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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 4, 2009

Fantasy baseball: News and notes from Week 4

There is no more difficult statistic to analyze in fantasy baseball than the stolen base.

Most of the time, it's overrated. Players who have no business being selected in the third or fourth round of the draft are taken because of one stat: the steal. In category leagues, players such as Carl Crawford have the ability to take the point all by themselves -- witness Crawford's six-steal effort Sunday against Boston.

I've always taken a simple approach with the steal -- I underrate it.

I'd rather select players who will help me in three or four areas instead of one. Most of the stolen-base threats are one- or two-dimensional. They'll help you in steals and maybe runs scored, but not much else.

Of the six players who have stolen eight bases or more (two per week) this season, only two (Crawford and the Angels' Bobby Abreu, who has a surprising 11 steals) have reached double figures in RBI. The six have combined for a grand total of four home runs, and the group includes a .226 hitter who has three RBI (the annually overrated Chone Figgins) and a player who recorded five of his nine steals in one game (Colorado's Dexter Foxler).

Players such as Abreu (who has yet to hit a homer, but averaged 22 long balls the previous 11 years) and Texas' Ian Kinsler are draft-day gold. They'll steal bases, but they also will hit for power and average.

But for every Abreu and Kinsler, there are four or five Michael Bourns and Chone Figgins.

If you drafted Crawford, who is healthy after a mediocre, beat-up 2008, you did the right thing -- even if you reached for him in the third round. He's on pace to steal 105 bases, he's batting .317 and he should score more than 100 runs.

He's not much of a power boost -- he has yet to hit a homer -- but you can ignore that as long as he's helping you in a few other categories.

With Crawford, that is the case. With most of the speed guys, that is not.

So long, Travis: Tribe designated hitter Travis Hafner is on the disabled list with (boring Eric Wedge quote alert) what his manager describes as "some soreness and a little fatigue" in his bothersome shoulder.

Translation: We gave this guy a huge contract, he was terrible last year, he had offseason surgery on his shoulder and now we've typed the 14 words no organization wants to include in a press release: "(Enter player's name) is heading to Birmingham, Alabama, to be examined by Dr. James Andrews."

The Indians are downplaying the injury, and maybe they're right. But I don't blame the 17 percent of owners in leagues who dropped Hafner last week (his ownership percentage is down to 66.1).

Since hitting his fourth homer of the season on April 18 at Yankee Bandbox, Hafner is batting .240 (6-for-25) in eight games. In that span, he scored one run and had zero RBI.

His days as a fantasy force might be over, which is a gentle way of saying I wouldn't count of him helping you the rest of the season.

Pick three

This week's look at three possible free agents who should be an asset in deeper leagues, with the rule of thumb that all must be available in more than half of the leagues on

Russell Branyan, 1B, Mariners: He hits a lot of homers and he strikes out a lot more. Lately, though, he's been Albert Pujols-like (only if Pujols struck out way too much): Since April 24, Branyan is batting .368 with four homers, four doubles, 11 RBI and nine runs scored in nine games.

He's a career .233 hitter who has an amazing 816 strikeouts in 2,071 at-bats, so you know he won't sustain his success. But he's also eligible at third base, where he's more of an asset than at first in fantasy, and he's a home-run and RBI machine when he's on his game.

Again, it's not going to last. But if you need help at third, allow Russell to give you some needed muscle for a week or two. Just remember to bench him once he goes on one of his patented runs of 0-for-15 with 10 strikeouts.

Melky Cabrera, OF, Yankees: Brett Gardner opened the season as the Yankees' starting center fielder, but Cabrera has taken over, starting nine of the last 10 games. He's hit in seven straight games, and he's batting .321 with four homers and 10 RBI in 56 at-bats this season.

Cabrera wasn't much of an asset last season, when he batted .249 with eight homers and 37 RBI, but he was decent in 2006 and '07 (a combined 15 homers, 123 RBI and 141 runs in 1,005 at-bats). In deeper leagues, he can be a serviceable third outfielder who is capable of batting .280, scoring 90 runs and hitting 15 homers.

Kurt Suzuki, C, Athletics: I neglected to mention him in the blog about the struggles of catchers this season, which hasn't proven to be a wise move. Suzuki is batting .333 and has hits in 16 of the 20 games in which he's played.

He's only 25 and any catcher who is a threat to hit .300 is worthy of being started. Don't expect much power (Suzuki has 15 homers in 824 career at-bats), but this Athletic can reach double figures in home runs, bat better than .280 and drive in at least 70 runs.

Check back later this week for more NFL draft leftovers, good luck in Week 5 and remember to thank the owner at the top of your draft who selected Hanley Ramirez over Pujols.

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