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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Handcuffing Closers

For years we've been handcuffing running backs, but why not doing the same for closers in baseball?  There is certainly a time and a place for it...  It can be a viable, winning strategy.

But first, a definition.  You may not have ever heard the term "handcuff" in fantasy sports terms before.  All it refers to is spending a second roster slot on the clear backup to one of your studs.  It is usually done with running backs in football since there is often a clear starter and a clear backup.

In one league last year I rostered Ricky Williams.  I'm sure I had a few leaguemates who were wondering why I would waste my time with a has-been who wasn't likely to produce any meaningful fantasy stats.  The answer is simple and should be obvious in context... I owned Ray Rice.  I had a lot invested in Rice, so burning a roster spot on his obvious backup was an insurance policy.

There were a few things that made this particular move worth it:
  • Williams had a track record of success in the past
  • He was a viable alternative over a short timeframe (if Rice should become unavailable)
  • I could get him very, very late in my draft (cheap acquisition cost)
  • The 3rd string option was not a real threat (Ricky would get all of the carries if Rice was unavailable)

Sometimes it is less clear, like in the case of a running back by committee ("RBBC") or a 3-headed monster.  It isn't always going to be an available option for you.

Sometimes the handcuff is hard to acquire or expensive.  It may still be worth it to take Mike Tolbert (for example) in the 8th round, but that pick is still largely an insurance pick and is taken at the expense of something like a starting tight end or a 3rd wide receiver.  A handcuff that early has value, but you are probably better off taking another player that will have more of an impact on your team.  This should have gone into the decision-making process when drafting Ryan Mathews early on.  Perhaps it would have made more sense to take a different RB with a cheaper backup.  Maybe not.  But you should be thinking about such things.

These are important things to consider when building a fantasy squad.  Look at the overall makeup of your total roster and how every part plays a role.  It really can be a team and not merely the best grouping of individuals you can find.

Which leads us to baseball and if there are ever viable handcuff options there.  It has never been more apparent than this year that handcuffing your closers can be a really good idea.

Unfortunately, there are a few flies in the ointment...  You never know when the backup will also get injured.  In many cases you don't know who the real next guy in line is.  Furthermore, you can't predict with any level of certainty who will lose their jobs.

I mean, even with all of the closer craziness this year most of the pre-season obvious closers-in-waiting still haven't gotten the job.  Mike Adams, Glen Perkins, Anthony Pestano, etc.  It's amazing how many shaky guys like Matt Capps maintain the gig.  It's also amazing how many Tyler Clippard's remain in the setup role and how many Addison Reed's leapfrog the Matt Thornton's of the world.

It's an iffy proposition, and really hard to predict.  But it is something to be aware of.  You never know what will happen, but if you own Brian Fuentes it might still be a good idea to grab Ryan Cook.