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Every year, and with increased frequency, fantasy baseball leagues are expanding their scoring categories in a supposed effort to more closely approximate the actual game of baseball. No longer would the world be limited to 4x4 or even 5x5 scoring. The game of fantasy baseball was and is about grown men and women trying to act like "real" managers and general managers, assembling the strongest collection of baseball talent possible, and humiliating the competition en route to a championship. Yes. Just ... like ... real ... baseball.
With the Internet it became easier and easier to add almost unlimited scoring categories to fantasy baseball leagues, making them, if not better, certainly more complex. Among the most frequently added scoring category has been holds (HLD). This measure was theoretically implemented to find a way to integrate the relief pitcher into the game of fantasy baseball. Up to that point, the only relievers that were worth a dime (or more at auction) were the ones that earned saves.
Now, even baseball's middle men, the forgotten arms resting in major league bullpens, would suddenly be a part of the fantasy game. However, much like saves, not all holds are created equal. Some relievers that earn holds bring considerable value to the fantasy table while others still struggle to justify ownership.
Luke Gregerson, RP, San Diego Padres. Although he's just 1-2 this season, and has yet to register even a single save, Gregerson has already proven to be one of the more valuable relief pitchers fantasy baseball. Part of his value is tied to his impeccable control. Gregerson is in the midst of a fantastic streak during which he's faced 109 consecutive batters without issuing a single walk. In fact, in 34.1 innings in 2010, Gregerson has walked a grand total of two batters. That impeccable control has allowed Gregerson to amass an otherworldly 0.47 WHIP. Further, in leagues that include holds as a scoring category, Gregerson has racked up 16 holds, good for second-best in all of baseball.
Mike Adams, RP, San Diego Padres. Atop the holds leader board is Gregerson's teammate, Adams, who leads the major leagues with 17 holds. While Adams has walked a few more batters than his pen-pal (10 on the year), his WHIP still sits at a miniscule 0.96, due largely to his ability to limit the opposition from making solid contact. In 30.1 innings pitched, Adams has surrendered just 19 hits. Further, Adams hasn't allowed a run to cross home plate since May 18, a streak of almost a month. With 10.38 K/9 it's not as if Adams is a one-trick pony either. He's been useful enough that mixed league owners have to seriously consider adding him in all formats.
Tyler Clippard, RP, Washington Nationals. Clippard also has a fantastic K/9. At 10.58, it's clear that Clippard is capable of mowing down the opposition, and because he's already pitched 41.2 innings on the year, his strikeout totals look more like something a starting pitcher might possess -- 49 K to date. What's been especially noteworthy about Clippard, aside from his ability to pitch nearly every day, has been his uncanny ability to vulture wins. Already, Clippard has managed to rack up an 8-3 record, exclusively in a relief role. In fact, only six starting pitchers have more wins than Clippard, and none of them can tout the lofty Holds numbers that Clippard can -- 14 holds on the year.
Matt Thornton, RP, Chicago White Sox. The good news for Thornton owners is that they've been able to enjoy some hefty strikeout totals in '10 -- 39 strikeouts in 27 IP to be exact. And, in true dominant reliever form, Thornton made it through the entire month of May without surrendering a single run. However, he's been used heavily (abused?) by manager Ozzie Guillen, and not always in situations that favor fantasy production. He's been asked to pitch two or more innings on multiple occasions, and some of that workload has started to catch up the Chicago hurler. In five June appearances, Thornton has surrendered at least one run in three of them, while one in particular was an unmitigated disaster, a five-run showing that saw his ERA balloon to over 3.80. He's had just one appearance since that June 8 disaster, and that should be pause for concern.
Joba Chamberlain, RP, New York Yankees. "The Joba Rules" were implemented, in theory, to limit the abuse on Chamberlain's arm, thereby ensuring long-term success for the Yankee fireballer. In reality, the same rules that were established to help him be a more effective pitcher ultimately retarded his overall development and seemed to have prevented him from actualizing his full potential. As a reliever, Chamberlain's arm seemed well-suited for bridging the gap from the starter to relief ace, Mariano Rivera. Granted, 14 holds and 10.16 K/9 look nice, but a 4.76 ERA and 1.31 WHIP suggest the transition has been anything but smooth. Perhaps he's been a bit unlucky, as a 3.06 xFIP would suggest, but fantasy owners might not want to wait out the storm to decide.
Kevin Jepsen, RP, Los Angeles Angels. Jepsen was supposed to be one piece of the Angels relief puzzle that would allow the team to see Francisco Rodriguez depart via free agency and not miss a beat. That tree has yet to bear fruit. A 4.94 career ERA and a 5.16 mark in 2010 suggest that Jepsen is still a work in progress. While his 10.72 K/9 indicate that Jepsen is capable of dominating hitters, his 4.76 BB/9 says there's still a long way to go before he's on anyone's fantasy radar. Granted, his 15 holds are nice for those owners that play in HLD-leagues, but the other numbers say that there are going to be rainy days ahead. Perhaps he's being groomed for the closer's job, but with Fernando Rodney and Brian Fuentes still ahead of him on the depth chart, Jepsen (and his owners) will have to wait.
Damian Schaab is a senior writer for SportsGrumblings.com, and member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Visit SportsGrumblings.com today to ensure total fantasy sports dominance.