Holds and ranking the top 20 AL setup men who will get them for you in 2010

Consider this a companion piece to the Guide to Holds in 2010. A crib sheet if you will.

I’ve boiled down the discussion into something a little more bite-sized because I know that’s really what you want.

However, check that guide to learn why I ranked these relievers the way I did. So, at the end of the season when a couple of these guys totally disappoint, you can read why I thought they were the best options in March.

The Top 20 American League relievers most likely to get 20 or more holds in 2010:

1. Matt Guerrier – This whole thing with Joe Nathan’s injury makes this situation tentative. Guerrier could end up being the closer, but if he ends up being a cheap option for holds AND saves this season. You shouldn’t complain about bonuses.

2. Hideki Okajima – The Red Sox’s setup man has been a model of holds consistency for three consecutive seasons, amassing totals of 24, 23, and 27.

3. Scott Shields – He was injured last season and several other Angels players stole his holds crown. He led the league in back-to-back years in 2007 and 2008 and is the first player on this list with a K per 9 rate. Fernando Rodney is listed ahead of him on the bullpen depth chart.

4. Matt Thornton – Could end up being the White Sox closer if Bobby Jenks proves ineffective. Like with Guerrier, don’t knock a setup man who could go 20-20 (holds-saves). Oh, and he’ll give you a K per inning.

5. Scott Downs – If Kevin Gregg and Jason Frasor can be even remotely effective, Downs returns to 20-hold territory — he lived there with 24 in both 2007 and 2008.

6. CJ Wilson – When Frank Francisco was out of action in 2009, Wilson filled in as the closer. He had 19 holds and 14 saves last year. The year before he had 24 saves. The year before that he had a 12 save-15 hold showing. he’s also a strikeout per inning guy.

7. Bobby Seay – Seay presents one of the biggest problems with a list like this. You look at three different depth charts and all three have different hierarchies for the Tigers bullpen. While Joel Zumaya is listed as the setup man in Detroit, don’t be surprised if Seay gets more holds.

8. Jose Mijares – I know, another Twins player, right? But he had 27 last year when Guerrier was the only player in the majors with more than 30. If Guerrier takes over for Nathan somebody’s got to pick up the holds slack. The potential is here for Mijares to have a top-3 holds performance in 2010. However, his depth chart positions are all over the place.

9. Mark Lowe – Lowe had 26 saves last year, the fourth-best total in the majors. He’s in the same situation this season with David Aardsma closing out games. Maybe Cliff Lee leads to a few more close wins and the holds that come with them.

10. Michael Wuertz – Andrew Bailey’s injury adds extra value to Wuertz, who could get some limited time as the closer. He had 23 holds last season.

11.  Darren Oliver – He’s with the Rangers now after a 20-hold season for the Angels. Luckily for him, the Rangers usually have plenty of holds to go around.

12. Fernando Rodney – Like the Rangers, Angels holds are easy to come by. Rodney is the first in line to take the closer job away from Brian Fuentes, so his value lies in the holds+saves category, like a couple of the other players on this list.

13. JJ Putz – If Thornton takes over for Jenks at any point, Putz would likely get a shot as the setup man and holds galore. Eventually, he could be the closer, too. Scott Linebrink would be part of the equation, too, but he’s the fourth wheel and in this reality that’s not a good thing.

14. Jim Johnson – Johnson had 19 holds in 2008 before Danys Baez stole his thunder with 15 holds in 2009. Baez won’t be stealing anything from Johnson this season. As bad as Batimore has been over the last three years, they’ve been a great resource for holds and Johnson is in position to get most of them.

15. Phil Hughes – As of right now, MLB.com has Hughes listed as the setup man for Mariano Rivera. He had 18 last season. Of course, he’ll probably end up being a starter again at some point this season.

16. Randy Choate – With only nine holds last season his total is weak compared to Grant Balfour (18) and Dan Wheeler (16). And Wheeler had 26 in 2008. Choate is listed as the setup man for Rafael Soriano on some depth charts. On others, Balfour’s the closer and Lance Cormier is the setup man. I’m leaning on MLB.com again here because, well, we’re talking about MLB players. You’d hope they have it right.

17. Joe Smith – Two years ago, the Indians had a 25-hold reliever (Rafael Perez) and the year before they rostered Rafael Betancourt who put up a Majors-best tying 31 holds. Sadly, no Rafael is going to lead the Indians this season, but Smith could see himself outplaying this ranking by a lot. He had 10 saves last season, his first with the Indians, had 18 the previous season and 10 the year before in his rookie season. Lemme give you a for instance on this depth charts issue: MLB.com lists Kerry Wood, Smith and Chris Perez atop the Cleveland bullpen. Yahoo lists Perez, Tony Sipp and Smith. Rotoworld says it’s Wood, Perez and Sipp. I’m saying, Wood’s hurt for a while, Perez fills in for him and Smith and Sipp get holds, with Smith taking a slight edge.

18. Dan Wheeler – He’s averaged 21 holds the last two year so even though Wheeler’s not the setup man — depending on what list you’re looking at — assume he’ll get some holds.

19. Kevin Jepsen – It may seem like a stretch to put a third Angels reliever on this list. But even without the Fuentes situation, it’s not a stretch. Last season the Angels of Anaheim had three relievers with 15 or more saves (Oliver 20, Jepsen 17 and Jose Arredondo 16). Jepsen is fifth on two depth charts and not listed on Yahoo’s. I’d still call him a good bet for double-digit holds in 2010.

20. Kyle Farnsworth – Completely unexciting, right? But Farnsworth had 14 saves in 2008, 15 in 2007 and is currently listed as the setup man in Kansas City according to MLB.com. The Royals were a surprisingly good source of holds in 2007 and 2008. Other options, if you believe the other depth charts, are Ramon Colon and Juan Cruz.

Bonus round

I’ve already discussed most of the bonus round players — and bolded them — in the above blurbs. Still, if you need a couple more: Darren O’Day, Rangers; Chad Bradford, Rays; Brad Zeigler, Athletics.

9 Responses to “Holds and ranking the top 20 AL setup men who will get them for you in 2010”


  1. Jim

    Are the Padres (Gregerson + Adams) not listed because of the “risk” that they get saves instead of holds if/once Bell is traded? I have Gregerson rated as my #1 reliever for my holds league – expecting ~25 holds and 90+ Ks.

  2. Jim

    ^^ when I said “#1 reliever” I meant holds guys — there are closers rated higher than him on my board.

  3. ep

    @Jim: Oops, err, I mean, this is an American League relievers post, of course. :)
    Was trying to convince myself that Farnsworth didn’t belong on any overall Top 20 list.
    When we make mistakes here it benefits the readers — we’re going deep with holds in 2010 at Chinstrap Ninjas.
    Top-20 NL setup men tomorrow.
    You are right about Gregerson, lock for 25 holds. Grabow, Affeldt and Madson will be high, too.

  4. Jodwin

    I really really enjoyed this article, I think everyone on this list (except maybe 2-3) are some of the must underated relivers in MLB, the holds statistic doesnt get as much respect as it deserves IMO….. Great Article keep up the good work!!!!

  5. ep

    @Jodwin: Thanks for the comment and the compliment.
    Holds have been a mainstay in the one league I run for as long as I can remember.

  6. Jim

    Ha! sorry about that – explains a couple lesser snubs I had noticed too :)

  7. ep

    @Jim: Yeah, I got the e-mail alert about your comment on my phone this morning. As soon as I saw the name Gregerson, I thought Padres then realized there wasn’t a single NL guy on the list.

    I’ve already done the research for the NL. Once I get out of work I’m going to start writing it. Post time should be early a.m. or noonish on Wednesday.

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