It’s been a long, tough winter (especially for those of you who live in the Northeast), but the wait is almost over. Spring training is in full swing and the regular season is just around the corner. That means, of course, that fantasy baseball draft season is here.

Recently, we’ve attempted to identify the next Corey Kluber and looked at some hitters who displayed above average power and plate discipline over the past couple of seasons. Today, we’re going to focus on relief pitchers. If you’re looking for the latest closer rankings as well as the top handcuff and hold options, check out the Bullpen Report, which provides excellent RP analysis each and every week.

This post will attempt to identify relievers with a very specific profile: power arms with high K-rates. Players who throw hard and miss bats. It’s that simple. Well, mostly. Let’s take a look at the search filters that I used for this exercise:

Minimum 50 IP

K% of at least 25%

SwStr% of at least 12%

FBv of at least 94 mph

In order to cast a wider net and avoid placing too much emphasis on a single year’s worth of data, this exercise covers both the 2013 and 2014 seasons. I’ve split the data into two separate tables with regard to space considerations. The first table contains the results of the data as specified in the search criteria. To provide some context, here are the MLB averages for relief pitchers during the ’13 and ’14 seasons:

Season K% BB% K-BB% FBv Contact% SwStr%
2013 21.70% 8.90% 12.90% 92.5 77.10% 10.40%
2014 22.20% 8.60% 13.60% 92.5 77.00% 10.50%

Here is the first table which contains the qualifiers who fit the initial search criteria (sorted by K-BB%):

Name Team IP K% BB% K-BB% FBv SwStr% Contact%
Aroldis Chapman CIN 117.2 47.40% 11.50% 35.90% 99.1 18.00% 60.80%
Dellin Betances NYY 95 39.50% 7.10% 32.40% 96.5 12.60% 70.70%
Greg Holland KC 129.1 39.00% 7.70% 31.30% 96 15.80% 64.10%
Andrew Miller – – – 93 40.10% 9.00% 31.00% 94.2 14.10% 66.90%
Craig Kimbrel ATL 128.2 38.50% 9.20% 29.30% 97 15.10% 67.40%
Wade Davis KC 82 36.80% 8.60% 28.30% 95.6 13.50% 69.50%
Sean Doolittle OAK 131.2 29.70% 4.20% 25.50% 94.2 13.30% 75.40%
Luke Hochevar KC 70.1 31.30% 6.50% 24.80% 95.5 13.40% 72.00%
Jake McGee TB 134 30.90% 7.10% 23.80% 96.3 12.10% 75.80%
Glen Perkins MIN 124.1 28.60% 5.20% 23.40% 94.1 12.20% 76.70%
Cody Allen CLE 140 30.90% 9.00% 21.90% 95.4 12.70% 71.60%
Jim Henderson MIL 71.1 31.00% 9.40% 21.60% 95.1 13.80% 70.90%
Joaquin Benoit – – – 121.1 29.20% 7.70% 21.50% 94.4 15.40% 67.70%
Trevor Rosenthal STL 145.2 31.50% 10.00% 21.50% 97.1 13.70% 71.80%
Ernesto Frieri – – – 110.1 30.70% 9.20% 21.40% 94.2 13.60% 72.80%
Jake Diekman PHI 109.1 29.60% 10.70% 18.90% 96.6 13.50% 70.00%
Jordan Walden ATL 97 29.20% 10.30% 18.80% 95.7 14.20% 69.80%
Nate Jones CWS 78 27.80% 9.10% 18.80% 97.6 13.10% 71.00%
Chris Withrow LAD 56 31.70% 13.80% 17.90% 95.7 12.00% 73.00%
Carter Capps – – – 79.1 25.60% 7.90% 17.70% 96.1 12.70% 72.60%
Pedro Strop – – – 118.1 27.50% 10.20% 17.30% 95.4 13.80% 70.10%
Mike Dunn MIA 124.2 26.40% 9.50% 16.90% 94.5 12.60% 74.30%
Dominic Leone SEA 66.1 25.70% 9.20% 16.50% 94.6 12.40% 72.60%
Kelvin Herrera KC 128.1 25.10% 8.90% 16.20% 98.2 13.10% 72.90%
David Hernandez ARI 62.1 25.10% 9.10% 16.00% 94.8 12.60% 72.80%
Steve Delabar TOR 84.1 28.10% 13.10% 15.00% 94.3 12.80% 71.90%

I took the liberty of including contact percentage as a category in this table as well. The players with dashes next to their names played for multiple teams over the last two seasons. A few quick observations on these players:

• Topping this list in K%, K-BB%, average fastball velocity, swinging strike rate, and contact rate (lowest) is Aroldis Chapman. That guy’s pretty good.

• Holland, Davis, Herrera, and Hochevar (who will be returning from TJS shortly) provide the Royals with an embarrassment of bullpen riches. Any lead past the 6th inning is generally a safe one for KC.

• Betances and Miller combine to form a potentially dominant RHP-LHP combo at the back end of the Yankees bullpen this season.

Now that Captain Obvious has stepped down from his soapbox, here are the MLB averages for RPs in terms of batted ball data:

Season LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB BABIP WHIP ERA xFIP
2013 21.00% 44.20% 34.80% 10.50% 9.80% 0.291 1.29 3.59 3.79
2014 20.50% 45.30% 34.20% 10.00% 9.00% 0.294 1.28 3.58 3.67

And here is table #2 with the batted ball data for the qualifiers (sorted by GB%):

Name Team LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB BABIP WHIP ERA xFIP
Dominic Leone SEA 20.60% 54.70% 24.70% 14.30% 9.50% 0.282 1.16 2.17 3.07
Pedro Strop – – – 25.00% 51.80% 23.20% 9.10% 10.60% 0.266 1.15 3.35 3.05
Andrew Miller – – – 21.80% 50.30% 27.90% 4.00% 12.00% 0.291 0.99 2.23 1.87
Nate Jones CWS 21.70% 50.00% 28.30% 17.90% 8.90% 0.337 1.28 4.62 2.9
Wade Davis KC 20.20% 49.40% 30.40% 17.60% 0.00% 0.243 0.83 0.99 2.17
Kelvin Herrera KC 23.20% 48.50% 28.20% 17.70% 9.40% 0.277 1.16 2.52 3.21
Jake Diekman PHI 27.30% 46.10% 26.60% 8.30% 6.90% 0.343 1.38 3.38 2.84
Dellin Betances NYY 21.30% 45.70% 33.00% 12.90% 8.10% 0.267 0.85 1.89 1.83
Craig Kimbrel ATL 23.50% 44.60% 31.90% 15.00% 7.50% 0.25 0.89 1.4 2.09
Greg Holland KC 22.20% 43.70% 34.10% 7.90% 6.70% 0.275 0.89 1.32 1.88
Trevor Rosenthal STL 22.20% 41.20% 36.50% 12.00% 4.80% 0.329 1.25 2.9 3.01
Jake McGee TB 18.90% 40.20% 40.90% 12.10% 7.60% 0.283 1.03 2.89 2.83
Chris Withrow LAD 19.00% 39.70% 41.30% 8.00% 12.00% 0.209 1.09 2.73 3.44
Joaquin Benoit – – – 17.50% 39.20% 43.40% 12.90% 6.50% 0.233 0.91 1.78 3.1
Carter Capps – – – 23.00% 39.10% 37.80% 12.60% 14.90% 0.359 1.51 5.11 3.45
Jordan Walden ATL 18.60% 38.00% 43.50% 11.70% 5.80% 0.282 1.16 3.15 3.39
Aroldis Chapman CIN 23.10% 37.40% 39.60% 9.70% 11.10% 0.284 0.94 2.29 1.67
Mike Dunn MIA 18.40% 36.90% 44.70% 12.60% 6.30% 0.28 1.2 2.89 3.65
Glen Perkins MIN 24.50% 35.70% 39.80% 14.20% 9.40% 0.296 1.05 2.97 2.86
Luke Hochevar KC 19.40% 35.00% 45.60% 13.70% 11.00% 0.214 0.82 1.92 2.9
Cody Allen CLE 20.20% 33.00% 46.70% 8.90% 8.90% 0.288 1.16 2.25 3.15
David Hernandez ARI 21.20% 31.50% 47.30% 9.00% 12.80% 0.252 1.19 4.48 3.99
Steve Delabar TOR 23.40% 30.20% 46.30% 11.60% 7.40% 0.304 1.39 3.74 4.01
Sean Doolittle OAK 19.10% 28.80% 52.20% 16.80% 5.40% 0.255 0.85 2.94 3
Jim Henderson MIL 27.90% 28.50% 43.60% 6.70% 14.70% 0.287 1.21 3.41 3.16
Ernesto Frieri – – – 18.40% 27.40% 54.20% 16.00% 14.70% 0.309 1.32 5.14 3.56

I included WHIP, ERA, and xFIP in this table to give you an idea of how these RPs performed in the most commonly used ratio categories for fantasy purposes (and xFIP for how they could’ve or should’ve performed in ERA, depending on your perspective). Here are a few potential RPs of interest based on these results:

Dominic Leone: Highest ground ball percentage (54.7%) among these qualifiers as well as the 7th highest infield fly ball percentage (14.3%).

Kelvin Herrera: 6th highest GB% (48.5%) and the 2nd highest IFFB% (17.7%). Herrera also produced the 2nd highest average fastball velocity (98.2 mph) among these pitchers, behind only Chapman.

Pedro Strop: 2nd highest GB% (51.8%) on this list as well as the 7th highest SwStr% (13.8%), which placed higher than Davis, Allen, and Betances in that category, among others.

Jordan Walden: 5th highest SwStr% (14.2) behind only Chapman, Holland, Benoit, and Kimbrel. Posted the 4th lowest LD% (18.6%) as well.

Four of the five RPs who produced the lowest ground ball rates have either lost their closer roles (Frieri, Henderson) or struggled with inconsistency (Delabar, Hernandez). Frieri, Henderson, and Hernandez have all struggled with HRs allowed as fly ball pitchers in hitter-friendly environments. Doolittle is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury, but his fly ball tendencies have played well in his spacious home ballpark.

What do you think of these RPs? Targeting any of these middle relievers in the RCL format this season?

  1. burningbridges247 says:
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    Great article as always, Magoo. What are your thoughts on Strop? Love his stuff, but I owned him through one of his implosion, I-poke-my-eye-out-with-a-blunt-stick phases last year.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @burningbridges247: Thanks! It’s all about control with Strop. He’s always had great stuff. His slider is a true wipeout pitch. Virtually unhittable when it’s on. The issue with him has always been BB-rate. If he can get that under control, he has a chance to be one of the better relievers in the game.

      • Matt says:
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        @Big Magoo:

        I cant imagine he will get a shot at saves though. When put into the 9th inning he has always struggled and cubs would like him to continue contributing in the 7/8. They have Neil Ramirez besides to back up the reliable Rondon. Strop is far away.

        • Big Magoo

          Big Magoo says:
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          @Matt: You definitely have a point. The goal of this post was to identify high strikeout relievers regardless of role though. Speculating on saves is a different ballgame. The Cubs also have Motte now too. He could join the mix at some point.

  2. Chris says:
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    Hey Magoo nice article,

    I usually go two RP’s $5 per so middle to bottom half. In my league it’s 3 pick ups per month and no waiver wire. I think I might stick with my normal strategy because of the waiver situation. But does it make sense to draft a middle of the pack RP and then maybe Andrew Miller or Farqahr (SP?) I ‘d save $5 but would probably be light on saves. I won’t beat 1 team to the waiver wire never do because they have two guys that run their team hense why I am thinking about sticking with my normal strategy.

    Thoughts? League is 5×5 roto

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Chris: Thanks, Chris! That’s not a bad RP strategy at all. In an NFBC draft that I participated in over the weekend, I ended up with K-Rod, McGee, Boxberger, and Cecil as my RP group.

      It depends on your format and leaguemates though. In that league, closers flew off the board, so I decided to wait. In your limited transaction league, it might not be a bad idea to use the handcuff strategy like I did with McGee/Boxberger. Those players should be relatively cheap too. RPs like Miller and Giles will be among the more expensive CIW options, but they’re good players to target. Farquhar too, as you mentioned.

      • Chris says:
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        Thanks, I’m just paranoid this year to do that because I drafted Jim Hendersen and Tommy Hunter last year. I basically ended up with no chance at saves for over a month and the one team beat me to the wire on a few guys. I hate Punting categories especially in a 14 team league. Also, it’s an auction and then the 6 reserve spots we do a snake draft. So if I draft Boxberger and somoene beats me to McGee in the reserve rds I could be screwed also. Does that make it any less of a good idea to you? Or should I just take two solid closers (as solid as you can get for 6 bucks, Perkins, maybe Melancon or Chisek in our league Kimbrel went for 12 last yr). Let me know if you can.

        Thanks

        • Big Magoo

          Big Magoo says:
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          @Chris: If you can acquire a couple of players like Melancon, Cishek, and/or Perkins fairly cheaply, that sounds like a good strategy. Or you could grab one of those guys and try to acquire a cheaper second option like the McGee/Boxberger or Doolittle/Clippard pairings. Depends on how many bench and DL slots you have to utilize.

          • Chris says:
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            Thanks I really appreciate it!

            • Big Magoo

              Big Magoo says:
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              @Chris: No problem

      • Matt says:
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        @Big Magoo:
        Even cheaper and perhaps more probable. Pair McGee with Jepsen.

        • Big Magoo

          Big Magoo says:
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          @Matt: Yeah, could be. You could even make arguments for Frieri and Balfour in that pen. That’s what’s tricky about the saves game. It’s not just about skills. Got to have the manager’s trust, and some managers even prefer their most reliable reliever in a set-up role.

  3. Good post. I’m a fan of Danny Farquhar but he just misses your velocity (93) and SwStr (11.2%) cutoffs.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Rudy Gamble: Thanks, Rudy! I like Farquhar too, but he didn’t qualify here for those reasons that you mentioned. When I limit the search criteria, I usually bump up the requirements a bit.

  4. Grey

    Grey says:
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    Great post, Magoo! Domonic Leone is a name that I think a lot of people are going to know more about after this year…

    • Troy: The Collector

      troy says:
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      @Grey: truth, looking to grab him in most of my deeper leagues for the last rp spot

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Grey: Thanks, Grey! Yeah, I like Leone and Farquhar in that Seattle pen. I’d bet that Rodney runs out of arrows at some point this season.

    • goodfold2 says:
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      @Grey: smokey and baseball forecaster very high on him.

  5. Mike says:
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    Ken Giles how does he compare.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Mike: Giles just missed due to the IP requirement. He logged 45.2 IP last season, falling just short of 50. He qualified in the K% (38.6%) and SwStr% (15.7%) categories by comfortable margins. Definitely a CIW to target.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Mike: Forgot to mention his 97.2 mph average fastball velocity, which would’ve been the 3rd highest mark in baseball had he qualified.

  6. Troy: The Collector

    troy says:
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    i just recently added leone to my dynasty league roster, this kid has great stuff. i wanted to add farquhar and strop as well but only so much room

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @troy: Nice add. All of those relievers are quality options.

      • Troy: The Collector

        troy says:
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        @Big Magoo: yea my pitching is stacked with young options, ill prob add more once darvish and tanaka get put on dl, but right now have cishek, britton, betances, giles, and now leone.

        • Big Magoo

          Big Magoo says:
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          @troy: That’s a very solid group of relievers.

  7. J-FOH says:
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    thank god this wasn’t attached to an RCL strategy post, sssshhhhhhhh

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @J-FOH: Nah, complete and utter transparency. No need to play your cards close to the vest. The key is to share your strategies and still manage to execute. Share with us, J-FOH. You know you want to.

      • J-FOH says:
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        @Big Magoo: doesnt matter, they arent reading this either way

        • Big Magoo

          Big Magoo says:
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          @J-FOH: You know what they say about people who assume…

          • J-FOH says:
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            @Big Magoo: I never said that, its a fact, you statty statter stat guy

        • SteveNZ says:
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          @J-FOH: Yes they are.

          • Hmm says:
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            @SteveNZ: The tribe is always reading. Dont be so shy jfoh. Your secret will be safe with us. Have some conviction, boy!

      • Can you imagine..., the gallons of human spit says:
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        @Big Magoo: it’s still posted in razzball, so….

  8. Ante GALIC says:
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    Magoo!

    Gr8 read. Am targeting Allen for sure in any league I can get him. Thank you for fantastic write-up and useful information I will use this season for sure.

    Cheers,
    Ante

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Ante GALIC: Thanks, Ante! I’m with you on Allen. He looks like a solid option this season.

  9. Uncle Red says:
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    Very cool post. I ended up winning the RCl I was in last year, but didn’t draft any Middle Relievers. Rookie mistake. It was my first time doing roto, so really had to play catch up on the waivers to find some solid MR guys. I managed to hang on, but plan on drafting a couple this year. Invaluable for WHIP and ERA.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Uncle Red: Thanks! In the RCL format, high strikeout relievers with solid ratios tend to be quite useful. You won your league last season without that knowledge, so you should be even better this season!

  10. Lucifer says:
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    I never comment but I find all of your posts extremely helpful.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Lucifer: Thanks for the kind words!

  11. McSmitty says:
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    Another great post. You’re on a roll. It’s good to read a post on razzball that just has great info rather than feeling the need to start making references to porn or whacking off

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @McSmitty: Thanks! Different strokes for different folks…

    • Montezuma's Revenge... right now says:
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      @McSmitty: hehe, who’s he trying to indict with that one. It’s hard for most of what we do to creep into our thinking (or writing). Write what ya know, as they say in college.

  12. goodfold2 says:
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    and that’s why forecaster has leone so high, and also smokey, leading me to bid on him in 30 man league, now i just need some injuries to fulfill his destiny. anybody else surprised by betances swing K rate considering his last year’s overall K rate?

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @goodfold2: Yeah, Leone checks off a bunch of desirable boxes – K%, SwStr%, GB%, IFFB%, FBv. He looks like a fine target in holds leagues, or even in the RCL format for ratio help.

      Betances is interesting. Usually a pitcher with an elite K-rate has a higher swinging strike rate to go along with it. We’ll see what year 2 has in store for him. He’s certainly a high-end option though.

  13. Metastophalies says:
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    So good. I’ve been reading your stuff and am so happy to find content like this here. Sometimes I think that maybe another writer here has photos of Gray and Rudy from college, doing things that they never want seen. What else could possibly explain it?
    Point is – nice work here.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Metastophalies: Thanks for the kind words!

  14. Nick says:
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    Talking about closers,
    Keeper league; i’d keep KJansen but with the injury and week offs, is it better to keep Cody Allen or Melancon or none: a SP instead
    Grey is high on Wheeler, but bad 1st outing: i have Archer, Salazar Odorizzi Cashner then

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Nick: I’m not sure how many you can keep based on the info that you’ve provided, but I’d try to keep both Jansen and Allen. Jansen should be back in early-mid May and is an elite closer and Allen is a 26 year old with a proven track record and an elite K-rate. If you have to bump one of those SPs to make room, Odorizzi would be the odd man out for me.

      • Nick says:
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        @Big Magoo:
        Sorry for not giving you all infos:
        Keeper team since 2006 – now we keep 14 players ! i won last year ;p
        My batting staff is powerful:
        Encarnacion – Bautista – Altuve – Desmond – Springer – Wong – Carpenter – S.Perez – Myers (dropping Calhoun – Kendrick – Pearce)

        my pitching team is : J.Shields -S. Gray – A.Wood
        i’m usually keeping 1 closer (Jansen for sure last seasons) but not paying too much for saves, especially because we count Holds! and that’s how i got Cody and Mark, also Britton –> then got saves at the end!
        i need to rebuild my ptiching staff, as it was previously: Josh Johnson – Dan Haren – Roy Halladay – Matt Moore !!!! and lost Greinke in a trade when he broke intelligently his fibula!

        So the last 2 keepers should be :
        still KJ?? and/or Melancon / Allen / Wheeler /Archer /Salazar??
        (i’d drop Cashner Odorizzi, Romo, Moore)

        • Big Magoo

          Big Magoo says:
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          @Nick: No worries. Closers are devalued a bit in holds leagues, so I’d probably go with what you were originally thinking and just keep one of Jansen or Allen. I’d prefer Jansen long-term, but he’s looking at a mid-May return without setbacks. Allen will probably be slightly more valuable this season. You could keep Jansen and grab some MRs to float you in holds until he returns though.

          Tough call on the SPs if you can only keep one of Wheeler/Archer/Salazar. I think that Salazar has the most upside of that group, and Archer the highest floor. Wheeler is right in the middle of both. Depends what you’re looking for with that SP4 slot. I have them all valued similarly for this season.

  15. Dave F says:
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    Great article. I need some serious help on relief pitching. First year with a combined saves/holds category. It’s a 10 team league. I plan on drafting 2 mid range closers (See Smokey’s DonkeyKorns category). I can roster 6 relievers and figure I’d round out the rotation with 4 holds guys. Here are my current list of targets:

    Clippard
    Davis
    Herrera
    Strop
    Bryan Shaw
    Ken Giles
    Farq
    Watson
    Miller
    Neil Ramirez
    Boxberger
    Joe Smith
    Hochevar
    Mike Dunn
    Leone
    Walden
    Peralta

    Who else should I be looking at? Idea is high K guys w/ an emphasis on late value. This is open to everyone not just the author.

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Dave F: That’s a solid target list. Here are a few other names to consider:

      Brett Cecil
      Luke Gregerson
      Pat Neshek
      Darren O’Day
      Zach Duke
      Sergio Romo
      Nick Vincent
      Casey Fien
      Evan Marshall

      Those are just a few more RPs of interest. In that format, there should be plenty of viable options available late in the draft as well as in-season off of the waiver wire. Good luck!

  16. Dave F says:
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    Given that it’s a combined saves/holds category, should I even waste my time drafting any closers?

    • Big Magoo

      Big Magoo says:
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      @Dave F: I would stick with your original strategy of drafting two closers and four MRs. There are generally about 15-20 pitchers who log 30+ saves each season and only about 4-5 who get 30+ holds. The holds category is pretty fluid from year to year as well, so locking up a couple of closers and then waiting on the holds guys seems like a good way to go.

  17. sport says:
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    I missed this article last week but luckily saw it reading the same thing on your SP this week. I play yahoo public leagues so the innings cap is something I have always had to face. I am really trying hard to draft and stream only players with high K rates this year, which puts your research right up my alley. MR is tricky though, don’t want too many innings spent on them. However I do use them occasionally in hopes of vulturing a win when I don’t like my stream options. Smart, or just stay away from these guys in an inning cap kind of league?

Comments are closed.