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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.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Analyzing Bartolo Colon's value

If you thought Bartolo Colon would look strange in a Yankees cap, you were right. He also doesn't look, uh, very slim.

Colon is listed at 6 feet, 265 pounds, which seems generous for the soon-to-be 38-year-old former Indians ace.

Prior to being signed to a minor-league deal by the Yankees, he hadn't pitched in the major leagues since 2009, when he was 3-6 with a 4.19 ERA in 12 starts for the White Sox.

Most of us laughed when the pitching-needy Yankees brought in Colon and 34-year-old Freddy Garcia (who, incidentally, is 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA and 0.69 WHIP) prior to the season.

The plan, especially with Phil Hughes on the disabled list with arm issues, could fail miserably. For now, though, Colon has been a pleasant surprise.

So much so I've actually considered acquiring him in a 14-team league in which I compete.

The oversized right-hander is available in almost 87 percent of the leagues on, and he has 26 strikeouts in 26 innings, along with a 2.77 ERA and 1.12 WHIP.

Since being moved into the starting rotation, he is 2-0 in two starts, allowing three runs in 14 2/3 innings (1.84 ERA) with three walks and 13 Ks.

If you're desperate for pitching, Colon is worth a look for two reasons: 1. He should help you in strikeouts and not kill your ERA; 2. He should get enough run support to win his share of games. (Or is that three reasons?)

Don't expect much more than a No. 5 or 6 starter in deep mixed leagues. Since he was 21-8 for the Angels in 2005, Colon has all of 16 wins in six years.

But he is, at the very least, intriguing.

That is one of many things from the first month of the 2011 season I never thought I would write (along with "it might be time to bench Carlos Gonzalez," "Hanley Ramirez currently isn't among the top six shortstops in fantasy" and "I really wish I had made a play for Lance Berkman on the waiver wire.")

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Start or sit -- Shin-Soo Choo

We expected a relieved Shin-Soo Choo would be even more productive this season.

Freed from a two-year military obligation in his native South Korea after leading his country to a gold medal in the Asian Games last offseason, we had Choo ranked as the No. 7 outfielder and No. 23 player overall in fantasy baseball entering 2011.

Thus far, he's been more Russell Branyan -- minus the power -- than Shin-Soo Choo.

Choo is batting .207 with 10 runs, two home runs, four stolen bases and a .569 OPS in 82 at-bats for the Tribe. Worse, he has struck out 22 times, an average of one K per 3.7 at-bats that is similar to his 2009 rate.

That season, Choo struck out 151 times in 583 at-bats. But he also batted .300 with 20 homers, 86 RBI and 22 steals.

In 2010, he cut his Ks down to 118, averaging one per 4.7 at-bats, and had his best season. He hit .300 with career-high totals of 22 homers, 90 RBI and 22 steals.

Obviously, you're worried, especially if you play in a points league that deducts for strikeouts. In our News-Herald points league -- in which strikeouts are minus-1 -- Choo has scored all of 37 points in 21 games, ranking in a tie for 59th place among outfielders.

So should you bench him?

Of course not.

I would give Choo at least a couple of weeks before relegating him to a reserve role.

In 2009 and '10, one of his best traits was his consistency. In that span, he batted .300 both years and had norms of 21 homers, 88 RBI, 22 steals and an .884 OPS. His batting average each season was the same, and his totals in every other major category increased just a bit from 2009 to '10. Choo's home runs increased by two, his runs scored by six, RBI by four, steals by one and his OPS two points (from .883 to .885).

He will hit, and it should be soon.

If you're more pessimistic, consider Choo has an RBI in four of the Indians' last six games and a hit in nine of his last 11. In the latter span, he has eight RBI and four steals.

Take a cue from Eric Wedge and stay the course. Grind it out. Be patient.

You get the idea.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Start or sit -- Hanley Ramirez

There is no shortage of struggling stars this season.

Albert Pujols, Carlos Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, David Wright ... how long do you have?

The biggest in my mind: Marlins shortstop Hanley Ramirez.

He was the No. 2 overall choice in many fantasy leagues, and entering Thursday, he had rewarded owners by hitting .235 with no home runs, six RBI and a .674 OPS.

If you're among the many worried about Ramirez's slow start, a word of advice: Don't. At least not yet.

Ramirez wasn't great in April last season, either -- a .279 average with two homers, seven RBI and two steals in 86 at-bats. He finished the year batting .300 with 92 runs, 21 homers, 76 RBI and 32 steals.

In his last six games prior to Thursday, Ramirez was batting .333 (6-for-18) with four RBI.

If there is a reason to be concerned, it's Ramirez's drop in the power categories.

He averaged 31 homers in 2007 and '08. In 2009, his homer total dropped to 24, but he drove in a career-high 106 runs.

Last season, his homers were down again (21, his lowest total since his rookie season of 2006), and he drove in fewer than 80 runs for the second time in three years.

You should be confident Ramirez will hit for average, score more than 90 runs and steal 30 to 35 bases. That makes him a must-start in fantasy, especially at shortstop.

Will he wind up being worth the No. 2 pick in the draft? If he finishes with 15 homers and 75 RBI, no.

That will affect Ramirez's draft-day value in 2012. Until then, start him and hope the power drop is because of a bad three weeks, not a sign of things to come.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Joe Mauer replacement options

Twins general manager Bill Smith has said he doesn't think Joe Mauer's stay on the disabled list because of an illness and injury will be long term.

The Twins' manager, Ron Gardenhire, had this to say Sunday about the team's $184 million catcher: "I think he's lost 15 or 20 pounds. He's sick."

If that weren't discouraging enough, Mauer's viral infection, which hospitalized him last Thursday, may or may not be contributing to leg weakness.

He could be back by the end of the month. He could be a second or third-round fantasy pick you wish you had back. If the latter scenario is the case, now is the time to explore the waiver wire.

Here are six options at catcher who are available in more than half of the leagues on, ranked according to value:

1. Nick Hundley, Padres (owned in 38.6 percent of the leagues): He is hitting .340 with three home runs, nine RBI, 10 runs scored and 14 strikeouts in 50 at-bats. He won't keep his average in the .300 range (Hundley is a career .248 hitter), but he should hit for power. In 579 at-bats since 2009 (roughly one full season), Hundley has 19 homers and 82 RBI.

2. John Buck, Marlins (5.9 percent):
His numbers won't get your attention (.228, one homer, nine RBI, .653 OPS), but his 2010 will. Last season, Buck batted .281 with 20 homers and 66 RBI. The .281 average is 38 points above his career norm, and the RBI total was 16 better than his previous best. Like Hundley, he's a decent power option (91 homers and 333 RBI in 2,379 career at-bats).

3. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays (44.1 percent): Note to self: Always start Arencibia on opening day. Last year, he had two homers and three RBI in his major-league debut, then had one RBI the rest of the season (to be fair, he had 35 at-bats on the year). This season, Arencibia had two homers and five RBI in his first game, and has one RBI since. Still, he's batting .286 with a .919 OPS and is believed to (cue Jay Bilas) have huge upside.

4. Alex Avila, Tigers (10.4 percent):
Prior to Tuesday's game, he was hitting .279 with three homers, nine RBI, six runs and an .875 OPS in 43 at-bats. The 24-year-old was a fifth-round pick of the Tigers in 2008, and he has produced in limited action in the big leagues (15 homers and 54 RBI in 398 at-bats). A concern: Avila is a career .241 hitter who doesn't have overwhelming minor-league numbers (.280, 13 homers, 77 RBI, 73 runs and a .796 OPS in 542 at-bats).

5. Chris Iannetta, Rockies (16.8 percent): We know he has power, but it would be nice if he did something else. In 2008 and '09, Iannetta had a combined 622 at-bats and had 34 homers, 117 RBI and 91 runs. He also hit .248 with a ridiculous 167 Ks. Last season, Iannetta had only 188 at-bats, and this year, he's off to an unimpressive start (.211 with two homers, seven RBI and 13 Ks in 38 at-bats prior to Tuesday). He's better suited as an NL-only option.

6. A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox (2.6 percent):
Mr. Personality was pretty effective in 2009, when he batted .300 with 13 homers. Last season, he slipped to .270 with nine homers, 56 RBI and a .688 OPS. This year, he is hitting .255 with no homers, seven RBI, four runs and a .590 OPS. He should be an option strictly in AL-only leagues or if you're really desperate to acquire a 34-year-old who doesn't really help you in any category.

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Grady Sizemore update

The easy thing to say after Grady Sizemore's sensational debut on Sunday is to start him and not think twice.

There are two dilemmas with Sizemore from a fantasy perspective, however.

1. Because of how far he fell on draft day, a decent amount of owners might have selected Sizemore as their fourth outfielder.

An example: In The News-Herald league, which includes at least a handful of Indians fans, I selected Sizemore as my No. 4 outfielder at the end of Round 13 (No. 156 overall). If that seems way too low, it probably was, but Sizemore went even later in a 14-team league in which I compete (another league dominated by Tribe fans).

Thus, my N-H team has Ryan Braun, Shin-Soo Choo and the Diamondbacks' Chris Young in the outfield. Sizemore isn't cracking that group. I could play him in the utility spot, but I also have David Ortiz, leaving me to play the matchup game each week between the two.

2. The Indians likely will give the three-time All-Star at least a day off per week to rest his surgically repaired left knee. If the Tribe plays six games in a week and you have, say, Ortiz or a pretty good third outfielder who is scheduled to play seven, you probably will be tempted to bench Sizemore.

All good feelings from Sunday aside, what should we expect from Sizemore?

In 2009 and '10, he batted a combined .239. In 564 at-bats in that span (roughly one full season), he had 88 runs, 18 homers, 77 RBI and 17 steals.

From 2005 to '08, he batted a combined .281 and averaged 116 runs, 27 homers, 81 RBI and 29 steals.

Sizemore seems to be healthy now, but we shouldn't anticipate a return to 2008, when he had 33 homers, 90 RBI, 38 steals and 101 runs. We also shouldn't expect him to hit .248, as he did in 2009, or .211, as he did in 128 at-bats last season.

The logical answer: Play the matchup game with Sizemore. If he's playing six games in a week and you have three quality outfielders and a productive DH, it's OK to sit him.

If he's playing seven games, as he is in Week 3, start him.

(Unless you are like me and you're deciding between Sizemore and Ortiz, whose Red Sox are also scheduled to play seven games. I think I'll flip a coin.)

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Josh Hamilton replacement options

We're in Week 2 and we have our first major injury.

I think we can all agree that head-first slides should be abolished. As should players injured in such slides throwing their third-base coach under the bus.

Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton fractured his right arm Tuesday while trying to tag up from third base on a short foul ball.

After the game, and the next day, Hamilton said it was a "stupid play" and his third-base coach, Dave Anderson, was "a little too aggressive."

What he didn't say: "I apologize to the idiot News-Herald blogger who ranked me sixth overall heading into the season. The dummy thought I could stay healthy and not slide recklessly."

Moving forward, the pickings on the waiver wire are pretty slim. Here are five outfielders available in between 59 and 97 percent of the leagues on who could prove to be useful during Hamilton's 6-to-8-week absence:

-- 1. Marlon Byrd, Cubs (owned in 41.1 percent of the ESPN leagues): He is batting .353 with 10 runs scored, four RBI and an .848 OPS in 51 at-bats. Prior to going 0-for-5 Wednesday, Byrd had compiled at least two hits in six of his last seven games.

He also has a track record of success. He batted .293 with 12 homers, 66 RBI and 84 runs last season. With Texas in 2009, he hit .283 with 20 homers and 89 RBI. Consider him a mid-level No. 3 outfielder in 12-team mixed leagues.

-- 2. Jonny Gomes, Reds (33 percent):
He has three homers, 10 RBI and seven runs in 33 at-bats. In his last five games, he's batting .389 with seven RBI.

His stats last season were respectable (.266, 18 homers, 86 RBI), but look a little deeper and you'll realize Gomes was productive prior to the All-Star break (.277, 11 homers, 60 RBI) and dismal after it (.253, seven homers, 26 RBI). If Gomes' stats are similar this year, you might be able to have one very good outfielder -- Gomes in the first half and Hamilton in the second.

-- 3. Sam Fuld, Rays (34.4 percent): He has seemingly come out of nowhere to hit .313 with five runs and six steals in 32 at-bats prior to Thursday. Because of that, you would think he's a prospect, but Fuld is 29 and has racked up 2,281 at-bats in the minors.

He played with the Cubs in 2007, '09 and '10 (he had a combined 131 at-bats in that span), and he likely won't help you at all in the power department. In the minors, Fuld batted .285 with a .777 OPS, 24 homers, 218 RBI, 106 steals and 404 runs in the 2,281 at-bats. If you need a steals boost, he's a decent option, but don't be surprised if that's the only area in which he gives you significant help.

-- 4. Jeff Francoeur, Royals (8.3 percent): He entered Kansas City's Thursday game batting .292 with eight runs, a homer and eight RBI in 48 at-bats. He had two or more hits in five of his last nine games.

Francoeur seemed to have the makings of a future fantasy stud when he averaged 24 homers and 104 RBI with the Braves in 2006 and '07, but he had norms of 12 homers and 71 RBI in the three years that followed. Like Gomes, he wasn't good after the All-Star break last season (eight homers and 43 RBI before the break; .242 with five homers and 23 RBI after the break). He's a much better fit as a part-time fantasy player than an every-week starter.

-- 5. Michael Brantley, Indians (3.1 percent): Yes, the Indians are off to an encouraging start, and yes, Brantley is batting .311 with six RBI and two steals.

The bad: He's a career .269 hitter who has three homers and 39 RBI in 454 at-bats. He should help you in steals and possibly runs scored, but probably won't be an asset in batting average, homers and RBI. In 2,122 at-bats in the minors, Brantley had a .303 average, 16 homers, 223 RBI, 163 steals and a .765 OPS.

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fantasy baseball: The laughable Pujols panic, plus Damon and Ramirez updates

If you ever want to strike for a major, lopsided trade, wait until a superstar gets off to a slow start in the fantasy baseball season's first week and look for an owner who seems on the verge of panic.

This year's target: the best player in the game, Albert Pujols.

Pujols is off to a slow start -- 4-for-22 (.182) with two runs scored, one home run, one extra-base hit, three RBI and a .558 OPS this season.

To show the lengths of desperation some owners reach, check out the message board on the right of Pujols' player page.

This concerning a player who averaged 41 homers, 123 RBI, 119 runs and eight stolen bases in his first 10 major-league seasons. A player who is a .331 career hitter with a 1.048 OPS.

A sign Pujols might not be scuffling as much as you might think: He has one more walk (two) than strikeouts (one) this season.

Yes, his impending free agency could be on his mind, though he would never admit it. But that shouldn't worry you in the least.

Last July, the Cardinals first baseman hit an un-Pujols-like .267 and had six homers and 15 RBI in 101 at-bats.

The next month, he batted .379 with 11 homers, 23 RBI, 29 runs and a 1.230 OPS in 103 at-bats.

You might point to the fact that Pujols doesn't normally struggle in April (from 2008 to 2010, he was a .350 hitter this month). Keep in mind, those numbers are from a much larger sample size -- an average of 89 at-bats per April in that span, not 22.

Pujols will begin to rake soon. If you're not convinced, offer him up on your league message board and see how many willing trade partners you have.

No Rays of hope

When Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez were introduced to the Tampa Bay media on Feb. 1, Ramirez, when asked about playing 162 games, said to Damon: "You play 100 and I'll play 62."

Everyone laughed.

Now? Not so much.

Ramirez missed Wednesday and Thursday for personal reasons. He is expected to be back Friday to attempt to improve upon an .059 batting average (1-for-17, one RBI, .118 OPS).

Damon has been even worse -- 1-for-19 (.053) with zero runs scored, zero RBI, seven strikeouts, one steal and a .153 OPS.

Damon is owned in almost 42 percent of the leagues on, and Ramirez a surprisingly high 94.3. I was astounded how early Ramirez was drafted in two of the leagues in which I participate, and he's considered a starting option by many owners.

I would consider Ramirez, at best, a fifth outfielder at age 38. He's best suited to be a part-time player (a combined 617 at-bats in 2009 and 2010).

Damon, 37, is a fifth or sixth outfielder who no longer steals many bases (a combined 23 in 2009 and '10), which severely damages his value.

If you are in a deep league, there is no need to release either player. If you are in a 10-team league, I couldn't argue against dropping Damon and/or Ramirez.

Yes, it's early. But Pujols is an all-timer.

Damon and Ramirez are old-timers.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Fantasy baseball: The Angels have a new closer

It wouldn't be a new week in fantasy baseball if at least one team didn't change closers.

Tuesday, we had the Angels, who will turn to second-year reliever Jordan Walden after Fernando Rodney blew one of two save chances, had a 4.50 WHIP and a 13.50 ERA in 1 1/3 innings in Los Angeles' first four games.

If you're in a deep 5x5 category league, Walden is an intriguing option.

He throws hard (as high as 100 mph) and should be a decent source of strikeouts (he has 28 in 17 2/3 innings in the big leagues). He has a 2.04 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in two seasons, but can be a little wild (4.1 walks per nine innings in his brief major-league career and 3.4 walks per nine in the minors).

The 23-year-old was a 12th-round pick by the Angels in 2006 and entered 2011 as a top-five prospect in the organization. He struck out 302 batters in 330 innings down on the farm, and he will be the Angels' closer as Rodney, according to Manager Mike Scioscia, "gets back in touch with some things."

The guess here is Walden will hold the job for the season, barring injury. If he is effective, he could be a top-15 closer (the Angels aren't World Series contenders, but they have averaged 92 wins the last seven seasons).

Another guess: There will be another new closer somewhere by the end of the week. And somewhere, Tim McCarver is talking -- a lot.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Carlos Gonzalez's curious draft-day fall

I had my rankings set, then decided to see where everyone else had Carlos Gonzalez in their top 10.

To my surprise, the Rockies outfielder consistently was ranked outside the top 10 by many experts, and his average draft position in leagues was 10.6.

At that point, I began to question my rankings -- which began with Albert Pujols, followed by Gonzalez, one spot ahead of consensus No. 2 overall choice Hanley Ramirez.

I decided to stay true to my rankings -- like a stubborn college football poll voter who refuses to acknowledge Boise State or TCU.

But I'm left wondering why a 26-year-old outfielder who batted .336 with 111 runs scored, 34 homers, 117 RBI, 26 stolen bases and a .974 OPS in 2010, his first full major-league season, would be considered a fringe top-10 pick.

Was it because Gonzalez is an outfielder, a position much easier to stockpile later in the draft, compared to third base (Evan Longoria) and shortstop (Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki)?

More likely it was because of Gonzalez's home-road splits in 2010.

In 300 at-bats at Coors Field, Gonzalez hit .380 with 26 homers, 76 RBI, 70 runs and a 1.162 OPS last season. In 287 at-bats on the road, he batted .289 with less-than-mediocre power numbers (eight homers, 41 RBI, .775 OPS). The only significant category in which Gonzalez was better on the road than at home was steals (16, compared to 10 at Coors Field).

My response: You still get those ridiculous Coors Field numbers half the time Gonzalez plays. In 865 at-bats in Colorado in 2009 and '10 (roughly a season and a half), Gonzalez scored 164 runs, stole 42 bases and had 47 homers and 146 RBI.

I had the last pick in the first round in the News-Herald fantasy league and didn't come close to getting Gonzalez. In a 14-team league, I also drafted 12th and missed Gonzalez by a couple spots.

If you nabbed Gonzalez outside of the top 10, it could prove to be one of the best picks of the draft.

If you passed on him for the likes of Longoria, a quick question: Why?

It's probably the same thing you want to ask me -- as in, Why, a week after the draft, are you still focusing on when Carlos Gonzalez went off the board?

Great point.

(By the way, Gonzalez is batting .444 with a 1.056 OPS in his first two games.)

(And how did Josh Hamilton last until the second round in most leagues?)

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