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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.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Cliff Lee trade impact

If you're an Indians fan, you're probably bitter.

OK, forget probably. I've read too many comments on our Web site and heard too much talk radio today to even think there are more than a handful of Tribe supporters who are in favor of the Cliff Lee trade.

Well, I have some positive news for those of you who believe Mark Shapiro and Eric Wedge are a more notorious tandem than Swann and Stallworth, Roethlisberger and Polamalu or Heidi and Spencer.

If you have Cliff Lee on your fantasy team, you're better today than you were yesterday.

Does that help? A little?

All kidding aside, Lee owners can feel better about the fact that he went from an Indians team that is 18 games below .500 to a Phillies club that entered Wednesday night's game having won 15 of its last 17 games.

Lee, despite a 3.14 ERA that ranks seventh among American League starters with 100 or more innings pitched, is 7-9.

In his nine losses, the Tribe scored a total of 14 runs. The Indians scored one run or fewer in six of the nine defeats, and they failed to score more than four runs in each game.

The Tribe -- even with an offense that ranks fifth in the majors in runs scored and sixth in home runs -- didn't exactly tear the cover off the ball in Lee's seven victories and six no-decisions.

The Indians tallied four runs or fewer in four of Lee's seven wins, and they scored a total of 26 runs in his six no-decisions, including three games with three or fewer.

Lee will pitch the remainder of the season with the defending champs, who entered Wednesday third in all of baseball in runs scored, homers (140), total bases and OPS (.794). The Phillies rank only 14th in hitting (.264), but they make it count when they do connect, thanks to a powerful lineup that is tied for second in MLB with a .451 slugging percentage.

At best, Lee was a No. 3 fantasy starter this season. He might be a low-level No. 1 from this point forward.

Your feelings for ownership, the front office and management might not change, but your championship hopes can.

See, I knew I'd brighten your day.


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Monday, July 27, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Carlos Guillen's return and more notes

Carlos Guillen is the perfect example of eligibility rules gone haywire, which makes his availability in roughly half of the leagues on even more surprising.

Guillen started 89 games at third base and 24 for the Tigers at first in 2008. Because of that, he is eligible at first, third and the outfield in many ESPN leagues, and Yahoo lists him as a third baseman and outfielder.

The catch: Guillen, who returned Friday from nearly a three-month absence because of a shoulder injury, has only played left field and been Detroit's designated hitter this season.

So why would a .225 hitting 33-year-old with one home run and a bad wing make any impact this late in the season?

The answer is more simple than a SportsTime Ohio poll segment. Third base has been awful from a fantasy standpoint this season -- so much so that Russell "Don't Call Me Dave Kingman" Branyan might be among the top 10 at the position, even though he's currently the Mariners' starting first baseman.

If you can play Guillen at third, even if he's yet to play there this year, that makes his value much more appealing than his current numbers would suggest.

Before you dismiss the move, consider this: In 2006 and '07, Guillen had a combined 40 homers, 187 RBI, 186 runs scored, 33 stolen bases, a .308 batting average and 76 doubles. His OPS in the two seasons: .919 and .859, respectively.

Guillen was far from a fantasy stud last season, but he still batted .286 with 68 runs, 54 RBI, nine steals and 29 doubles in 420 at-bats.

In three games since returning from the disabled list, Guillen is 5-for-12 with a homer (his first of the season) and three RBI.

He is strictly a designated hitter for now, but that doesn't mean you have to limit him to that role.

If you can play him at third and your other options at the position are Branyan-esque, consider Guillen.

You don't make the rules, but you can certainly benefit from them.

More Tigers: Guillen's comeback could further lessen the value of Magglio Ordonez, who is batting .261 with just five homers, 32 RBI and a .686 OPS. With Guillen getting the majority of the at-bats at designated hitter, Ordonez, who has started 20 games at DH, might only play four times a week instead of five.

Detroit's regular DH, Marcus Thames (10 homers in 154 at-bats), should be the Tigers' left fielder.

Take a seat: In six starts since being activated by Boston, John Smoltz is 1-4 with a 7.04 ERA. The only positive number is the 42-year-old's 28 strikeouts in 30 2/3 innings. I wouldn't give up on Smoltz if you have the roster space, but he's definitely not a fantasy starter in 10- and 12-team leagues.

No thanks: While we're on the subject of aging pitchers, if you're among the few waiting on Pedro Martinez to make his Phillies debut, treat the possibility as if it's another live "SportsCenter" segment from Brett Favre's lawn in Mississippi. Change the channel, click on another free-agent pitcher ... you get the idea.

Free agent of the week: A Phillies pitcher I would strongly consider acquiring -- Joe Blanton. He's owned in just 13.8 percent of the ESPN leagues, despite going 3-0 with a 1.21 ERA in four starts this month.

The most surprising stat from Blanton is his total of 102 strikeouts in 118 1/3 innings. It took him 230 innings to register a career-high 140 K's with the Athletics in 2007.

He's never been much of a strikeout pitcher, but he does win. From 2005-07, Blanton was 42-34 with the Athletics.

He was terrible at the start of 2008 before getting traded to Philadelphia. In 32 starts with the Phillies, his ERA is above 4.00, but he's 11-4.

Blanton's next start is Friday against the Giants, who rank 20th in the majors in batting average (.257), 27th in runs scored (391 in 98 games) and 29th in home runs (64).

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Holliday trade impact

Matt Holliday is the Steve Nash of fantasy baseball.

Yes, it's a stretch, but let's break this down Bill James style.

After Holliday was traded from the Athletics to the Cardinals on Friday, I tried to come up with a comparison for the outfielder's once-inflated value, courtesy Coors Field.

The Mike D'Antoni-coached Nash seems about right. In four seasons with D'Antoni as the coach in Phoenix, Nash ran at will, played no defense, won two MVP awards and averaged at least 15.5 points and 10.5 assists per game, while shooting 50.2 percent or better from the field and 43.1 percent or better from the 3-point line.

You don't need me to tell you his fantasy value during that period was significantly higher than in 2003-04, his last season in Dallas, and 2008-09, when Terry Porter and Alvin Gentry were his head coaches. Still, Nash was pretty darn effective in 2003-04 (14.5 points, 8.8 assists, 47.0 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from 3-point range) and 2008-09 (15.7, 9.7, 50.3, 43.9).

He just wasn't D'Antoni-coached effective.

Same goes for Holliday during his post-Coors Field career.

In five seasons with the Rockies, Holliday was a .319 hitter. From 2006-08, he had 908 at-bats at Coors Field. In that span, he batted .361 with 62 homers, 219 RBI, 199 runs scored and 19 steals. He also totaled 75 doubles and had an OPS of 1.099.

In those three seasons, Holliday had 869 at-bats on the road. His batting average dropped 65 points and his homers were nearly cut in half, but he still hit .296 with 33 homers, 120 RBI, 58 doubles, 147 runs and 30 steals.

First-round fantasy numbers? No. Solid No. 2 outfielder statistics? Certainly.

When Holliday struggled with Oakland to start the season, some fantasy owners were puzzled, but the stat geeks certainly were not. A few months later, Holliday's statistics seem about right -- 355 at-bats, .296, 54 runs, 26 doubles, 11 homers, 56 RBI, .385 on-base percentage and .853 OPS.

He's no Albert Pujols. But he's a productive No. 2 outfielder, which is what we should have expected all along.

And you thought I couldn't work Mike D'Antoni and Coors Field into the same comparison.

In two games with the Cards through Saturday, Holliday is 6-for-9 with two runs scored, two doubles, two RBI and a steal. This month, he's batting .370 with three homers, 15 RBI, eight doubles and a 1.038 OPS.

The trade to St. Louis should make him more valuable the next couple months. Just not Colorado valuable.

More trade tidbits

-- Not that Pujols could get much better, but having Holliday hitting behind him can't hurt. Fantasy's best player has been rather ordinary the last seven games (6-for-27 with two RBI), but we know that won't last.

-- The Cardinals also acquired shortstop Julio Lugo in a trade with Boston on Wednesday. In two games with St. Louis, the 33-year-old is batting .667 (6-for-9) with three runs scored, a double, two triples, a homer, two RBI and a steal.

Lugo is owned in only 1.5 percent of the leagues on, which doesn't mean you should make a mad dash to the mouse pad. He's a career .271 hitter who was a free-agent bust in Boston and won't provide much pop (two homers in 375 at-bats since 2008). But if your middle infield is a mess and you are desperate for steals, Lugo, who has five seasons with 21 or more stolen bases, is worth monitoring.

-- The arrivals of Holliday and Lugo should mean fewer at-bats for the Cardinals' Colby Rasmus, Skip Schumaker and Brendan Ryan.

Rasmus (.260, 11 homers, 34 RBI), an outfielder who is owned in 10 percent of the ESPN leagues, didn't start Friday and Saturday. Ryan (.274, one homer, 15 RBI), a shortstop who should be owned in NL-only leagues at best, likely won't start more than a few times per week, even if Lugo slides over to play second base in place of Schumaker.

Schumaker (.305, three homers, 24 RBI), owned in 14.6 percent of the ESPN leagues, is the best asset of the three and should have his playing time impacted the least because of his ability to play the outfield.

-- In two games since the Holliday trade, Ryan Ludwick, who follows Pujols and Holliday in the batting order, is 4-for-9 with two runs, a homer and two RBI. After an injury-plagued May and awful June, the former Indian is batting .392 with five homers, 24 RBI and a 1.108 OPS in July.

-- Another Cardinals outfielder, Rick Ankiel, has been even better the last two games. The former pitcher is 6-for-9 with a home run and four RBI since the Holliday deal. If you're looking for outfield help, Ankiel is available in almost half of the ESPN leagues. He's batting only .236, but he does have power (25 homers in 413 at-bats last season), and he's driven in a run in three straight games and is 10-for-21 (.476) since July 20.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Franklin Gutierrez and more notes

Prior to a three-team trade between the Indians, Mariners and Mets last December, Franklin Gutierrez was known for his outfield defense.

It's too early to tell, but thus far that deal, which netted the Indians reliever Joe Smith and second baseman Luis Valbuena, seems to have the Mariners playing the role of Prince Fielder and the Tribe as a ball thrown by a coach in the Home Run Derby.

After homering against his former team Saturday night, his second home run in as many games vs. the Tribe, Gutierrez is batting .294 with 12 homers, 40 RBI and 24 extra-base hits in 293 at-bats. He's also scored 44 runs and stolen six bases.

Even better: Since June 16, he has nine homers and 21 RBI in 117 at-bats. In that span, he's batting .342 with 21 runs. This from a player who hit .248 with eight homers, 40 RBI and a .690 OPS in 399 at-bats with the Indians in 2008.

Factor in that Smith has been oft-injured, has a 4.35 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP, and Valbuena is hitting .217 with a .275 on-base percentage and currently can't beat out Jamey Carroll for playing time, the trade seems as questionable as Eric Wedge's daily lineup adjustments.

Gutierrez is owned in only 22.5 percent of the leagues on, a number that is surprisingly low even after an 8.1-percent leap this week. If Gutierrez is available, he is a significant asset in deep leagues.

He's never been a threat to hit .300 (he batted .258 with the Indians from 2005-08), but he's only 26 and is playing at a career-best clip. Don't expect Gutierrez's batting average to finish above .280 or his homers to continue to occur once every 13 at-bats.

He is, however, more than serviceable as a third outfielder in 14- or 16-team leagues.

He is also another sign that Mark Shapiro seems to have lost his edge faster than you can say Jhonny Peralta.

Finally, the pitchers: A blog I wrote prior to vacation featured the best fantasy batters of the first half. In case you were wondering what happened to the list of pitchers I promised, here we go.


-- Tim Lincecum, Giants:
He was 10-2 with a 2.33 ERA and 149 strikeouts in 127 2/3 innings in the first half. Johan, who?

-- Justin Verlander, Tigers: One of this year's best draft-day values won 10 games and fanned 149 in 122 1/3 innings prior to the All-Star break.

-- Zack Greinke, Royals: Yes, he has cooled down considerably (2-4 since June), but I'll take 10-5 with a 2.12 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 127 1/3 innings.

-- Dan Haren, Diamondbacks: Imagine if he compiled his first-half numbers for a team other than the D-Backs (2.01 ERA, a .189 opponents' batting average, 0.81 WHIP and 129 strikeouts in 130 innings). Arizona was the only reason he had only nine wins at the break.

-- Josh Beckett, Red Sox: His ERA (3.35) wasn't on the level of Haren, Greinke or Lincecum, but his 11 wins, three losses and 110 K's place him in the top five.

-- Runner-up: Roy Halladay, who gets a slight edge over Matt Cain and Felix Hernandez.


-- Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers:
He missed the All-Star game because of a toe injury that is expected to hamper him the rest of the season, but he was the top reliever of the first half after going 6-0 with a 3.10 ERA, 20 saves in 22 chances, a 0.93 WHIP and 65 strikeouts in 40 2/3 innings.

-- Heath Bell, Padres: He blew only one save in 24 chances, had a 1.69 ERA and 42 K's in 37 1/3 innings.

Runner-up: Brian Fuentes, Angels: Francisco Rodriguez's replacement in Los Angeles gets a narrow nod over Jonathan Papelbon because of his 26 saves in 29 chances.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

First-half fantasy baseball all-stars: Batters

The knock on Joe Mauer was always a lack of power.

We knew he'd hit well over .300, walk more times than he struck out, get on base twice as often as David Dellucci and drive in 70 or 80 runs.

This, we never could have guessed -- especially not after the Twins catcher missed the first month of the season because of a back injury.

I'm no hitting coach -- and I don't play one on the Internet -- but I would think recovering from a back injury wouldn't help a player's chances of hitting a home run. In Mauer's case, he's turned into the Albert Pujols of backstops.

In 224 at-bats, he's hit 15 home runs -- two more than his previous career high -- and his 1.118 OPS is almost 200 points better than his prior best.

Aside from Pujols, Mauer was the easiest selection on the list that follows. Without further adieu, our first-half fantasy all-stars. All stats are through Wednesday night's games.

Sorry, fellas, no incentive clauses included.

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins -- Did we mention he's batting .388 and has scored 48 runs in 60 games? Runner-up: Victor Martinez, Indians. What a difference a year makes.

First base: Albert Pujols, Cardinals -- Now that he's stealing bases (10 on the season), you couldn't ask for more. He's batting .331 with 67 runs, 31 homers, 82 RBI, 34 more walks than strikeouts (69-35) and a 1.184 OPS. Runner-up: Justin Morneau, Twins. With 21 homers, he is just two away from his 2008 total.

Second base: Chase Utley, Phillies -- So much for spring training injury concerns. Utley narrowly edges Ian Kinsler, thanks to his .306 batting average, 57 runs and .997 OPS. Runner-up: Ben Zobrist, Rays. Possibly fantasy's biggest surprise, Akinori Iwamura's replacement at second in Tampa has 17 homers and 50 RBI, along with a 1.017 OPS, in only 232 at-bats. More on Kinsler in a bit.

Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins --
We've had fun at his expense, but only because of many owners' draft-day decision of Ramirez over Pujols at No. 1 overall. He's currently bothered by a hip injury and his stolen-base total is way down (12, after averaging 46 the previous three years), but he's still been great. Ramirez is batting .346 with 14 homers and 60 RBI. Runner-up: Derek Jeter, Yankees. Even at 35, he's a fantasy standout, batting .315 with 10 homers, 35 RBI, 55 runs and 17 steals.

Third base: Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks --
Before the season, I never would have guessed this would be the worst position at the top. Reynolds is batting only .262 and he strikes out even more often than an Indians regular (115 in 313 at-bats). But he hits for power (24 homers and 62 RBI), steals bases (14), has an .896 OPS and is on pace to reach triple figures in runs scored. Runner-up: David Wright, Mets. He's batting well and stealing bases, but what happened to his power (five homers, after totaling 63 the previous two years)?

Designated hitter: Ian Kinsler, Rangers -- Like Utley, he hits for power (20 homers and 54 RBI) and scores a lot of runs (60). He's better on the basepaths (17 steals), but will bring down your batting average (.252).

Outfielders: Carl Crawford, Rays; Jason Bay, Red Sox; and Ryan Braun, Brewers. Crawford is batting .314 with 43 steals, and Bay has done everything but hit for average (.263). Braun, however, is the best of the bunch -- .324, 59 runs, 16 homers, 58 RBI, seven stolen bases and a .962 OPS.

Runner-up: Torii Hunter, Angels. He sat out Wednesday's game with an abdominal injury, which is a concern after a fantastic first half (.305, 17 homers, 65 RBI, 56 runs, 13 steals).

Next up: The pitchers.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fantasy baseball: Pick three and more notes

We'll go with an all-infield edition for this week's Pick Three -- a list that includes a pair of rookies.

As always, the trio are owned in fewer than 50 percent of the leagues on and should be an asset in deep leagues. All stats are prior to Tuesday.

Casey McGehee, 2B, Brewers (owned in 26.5 percent of the ESPN leagues): In his first full season in the big leagues, Rickie Week's replacement is batting .343 with six homers, 27 RBI, a .963 OPS and 23 runs scored in 134 at-bats. Since June 1, the 26-year-old McGehee is 37-for-96 (.385) with six homers, 18 runs and 24 RBI. He's versatile (20 starts at second and 17 at third), he's eligible at multiple positions and he's readily available. The only red flag I've noticed: A lack of power in the minor leagues. McGehee had 54 homers and batted .279 in 2,577 minor-league at-bats.

Gordon Beckham, 3B, White Sox (14.3 percent): The rookie is the White Sox's top prospect and needed all of 233 minor-league at-bats before getting the call to the big club. In 95 at-bats since, Beckham is batting .263 with three homers, 16 RBI and 14 runs scored. The latter stat line isn't very impressive, until you look at Beckham's numbers in his last 10 games (.385, six runs, two homers and eight RBI in 39 at-bats). The No. 8 overall pick in the 2008 draft is also eligible at shortstop in some leagues, and he's got a ton of power (in his brief minor-league tenure, he had 25 doubles, seven homers, 33 RBI and a .322 average in those 233 at-bats).

Skip Schumaker, 2B, Cardinals (13.1 percent): He's not going to hit many homers (14 in 1,080 major-league at-bats) and he'll be lucky if he reaches 50 RBI, but if you need help at second in deep leagues, he's a decent option. Schumaker is batting .302 and is on pace to challenge triple figures in runs scored. He also batted .302 last season, and he's hitting .429 with six runs scored and a 1.002 OPS in July.

"Rookie" Romero: Another first-year player is having a surprising amount of success -- Blue Jays lefty and 2005 first-round pick Ricky Romero. The 24-year-old has finally been noticed by fantasy owners after winning his last four starts, increasing his ownership percentage 21.1 percent to 38.2 in the past week.

Romero has allowed five earned runs in 28 1/3 innings, striking out 25, in that span. For the season, he's 7-3 with a 2.96 ERA and 66 K's in 79 innings. He's worth starting in deep leagues, but I would be slightly concerned about the following: In 81 starts in the minors, Romero was six games under .500 (16-22), had a 4.42 ERA and averaged 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings. Maybe he's figured things out. Or maybe the hitters will soon figure him out.

Closing numbers: One of this year's biggest fantasy surprises, Rays second baseman Ben Zobrist, has totaled 422 at-bats since 2008. In that span, he is batting .268 with 28 homers, 76 RBI, 75 runs and 11 steals. This season, Zobrist (who is eligible at second, shortstop and the outfield in some leagues) is batting .281 with 16 homers, 46 RBI, eight steals and a sensational .998 OPS in only 224 at-bats.

Zobrist's power is even more out of nowhere when you consider he had only 23 homers in 1,336 at-bats in the minor leagues.

Coming attraction: Later this week, we'll take a look at the fantasy All-Stars for the first half.

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Monday, July 6, 2009

Fantasy focus: John Smoltz

It might seem odd that a 42-year-old pitcher with zero wins this season is an excellent starting option this week.

Until you read the name: John Smoltz.

The career 210-game winner has yet to record his first victory as a member of the Red Sox, but that should change in Week 14 of the fantasy season.

Smoltz has started twice since being activated from the disabled list, and he's 0-1 with a 6.00 ERA. He left his last start after four innings because of a rain delay, and the Red Sox couldn't hold a 10-1 seventh-inning lead against the Orioles.

The schedule is much more favorable this week. Monday, he will face the Athletics, who rank 29th in the major leagues with a .240 batting average and 24th in runs scored (4.2). Saturday, it's the Royals, who are 25th in batting (.252) and 29th in runs (3.9).

Both starts are at home. The opposing pitchers: Monday, Smoltz will trade outs (or in the Athletics' case, hits) with Oakland's Brett Anderson (4-7, 5.45 ERA). Saturday, it's the 4-8 Gil Meche.

And you thought the Boise State football team had a favorable schedule.

Smoltz is owned in only 32 percent of the leagues on If he's available in your league and you need a third or fourth starter this week, he's an ideal option.

He should also be here to stay.

Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-5, 8.23 ERA) is out with an injured shoulder. As I wrote in Saturday's column for the print and online editions, he likely can't be counted on for more than a month.

All of which makes Smoltz and Brad Penny (6-3, 4.67 ERA) intriguing prospects for the second half of the season. Boston's rotation has two All-Stars (Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield) and a 25-year-old future ace who has won four of his last five decisions (Jon Lester). That leaves two spots in the rotation -- one to Smoltz, who should stay there if healthy, and one to Penny, who, if Dice-K can turn his season around, likely would have the least job security.

With that depth, the Red Sox have no reason -- other than his standing on the salary scale -- to rush Dice-K back.

Penny has given up three runs or fewer in five straight starts and eight of his last nine. He's owned in only 16.3 percent of the ESPN leagues, despite his recent success and his past production (back-to-back 16-win seasons with the Dodgers in 2006 and '07).

Smoltz is the better option for the rest of the season, partly because of his tendency to strike out eight batters per nine innings, even at an age when most of us will be lucky if we can read 90 mph on a Jugs gun.

Closing numbers: Tribe outfielder Shin-Soo Choo has played in 81 games -- half of a big-league season. Multiply Choo's statistics by two and you get: 98 runs scored, 24 homers, 106 RBI, 26 stolen bases, 96 walks, a .301 batting average and an .889 OPS (OK, the latter two numbers didn't need to be multiplied, but you get the point). Depending on how much emphasis you place on steals, Choo is the Indians' best or second-best fantasy player (behind Victor Martinez), and with Grady Sizemore bothered by a bad elbow, there really is no one else in the running.

Coming attraction: Inspired by Wakefield's first real All-Star selection, we'll unveil our first-half fantasy all-stars (minus the incentive clauses).

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