The search for Holds and Ks.

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UPDATE: Minutes after posting this, Tommy Kahnle hit the IL so proceed cautiously.

I honestly don’t know what to think about Holds. I mean, it’s a good idea to recognize middle relievers with something akin to Wins and Saves but, as these two, it still has an arbitrary feeling to it which I honestly don’t like, although I can’t think of a better way to do it. But I digress.

I’ve been in multiple leagues where Holds (HLD) is one of the categories, by itself or maybe as SV + HLD and I know this is a tricky stat to search for as, although there is an abundance of pitchers who accumulate it, you might end doing more damage than good.

I’ve developed two rules of thumb when I want to draft, or search at the FA stash, for relievers which can help my team with HLDs:

  • They have to provide the highest possible Ks to innings pitched ratio (K/ip). The reason for this is that as these guys take up one roster spot you want them to be as multidimensional as possible, so having them help you with Ks increase their return. This also applies when looking for SVs.
  • Do not harm. Between Jake Diekman and Wander Suero compiled 50 Holds in 2019, but they also had combined ERAs and WHIPs of 4.60 and 1.33 respectively which isn’t disastrous but you can do better, we have to be careful and avoid players that will be a burden in other areas.

So, how do we pick pitchers for this?

Let’s look at the data and try.

First, a word of advice: I’m not evaluating pitchers with little to none MLB experience so I will surely miss newcomers with ample possibilities here; my goal at this time is to try to use (k-bb)/ip as an estimator of a decent ERA for guys that can pile up HLDs and Ks as well. For a glimpse of minor leaguers or prospects who can have an impact like this, check this piece about James Karinchak.

That being said, in this table, I pulled from www.fangraphs.com pitchers with more than 15 HLDs during the 2019 Season sorted by (k-bb)/ip, and took out pitchers that transitioned to a closer role for 2020. I also added the Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball percentage of ownership at the end so you can have an idea of their availability.

Name(k-bb)/ipK/ipIPSOBBHLDERAY!
Tyler Duffey1.188811.4335757.28214152.5012%
Matt Barnes1.123241.7160764.111038263.7814%
Tommy Kahnle1.112931.4402661.18820273.6712%
Ryan Pressly1.109061.3308754.17212312.3231%
Seth Lugo1.100001.3000080.010416212.7071%
Chris Martin1.086961.1775455.2655183.403%
Giovanny Gallegos1.040541.2567674.09316192.3171%
Andrew Chafin0.957851.3026852.26818233.761%
Oliver Perez0.895521.1940340.24812223.981%
Joakim Soria0.855071.1449369.07920214.305%
Ty Buttrey0.846051.1650572.18423263.987%
Trevor May0.826831.2324564.17926172.945%

As it is, the list is a very useable one for players which can provide a good return but let’s get finesse so we can try to maximize it.

Tyler Duffey is coming from his best season as a reliever after his starter career evolved into a reliever one; he has tremendous numbers to show of: a good 2.50 ERA and the third-best k/ip of the lot would make him the instant pick when available. Why isn’t he my first choice, then? Well, I am wary of pitchers in the year after a sudden improvement in their numbers.

Duffey showed a huge climb in K%-BB% and (k-bb)/ip from his pre-2019 numbers so although this could be persistent, some regression is due to happen and as there is too much uncertainty on how much will it impact his performance this season, I am taking the cautious approach here. Nevertheless, out of options, I would still happily take him.

Let’s scroll down to the bottom 4 players of the list:

Name(k-bb)/ipK/ipIPSOBBHLDERAY!SIERA
Oliver Perez0.895521.1940340.24812223.981%3.49
Joakim Soria0.855071.1449369.07920214.305%3.50
Ty Buttrey0.846051.1650572.18423263.987%3.58
Trevor May0.826831.2324564.17926172.945%3.68
2019 Season

They are pretty much in the same tier for (k-bb)/ip and K/ip, and would bring home more or less the same stats but I would give preference to May as he plays for the Twins and that team’s offense is going to give him more opportunities to pitch with advantage and the possibility to earn HLDs.

Now, from the whole list, my preference goes to these players:

Name(k-bb)/ipK/ipIPSOBBHLDERAY!SIERA
Matt Barnes1.123241.7160764.111038263.7814%3.25
Tommy Kahnle1.112931.4402661.18820273.6712%2.79
Ryan Pressly1.109061.3308754.17212312.3231%2.55
Seth Lugo1.100001.3000080.010416212.7071%2.78
2019 Season

Barnes and Kahnle are what Josh Hader was in 2017-2018 before having his full closer role; by themselves, they can provide almost half the Ks of a good SP in a third of the IP, providing great amounts of HLDs and the occasional rogue SV, plus a very decent ERA. The closest thing to middle relieving unicorns.

Ryan Pressly and Seth Lugo are not far from them, but because of their bigger ownership, I decided to slip them a notch as it might be difficult to find them available. Besides, Pressly is dealing with elbow discomfort and has yet to debut this season.

These picks could potentially help you even if you aren’t playing a league with HLDs as their contribution in Ks, ERA and Whip could help you boost your overall pitching points.


All data used was taken from https://www.fangraphs.com/https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/, and/or https://www.baseball-reference.com/, unless otherwise stated different.

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