Fantasy Baseball Middle Reliever Targets: Week 7

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
May 18, 2017

Paul Sewald has rebounded from his rough start to the season

Most fantasy leagues force managers to ride the closer carousel until they puke. Given an onslaught of job changes and injuries to prominent ninth-inning relievers, gamers searching for saves must feel awfully dizzy.

While onlookers often obsess over ninth-inning ramifications, an ineffective or inactive closer often creates more problems in the middle innings. The New York Yankees won’t panic over ending games with Dellin Betances instead of Aroldis Chapman. They will, however, need to bridge the gap to their promoted relief ace.

Although fantasy managers looking for holds won’t rabidly study closer situations, this trickle-down effect creates new opportunities for middle relievers. Most teams will simply push the eighth-inning guy to the ninth and find someone else to handle the vacated setup role.

Let’s go to teams with closer turmoil to examine potential benefactors in holds leagues. Remember that this is not a list of “saves sleepers.” If anything, it’s a possible bonus perk.

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Nick Vincent and James Pazos (SEA)
With Edwin Diaz yanked from the Seattle Mariners’ role, managers hunting for saves must tread carefully. Tony Zych isn’t an inspiring answer, and Steve Cishek has gained and lost the prestigious role too many times to count. This is an instance where speculating on holds could also yield saves.

No Mariners reliever other than left-handed specialist Marc Rzepczynski has more than one hold this season. Unless Diaz settles down in an earlier late-inning role, the door remains wide open for anyone to secure saves or holds. Nick Vincent and James Pazos are two intriguing options.

Vincent has registered a 2.84 ERA and 0.95 WHIP, but his strikeouts (16 in 19 IP) won’t welcome excitement. Then again, he’s a 30-year-old with a career 9.47 K/9, so a return to past norms would seal his spot as Seattle’s top target.

Pazos has had no such trouble recording punchouts. After tossing just 8.1 innings for the Yankees over the past two years, he has tallied 22 strikeouts in 17 innings.

While the eight walks cause concern, he should corral that wild rate if he maintains a healthy 65.8 first-pitch strike percentage. If not, he’s still a hard thrower with a 61.4 ground-ball rate.

Beyond the Box Score’s Sung-Min Kim broke down Pazos’ mechanical adjustments, identifying a shorter delivery which helps explain the southpaw’s sudden success. He wields the highest upside of any non-Diaz Seattle reliever, but Franklin is the safer short-term add.

Jacob Barnes (MIL)
Offseason acquisition Neftali Feliz became unusable as the Milwaukee Brewers’ closer, losing the job with 13 runs and nine walks allowed over 17 ugly innings. He permitted five runs and no strikeouts over his last three outings, and those numbers won’t play in the seventh or eighth inning either.

Corey Knebel now has the ninth innings covered. Congratulations to everyone who grabbed the burgeoning stud. His opening acts, however, remain unbooked, and Jacob Barnes remains the best choice despite his recent struggles.

Since going his first 12.1 innings without yielding an earned run, the 27-year-old righty has coughed up eight over the last 7.1 frames. This may present a buying opportunity, as he still touts a 3.66 ERA, 63.3 ground-ball percentage, and a 16.2 swinging-strike rate.

Some managers may want to see a string of successful starts before trusting him, but Barnes doesn’t face much competition for a prominent role. Carlos Torres and Jared Hughes don’t have the skills or peripherals to trust continued success. Oliver Drake is intriguing, but he comes with the same control and inconsistency issues as Barnes without as much upside.

Paul Sewald (NYM)
Only Springfield’s nuclear power plant softball team can relate to the excess of misfortunes befalling the New York Mets. Closer Jeurys Familia joined the long list of injured Mets, who transferred their closer to the 60-day disabled list after he underwent surgery to treat a blood clot in his right shoulder.

Despite blowing a save on Sunday, Addison Reed should maintain a firm grasp on the closing job. He has yet to relinquish a walk in 21 appearances, and there’s nobody qualified enough to leapfrog him in a bullpen sporting a gruesome 5.13 ERA.

Expected to feature prominently as the top setup option, Hansel Robles has surrendered nine runs in his last two games. Manager Terry Collins found a way to overwork Fernando Salas by the end of April, and like Mr. Burns, he’s playing the percentages too much to consider lefty Jerry Blevins against right-handed batters.

Blevins is still the best Met to own for holds; regularly popping up to face a batter or two gives him more holds chances than the average reliever. In terms of retiring righties before signaling for Reed, Paul Sewald may become their best option by default.

The 26-year-old rookie has succeeded amid chaos, allowing two runs in 11.2 innings since a rough debut. He has recorded 13 of his 14 strikeouts in his last 7.1 frames spanning four appearances, and he hasn’t issued a walk since May 2.

Sewald also induces too many line drives (36.4 %) and fly balls (39.4 %), so proceed with caution. He’s a deep-league add for now, but don’t be stunned if the newcomer is suddenly entrenched into high-leverage spots.

Jonathan Holder (NYY)
As Aroldis Chapman recovers from left shoulder rotator cuff inflammation, Yankees manager Joe Girardi will take the path of least resistance and bump Betances into the closer’s seat. This makes veteran Tyler Clippard the logical setup man, but his 10 percent Yahoo Sports ownership rate suggests he’s already accounted for in most holds leagues. Adam Warren received a write-up weeks ago and should continue to consume multiple innings wherever needed instead of handling a conventional seventh-inning assignment.

This should mean more opportunities for Jonathan Holder, a 23-year-old rookie with 17 strikeouts, three walks, and four runs relinquished over 16.2 frames. He continues to display excellent command after notching 14.43 K/BB ratio across three minor league levels last year.

The neophyte—who allowed his first run in May on Tuesday—has notched a 12.8 swinging-strike percentage this season. Opponents, however, are hitting .367 against his cutter, which he threw more than his four-seam fastball and curve.

If he earns some positive regression on that rate, Holder has the makings of a high-leverage reliever. Chapman’s absence could expedite that path.

Note: All advanced stats are courtesy of FanGraphs and Brooks Baseball.

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Andrew Gould is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Andrew, check out his archive and follow him @andrewgould4.

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