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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Mauer, A-Rod, Pick Three and more Week 7 notes

The comeback that couldn't escape our attention -- and this would've been the case even without "SportsCenter" following his every spring training step -- was Alex Rodriguez and his 2009 impact following hip surgery.

Two that have caught our eye in the last few weeks don't involve the tabloids or steroids. Just a couple of feel-good returns -- one from a player who would be a certain first-round pick if we redid the draft today, and one who's trying to overcome a much more serious disorder.

We knew entering the draft that Twins catcher Joe Mauer wasn't expected to play until May because of a back injury. What we didn't know was the all-average, little-pop hitting machine would transform himself into the Albert Pujols of backstops during his time on the disabled list.

Mauer came back right on schedule -- May 1 -- hit a home run in his first trip to the plate and hasn't stop mashing since. In 80 at-bats in 22 games, he's scored 24 runs, hit 10 home runs, walked five more times than he's struck out (16 to 11), is batting .438 and has an on-base percentage of .525 and an OPS of 1.400.

If you could select any hitter for your team today, aside from Pujols, Evan Longoria and maybe Raul Ibanez, is there any choice but Mauer?

His batting average and patience certainly aren't surprising, considering he's a career .322 hitter with a .404 on-base percentage and 64 more walks than strikeouts (308 to 244). What's shocking is his monthly output of 10 homers, which is one better than his 2008 total and three more than he hit in 2007.

Prior this season, Mauer averaged a home run every 46.8 at-bats. This year, it's one per eight.

Should we expect him to hit 40 homers? Probably not. But in a year in which all of the highly rated young catchers, with the exception of the surging Brian McCann, have struggled (Russell Martin and Geovany Soto) or gotten hurt (Ryan Doumit), Mauer's Justin Morneau imitation provides a refreshing jolt to a bad position.

He is only three homers shy of his career high of 13, set in 2006, when he batted a career-best .347 and drove in a career-high 84 runs.

His draft-day ranking now looks ridiculously low. As do his career home run totals prior to 2009.

Talking about Willis: It's impossible not to root for Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis as he tries to overcome an anxiety disorder. In three starts since returning to Detroit's rotation on May 14, he is 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA. He's struck out nine and walked eight in 17 2/3 innings.

It's too soon to consider Willis a fantasy starter, but he is at least worth a look in deeper leagues.

He hasn't been effective since 2006, and he hasn't been a fantasy stud since 2005, when he was 22-10 with a 2.63 ERA for the Marlins. That said, he's only 27 and has pitched well in his last two starts (three runs and nine strikeouts in 13 innings).

At some point, he could be a weekly starter. More importantly, we're able to even consider that possibility, one we couldn't have imagined during Willis' difficult 2008 season.

We can't forget him: Now for the federally mandated Yankee portion of the blog.

A-Rod hasn't disappointed the owners who took a chance on him in the second, third or fourth rounds of their drafts. The tabloid punching bag is batting only .189, but he's hit seven homers and driven in 13 runs in 16 games.

If you're worried about his batting average, don't. He's been patient -- two more walks (13) than strikeouts (11) -- and he has an OPS of .971, which suggests his batting average will rise with the temperature. Rodriguez is a .305 career hitter, and he should at least reach .290 by the end of the season.

So far, it's been home run or bust. Of his last seven hits, six have been homers. That might not sound encouraging until you consider that those home runs have come in the last nine games. And that he plays in a stadium that might allow David Eckstein to hit 10 homers.

Pick Three

This week, we have all-starting-pitcher version of free-agent recommendations for deeper leagues. Again, these are players who are available in the majority of the leagues on -- in this case, the three are free agents in between 79 and 95 percent of the leagues.

Jason Marquis, SP, Rockies (available in 94.8 percent of the leagues on He's won six of his nine starts. He also has an ERA of 4.45, only 27 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings and calls his home park Coors Field. What, you expected Johan Santana to be available? He's not going to help you much in the K department and, like most pitchers, he struggles pitching in Colorado (he's 2-2 with a 7.13 ERA at home this season). But before you dismiss Marquis' six wins, consider that he's won 11 or more games in each of the previous five seasons, a span in which he's averaged 13 victories, and he's 12 games over .500 for his career. He's also been very productive on the road: 4-1 with a 2.70 ERA this season. If he's scheduled for two starts, and at least one is on the road, in a given week, he's a decent option.

Brian Bannister, SP, Royals (available in 82.1 percent of ESPN leagues): He's 4-1 with a 2.79 ERA and has limited the opposition to two runs or fewer in five of his eight starts. Like Marquis, he's not much of a strikeout asset (just 25 in 42 innings this season and 234 in 427 2/3 innings for his career). He's not a top-flight starter by any means, but the 28-year-old is more than capable of improving upon his 2007 statistics (12-9 with a 3.87 ERA).

Rick Porcello, SP, Tigers (available in 79.4 percent of ESPN leagues): He's only 20 and prior to this season he had never pitched above Class A. But save me a seat on his bandwagon after a four-start span in which the right-hander is 4-0 with a 1.13 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 24 innings. He was the Tigers' first-round selection in 2007, and you have to believe big-league batters will figure him out soon. Until they do, reserve a spot in your starting lineup.

That does it for Week 7. We'll be back Saturday on the News-Herald's main sports site with a first-round do-over. Until then, good luck and remember to give thanks to those who have sacrificed their lives for our safety.

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