Is “handcuffing” necessary in fantasy baseball?

As I accepted my first ever Shake ‘N Bake Football Championship trophy this past week, it got me thinking about the similarities between fantasy football and my first love, fantasy baseball. I examined my success on the gridiron and found that there was a direct correlation to my “handcuffing” of my running backs, which got me thinking if “handcuffing” could be useful in baseball.

The term “handcuffing” is well known in the fantasy football community. It is the strategy of taking a backup to a starting player on the chance the starter were to lose his job by way of injury or ineffectiveness. It’s fascinating to watch as natural selection will bring relatively obscure players to the surface. These obscure players can perform similarly to their counterparts and give enough value to salvage seasons in the process.

The inner wheels of my simple mind began to churn, and I posed two questions to myself, “Have you ever ‘handcuffed’ in fantasy baseball?” and “When would you ‘handcuff’ in the future?” My results will follow in the next several sentences.

Have you ever “handcuffed” in fantasy baseball? Before I began writing this piece, I had never heard any baseball analyst suggest the strategy of handcuffing, ever. I don’t know if it’s the difference in the actual games of football and baseball, but you just don’t see too many managers or experts going the “handcuff” route.

The game of baseball is much more of a skill-based game than football. It’s hard to replace Alex Rodriguez’ power with Eduardo Nunez or Zack Grienke’s pitch sequence with Tim Dillard’s. The skill and production would be vastly different.

So I looked over some of my successful fantasy teams that I’ve had over the past few years to see if I ever used the handcuff method and really couldn’t find much. There were a few instances where I stashed rookies like Matt Wieters on the hopes of future playing time, but I, by no means, was starting Greg Zaun while waiting for Wieters to bust out in June.

When would you handcuff in the future? Let me preface this by saying a standard ESPN or Yahoo! League should not look to this strategy. I am only addressing leagues where at least 75 to 80 percent of the player pool is used, which is basically deeper mixed leagues or NL/AL-only leagues.

Maybe it’s my propensity to root for the younger talent as they break into the big leagues, but I can’t think of any better time to handcuff than with a marginal, older player and his backup, star prospect. Here are some examples of handcuff duos I like for 2011.

Russell Martin and Jesus Montero: The last of the big, talented, prospect catcher threesome awaits his chance in Scranton. While Buster Posey wins Rookie of the Year and Carlos Santana cements himself as the Indians catcher for years to come, Montero waits. It’s not his fault.

The Yankees’ brass has used Montero as trade bait for the past two years now. There are rumblings coming out of Yankee camp that he still could be moved for an impact starting pitcher, but with Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria out, the Yanks have even less to gain.

Most thought the move of Posada from behind the plate would bring in the reign of Jesus. The signing of Martin then puzzled those same people. Montero hit .352 after the All-Star break in 2010 and maintained a .220+ ISOPower. You probably couldn’t ask for a better catching prospect except for that whole defense thing.

We play fantasy, and defense doesn’t matter in fantasy. So if you are struggling to find a catcher in your draft, taking Martin and his handful of home runs and steals while you wait for Montero would get the Ben Pritchett Stamp of Approval. I personally would recommend getting a catcher earlier, though. While I am a Montero fan, I am equally a Martin detractor.

Mike Aviles and Mike Moustakas: My love for the “Moose” is well documented in my article, “Overspending for Players in 2011,” so I won’t spend too much time detailing the skills this young man has used to obliterate minor league pitching. His major league equivalents are some of the best we’ve seen in years.

Aviles finished 2010 on a high note, going .333 BA/6 HR/20 RBI in Sept./Oct. He was that good in ’08, then struggled with injuries in ’09. That glimpse he gave us in the final months of 2010 may just point to a return to 2008 levels. I wouldn’t bet on that extreme, but he could be a great fill-in at third until the Royals finally bite the bullet and hand the franchise over to Moustakas.

Aviles should retain his SS position eligibility, also. If you are stretching for CI or waited too long for your third baseman, then this could be a great handcuff situation for you. Note your league settings, as you may have to wait on Aviles to gain 3B eligibility. If that is the case, this handcuff isn’t for you.

Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel: Venters went from a lefty specialist to groundball specialist. He led all relievers with a groundball rate of 70 percent. He had the best OPS on his fastball in the game at .590 (Bill James Handbook min. 125 batters faced). He pitched in 79 games and was still able to keep his ERA at 1.95.

Tebow or Not Tebow, a Visualization
When it comes to the Mets' famous minor leaguer, it's not just will he get major league time, but should he.

As for his competition at the back end of the Braves bullpen, Kimbrel, he only profiles as the Braves closer of the future. He is blessed with a laser rocket for an arm and was able to handle the transition to Atlanta rather well with a 0.44 ERA and 40 Ks in just 21 innings. He may be the most exciting young reliever in the game behind Aroldis Chapman.

Drafting both Venters and Kimbrel guarantees you the Braves’ closer and another top talent in the pen. Venters could take the job out of spring, but the closing duties will be Kimbrel’s before season’s end.

Francisco Cordero and Aroldis Chapman: It’s hard to debate Cordero’s 40 saves in 2010, but his age is creeping up (35) and his strikeouts and ERA are in a freefall. As stated by Jeremy Greenhouse in The Hardball Times Annual 2011, Chapman’s fastball grades out as the best in the game. His 105-mph pitch against the Padres was the fastest recorded pitch in major league history. What about the other 24 pitches he threw that night? Well, they were all over 100, also. He is an extraordinary talent and should be owned in a deep league whether he is closing or not.

Matt Thornton and Chris Sale: This may be my favorite handcuff of them all because Sale is quite possibly the best young left hander in baseball and should be given the chance to start in 2011. Sale shouldn’t be handcuffed with any expectations other than that he will contribute and be successful whether as a closer or a front-of-the-rotation starter.

At the age of 34, the hard-throwing Thornton isn’t getting any younger. He combined a 12.0 K/9 ratio with a stunning 4.1 K/BB in 2010 and deserves the closer job in Chicago. Sale can close if Thornton falters, but this handcuff has even more value if Sale starts.

To sum all this up, there are better ways to “handcuff” than in the fantasy baseball game. The need for skill is essential for success in baseball. The need for opportunity is more important in football. So I wouldn’t hedge your championship dreams on a “handcuff.” I like this idea of using a stable veteran while waiting on your stud rookie. Let me know what you think or if you have used a “handcuff” strategy in your baseball leagues.

Ben Pritchett is “handcuffed” to his computer right now and needs you to send emails to
to set him free.


Print This Post
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett

@mechanical turk- We’ll leave hancuffing centaurs to Jeffrey Gross. That’s more his area of expertise.

@nolan- That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Great example. Feliz has really blossomed as a closer. To think the Braves traded Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, Jarod Saltalammacchia, and Matt Harrison for one calender year of Mark Teixeira then traded him for Casey Kotchman and a middle reliever. Makes me sick.

Kevin Wilson
Guest
Kevin Wilson

Cool article. I love stuff about strategy as opposed to just Top 50 List stuff. I’d say this practice is, as you said, about opportunity-based talent, thus I think it is very applicable with closers and set-up men, but rare elsewhere in the game.

Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett
@DrBGiantsfan- Just a little warning on your possible Keeper/draft strategy. Last night we held a “expert” mock draft, and Carlos Santana jumped off the board in the fourth round as the fourth catcher taken (Mauer, McCann, Posey went prior). I’m curious how your keeper settings are handled, but I’m guessing you might want to go a different route if Santana costs a fourth round selection. I, along with everyone else, am a huge fan of Carlos Santana, but he loses some value if he’s not your catcher. Again, he could be good utility if you get to keep him relatively… Read more »
Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett

@Kevin Wilson- Thanks for the feedback. I will definitely take note. I am also a big fan of strategy articles. We’ve all heard these names a billion times. I’ll try to do more of strategy type pieces, but you’ve got to remember that random lists stir the pot. The masses love the lists.

I promise to sneak some stategy discussion in there just for guys like us. By the way, I plan to have an article on the way I approach a draft room sometime in early February.

Adam W
Guest
Adam W
Handcuffing in fantasy football really only works with running backs, since RBs frequently miss time and a “replacement level” running back (Chris Ivory, James Starks, Danny Woodhead, etc.) can still be very productive in the right system. Handcuffing closers is the obvious parallel in baseball due to the volatility of the position (although not necessarily due to injury), the value of counting stats that are a function of opportunity, and the large number of available players with the skillset to be successful. For RBs/Closers, it’s a question of risk. You are significantly lowering the risk associated with owning a given… Read more »
Head 2 Head
Guest
Head 2 Head
Another useful Hardball Times article. I am currently drafting in the 15 team 50 round NFBC Slow Draft Draft Championship which has NO free agents. Starting 14 hitters and 9 pitchers. I feel that handcuffs are very important when you don’t have free agents. Closers are the best example, but players like Miranda/Allen/Nady/Parra in ARZ can get you 2 starting position players and because they are in position battles they come at a discount. I took Carlos Santana and then Marson in the 40+ round, as if you lose a Catcher it is best to have his backup to get… Read more »
Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett

@Adam- Yeah that’s what we’re saying.

But I could see a few instances where the depth of your fantasy league could cause you to “handcuff” some of your lower level hitters to minimize risk and maximize gain. I was suggesting the Aviles/Moustakas handcuff because I have that much faith in Moustakas breakout potential, and Aviles could cost far less. Aviles acts as a stopgap until Moustakas breaks in. Guys like Scott Rolen, Juan Uribe, and Chase Headley could perform the “stopgap” job as well, but I like Aviles better, and he has 2B/ss position eligibility as well.

Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett

@Head 2 Head- You are precisely the audience I was targeting, and I think you are a brave soul for getting involved in a league like that. You’ll have to let me know how the handcuffs work out for you. Thanks for your insight.

Mark Houston
Guest
Mark Houston
Good article, Ben. I won my ESPN Fantasy Football League (Cowboy Nation) because of “handcuffing”. Truthfully, I had never heard the term applied as you use it until I read your article. I started the season with Ben Roth@#!�rger and was lucky to pick up Matt Casell and Jay Cutler to cover for him during his suspension. Then in a very unwise move, I ditched Ben when he injured his thumb (?). I played a desperation move and picked up Michael Vick gambling that he would start. Still, I would not have gotten into the playoffs and won the League… Read more »
James Dickson
Guest
James Dickson

I love to handcuff high performance but fragile closers to high performance setup-men

I did this for years when the Dodgers had the Saito/Broxton show.
I’ll try and do it again this year for the Capps/Nathan show

As a general rule, though, the handcuff (e.g. Mike Aviles) isn’t worth rostering in the first place

A really interesting potential thingy would be to run a Andruw Jones/Granderson platoon!

mechanical turk
Guest
mechanical turk

Handcuffs?  I guess it depends on your specific baseball fantasy.  As for me specifically, well, when you figure out how to successfully handcuff a centaur you let me know.

nolan
Guest
nolan

Frank Francisco & Neftali Feliz last year come to mind.

DrBGiantsfan
Guest
DrBGiantsfan
I think this may actually be common practice with closers and closers in waiting.  Brian Fuentes and Fernando Rodney last year would be one example where it might have paid off.  Francisco and Feliz have already been mentioned.  Kimbrel and and Venters as well as Cordero and Chapman are interesting duos for 2011.  This isn’t exactly the same, but I seriously thought about drafting Wieters and making him a utility player even though I already had Brian McCann as a keeper last year.  Glad it turned out someone else grabbed him before I could.  With McCann in his last year… Read more »
ChicagoStyle
Guest
ChicagoStyle

Ben,

Aviles at third?  Don’t you think the most likely IF arrangement for the Royals goes

Betemit-3b,
Escobar – ss,
Aviles – 2b,
Billy/Kila – 1b

Otherwise why resign Betemit?

Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett

@Mark Houston- I appreciate the praise and the THT plug.

@James Dickson- I still like Aviles as a cheap option. Your platoon idea is a whole article on its own, although I don’t think I’d bench Granderson. Platoons may be a subject we can dive into at a different date.

Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett
@Baltimoron- I think we are saying generally the same thing. There really isn’t an ideal “handcuff” situation for positional players in baseball, but as stated in my article above, there can be a baseball version of taking the vet and waiting for the stud. I think my Aviles love is that he could be worth owning after the Moustakas call whereas like you said alot of the guys you mentioned wouldn’t be rosterable. Don’t get yourself wrong though click that link above or google “Mike Aviles starting third baseman for Royals”. They are leaning towards Aviles starting as the everyday… Read more »
Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett

@chicagostyle- I see what you’re saying, but I think the Royals are going to go with an infield like this:

Aviles-3B
Escobar-SS
Getz-2B
Kila-1B
Billy-DH

All reports are suggesting Betemit will play a fill in role at best, and Aviles will move to third. Here’s one of many links
http://www.rotoworld.com/content/playerpages/player_main.aspx?sport=mlb&id=5106

The Baltimoron
Guest
The Baltimoron

Papelbon/Bard?  Hanrahan/Meek?

Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett
@Baltimoron- I love Hanrahan as late value closer. He played alot better in 2010 than his numbers indicated. It’s good to see that he’s getting a chance to close. Hanrahan saw his GB% spike to 47 percent in the second half and his dominance is Marmol level good. Plus there’s a reason why Meek hasn’t gotten the chance at the closer job in Pit (see second half splits). How is control goes, the rest of his skills follow. While is first half was ridiculous, he’s risky. I would just draft Hanrahan and not Hanrahancuff him with Meek. Let somebody else… Read more »
The Baltimoron
Guest
The Baltimoron
I don’t know if Hanrahan/Meek is actually a handcuff; it’s really more hedging your bets.  Still, even if I believed in one, I’d still draft the other and see how things suss out come Opening Day.  Closing value begins and ends with opportunity. Papelbon/Bard is probably more of a true handcuff situation.  I’m guessing that the person who drafts Papelbon will be a believer and thus will have to take him fairly early.  I think Bard still has value as a setup man, and if I took Papelbon as, say, CL#5, I’d probably be sure to get Bard to protect… Read more »
Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett
@Baltimoron- I like your positional handcuff examples especially Rolen/Francisco and Davis/Moreland. But your Belt/Huff call may be stroke of genius. I wish I would have included them in this article. As for Lowrie/Scutaro, I still like Moustakas/Aviles better. While I agree that Moose will mash his way into the Royals line up by June, I also believe that Aviles will have earned his opportunity to stay in that line up. I see him supplanting Getz at second the moment Moustakas gets the call. So you get two guys that will contribute, whereas the winner of BOS SS sweepstakes will contribute,… Read more »
The Baltimoron
Guest
The Baltimoron
That’s my point with Aviles/Moustakas—I think both guys control their own fates independent of each other.  If Mous hits, he makes the club at 3B.  I think Aviles is the starter at 2B from day one, and if he falls flat, the Royals would give more time to Getz, or perhaps Giavotella at some point.  I don’t see the either/or prognosis that I think you need to consider a situation a handcuff.  Also, I’m guessing Aviles is borderline draftable in most leagues, where as MM is a stud prospect. I guess the question is, what is a handcuff?  For me,… Read more »
The Baltimoron
Guest
The Baltimoron
I agree we agree!  However, for as many articles that you can point out that have Aviles at 3B, I have plenty that project him at 2B for the Royals, which I think makes more sense in order to keep him at one place and leave third open for Moustakas.  Regardless, you’d be playing Aviles at MI and Mous at 3B on your fake team, so I don’t see the conflict of interest.  You are right that both players have value, but I think that almost goes against my definition of what a handcuff really is.  I don’t consider, say,… Read more »
Derek Ambrosino
Guest
Derek Ambrosino
Not all that different from “handcuffing” is what I sometimes refer to as “hedging.” Sometimes it makes sense to double-up on a player who is a potential one-category monster/ potential total bust. It’s not uncommon for me to fall into a team building dynamic where I see that I am laregely unwilling to pay for steals. There are lots of players who are marginal MLB talents but have wheels that are just oh so enticing – if this guy gets 550 ABS, watch out… Joey Gathright, Wily Taveras, Carlos Gomez, and countless others have tantalized us with this theoretical potential… Read more »
Ben Pritchett
Guest
Ben Pritchett
@Derek Ambrosino- I’ll leave the investment management strategies to you. I think “hedging” is probably a more appropriate name and idea for baseball. Hedging your bets and minimizing risk is essentially the name of the game. I guess you should point everyone to that investment “tier” article you just wrote recently, “Diversify your bonds”. You and your banking jargon, I feel like I’m back in college. They do compliment each other quite nicely though. @Baltimoron- I have nothing left to say to you until next week. I think you and I would get along assuming you keep your Chinese handcuffs… Read more »
wpDiscuz