Don’t Handcuff Your Closers!
Following the lead of the fantasy football community, fantasy baseball owners have been heavily involved in handcuffing their closers in recent years. Just as fantasy football owners hang onto backup running backs, baseball owners keep setup men on their bench so that they are covered if one of their stoppers loses his job or suffers an injury. While handcuffing might be a good idea in football, it’s not as great in baseball. Let me explain:
The goal is to win your league. Very few yoo-hoo showers have reigned down on fifth place finishers. To make it happen, sometimes you need to take chances. That means letting your closers’ handcuff setup man sit on waivers while you use your bench spots on players who are more likely to help your team. As an example, if I’m a Sergio Santos owner, I’m better off keeping more starters or hitters on my bench than rostering Francisco Cordero in case of a rainy day. Sure, if Santos gets hurt I’ll regret it. But, I need to take a small risk that he’ll stay healthy and keep his job (he is after all, a very good reliever) and use the bench spot on someone who could someday join him on my active roster. Having Santos and Cordero gives me no upside. The best Cordero can do is become a slightly worse version of Santos. If I hold Lorenzo Cain, Allan Craig or Rick Porcello on my bench I have a chance that those players can play well and be added to a roster that includes Santos.
Of course, there’s a chance that Santos could hurt his shoulder and take my saves total down with him. But, that’s unlikely to happen. He’s a good pitcher who is fairly young and doesn’t have a lengthy injury history. If I’m going to use a bench spot on a reliever, I want it to be the one with the best chance of getting a closer job, not the one who would replace my closer. I don’t care that I own Santos, I’d rather roster Mike Adams, Addison Reed or Sergio Romo than Cordero. I believe that the men standing between those three relievers and save chances are more likely to suffer an injury or poor performance than Santos. And if I pick the right one, I can eventually have that pitcher AND Santos in my weekly lineup. That’s the kind of potential I’m looking for!
Overall, I’m not a proponent of owning middle relievers in mixed leagues. Every year a couple of them get the necessary wins, strikeouts, ERA and WHIP to warrant a roster spot. But most of them end up with around 4 wins, a couple saves and 70 punchouts. Even with a low ERA and WHIP, they still don’t do enough for me to keep them on the bench in place of a high-upside starter or a versatile hitter.
In AL or NL-only leagues I would chase the handcuff a little harder. That’s because good setup men are helpful pitchers in those formats even if they don’t get saves. But most of us play in mixed leagues and should have to guts to enter the season without wasting bench spots on handcuffs. If the extra bench spot helps you find this year’s Alex Gordon, Justin Masterson or Mike Morse, you won’t be sorry!