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Relief Pitchers to Target for Holds in 2022 Fantasy Baseball Drafts

Welcome back fellow RotoBallers. One area I implore you to explore is getting your butt into some leagues with Holds as a scoring category. There are far too many stud relievers (that don't get the last out of the game) that get ignored in standard leagues. It's too simple to Google fantasy baseball closer depth charts and draft relievers under the Closer column - you deserve more than that. For that reason, I'm bringing back my annual breakdown of the top relievers to target for fantasy baseball holds leagues.

For years, I have taken advantage of using under-the-radar RP in fantasy baseball leagues. Even in standard leagues without Holds, these guys are studs and can help you win with a FrankenAce strategy. But obviously, we are here for a reason, and one reason only....the Holds. What's best about Holds leagues is they allow you to focus more on the TALENT of the pitcher, instead of solely their role.

Obviously, high-leverage volume and manager confidence to get said volume is a major key, but talent is above all else. The NFBC ADP included in this article really has no bearing whatsoever for your Holds leagues, but it at least gives you a general temperature check on how the masses view each arm. Plus, it looked weird with no ADP attached. Alright, let's dig into these beautiful non-closers.

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Top Targets

Devin Williams, MIL (NFBC ADP - 316)
2021: 54 IP, 8 W, 3 SV, 23 Holds, 87 K, 2.50 ERA, 1.19 WHIP

We start with the obvious first. After a dominating 2020 performance, regression hit Williams right off the bat in 2021. But after the first two months, he settled in very nicely with a 1.74 ERA over the second half of the season, including just two ER allowed over 30 (!) IP from June to August. His xERA, K%, HardHit%, and EV all finished in the top 6% of the league, thanks in part to the most devastating changeup in the game which registered a 47.2 Whiff rate and a measly .161 BAA. We know he won't supplant Josh Hader as the Brewers' closer in lieu of an injury (knock on wood), but he becomes a top RP target in Holds leagues that you will likely have to snag after the last of the top closers are gone (Gallegos or Romano).

Chad Green, Jonathan Loaisiga, NYY (ADP - 405, 417)
2021: 83.2 IP, 10 W, 6 SV, 18 Holds, 99 K, 3.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP
2021: 70.2 IP, 9 W, 5 SV, 17 Holds, 69 K, 2.17 ERA. 1.02 WHIP

I think it is public knowledge if you've ever read any of my work or follow me on Twitter that I LOVE the "Green Lasagna" combo, even in standard leagues to form one hell of a FrankenAce. The high-leverage volume, the ratios, the ninth-inning appearances, the extra-inning wins, these two see it ALL. Both Yanks were top-30 in Holds in 2021, and of those 30 RP, they were first and second in wins. I'm not in the business of trying to predict RP wins, but again, when you get this level of high-quality, high-leverage volume, only good things follow.

Diego Castillo, SEA (ADP - 414)
2021: 58.1 IP, 5 W, 16 SV, 10 Holds, 75 K, 2.78 ERA. 0.98 WHIP

Another JB favorite even in standard leagues, Castillo is about as solid as they come in Holds Leagues. After a surprising trade last season, he now finds himself in one of the most loaded bullpens in the league in Seattle. Paul Sewald, Ken Giles, and Drew Steckenrider join Diego in forming one hell of a late-inning squad. Despite being in my opinion the best reliever on the roster, I also believe that Castillo is the least likely of the foursome to be locked into a closer role for 2022. This is great news for those looking for Holds. His xBA and xERA have been top 10% for three seasons now, but in 2021, we finally saw the jump in his strikeout rates that I've been waiting for. He threw his slider at a 66% clip, and it boasted a .130 BAA and a 40.1 Whiff rate. He is now officially the whole package.

Hector Neris, HOU (ADP - 511)
2021: 74.1 IP, 4 W, 12 SV, 11 Holds, 98 K, 3.63 ERA, 1.17 WHIP

Despite being 32 years young, Neris might've had the most effective season of his career in 2021, depending on how you look at the effectiveness, of course. He doubled his sinker usage from 2020, which led to a career-best 47.1 GB% while still boasting lofty swing and miss stuff. His xBA, xSLG, xwOBA, and xERA were all also career bests. His splitter is still the bee's knees, and he finished the year with a 2.70 ERA and 35.8 K% over his last 40 innings. Now serving as top setup-man for Ryan Pressly and the Astros, Neris should accumulate some of the league's best Hold totals in 2022.

Josh Staumont, KCR (ADP - 469)
2021: 65.2 IP, 4 W, 5 SV, 16 Holds, 72 K, 2.88 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

I am not going to lie, I definitely expected Staumont to be the closer in Kansas City by now, but the fact that he is in this article instead of a 2022 Saves article is more of a testament to Scott Barlow rather than a knock on Staumont. He is prone to giving up some hard contact, but he did take a step forward in that department from 2020. Like Neris, Staumont increased his sinker usage and saw his HardHit%, EV, LA, and FB% decrease. Also like Neris, Staumont is carrying some serious momentum into 2022 after a stellar second half in which he owned a 2.03 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 21.1 K-BB%.

 

Deeper Options

Genesis Cabrera, STL (ADP - 726)
2021: 70 IP, 4 W, 28 Holds, 77 K, 3.73 ERA, 1.26 WHIP

We've all seen the speculation that Alex Reyes and John Hicks are going to have the opportunity to join the Cardinals rotation for 2022. I draw two bullpen assumptions from this: Cards know Giovanny Gallegos is a stud and should be their closer (finally), and they are comfortable with Genesis Cabrera handling a large bulk of the late-inning relief work. Only 25-years-old, his 28 Holds in 2021 were fourth-most in the league.

Unlike most LHP relievers, Cabrera will make Oliver Marmol's job easy as he has zero issues coming into an inning filled with RHB thanks to a great changeup. Right-handed hitters owned just a .103 BA against the pitch, and overall he held righties to a .178/.276/.274 line. We have still yet to see the best of Genesis Cabrera, and I think he becomes Marmol's go-to guy out of the Cards' pen in 2022.

Aaron Bummer, CWS (ADP - 675)
2021: 56.1 IP, 5 W, 2 SV, 21 Holds, 75 K, 3.51 ERA, 1.26 WHIP

The amount of Aaron Bummer I had in 2021 was kind of a.... bummer. But hamstring and bicep injuries can affect any man's season, and the guy still possesses my favorite arsenal amongst all relievers. Despite the ERA and WHIP being a little higher than we (or maybe just I) expected, Bummer still boasted a 2.80 xFIP. The underlying numbers looked fantastic. The xERA, Barrel%, xBA, and xSLG all finished top 4% in the league, and my favorite part of all: 76.1 GB%. Seventy-six point one percent ground ball rate. Oh, and he still had a K% north of 30.

You might remember him trying out his new slider in 2020, he threw it to five batters and all five struck out. Well, it appeared as though that was enough of a test to bring the pitch forward into 2021, as he threw the filth 282 times. Against the slider, opponents hit .094 (that's kind of good, right?) and whiffed at a 52.2 rate. Just imagine the results as that usage increases again in 2022.

Tyler Rogers, SFG (ADP - 562)
2021: 81 IP, 7 W, 13 SV, 30 Holds, 55 K, 2.22 ERA, 1.07 WHIP

Strikeouts are just one category and definitely not one you are looking to shore up while searching for Holds, which brings us to Tyler Rogers. The 30 Holds in 81 innings last season show just how much the Giants rely on Rogers to put out fires. The late-season emergence of Camilo Doval should mean we might even get to see those 13 Saves converted into even more Holds for 2022. He owned the third-lowest HardHit% among relievers last year, along with being the Barrel% champ for back-to-back seasons. Bottom line: you aren't squaring the ball up against Rogers. The dude is throwing submarine Blitz Balls.

Jorge Alcala, MIN (ADP - 481)
2021: 59.2 IP, 3 W, 1 SV, 11 Holds, 61 K, 3.92 ERA, 0.97 WHIP

Last year, I predicted that Jorge Alcala would finish the season as the highest-ranked Twins reliever in fantasy. Obviously, he didn't wind up seeing as much ninth-inning work as I expected, but he definitely earned a very important role in Minnesota's bullpen. Things started out pretty ugly, as Alcala limped to the ASB rocking a 4.67 ERA and a sad 23 K%. But the potential was fully released in the second half as the 26-year-old boasted a 2.88 ERA and 32 K% over the last 25 innings to include just two ER over his last 18 IP.

His stuff is electric, and his command is equally impressive. He is going to be on many standard league waiver-wire lists at some point this season. Don't let him slide in your Holds drafts.

 

Potential Breakouts

Alex Vesia, LAD (ADP - 704)
2021: 40 IP, 3 W, 1 SV, 9 Holds, 54 K, 2.25 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

Kenley Jansen now resides in Hotlanta. There has been plenty of talk about a ninth-inning committee possibly led by Daniel Hudson, and Blake Treinen being preferred in a "flexible" role not tied to one inning. But that still leaves a whole lot of Hold-opportunistic blank space. This is where Alex Vesia fits in.

In his first big taste of the big leagues last year, Vesia looked extremely impressive for a 25-year-old. As the season went on, Dave Roberts started entrusting him with more and more high-leverage situations and this kid sure looked like he thrives under the pressure. He pitched five innings of  "High-Leverage," according to FanGraphs. He gave up one hit. He threw 8.1 innings with runners in scoring position. He gave up three hits. He's got ice in his veins and lives the dangerous lifestyle as he tight-roped around a 13.7 BB%. Obviously, that's a terrifying amount of free passes, but it was encouraging to see the walks drastically decrease as the season went on (20 BB% first 12.2 IP v 10.4 BB% last 27.1 IP).

Tim Mayza, TOR (ADP - 734)
2021: 53 IP, 5 W, 1 SV, 18 Holds, 57 K, 3.40 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

After missing 2020 due to TJS, Tim Mayza came back a different dude. He scrapped the 4-seam, and practically doubled the sinker usage to 71%. He's not quite at the Bummer/Rogers level of no chance at hitting this ball hard, but he was damn near close to it in 2021. He finished the comeback szn top-10% in HardHit%, EV, and Barrel%, and his 2.90 xFIP was ninth-lowest among relievers. After the All-Star Break, once the dust was officially all knocked off, he was straight cruisin'. Over his last 24.2 innings, he owned a 2.19 ERA, 30.9 K%, and 0.77 WHIP. The road to Jordan Romano in the ninth inning runs through Mayza, and with the amount of talent on that roster, I'm willing to gamble it will be a very well-traveled road with many a Holds along the way.

A.J. Puk, OAK (ADP - 581)
2021: 13.1 IP, 16 K, 6.08 ERA, 1.80 WHIP

Nothing intrigues me quite like a young starting pitcher prospect being converted into a reliever. Yes, I'm a weirdo. The roller coaster of emotions and expectations, the lows of obvious struggles or injuries that lead to it, and then the redemption and comeback possibilities that can follow. A.J. Puk is still only 26-years-old. The 2016 first-round pick has thrown just 24 innings in the MLB. I think at this point, it's safe to say you won't be seeing him in the A's 2022 rotation. But with his pedigree, talent, and arsenal, I can absolutely see him thriving out of the pen. Jake Diekman threw 60.2 innings last season as the A's top left-handed reliever. Currently, the only other projected LHP in the pen with Puk is Sam Moll, a 30-year-old with even fewer big league innings pitched than Puk.

Aaron Loup, LAA (ADP - 659)
2021: 56.2 IP, 6 W, 16 Holds, 57 K, 0.95 ERA, 0.94 WHIP

Before now, were you aware that Aaron Loup, 34-years-old, finished 2021 with a 0.95 ERA? His 2.1 Barrel% was fifth-lowest in baseball and sandwiched comfortably between Tyler Rogers and Aaron Bummer. What a tasty sandwich. The Mets are going to severely miss the southpaw in their pen, but the Angels needed him just as badly. You won't be excited about rostering Loup, but I promise you won't regret it.

Richard Bleier, MIA (ADP - 750)
2021: 58 IP, 3 W, 20 Holds, 44 K, 2.95 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

All the Marlins bullpen talk this draft season has been Dylan Floro or Anthony Bender in standard leagues. But if we're talking about Saves+Holds, their most steady arm is their top LHP Richard Bleier. The man started his big league career back in 2016 with three straight seasons under a 2.00 ERA.

He had an ugly 2019 in Baltimore, which now appears to be an outlier, and for the last two years has gone right back to his reliable self. But last season, at the age of 34, he took a surprising step forward as he set a career-high in K% and career-low in BB%. His 2.7 BB% was second to only Liam Hendricks among relievers with at least 50 innings. The rise in the whiffs appears to stem from adding over two inches of a horizontal break to his slider that he uses to absolutely neutralize LHB. He threw the pitch 86 times, and gave up just one measly single all year, coupled with a 45.0 whiff rate. Considering Anthony Bass got obliterated by LHB last year, it would behoove Don Mattingly to keep handing the ball over to ol' reliable Bleier to bridge the gap to his closer.

 



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