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Middle Relievers: Holds, But No Free Passes

As we approach the end of week three in fantasy baseball, it’s probably safe to say we can do a decent job of evaluating our team’s strengths and weaknesses. The general rule-of-thumb encourages owners not to panic too early with regards to our stars, but now could be a good opportunity to try and acquire some middle relief as a throw-in via trade (to an owner that IS panicking) or simply from the waiver wire.

Thus far, there have been 77 relievers who have earned a hold. But, there have been just four middle relievers who have notched at least three without allowing a free pass. Now we’re talking! Some are willing to accept the fact that “holds guys” are there to earn you “holds” and will sacrifice their ratios and whiffs to acquire said holds. Don’t settle for mediocrity. Get the reliever who will positively contribute to as many categories as possible.

Let’s take a look at the four middle relievers who currently have three or more holds without allowing a free pass.

Small sample size warning: Each of the following relievers discussed have appeared in ten or less games and have logged nine or less innings.

Ownership percentages taken from Yahoo! leagues.

Reliever %Y! IP Holds K% SwStr% BB%
Mark Melancon 7% 9 5 30% 13.3% 0%
Darren O’Day 9% 7 4 24% 20% 0%
James Russell 12% 4.1 3 46.2% 12.7% 0%
Junichi Tazawa 3% 8 3 28.6% 11.9% 0%

Mark Melancon | Pirates | 7% – Melancon is the early league leader in holds (5) and is striking out 30% of the batters he faces. He’s surrendered one earned run — a home run — in nine frames and just three total hits to the 30 batters faced. To say Melancon is pitching “lights-out” would be an understatement. If you can acquire his services as a throw-in in a bigger deal, do so quickly before his owner gets too attached. He provides value across the categories and could even earn you some saves when Jason Grilli has the day off.

Darren O’Day | Orioles | 9% – The Orioles’ right-hander sports a clean ERA and BB% through seven innings on the hill. In those seven games, O’Day earned four holds while fanning six of the 25 batters he’s faced. Although he’s likely owned in leagues that reward holds, O’Day is an ideal trade target for those looking to add holds and improve their ratios.

James Russell | Cubs | 12% – There is a direct correlation between the rise of Russell’s ownership levels and the implosion of Carlos Marmol. Beat writers and fantasy owners alike speculated that the southpaw could be in line for some ninth-inning save opportunities when the erratic Marmol’s closer tag was pulled by Dale Sveum last week. But as Eno noted here, the likelihood of Russell — a LOOGY — earning and running with the closer’s role is extremely slim. With that said, Russell could be a source of holds for your fantasy team, but proceed with a bit of caution. Despite a slight spike in SwStr% through seven appearances, the left-hander owns a career K% of just 17.9%. And as I noted above, Russell has failed to allow a free pass to each of the 13 batters he’s faced thus far in ‘13, but a career 1.30 WHIP isn’t exactly sexy for a middle reliever.

Junichi Tazawa | Red Sox | 3% – Tazawa impressed in 37 games (44 IP) last season, finishing with five holds, a 1.43 ERA (2.59 xFIP), a 26.2 K% and an incredible 2.9% BB%. But despite the right-hander’s success, the Sox still went out and acquired Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara to bolster the backend of the bullpen, likely reducing Tazawa’s role. However, with Hanrahan already shelved, Tazawa has been given the opportunity to put his skills back on display in an increased role and has yet to disappoint. He boasts a 1.13 ERA (2.45 xFIP) in eight frames, with three holds, a 28.6% K% and a glistening 0.00% BB%. Those in leagues that reward holds need to consider the Japanese reliever for a boost in that category in addition to the ratio love he will bring to your squad.