The third and final relief pitcher rankings for today are our cumulative saves plus holds (SV+HLD) list. While the opportunity for these counting stats is certainly taken into consideration, it’s typically hard to gauge with bullpen usage being so fluid throughout the season for most teams. The bulk of the rankings are derived from swing-and-miss ability, expected outcome stats, and a little bit of HOTEL mixed in. Also, keep in mind that holds are much more volatile and harder to predict. We’ve only seen 14 seasons from a pitcher with more than 30 holds since 2016, while 58 closers have gone over 30 saves in that same time frame.
- The top two on the list should not come as much surprise as Josh Hader had arguably the best season of his career to date last year. With the Brewers finally committing to limiting his innings per appearance finally, Hader averaged a career-high 96.4 MPH on his fastball and ranked first amongst all relievers in Whiff%, CSW%, SwStr%, and K%.
- Not far behind Hader is Liam Hendriks who proved to be well worth the three-year, $54 million deal he received from the White Sox last offseason. It was a bit of a rocky start, but Hendriks wound up being one of if not the best relievers from May onward. He finished the year as the league leader in SIERA and K-BB% amongst relievers and should be one of the top two closers off the boards in drafts this year.
- If there were a third reliever to join that top tier, it would have to be Raisel Iglesias who had a career year that led to a new four-year, $58 million contract this fall. He’ll be staying with the Angels who on paper should improve on their 77 win season in 2021. Iglesias may not have led any category last year, but he was top three in many, including CSW%, SwStr%, K-BB%, xFIP, and SIERA.
- One of the most electric relievers in the game right now, Emmanuel Clase took over the reins as the full-time closer shortly after the All-Star break and never looked back. Clase only managed a 26.5% K rate but he was one of the toughest relievers to lift the ball on (67.6% GB rate) or make hard contact against (29.6% HardHit rate). The elite command gives Clase one of the higher floors amongst relievers, and plenty of upside remains if he can turn more of those 100+ MPH cutters into whiffs.
- It was an injury-shortened season, but I can’t help but feel that Taylor Rogers is being slept on after putting together another great season. Since 2018, Rogers ranks eighth amongst active relievers in K-BB% and sixth in xFIP, SIERA, and CSW%. He only managed 40.1 innings last year due to a finger injury, but still finished with a 33.5% CSW, 30.7% K-BB rate, and 2.11 xFIP. I know this is the SV+HLD list, but it’s a bit mindboggling to see him going after Gregory Soto in NFBC leagues at the moment.
- Scott Barlow settled in nicely as the Royals closer over the second half of the season and should return in the role for 2022. He may not have the type of upside others in this group have, but he’s proven to be a steady reliable reliever over the past couple of years with some strikeout upside.
- While it may have been his worst in ten years, there were still some positive takeaways from Aroldis Chapman’s 2021 season. His velocity remained consistent with his past few seasons, and he had success with his new splitter that he started using to get righties out. He also is still firmly entrenched as the Yankees closer for another season. The 15.6% walk rate however was atrocious and his 1.31 WHIP was a career-high for him.
- It feel wrong to classify Aaron Bummer, who led all relievers in GB rate (76.1%), a ground ball pitcher with a 31.8% K rate over the past two seasons. While he’s primarily a heavy sinkerballer, his slider/cutter mix have the ability to generate plenty of swings and missed with his offspeed offerings producing Whiff rates over 50% the past two seasons. Bummer remains one of the safest holds league options out there, while offering some K upside as well.
- Anthony Bender’s rookie season was a bright spot for the Marlins last year, and despite some hiccups towards the end of the year, I’d expect Bender to work his way into save opportunities at some point this season. Bender led all qualified relievers in CStr% and by quite a wide margin (1.8%) over Clay Holmes and Matt Wisler.
- Daniel Hudson bounced back from a rough 2020 and had perhaps the best year of his career with the Nationals and Padres last season. Now Hudson heads to the Dodgers where he should be in the high leverage mix and may even have a chance to close out games this year. Hudson’s getting up there in age, but his 28.1% K-BB rate was still top ten amongst all relievers in 2021.
- Also a member of the Dodgers bullpen, Alex Vesia wound up playing a huge role as the teams top left-handed option late in games after Victor González struggles early on in the season. Vesia was a swinging strike machine (17% SwStr) but his BABIP (.143) shows just how lucky he may have been last year, as shown by a 4.61 xFIP. With Caleb Ferguson still working his way back from TJS, expect Vesia to remain the top lefty reliever in LA.
- Andrew Chafin remains the top lefty reliever in free agency but he should be able to find a new home relative soon after the lockout ends. He doesn’t bring a ton in the K department, but his slider has had a 51% or better Whiff rate in four of the last five seasons and he’s able to hold his own against right-handed hitters. Any team still looking for left-handed bullpen help (and there are a lot) should be looking to add him.
- There are two veterans in this tier that I hope people haven’t forgotten about or given up on yet, with the first being Amir Garrett. It was a rough 2021 for Garrett who started the year in the closer role but that unfrotunately didn’t last long. He’s much better than what he showed last season but it will still be tough to trust him until he finds a way to get right-handed hitters out.
- Seth Lugo missed roughly two months with an elbow injury to begin the 2021 season, and when he came back he wasn’t quite the same Lugo we were used to from 2018-19. While most numbers for Lugo were down, he did set a career-high in CSW (32.2%) and it was great to see his fastball perform so well (41.3% Whiff, 30.3% PutAway). The Mets bullpen is deep, but Lugo should remain in the late-inning mix.
- The Orioles pitching staff may get a boost from the left-field wall getting pushed back, but I don’t see it contributing to more wins for the team this season. As far as who will get a chance to close out the games in which they are leading, I’d expect some combination of Cole Sulser and Tyler Wells. It’s a coin flip as to who the preferred target should be here, but I’ll give Wells the nod for now as he seems to have more untapped upside. He just needs to do a better job limiting hard contact.
- In Colorado, It looks like Carlos Estévez will open as the teams closer after finishing the season in the role. Estevez has a big arm, but there’s not much else to get excited about here in his profile. Plus factoring in Coors, and he’s just someone I’d probably avoid. Robert Stephenson remains the one member of that bullpen I’d consider at the moment, and he was able to finish off 2021 on a high note with a 1.22 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 28.4% K rate over the second half.