(Photo by Jeff Chevrier/Icon Sportswire)
While basically, every league values saves and therefore closers as fantasy assets, the setup man is typically just as important if not more to a teams success on a nightly basis. Unless your starter is going 8 innings, they are essential to bridging that gap just to allow the closer to work the 9th and potentially earn a save. This is why non-closer relievers (NCR’s) are starting to get paid handsomely and why hold+saves leagues are trending upward. The hold also carries some weight in points leagues, so keeping track of some of these lesser-known names is something to start thinking about. While spring training may not be important for judging position players and starting pitchers, it can be the difference between an NCR beginning the year in a high leverage set up role or working the 6th inning of a 13-5 blowout.
As difficult as it is to predict saves, it’s almost impossible to predict holds at the beginning of the MLB season with the exception of a few studs (tiers 1 and 2). Given that variable, these rankings are skewed heavily towards each pitcher’s overall effectiveness and overall stuff/potential, with little weight given to “hold potential” outside of a couple obvious instances. Obviously, Andrew Miller is still the top dog in this role, and there’s no reason to think he will slow down anytime soon, but after that, anything is possible. I’ve talked about a few of these names as potential sleeper saves options last week, so for this being the first Hold Up segment of the year, I will talk about the guys who have changed teams this offseason and what kind of impact they may be able to make.
1. Andrew Miller (Cleveland Indians)
- Josh Hader hasn’t changed teams but I think he needs to be talked about here after he posted some dominant second half numbers last year out of the Brewers bullpen. I admit I was a bit surprised to see the Brewers refuse to stretch him out this spring and give him a chance to be in the rotation, but I guess it does make some sense and is reminiscent of how other names early in this list have been handled as well. Hader will now be the Brewers best set up option this season, and arguably has the best stuff of this group (17% SwStr, 70% Z-Contact, 37.83% Whf/Sw).
16. Will Harris (Houston Astros)
- Anthony Swarzak saw himself have a breakout 2017 season while pitching for both the White Sox and Brewers, posting a 2.33 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 4.14 K/BB, 14% SwStr% and 2.54 WPA. He has basically become a 50/50 Fastball/Slider pitcher over the past 2 seasons, which kept hitters off balance last year. The Mets are now paying their two setup men (Swarzak and AJ Ramos) over $16 million combined this season, and either option also makes for solid insurance if closer Jeurys Familia falters.
- Joe Smith was another name to come from out of nowhere and have a nice bounce-back season for the Blue Jays last year. He posted a 2.39 xFIP to go with a nice 7.1 K/BB rate. He now moves to Houston, where he should find himself in a set-up role despite how loaded that bullpen is and makes for a nice value option in most holds leagues.
- Addison Reed was pretty solid (3.89 WPA, 5.07 K/BB), if unspectacular (3.67 FIP, 25.9 Whf/Sw) in 2017 …for both the Mets and Red Sox, and now finds himself setting up Fernando Rodney in Minnesota to begin 2018. With just 41-year-old Rodney in front of him, he does have one of the easier paths to saves this season but is at least locked into an 8th inning role for now.
- Bryan Shaw is headed to Colorado after 5 straight positive seasons in Cleveland, and despite the move to Coors, should still make for a solid fantasy asset in holds leagues. He has turned into a GB pitcher over the past two seasons (55.9% this year with a 3.2 xFIP) which is necessary to have success there if you don’t miss bats a high clip.
29. Nick Goody (Cleveland Indians)
35. A.J. Ramos (New York Mets)
- The Dodgers did real well to acquire Scott Alexander for next to nothing last month and I’d expect him to step into a high impact role for them this season. While he is an absolute GB machine (73.8%), he does miss bats at a high enough rate (12.8 SwStr%) to be able to use as a fantasy asset.
- Tommy Hunter turned back the clock last year, and earned himself a nice contract with the Phillies this offseason (2 years/$19 mil). While he doesn’t miss a ton of bats, he has great command of his pitches, and a safe role to start the season.
- Juan Nicasio also falls into that category of quality relievers signing two-year deals between 16-18 million this year, as he winds up in Seattle to set up Edwin Diaz. While nothing special, he was able to post a 2.98 FIP, the second best mark in his career. He also received some save opportunities in both St. Louis and Pittsburgh and will likely be the first man up if Diaz’s command goes haywire again.
- Michael Feliz is finally free and able to have a significant role on an MLB staff after being used in mostly mop-up duty for the Astros. He had some really bad BABIP luck (.381) but his stuff is filthy and is listed as the 8th inning set up man by Roster Resource.
36. Darren O’Day (Baltimore Orioles)
37. Adam Morgan (Philadelphia Phillies)
42. David Hernandez (Cincinnati Reds)
48. Chris Rusin (Colorado Rockies)
- David Hernandez showed some top-notch command (9 BB in 55 IP) last season for the Angels and Diamondbacks, which helped lead to a 2.76 FIP. But a move to Cincinnati and less than stellar contact ratios (87.2% Z-Contact) for a non-groundball dominant reliever make him a shakier fantasy option.
- After losing his closer’s gig to Felipe Rivero early on, Tony Watson bounced back with the Dodgers in the second half of last season. His .309 BABIP was .58 points higher than his 7 year average but he did see his FIP and xFIP both above 4.20 for the second year in a row. Still, he should settle in as one of the Giants set-up/loogy options and see his fair share of hold chances.
- Yusmeiro Petit was a sneaky value RP last year based on his high workload (91 IP), but none of his numbers were anything to write home about. His another pitch to contact guy who was helped out by a career low .267 BABIP. Don’t be surprised to see that ERA north of 3 in 2018 after moving north to Oakland.
51. Jose Ramirez (Atlanta Braves)
53. Dan Otero (Cleveland Indians)
55. Emilio Pagan (Oakland Athletics)
59. Kevin Shackelford (Cincinnati Reds)
60. Yoshihisa Hirano (Arizona Diamondbacks)
62. Jose Alvarado (Tampa Bay Rays)
63. Hector Rondon (Houston Astros)
64. Pedro Baez (Los Angeles Dodgers)
- Emilio Pagan has a lot of upside, featuring plus stuff and good command, but he has yet to fully figure it all out and doesn’t have the inside track on a clear cut set up role to begin the season. If Blake Treinen were to meltdown again though, he could be the most logical replacement just based on pure ability.
- Steve Cishek moves to the Cubs, and while he does have closing experience on a team that lacks it, he still seems destined to a middle relief role this season. He’s a groundball pitcher who doesn’t have the best command, so the upside here is fairly limited.
- I, like many who don’t follow the NPB, have no idea what to expect from Yoshihisa Hirano. I don’t thnk he begins the year as the Diamondbacks closer, but obviously has the chance to work his way into the role and up these rankings with some strong showings. Despite a low 90’s fastball and supposedly nasty splitter, he wasn’t a big strikeout threat in Japan, so expect him to be limited in that category.
- Hector Rodon is not too far removed from being one of the leagues best 8th inning options. He is coming off his worst season since 2013 though, and could very well get lost in that Astros bullpen. For what its worth, he did see a career high BABIP (.292) and his 3.43 xFIP suggest last year may have been a bit of a fluke.
77. Seung Hwan Oh (Toronto Blue Jays)
78. Wandy Peralta (Cincinatti Reds)
80. Tyler Olson (Cleveland Indians)
- Bud Norris, the stud Angels closer of the first half of 2017 only to completely see the wheels fall off in the second half of the season finds himself in another situation where he could see save chances. Until we see some glimpses of first half Norris, he’s best left to deep leagues to begin the year.
Joe Jimenez (Detroit Tigers)
Jose Leclerc (Texas Rangers)
Zach Burdi (Chicago White Sox)