In addition to our closer keeper rankings (Tier One, Tier Two), I’ve decided to put together a list of top keeper candidates for the holds category. Obviously not many of these guys are worth keeping given the nature of the job, but many times a top flight setup guy is more valuable to your team than a second or third tier closer.
We’re not going to go too crazy covering the non-closer relievers, but we’ll have two tiers with a total of ten names worthy of consideration for your available keeper spots. I included Zach Sanders’ end of season rankings just for reference.
Tyler Clippard – $5
Baseball’s top fantasy setup man, Clippard has managed to cut his walk rate almost in half since the start of 2009 (2.65 BB/9 and 7.9 BB% this year) while raising his strike rate from 27.2% three seasons ago to 31.6% in 2011 (10.60 K/9). The only negative here is that he is homer prone (1.12 HR/9 this year) because he’s probably the game’s most extreme fly ball pitcher (just 20.2% grounders in 2011, 27.2% for his career). Luckily, he’s done such a good job at keeping runners off base that seven of the eleven homers he allowed this past season were solo shots. Clippard has also excelled despite high workloads these last two years (91 IP in 2010 and 88.1 IP in 2011). He doesn’t figure to get many save chances with Drew Storen around, but he’s one of the new non-closer relievers worth a roster spot in traditional leagues.
Mike Adams – $5
The postseason was a little rough for Adams, who put 17 men on base in 8.1 IP (six walks and six strikeouts), but we’ll forgive him for that. His regular season performance was again outstanding, with the only real negative being the jump in homerun rate after the move out of Petco Park and into Arlington (0.38 HR/9 to 1.05). It’s worth noting that Adams’ strikeout rate has dropped from 33.1% in 2009 to 26.7% this past season, though he’s still over a whiff per inning (9.04 K/9 in 2010, his lowest since 2006) and keeps the WHIP down by limiting walks (just 14 all season, 5.1% of batters faced). The Joe Nathan signing means he’s unlikely to see many save chances, but Adams is still a stellar setup man behind an older closer not far removed from major elbow surgery. For now, he’s as good as it gets for the holds category.
Jonny Venters – $5
Last season’s workload really seemed to take a toll on Venters down the stretch, as his performance in pretty much every significant statistical category declined in the second half of the season. The overall body of work was still excellent — a sub-2.00 ERA, a WHIP just north of 1.00, more than a strikeout per inning — but his season was front-loaded. If you traded him on say, August 25th, you got all the good and none of the bad. Venters does walk quite a few guys (12.0 BB%) but he makes up for it with extreme ground ball tendencies (72.5% this year) and keeping the ball in the park (just 0.16 HR/9 as a big leaguer). With a full offseason to recharge the batteries, Venters figures to be one of the game’s most dominant setup men against in 2012.
Sean Marshall – $2
It’s seems odd to think that a player on a huge market team could be underappreciated, but I feel like Marshall doesn’t get enough recognition as being one of the best relievers in baseball. Over the last two seasons he’s pitched to a 2.45 ERA with 10.12 K/9 (27.5%) and 2.51 BB/9 (8.8%) in 150.1 IP. Throw in a strong ground ball rate (54.9%) and the ability to limit homers (0.24 HR/9) despite playing in a hitters’ park, and you’ve got a fantasy goldmine in holds leagues. If Carlos Marmol manages to lose it for a week or two like he did at times last year, Marshall will be right there to vulture some save chances in 2012.
Daniel Bard – -$2 (yes, negative)
Like Venters, Bard’s late season struggles contributed to his team’s collapse in September. He’s obviously very productive, with a big time strikeout rate (9.14 K/9 and 25.8 K% last two years) and the ability to keep people off base (0.98 WHIP), but there are some relievers in Tier Two with better performances. Bard is here in Tier One because right now the Red Sox don’t have a closer, and he’d be first in line for the job. Even if they do sign someone for the ninth inning, which seems inevitable, his shot at save chances is probably greater than anyone else’s on this list. You’d be keeping him as a really good holds candidate with the potential to be a really good saves option later in the season.