Fantasy baseball | Relief pitcher draft strategy: Chase holds, setup men instead of low-skill closers

In the past, we’ve provided plenty of information for users in leagues that count holds as a category. Much like point-per-reception leagues in fantasy football, I think they add another dimension to a sport that has been stuck with the same 10 categories for long enough. Not everyone agrees.

According to an annual poll conducted by the baseball minds at www.baseballhq.com, creators of Ron Shandler’s Baseball Forecaster, 20% of their users play in holds leagues. Three percent of those players don’t like it.

There will always be some people who won’t convert. It’s not you, it’s us holds lovers. We have plenty of other fantasy baseball words throughout the site and lots of great friends in our links if you don’t want to hear anything else about holds. But before you go, understand that setup men are good plays even in leagues that do not count holds. For those of you on the fence, or who want to win the holds category, let’s keep going.

I love holds leagues and I think players who earn holds provide a strategic edge to owners who want to take advantage of it. In other words, you are going to have an edge over those dudes (and dudettes) who clicked away a paragraph ago.

In leagues that count holds and the other five categories, the setup men are probably the best investments in the game for a number of reasons. In standard leagues they provide a considerable value as well:

  • Even in the most veteran, progressive leagues, setup men are cheaper to own than players at any other position. Glass half-full: You can draft a $2 (or 20th-round) setup man who returns at $20. Glass half-empty: You’ll feel less buyer’s remorse dumping that $2 setup man than that $20 flop of a closer you had to overpay for mid-draft.
  • The best setup men keep their ERAs and WHIPs low. Many of them maintain excellence with a nice K/9 rate. Some of them even snipe a difference-making number of wins.
  • The best setup men are typically first in line when the closer faceplants and/or needs a few games off for injury, rest, etc.┬áSome of 2011′s most sought-after setup men on draft day, Jordan Walden and Ryan Madson come to mind immediately, didn’t have the opportunity to compile large holds numbers because they replaced their teams’ closers. Both Walden and Madson finished with more than 30 saves at a fraction of the cost of the closers they replaced.
  • Last year, Tyler Clippard had an ADP in the 250-300 range. He didn’t have any saves, but Clippard had a 1.83 ERA, struck out 104 batters in 88 innings and had a 0.83 WHIP. So, he contributed to fantasy owners’ ERA, WHIP and strikeouts while compiling 38 holds.

Too many fantasy owners ignore setup men for those bottom tier closers who will likely be out of a job by May 1. Many times it doesn’t take much effort to pick out the volatile bullpen situations. Draft the highly skilled replacement, not the guy on the verge of losing his grip.

There are, of course, drawbacks. The biggest two drawbacks: Some of the best setup men will not get the opportunity to earn saves and there can be a lot of player turnover in the setup ranks. Player turnover might be the biggest culprit for holds haters. However, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to find setup men. It just takes a few simple steps, which we will review in Part II of this conversation.

I’ll leave you with 2011′s hold leaders. Many of the names will be in the conversation about 2012′s top setup men.

2011 MLB Holds leaders

Rk Name Team 2011
1 Tyler Clippard Nationals 38
2 Jonny Venters Braves 35
3 David Robertson Yankees 34
3 Sean Marshall Cubs 34
3 Daniel Bard Red Sox 34
6 Eric O’Flaherty Braves 32
6 Mike Adams - – - 32
8 Joaquin Benoit Tigers 29
9 Jose Veras Pirates 27
10 Scott Downs Angels 26
10 Grant Balfour Athletics 26
12 Jesse Crain White Sox 24
12 Tony Sipp Indians 24
14 Vinnie Pestano Indians 23
14 David Hernandez Diamondbacks 23
16 Koji Uehara - – - 22
16 Rafael Betancourt Rockies 22
16 Chad Qualls Padres 22
19 Kerry Wood Cubs 21
20 Javier Lopez Giants 20
20 Matt Thornton White Sox 20
22 Joel Peralta Rays 19
23 Greg Holland Royals 18
23 Jason Motte Cardinals 18
23 Jim Johnson Orioles 18
23 Marc Rzepczynski - – - 18
23 Matt Reynolds Rockies 18
28 Glen Perkins Twins 17
28 Francisco Rodriguez - – - 17
28 Antonio Bastardo Phillies 17
28 Edward Mujica Marlins 17
32 Joe Smith Indians 16
32 Darren Oliver Rangers 16
32 Luke Gregerson Padres 16
32 Chris Sale White Sox 16
32 Jamey Wright Mariners 16
32 Kameron Loe Brewers 16
38 Matt Lindstrom Rockies 15
38 Mike Dunn Marlins 15
38 Sean Burnett Nationals 15
38 Chris Resop Pirates 15
42 Mike MacDougal Dodgers 14
42 Wilton Lopez Astros 14
42 Logan Ondrusek Reds 14
42 Matt Belisle Rockies 14
42 Jason Frasor - – - 14
42 Nick Masset Reds 14
48 Jeremy Affeldt Giants 13
48 Jeff Samardzija Cubs 13
48 Aroldis Chapman Reds 13
48 Michael Stutes Phillies 13
48 Matt Guerrier Dodgers 13
53 Rafael Perez Indians 12
54 Alfredo Aceves Red Sox 11
54 Ramon Ramirez Giants 11
54 Louis Coleman Royals 11
54 Tim Collins Royals 11
54 Bobby Parnell Mets 11
54 Pedro Beato Mets 11
60 Brad Ziegler - – - 10
60 Henry Rodriguez Nationals 10
60 Todd Coffey Nationals 10
60 Daniel McCutchen Pirates 10
60 Jose Mijares Twins 10
60 Matt Albers Red Sox 10
60 Alex Burnett Twins 10






2 Responses to “Fantasy baseball | Relief pitcher draft strategy: Chase holds, setup men instead of low-skill closers”


  1. CJones

    Glad to see the always great attention to setup men. Venters and Robertson are my two main targets for this year’s draft, among others. Robertson is in a great position to put up big K/9 numbers and I think he’ll get some rogue save chances as well.

  2. ep

    CJones: Robertson and Venters are setup aces.
    I’m working on some statistical analysis that really puts the value of those 20- to 30-holds guys in perspective. I just need to get a few free hours to put it all together.

    Bottom line: There were 127 fewer holds in 2011 than there were five years earlier. Holds saw a decline in two of the last four seasons. If trends continue, we’ll see another decline in 2011.