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Relief Pitchers for Holds and SV+HLD Leagues - 2023 Fantasy Baseball Draft Targets

AJ Minter - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB News

So you've found yourself in a fantasy baseball league that values holds? Diving into the world of unheralded middle relievers can be intimidating, but you've come to the right place.

There's no need to fear the middle reliever and it's pointless to delve into the depth charts of all 30 teams. These days, most MLB teams are using high-leverage relievers interchangeably, and more and more teams are using the closer-by-committee approach. This means there are multiple saves sources - and multiple holds sources - in each bullpen.

This leads to the primary bit of advice for playing in holds leagues: draft the best middle relievers. That's it. Guys who throw hard, generate tons of whiffs, and rack up K's in high-leverage situations are naturally going to earn a bunch of holds and saves. As with any fantasy league, it's important to know your league settings, as there's a difference between saves-plus-holds leagues and leagues that separate saves from holds. Below, we'll identify some of the best middle reliever targets for each format, though all the names recommended have value as most relievers will earn both saves and holds.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!


Fantasy Baseball Targets For Holds Leagues

These guys racked up the holds last season and are projected to do so again in 2023. Most are in bullpens with an established closer and will pitch primarily in high-leverage situations in the seventh or eighth innings.

A.J. Minter - Atlanta Braves

We'd be remiss to lead this column with anyone other than the reigning holds king. Minter led the league last season with 34 holds - five more than the next closest reliever. The Atlanta bullpen lost Kenley Jansen this offseason but acquired Raisel Iglesias last season to slot into the closer role, leaving Minter in a position to pitch the eighth inning most nights and thus rack up the holds again.

In addition to holding a high-leverage role for a team projected to win lots of games, Minter has the skills to be a fantasy asset beyond the holds total. Last season, he struck out 94 batters in just 70 innings while posting a sturdy 2.06 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. Minter is as steady as they come and the only thing that'll hurt his holds total is if Iglesias falters and Minter ends up earning saves instead.

Andres Munoz - Seattle Mariners

Munoz is a Statcast darling who finished in the top percentile in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA on contact last season. He ranked fourth among relievers in strikeout rate and boasts one of the best arsenals in baseball thanks to a fastball that averaged 100.2 MPH last season and a slider that generated a whopping -20 run value, which led to 99th percentile finishes in whiff rate and chase rate. In total, Munoz is one of the most difficult relievers in baseball to make contact off of and his role as a setup man to Eric Swanson should lead to plenty of holds with great ratios and a ton of K's.

Rafael Montero - Houston Astros

Rafael Montero ranked ninth in holds last season with 23, though a two-month stretch as a closer suppressed his holds total. Closer Ryan Pressly missed some time, leading to Montero racking up 14 saves in addition to his impressive holds total. Pressly is healthy heading into Spring Training, leading to a clear pecking order in Dusty Baker's bullpen. Montero is one of the best setup men in baseball and should rack up tons of holds for the defending champs.

Alex Vesia - Los Angeles Dodgers

Like Munoz, Vesia is primed for a big season based on his elite stuff while pitching in middle relief for a projected contender. The Dodger bullpen is in flux entering the Spring, but the lefty-throwing Vesia seems tagged for a middle relief role, which should lead to a ton of holds without many saves.

Vesia ranked in the top-90th percentile in xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA while posting a strong 34.8 percent strikeout rate. His fastball/slider combo remains the gold standard for high-leverage relievers and Vesia does it as well as anyone. Last season, his slider generated swings-and-misses 39 percent of the time and his four-seamer had an elite 31.8 percent whiff rate while garnering a -14 run value.


Fantasy Targets For Saves+Holds Leagues

These are elite relievers as part of bullpens that typically use the closer-by-committee approach. They are likely to reach double digits in saves as well as holds while contributing in strikeouts as well.

Jason Adam - Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays are one of the most forward-thinking franchises in baseball and it's made predicting bullpen usage a fool's errand. While the Tampa bullpen is frustrating to predict for saves, their analytical approach led to unearthing several talented arms that will rack up both saves and holds. The best of this bunch is Jason Adam, who enjoyed a breakout season last year at 31- years-old.

Adam earned eight saves and 22 holds last season with only four blown saves as he became a trusted arm for manager Kevin Cash. Better yet, he racked up 4.41 strikeouts per every walk allowed, helping keep his WHIP at a pristine 0.76, the third-best among all qualified relievers. If Adam keeps striking batters out at a 31 percent rate and continues to avoid walks, he should again be one of the best relievers coming out of the Tampa 'pen.

Evan Phillips - Los Angeles Dodgers

Phillips broke out last season for the Dodgers, leading MLB's Steamer projection system to rank him as the fourth-best reliever in the game amongst several elite closers. While it's impossible to expect Phillips to repeat last season's eye-popping stat line (1.14 ERA, 0.76 WHIP, 79 K in 54.1 innings), his skill-based metrics implied his breakout was legit.

Phillips ranked in the 98th percentile with a .175 xBA and his 13 K/9 was among the best marks in the game. The only thing holding Phillips back as a truly elite source of holds is the potential for him to step up as the Dodger closer. He enters the season in a committee with Daniel Hudson and if Phillips is as good as last season, he may just be the ninth-inning guy in LA. Still, when playing in a saves-plus-holds format, you should be targeting the game's best relievers and Phillips figures to be among the best in baseball regardless of his role.

Jose Alvarado - Philadelphia Phillies 

Jose Alvarado has been an enigma for most of his career, looking truly elite at times while battling control issues at other times, leading to too many walks and runs. This makes him hard for the Phillies to trust as a closer, but he still pitches high-leverage innings for the defending NL champs and his upside for fantasy is too hard to ignore.

Alvarado ranked eighth in baseball in whiff rate and K-rate last season and his fastball/slider combo can rack up strikeouts with the best relievers in the game. He'll pitch big innings for the Phils and that should earn plenty of hold opportunities for the 27-year-old flamethrower.

Jhoan Duran - Minnesota Twins

The Twins will begin the season with both Jhoan Duran and Jorge Lopez splitting the ninth inning, but in that case, it's smart to bet on Duran, who should post better fantasy numbers thanks to elite strikeout potential. Duran's 100.8 MPH average fastball velocity was the best in baseball last year. He pairs that spicy fastball with a "slow" 88 MPH curveball that earned whiffs 49.7 percent of the time. Simply put, Duran has some of the best stuff in the game and his 33.5 percent K-rate will play for fantasy regardless of his role in the Minnesota bullpen.

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