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.

View your league’s top available players with My Playbook >>

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.


Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | SoundCloud | Google Play | TuneIn | RSS

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

What's your take? Leave a comment

Fantasy Games
FanDuel photo
Play for your share of $1m+
for FREE with first deposit
Get our Mobile App!

Enter your phone number below, and we'll text you a link to download the app.

1Le'Veon Bell (PIT)RB
2Todd Gurley (LAR)RB
3Antonio Brown (PIT)WR
4LeSean McCoy (BUF)RB
5Alvin Kamara (NO)RB
6Leonard Fournette (JAC)RB
7Mark Ingram (NO)RB
8Melvin Gordon (LAC)RB
9Devonta Freeman (ATL)RB
10Jordan Howard (CHI)RB
 View all Flex Rankings 
11Julio Jones (ATL)WR
12Kenyan Drake (MIA)RB
13Kareem Hunt (KC)RB
14Keenan Allen (LAC)WR
15Michael Thomas (NO)WR
16Alex Collins (BAL)RB
17Carlos Hyde (SF)RB
18Jamaal Williams (GB)RB
19Adam Thielen (MIN)WR
20Marshawn Lynch (OAK)RB
21Rex Burkhead (NE)RB
22DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)WR
23Rob Gronkowski (NE)TE
24Lamar Miller (HOU)RB
25A.J. Green (CIN)WR
26Samaje Perine (WAS)RB
27Christian McCaffrey (CAR)RB
28Brandin Cooks (NE)WR
29Alfred Morris (DAL)RB
30Latavius Murray (MIN)RB
1Jose Altuve (HOU)2B
2Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)1B
3Nolan Arenado (COL)3B
4Mike Trout (LAA)CF,DH
5Mookie Betts (BOS)RF
6Charlie Blackmon (COL)CF
7Max Scherzer (WSH)SP
8Joey Votto (CIN)1B
9Kris Bryant (CHC)1B,3B
10Chris Sale (BOS)SP
 View All Rankings 
11Manny Machado (BAL)3B,SS
12Anthony Rizzo (CHC)1B,2B
13Corey Seager (LAD)SS
14Giancarlo Stanton (NYY)RF
15Clayton Kershaw (LAD)SP
16Corey Kluber (CLE)SP
17Daniel Murphy (WSH)1B,2B
18Nelson Cruz (SEA)RF,DH
19George Springer (HOU)CF,RF
20Freddie Freeman (ATL)1B,3B
21Francisco Lindor (CLE)SS
22Edwin Encarnacion (CLE)1B,DH
23Josh Donaldson (TOR)3B,DH
24Yu Darvish (FA)SP
25Robinson Cano (SEA)2B
26Bryce Harper (WSH)RF
27Miguel Cabrera (DET)1B,DH
28J.D. Martinez (FA)RF
29Madison Bumgarner (SF)SP
30Jose Abreu (CWS)1B,DH
1Kevin Durant (GSW)SF,PF
2Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)SF,PF
3James Harden (HOU)PG,SG
4Stephen Curry (GSW)PG,SG
5Russell Westbrook (OKC)PG
6Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)C
7Anthony Davis (NOR)PF,C
8Kawhi Leonard (SAS)SG,SF
9LeBron James (CLE)SF,PF
10Nikola Jokic (DEN)PF,C
 View All Rankings 
11John Wall (WAS)PG
12DeMarcus Cousins (NOR)PF,C
13Chris Paul (HOU)PG
14Damian Lillard (POR)PG
15Jimmy Butler (MIN)SG,SF
16Rudy Gobert (UTH)C
17Kyrie Irving (BOS)PG,SG
18Hassan Whiteside (MIA)C,PF
19Myles Turner (IND)PF,C
20Paul George (OKC)SG,SF
21Kyle Lowry (TOR)PG
22Draymond Green (GSW)SF,PF
23Kristaps Porzingis (NYK)PF,C
24Kemba Walker (CHA)PG
25CJ McCollum (POR)PG,SG
26Mike Conley (MEM)PG
27Bradley Beal (WAS)SG
28Klay Thompson (GSW)SG,SF
29Marc Gasol (MEM)C
30Kevin Love (CLE)PF,C