May 31, 2006

Fantasy Sports

That sickening thud you just heard was your closer collapsing. The question now is, how do you recover?

Saves are the most intriguing and beguiling category in rotisserie baseball, and you must be competitive in the category to win your league. The problem is an elite closer is expensive — usually upwards of $30 in $260 leagues — and when something goes awry, it often spells doom.

Take Brad Lidge. Last season, Lidge looked like baseball's best closer, his 100 mile-per-hour heater virtually un-hittable. But he got burnt in the World Series, and this season he was completely fallen apart. Last week Astros' manager Phil Garner pulled the plug on an angry Lidge, who has been openly pouting about it ever since.

What do you do if you had Lidge?

Rule #1: Always Back-up Your Closer!

Hopefully, you backed up Lidge with Dan Wheeler. If not, let that be a lesson — when you pay a lot for a closer, spend an extra couple bucks for his backup.

Rule#2: Act Quickly

I had Eric Gagne in several leagues this season, and yes, I backed him up with Danys Baez, who got me eight saves. But Baez has been struggling of late. The other night I was watching the Dodgers and he was being hit hard. Before the game was over (and yes, he blew the save) I was on the computer scouring the waiver wire and free agent pools for his back-up. I was able to add Takashi Saito in two leagues, and sure enough, he recorded a save two nights later, which leads me to my next rule:

Rule #3: Look For Temporary Solutions

Sure, Saito may not be closing for long, especially with Gagne on the mend. But for the moment, at least, I have a source of saves. It is important to keep recording saves while you bide your time because other owners will fleece you if you make a trade out of desperation, and because things change, another opportunity may open up down the road, for example, Ken Ray, who is about to become Atlanta's closer and probably is still available in some leagues.

Rule #4: Old Closers Never Die

Closers are an odd breed. Sure there are the young flamethrowers, but there's also the older, cagey veterans who get by on guile because they have a closer's mentality, like Trevor Hoffman and Bob Wickman. Guys like David Weathers and Joe Borowski were on the scrap heap two years ago and are back in the hot seat this season — I picked up both for less than 10 bucks at my rotisserie draft.

Rule #5: Anticipate Trouble

No matter what you read or hear, pitchers don't suddenly lose their stuff. My experience is there is almost always something wrong when a guy starts getting blasted: either his mechanics are completely out of whack, he's shielding an injury, or he's developing arm trouble and has changed his delivery to compensate without even realizing it. Because closers are by nature brooders, their managers will always give them a vote of confidence, even as they are plotting behind the scenes to replace them. If your guy is blowing saves or not throwing well, start looking around sooner rather than later.

RULE #6 Trade From Strength

If you have a good enough team, you can survive the loss of your closer. For example, if you picked up bargains like Hanley Ramirez and Dave Roberts, you may have excess in the "steals" category. Go to the teams at the bottom of that category, and chances are one may have an extras closer. A trade helps both teams.

Finally, remember we are only eight weeks into what will be a long season. There is still time to regroup and recover. The number one rule in fantasy and rotisserie baseball is: Don't Panic!

NANRL Update: Skippy competes in the 12-team North Albany National Rotisserie League, one of the oldest in the country. Right now his team, The Fire, is in 4th place with 62 points. The Bandits, 71.5, and The Orange Pac 69.5, are the favorites — both teams used last season to rebuild. The Huskies, under new management, are a surprising third with 64 points. We'll follow the action all season.

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