a 24.7% K rate over his final 33.2 IP before being sent down in late August. It’s too soon to completely write off Karinchak, but the issues he ran into last year are obviously concerning and he projects as a risk/reward entering this season.
- On the flip side, Jorge Alcala improved over the second half of the season, finally breaking through and showing what he can be. Over his final 22 IP, Alcala allowed just one earned run while having a 31.2% K-BB rate, good for 6th best amongst reliever over the last ten weeks of the season. He’ll remain a key part of the Twins bullpen moving forward and could eventually work his way into the closer role if they trade Taylor Rogers.
- I don’t remember a reliever more hyped up after a few outings in April before than Julian Merryweather last year. And the hype was for good reason too as Merryweather has three plus pitches in his arsenal. The problem is, Merryweather has thrown a total of 37 innings since 2018, missing most of last year with an oblique injury before returning in September (and not looking quite right). Will he stay healthy long enough for us to realize his true potential?
- Anthony Gose’s MLB comeback as a pitcher is definitely a fun story, but there’s also a ton of potential upside in his arm as we saw at the end of 2021. It was only 6.2 innings, but Gose flashed a triple-digit fastball and a slider that generated a 44.4% Whiff rate. The swing and miss stuff is evident, but he did have a 19.4% BB rate at the AAA level, so we may be looking at a José Alvarado clone here unless he can get his command issues under control.