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Fantasy Baseball Saves + Holds Leagues Draft Primer (2024)

Fantasy Baseball Saves + Holds Leagues Draft Primer (2024)

In a traditional 5×5 fantasy baseball league, the hardest category to predict may be Wins, but the hardest category to draft accurately is Saves. Typically, closers come in three or four tiers, with Tier 1 being the group that has the closer’s gig and is good at it all the way to Tier 4, which is filled with players who are at the top of the depth chart on Opening Day but probably won’t be by May. Punting the Saves category on draft day is typically acceptable because there will always be Tier 4 closers on waivers in 10- or 12-team leagues.

Leagues looking to diminish the importance of three outs in the ninth often add Holds to the category so fantasy managers can value ALL relief pitchers. Somehow, SV/HD leagues add more skill to drafting the position while also making the slots easier to fill. It changes the dynamics of the draft strategy.

What it does not change is the importance of finding elite options.

Let’s look at ways to approach SV/HD leagues.

Saves + Holds Leagues Primer (2024 Fantasy Baseball)

Saves vs. Holds

First things first, here is a quick overview of what differentiates a save from a hold. The definitions, according to the MLB Glossary, are as follows:

Saves

  • A save is awarded to the relief pitcher who finishes a game for the winning team under certain circumstances.
  • A relief pitcher recording a save must preserve his team’s lead while doing one of the following:
    • Enter the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitch at least one inning.
    • Enter the game with the tying run in the on-deck circle, at the plate, or on the bases.
    • Pitch at least three innings. (Note: This is rare.)

Holds

  • A hold occurs when a relief pitcher enters the game in a save situation and maintains his team’s lead for the next relief pitcher while recording at least one out.
  • One of two criteria must be met.
    • He enters with a lead of three runs or less and maintains that lead while recording at least one out.
    • He enters the game with the tying run on deck, at the plate, or on the bases and records an out.

Elite RP

Since there are two categories and more players, then the elite relievers shouldn’t matter as much, right?

Wrong. Elite is still elite. The best-of-the-best closers will accumulate more Saves than the best-of-the-best middle relievers will accrue in Holds. There are many reasons for this, but essentially, teams will almost always put their best guy in the ninth inning as the closer.

Note: Analytics disagree with this as an across-the-board philosophy, preferring to have a team’s best reliever in the highest leverage situation of a game. For example: If the opposing team’s three best hitters are coming up in the eighth inning, some teams will have their closer pitch that inning instead. This move is rewarded in SV/HD leagues while being worthless in Save-only ones.

Here is a look at the Top 10 pitchers in Saves versus the Top 10 in Holds from 2023:

*Yennier Cano is the unicorn of the group, as he also racked up eight saves because of Felix Bautista’s season-ending injury, bringing his SV/HD total to 39.

As you can see, even the pitcher with the 10th-most saves still had more than the pitcher with the most holds. Also of note is that seven of the 10 were drafted in the first 12 picks in the 2023 drafts. (Two of those other picks were Edwin Diaz and Liam Hendriks, both of whom missed most or all of the season.)

In other words, the elite relievers were who we thought they were.

Other Category Help

Having an elite stable of relievers on your roster will also have effects on three other traditional categories in your leagues. This collection of Stathead results shows the ERA and WHIP of the relievers with saves from 2023. Of the Top 15 players, 10 of them have WHIPs of less than 1.20. Additionally, 13 of these 15 struck out more than a batter per inning (K/9). (Interestingly, Clase is one of the two who did not.)

This is where SV/HD leagues really shine. Neris, the leading Holds reliever, finished with an ERA of 1.71, a WHIP of 1.054, and a K/9 of 10.1. Cano offered fantasy managers a 2.11/1.00 split. Right down the line, the elite relievers in that category almost always offered improved stats in these categories.

Basically, if you draft well, you can survive having some middling starting pitchers if you have a group to help buoy your ratios.

Get Picky

Take a look at our Closing Pitching Depth Chart. In a Saves-only league, fantasy managers need to have this memorized, so they can grab the “next-in-line” closers and wait for the front-line guy to relinquish the role.

In SV/HD leagues, this is a perfectly good chart to keep an eye on, but we’re interested in a wider pool. Even left-handed specialists are worth evaluating because a Hold only requires one out. (Relievers do not have to pitch to three batters if it’s the end of an inning.) Keep an eye on the latest MLB News during Spring Training to see what managers are saying about how they might manage their bullpen.

Find Values

Here are some top targets in SV+HD leagues who currently have ADPs of 175 or lower and can provide value in each category we’ve discussed.

Player ADP SV/HD Proj ERA WHIP K/9
Jose Alvarado (PHI) 211.8 31 3.10 1.25 12.32
Robert Suarez (SD) 269.4 29 3.00 1.21 9.43
Matt Brash (SEA) 260.7 26 3.30 1.25 12.40
Jason Adam (TB) 297.7 25 3.27 1.10 10.86
Bryan Abreu (HOU) 278.5 24 3.02 1.19 12.10

*Projections per Average Total Cost (ATC)

May you all build beautiful, untouchable bullpens, and, as always, good luck.


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