Fantasy Baseball Middle Reliever Targets: Week 19

by Andrew Gould | @andrewgould4 | Featured Writer
Aug 10, 2017

Tyler Lyons is catching the attention of his coach and fantasy owners in holds leagues

Fantasy managers in holds leagues can never get too comfortable. It only takes one bad day for a reliever to ruin weeks of virtuous work.

Two-time recommendation Kirby Yates was morphing into one of MLB’s premier setup men. After allowing one run over his last 17 outings, he suddenly relinquished six to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night. His ERA catapulted from 2.17 to 3.58. Bitten by a hot hand, investors may have already moved on in shallower formats.

Such restlessness is understandable with other surging players ready to take his spot. Let’s take a look at five middle relievers to pursue in holds leagues.

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Trevor Hildenberger (MIN)

Drew Steckenrider wasn’t a fun enough name last week? Then let’s try Trevor Hildenberger.

The Minnesota Twins bullpen, which wields MLB’s worst K/9 rate, carries little relevance after shipping closer Bandon Kintzler to the Washington Nationals. Hildenberger fits into the soft-tossing group with a high-80s fastball, but he has produced 22 strikeouts over his first 20 big league frames.

He also carries a 2.70 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 54.5 ground-ball rate. The 26-year-old righty issued the last of his three walks on July 22 while procuring at least one punchout in each of his last seven outings. This strong start finally earned him a hold on Sunday, the first of his career.

On a team where Matt Belisle is currently the de facto closer, Hildenberger has plenty of upward mobility if his funky delivery continues to deceive hitters. His stuff certainly doesn’t scream “closer of the future,” but his results warrant a high-leverage opportunity during the final weeks. Although there’s a distant possibility of him ending the season in the ninth, let’s first invest on him getting regular work in the seventh and eighth.

Tyler Lyons (STL)

Amid the St. Louis Cardinals’ ninth-inning drama, Lyons has emerged as a potent middle-relief option.

The former starter has found his groove in the bullpen, where he has notched a 3.18 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 34 innings. Since the All-Star break, he boasts baseball’s second-best K-BB percentage (42.9) with 13 strikeouts and no walks over 8.1 scoreless frames. He has recorded four holds in those 10 outings.

While Brett Cecil remains St. Louis’ left-handed specialist, righties have not tamed Lyons either. Manager Mike Matheny has clearly taken notice. On Saturday, the 29-year-old southpaw handed a 4-1 lead to Trevor Rosenthal by striking out the side with a scoreless eighth. Former closer Seung Hwan Oh worked the seventh before Lyons faced Joey Votto in the ensuing frame.

Despite Lyons’ splits, Matheny may keep using Lyons and Oh as the lefty-righty matchups dictate, as the latter has already coughed up seven home runs to lefties. Either way, Lyons is high on the food chain and dominating, so grab him as a high-strikeout holds option.

Jake McGee (COL)

McGee finally looked like the shutdown reliever the Colorado Rockies desired when landing him for Corey Dickerson, now an All-Star slugger for the Tampa Bay Rays. Then a back injury banished him to the disabled list in late July.

They activated McGee just in time for his 31st birthday on Sunday, but he didn’t pitch until striking out two in 1.1 spotless innings on Wednesday. He rejoins a group which added setup man Pat Neshek and has received better production from Mike Dunn since the All-Star break. Yet the former closer should climb his way back to a high-leverage gig.

Before hitting the shelf, he sported a 3.27 ERA, 47 strikeouts and 12 walks over 41.1 innings. A year after tallying 15 saves as an ineffective closer, he has recorded 15 holds as a dependable late-inning option.

Dunn still touts a 4.15 ERA and 1.44 WHIP despite his recent improvements, so McGee and Neshek should share the seventh- and eighth-inning setup opportunities. Although he has worked five consecutive scoreless outings, Adam Ottavino‘s 5.12 ERA and 6.52 BB/9 should keep him miles from important spots.

Go see if someone dropped McGee weeks ago, as he’s a top-tier setup man when healthy.

Sam Freeman (ATL)

OK, so Sam is nowhere near the Atlanta Braves’ most valuable Freeman. He isn’t even a top-scale middle reliever, instead relegated to a 1.46 WHIP because of his 20 walks in 40.1 innings.

Yet the 30-year-old carries deep-league intrigue on account of his 46 strikeouts and 58.9 ground-ball rate. He has submitted 22 strikeouts in 16 innings since July 1 with at least one in each of his past nine appearances.

Rex Brothers is a more exciting Braves reliever, but he has served up seven runs in 12.1 innings. Given his heavy strikeout portfolio, he’s an interesting reclamation project to monitor. Rookie Max Fried, who posted a 5.92 ERA in 19 Triple-A starts, will also get an opportunity to work out of Atlanta’s bullpen.

Although stuck in a deep relief corps, Freeman could ascend to a higher role if he keeps mowing down batters. Better alternatives are floating around most waiver wires, but an elite combination of punchouts and grounders could yield better results down the stretch.

Brian Duensing (CHC)

Maybe the Chicago Cubs didn’t need to acquire Justin Wilson before the non-waiver trade deadline. They already have a prolific lefty in Brian Duensing.

The 34-year-old is enjoying a career year with a 2.45 ERA, 54 strikeouts, and 10 walks. A crowded bullpen has stifled his holds potential, and one would expect Wilson’s presence to compound that problem. Yet he accumulated his fourth and fifth holds on Saturday and Monday.

Although it’s not in line with career norms, he has flummoxed opposing righties to a .239 wOBA while same-handed batters have managed a solid .312 mark. He probably would have secured more holds as a traditional left-handed specialist, but Leftorium customers Wilson and Mike Montgomery now join him in the Cubs’ bullpen.

The defending champions placed Koji Uehara on the disabled list with neck soreness, and Hector Rondon is dealing with back stiffness. A premier fantasy middle reliever for four months, Carl Edwards Jr. has already conceded seven runs in four August outings. While Wilson and Pedro Strop remain the primary setup men, Duensing should factor prominently into their mid-inning plans.

Note: All advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs.


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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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