Scheming For Relief: Digging For Holds in Atlanta

The injury bug continues its rampage through the backend of bullpens across Major League Baseball. The most recent victims, the Atlanta Braves, lost two of their most reliable middle relievers this decade to season-ending elbow surgeries. Without Jonny Venters and Eric O’Flaherty — who combined for 447 appearances and 160 holds since ‘10 — Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez will be signaling for different arms during the middle innings.

And with a fresh set of faces trotting to the bump, the fantasy baseball community — more specifically those in holds leagues — should be able to find some hidden gems in the Atlanta ‘pen.

Let’s take a look at the middle arms currently on Atlanta’s 25-man roster.

Ownership reflects Yahoo! leagues.

Luis Avilan | Braves | 2% – Twenty-three-year-old Luis Avilan appeared in 31 games in 2012 for the Braves, posting a 2.00 ERA (2.54 FIP) with a 23.2% K% and five holds. But with the aforementioned injury to fellow southpaw Eric O’Flaherty, Avilan’s role has, and will continue to expand. Through just one-quarter of the twenty-thirteen campaign, the Venezuelan reliever has already appeared in 21 contests (17.2 IP) and posted a 3.06 ERA (3.66 FIP) with a 10.7% K% and six holds. As the primary late-inning left-hander, Avilan will undoubtedly continue to get the call in holds situations, but this doesn’t come without some concern. The significant dip in K% from 2012’s 23.2% to this year’s 10.7% — substantiated by a slip in SwStr% from 11.1% to 8.2% — is worrisome. If you’re not concerned about Avilan missing bats going forward then make the add.

Cory Gearrin | Braves | 1% – Like Avilan, 27-year-old Cory Gearrin is a homegrown hurler whose role is on the rise. Through 25 games (20.2 IP), a 0.82 ERA and 1.02 WHIP is rather impressive, but 3.47 FIP indicates we could see some regression in the near future. The right-hander is currently stranding more than 97% of those that reach base when his career LOB% sits at 74.5%, implying a bit of luck and the potential root of regression. Gearrin’s K%, SwStr% and velocity also appear to be down a tick-or-two from twenty-twelve, so keep a keen eye. But for now, if it’s the holds you’re gunning for, add the righty with the assumption he’ll add to his lone hold in the near future.

Anthony Varvaro | Braves | 0% – The 28-year-old native New Yorker has just one hold under his belt in 25 frames this year, but a 2.16 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP make him a relatively “safe” add for those in holds leagues. Unfortunately — and like the previous two relievers we spoke about — Varvaro’s strikeout rate and swinging-strike rate have yet to reach previous career highs, so don’t add him with the hopes of padding that category. The good news, however, is that the velocity on each of his offerings appears to be in-line with previous year’s and he continues to hit the first strike (63.5% F-Strike%) and pound the zone (Zone% 51.5%). All this leads me to believe this is more of a different approach rather than a decline of skill. It looks like Vavaro is pitching more to contact this year and causing opposing hitters to pound the ball into the dirt, inducing grounders at more than a 50% clip — up more than 10% from last season. At any rate, Varvaro will be used a lot if I know Fredi like I think I do, so the righty could make for a serviceable middle relief option.

Cory Rasmus | Braves | 0% – Rasmus, the former 2006 supplemental round pick and younger brother of Colby, yielded two homers in his ‘13 debut against the Twins. On the bright side, the oft injured right-hander did fan three in just under two frames on the bump, giving those in need of both holds and strikeouts some hope. The game was out of reach for the Twins, so the rookie failed to earn a hold, but I secretly like this kid’s arsenal (and swagger!) and will be looking to add him in my holds league.

And if you’re looking ahead or have an open DL slot, don’t forget about Jordan Walden (1%) and Luis Ayala (0%) who are scheduled to return soon.

In addition to contributing to the RotoGraphs blog, you can find Alan at his own site, and follow his nonsense on Twitter @TheFantasyFix.

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Who is your personal favorite option? Rasmus?