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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.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Updated 2011 pitcher rankings

If you needed further proof that closers should never be drafted early in fantasy baseball, look at Joakim Soria.

The 27-year-old saved 43 games in 46 chances with a 1.78 ERA and 1.05 WHIP for the Royals last season. He struck out 71 batters in 65 2/3 innings.

This season, Soria seemed to lose it, blowing three consecutive saves to lose his job to rookie Aaron Crow. Soria entered Tuesday night 7-for-12 in save chances with a 6.55 ERA, 1.68 WHIP and three losses this season.

Those numbers are a far cry from 2009 and '10, when Soria saved a combined 73 games in 79 chances, had a 1.97 ERA and struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings.

Now he's a setup man to Crow, the Royals' first-round pick in 2009 (No. 12 overall) who has been very effective in 27 innings this season (2-0, 1.33 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 26 Ks).

Then there's this: In 29 games in the minor leagues, and in college at Missouri, Crow was a starting pitcher. In the minors, he had 5.73 ERA.

Just another reminder to step aside next spring when your fellow league owners go on a closer run. Select anyone but a relief pitcher.

Crow doesn't make the top 25 of the closer rankings that follow, but he should be considered a No. 3 reliever in a 10- or 12-team mixed league.

Without further delay, our starting pitcher and closer rankings through the first two months of the season. For our batter rankings, click here.

1. Roy Halladay, Phillies
2. Jered Weaver, Angels
3. Tim Lincecum, Giants
4. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
5. Cole Hamels, Phillies
6. Dan Haren, Angels
7. James Shields, Rays
8. Trevor Cahill, Athletics
9. Jon Lester, Red Sox
10. Justin Verlander, Tigers
11. Michael Pineda, Mariners
12. Tommy Hanson, Braves
13. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
14. Josh Beckett, Red Sox
15. David Price, Rays
16. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals
17. Gio Gonzalez, Athletics
18. CC Sabathia, Yankees
19. Cliff Lee, Phillies
20. Alexi Ogando, Rangers
21. Jair Jurrjens, Braves
22. Max Scherzer, Tigers
23. C.J. Wilson, Rangers
24. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
25. Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
26. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks
27. Yovani Gallardo, Brewers
28. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays
29. Shaun Marcum, Brewers
30. Brett Anderson, Athletics
31. Anibal Sanchez, Marlins
32. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox
33. Roy Oswalt, Phillies
34. Jonathan Sanchez, Giants
35. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins
36. Zack Greinke, Brewers
37. Kyle McClellan, Cardinals
38. Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks
39. Matt Cain, Giants
40. Zach Britton, Orioles
41. Justin Masterson, Indians
42. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
43. Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies
44. Josh Tomlin, Indians
45. Jake Arrieta, Orioles
46. Ryan Vogelsong, Giants
47. Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers
48. Colby Lewis, Rangers
49. Gavin Floyd, White Sox
50. Ervin Santana, Angels
Last ones out: Tim Hudson, Braves; Randy Wolf, Brewers; Madison Bumgarner, Giants; Charlie Morton, Pirates; A.J. Burnett, Yankees; Aaron Harang, Padres

Disabled list: Josh Johnson, Marlins; Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies; Johan Santana, Mets; Wandy Rodriguez, Astros; Matt Garza, Cubs

1. Mariano Rivera, Yankees
2. Brian Wilson, Giants
3. Heath Bell, Padres
4. Francisco Rodriguez, Mets
5. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
6. Leo Nunez, Marlins
7. Neftali Feliz, Rangers
8. Carlos Marmol, Cubs
9. Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox
10. J.J. Putz, Diamondbacks
11. Huston Street, Rockies
12. Jordan Walden, Angels
13. John Axford, Brewers
14. Fernando Salas, Cardinals
15. Chris Perez, Indians
16. Jose Valverde, Tigers
17. Joel Hanrahan, Pirates
18. Ryan Madson, Phillies
19. Kyle Farnsworth, Rays
20. Drew Storen, Nationals
21. Andrew Bailey, Athletics
22. Sergio Santos, White Sox
23. Francisco Cordero, Reds
24. Matt Capps, Twins
25. Mark Melancon, Astros
Last ones out: Aaron Crow, Royals; Kevin Gregg, Orioles; Brandon League, Mariners

Disabled list: Jonathan Broxton, Dodgers; David Aardsma, Mariners; Brad Lidge, Phillies; Joe Nathan, Twins; Vicente Padilla, Dodgers; Brandon Lyon, Astros


Friday, May 27, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Updated 2011 batter rankings

Asdrubal Cabrera is ranked above Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Reyes and Hanley Ramirez at shortstop.

Shin-Soo is barely a starting outfielder in a 12-team league, and Michael Brantley has been much more productive.

And we've only mentioned Indians heading into our first breakdown of the top position players in fantasy baseball.

There are plenty of other ups and downs ahead, but we just ask that you hold your applause until the end.

A quick disclaimer before we get to the rankings: Players on the disabled list at the time of the rankings are not considered. Players are ranked at each position at which they are eligible, according to's criteria (hence the frequent Martin Prado mentions, along with Jose Bautista leading the way at both third base and the outfield).

Let's start a little controversy:

1. Victor Martinez, Tigers
2. Russell Martin, Yankees
3. Brian McCann, Braves
4. Alex Avila, Tigers
5. Matt Wieters, Orioles
6. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
7. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers
8. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays
9. Carlos Santana, Indians
10. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks
11. Kurt Suzuki, Athletics
12. John Buck, Marlins
Disabled list: Buster Posey, Giants; Nick Hundley, Padres; Geovany Soto, Cubs; Joe Mauer, Twins

1. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox
2. Joey Votto, Reds
3. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
4. Prince Fielder, Brewers
5. Lance Berkman, Cardinals
6. Albert Pujols, Cardinals
7. Mark Teixeira, Yankees
8. Paul Konerko, White Sox
9. Gaby Sanchez, Marlins
10. Michael Young, Rangers
11. Ryan Howard, Phillies
12. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
DL: Ike Davis, Mets; Adam Lind, Blue Jays; Kendry Morales, Angels

1. Robinson Cano, Yankees
2. Brandon Phillips, Reds
3. Ian Kinsler, Rangers
4. Martin Prado, Braves
5. Rickie Weeks, Brewers
6. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
7. Neil Walker, Pirates
8. Ben Zobrist, Rays
9. Darwin Barney, Cubs
10. Kelly Johnson, Diamondbacks
11. Chase Utley, Phillies
12. Maicer Izturis, Angels
DL: Brian Roberts, Orioles; Howard Kendrick, Angels

1. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians
2. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies
3. Jose Reyes, Mets
4. Starlin Castro, Cubs
5. Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
6. Alexei Ramirez, White Sox
7. Jhonny Peralta, Tigers
8. Darwin Barney, Cubs
9. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
10. Elvis Andrus, Rangers
11. Yunel Escobar, Blue Jays
12. Maicer Izturis, Angels

1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
2. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
3. Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
4. Michael Young, Rangers
5. Martin Prado, Braves
6. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
7. Placido Polanco, Phillies
8. Ryan Roberts, Diamondbacks
9. Evan Longoria, Rays
10. Jhonny Peralta, Tigers
11. Chipper Jones, Braves
12. Casey McGehee, Brewers
DL: David Wright, Mets; Pablo Sandoval, Giants; Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals; Pedro Alvarez, Pirates

These are the players who aren't eligible anywhere else, and there are only five worth mentioning:
1. David Ortiz, Red Sox
2. Vladimir Guerrero, Orioles
3. Jim Thome, Twins
4. Hideki Matsui, Athletics
DL: Travis Hafner, Indians

1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
2. Ryan Braun, Brewers
3. Matt Kemp, Dodgers
4. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
5. Lance Berkman, Cardinals
6. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies
7. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox
8. Josh Hamilton, Rangers
9. Jay Bruce, Reds
10. Hunter Pence, Astros
11. Curtis Granderson, Yankees
12. Drew Stubbs, Reds
13. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
14. Martin Prado, Braves
15. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
16. Mike Stanton, Marlins
17. Carl Crawford, Red Sox
18. Chris Young, Diamondbacks
19. Adam Jones, Orioles
20. Logan Morrison, Marlins
21. Carlos Quentin, White Sox
22. Nelson Cruz, Rangers
23. Grady Sizemore, Indians
24. Matt Joyce, Rays
25. Ben Zobrist, Rays
26. Alex Gordon, Royals
27. Jayson Werth, Nationals
28. Michael Brantley, Indians
29. Coco Crisp, Athletics
30. Corey Hart, Brewers
31. Johnny Damon, Rays
32. Jason Kubel, Twins
33. Carlos Beltran, Mets
34. Ryan Roberts, Diamondbacks
35. Andre Ethier, Dodgers
36. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians
DL: Shane Victorino, Phillies; Jason Heyward, Braves


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Analyzing Chase Utley's value

Entering last season, Chase Utley was a top five overall choice in fantasy baseball.

This season, he gave us the possibility of being a mid-round bargain because of a knee injury we were told would wipe out the first couple months of his season.

Utley returned Monday and was 0-for-5 with a strikeout against the Reds. If you drafted him, he might have started the week on your bench, and that could be a good thing.

Utley is 32, reportedly has a chronic condition in his knee, and Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has said Utley likely won't play five times in a six-game span.

Last season, he was limited to 425 at-bats and batted .275 (18 points below his career norm) with 16 homers, 65 RBI, 75 runs, 13 steals and an .832 OPS.

If you drafted Utley expecting him to be anything close to the player who averaged 32 homers, 99 RBI and 113 runs in 2008 and '09, you almost certainly will be disappointed.

Utley was never a huge stolen-base threat. Aside from his 23-steal 2009, his next-highest total in the category was 16 in 2005. I'm going to go out on a Shaq-sized limb and say he won't be running a lot as he returns from a serious knee injury.

Utley, if he's operating at, say, 80 to 90 percent, might provide the biggest value to owners in the power department.

Second base is a deep position in 2011, but it doesn't have a ton of home-run threats. Of the second-base eligible players in fantasy leagues entering Tuesday, only five had hit seven or more homers. And one was the Angels' Howard Kendrick, whose career high is 10 homers. Another is the Braves' Dan Uggla, who is batting .185 and shouldn't be considered a starter in 12-team mixed leagues.

However, 11 players eligible at second had driven in at least 20 runs, and 12 had six more more steals.

All of which means Utley isn't a given to be a starter in 10- and 12-team mixed leagues.

For the time being, I'd consider him outside the top 10 at his position.

A sure sign of Utley's value plummeting: Whom would you rather have right now, Utley or the Cubs' Darwin Barney?

It's been that kind of season.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Fantasy focus: Michael Brantley

Matt LaPorta was believed to be the key piece to the CC Sabathia (C.C. in his Cy Young days with the Tribe) trade with Milwaukee in 2008.

The first baseman hasn't been a bust, but he hasn't been the second coming of Jim Thome, either.

LaPorta batted .221 in 2010, his first full big-league season, and entered Wednesday's game hitting .267 with four home runs, 21 RBI and an .825 OPS for the Tribe this season. In his career, he's a .238 hitter.

Brantley, meanwhile, seems to be developing into an All-Star.

The 24-year-old is batting .302 with four homers, 19 RBI, five steals and an .816 OPS in 139 at-bats.

He's been the Tribe's best outfielder, and he's finally getting the attention of fantasy owners. He wasn't acquired until a week ago in both of the leagues in which I play, and I'm regretting ignoring him, even if outfield is the strongest position on both of my teams.

Brantley is still available in more than 41 percent of the leagues on, and if he's on the waiver wire in yours, you should acquire him before it's too late.

He's become an every-week starter, and the guess here is he'll finish the season among the top 25 outfielders in fantasy.

In our News-Herald points league, Brantley is tied for 19th among all outfield-eligible players. However, he's ranked only No. 226 overall in ESPN's latest top 250.

I didn't rank him among the top 36 outfielders at the beginning of the month, but he certainly will crack the list when the rankings are updated.

Since April 30, Brantley, prior to Wednesday, was hitting .333 with 10 runs scored, three homers, 11 RBI and two steals in 54 at-bats. He had three homes and nine RBI in his last six contests.

The latter numbers are the most interesting from a player who was very productive in the minor leagues, but provided little power. In 2,122 at-bats down on the farm, Brantley batted .303 with 372 runs, 16 homers, 223 RBI and 163 steals.

You should be able to count on him to hit in the neighborhood of .300 and steal 20 to 25 bases. If he does that and begins to display 15-to-20 homer potential, he's a top 15 outfielder.

As it stands now, he's at least in the top 30 and should be a starter in all formats.

If you really want to feel better about the trade, Brantley is also having a better 2011 than Sabathia (3-3, 3.47 ERA, 1.36 WHIP).

(Insert complaint about the Yankees' payroll, a joke regarding CC's waistline or laugh at the Yanks entering Wednesday 5 1/2 games behind the Tribe here.)

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Fantasy baseball: David Wright replacement options

Add David Wright to the ever-growing list of stars having off years in 2011.

Add David Wright to the ever-growing list of stars spending significant time on the disabled list in 2011.

The Mets third baseman has a stress fracture in his lower back. He won't undergo any baseball activity for 10 days, then will be re-evaluated, and the Mets have said he doesn't need surgery.

Regardless, you might be scrambling for help at the hot corner. If so, here are four replacement options and two long-shot picks who are available in more than half of the leagues on All stats are through Monday.

-- 1. Scott Rolen, Reds (owned in 32.7 percent of the ESPN leagues): In his first four games after returning from the disabled list with a shoulder injury, Rolen batted .471 with eight hits, three runs scored and three RBI. The 36-year-old is coming off a solid 2010 (.285, 20 homers, 83 RBI and .855 OPS) and has the power you might be looking for from a corner infield position.

-- 2. Alberto Callaspo, Angels (44.4 percent): He's a good hitter (.315 this season and .282 in his career), but he won't help you at all in the power departments. Callaspo has two homers and 20 RBI this season and has never had more than 11 homers or 73 RBI. If you need a batting-average boost, though, he's a quality option. Callaspo entered Tuesday riding an eight-game hitting streak in which he was batting .394 with nine RBI.

-- 3. Chase Headley, Padres (43.6 percent):
We thought he was an interesting prospect entering the season, following a 2009 and '10 in which he batted a combined .263 with averages of 12 homers, 61 RBI and 14 stolen bases. But Headley is off to a poor start in 2011 (.270, one homer, 16 RBI and three steals).

-- 4. Greg Dobbs, Marlins (3.9 percent): He certainly has the batting average (.337) and the OPS (.862) to be a starting candidate. But Dobbs has two homers and 14 RBI, and the eight-year veteran has never compiled more than 324 at-bats, 10 homers or 55 RBI in a season. The 32-year-old is a .265 hitter, which makes us think he will be lucky to keep his average above .280.

-- Desperation plays: The Royals' Wilson Betemit (23.7 percent) is batting .318 with 16 runs, 17 RBI and three steals. But the prospect-heavy Royals have had Betemit take a seat four times in the last nine games, which obviously removes him from serious consideration. ... The Indians' Jack Hannahan (15.7 percent) has four homers and 16 RBI, but is bating .245 -- 18 points above his career norm.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Analyzing Zack Greinke's value

Zack Greinke was supposed to be the ace of a pitching staff of a Brewers team many believed could win the National League Central Division.

Instead, he has pitched twice for a club that is five games under .500 (15-20) because he fractured a rib playing pickup basketball in February. (If you're the curious type, Greinke said he was going for a rebound and he fell on his side.)

In two starts, he is 1-1 with a 5.40 ERA and an impressive 15 strikeouts in 10 innings.

Last season was a disappointing one for the 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner. In his final season with the Royals, Greinke was 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 181 Ks in 220 innings -- a stark contrast from his 2009 numbers (16-8, 2.16 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 242 Ks in 229 1/3 innings).

If you own Greinke, you're starting him. But what should you expect from him the rest of the way?

Here is what we know: 1. The Brewers are taking it slowly with the 27-year-old. He has thrown 85 and 89 pitches in his first two starts this season. 2. Don't expect the 2009 Greinke -- the one who averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

In his career, Greinke has a norm of 7.6 Ks per nine innings -- a figure that is inflated by his fantastic 2009. His ERA is 3.83, his WHIP 1.26, and he's seven games under .500 (61-68).

Overrated is an overused term in fantasy -- OK, in sports in general -- but we'll go ahead and say it here because it certainly applies. Greinke often is overrated.

In a 12-team league, I'd consider Greinke a No. 4 starter. He isn't among the top 30 at his position in fantasy, and he is a fringe top-40 pick.

Again, you should start him in most formats.

If you have a deep pitching staff, don't look at Greinke as a must-start. In weeks in which he's starting once, he should be anything but a given when you're selecting your lineup.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fantasy baseball: The endless closer chronicles

By my unofficial count, nine major-league teams have changed closers this season, and that doesn't count Brian Wilson beginning the season on the disabled list in San Francisco and Brandon League taking over for an injured David Aardsma in spring training.

The White Sox have gone from Matt Thornton to Sergio Santos, the Twins from Joe Nathan to Matt Capps, the Rangers from an injured Neftali Feliz to Darren Oliver, the Angels from Fernando Rodney to Jordan Walden, the Phillies from Brad Lidge to Jose Contreras to Ryan Madson, the Nationals from Sean Burnett to Drew Storen, and those wacky Cardinals have switched from Ryan Franklin to Mitchell Boggs to what we are led to believe is a committee of two (Eduardo Sanchez and Fernando Salas).

In the last two days, the Dodgers and Astros have been added to the list. And could the Blue Jays be next? Frank Francisco, who was expected to be Toronto's closer this season but was injured this spring, earned the save Wednesday, a day after Jon Rauch blew his first save of the year.

The Dodgers could turn to Vicente Padilla or Hong-Chih Kuo, and the Astros are giving the closer's job to Mark Melancon.

Let's take a quick look at the two situations:

-- Dodgers: Jonathan Broxton has been shut down with elbow pain, which might explain his 5.68 ERA, 1.89 WHIP and nine walks in 12 2/3 innings.

Don Mattingly could call on Kuo or Padilla in the ninth inning.

Padilla recorded a save on April 27 and has pitched six innings this season, with a 1.50 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. He hasn't been a full-time reliever since 2001, and he doesn't seem to be a better choice than Kuo, who was terrific after Broxton lost his job last season.

Kuo was 12-for-13 in save chances and posted a 1.20 ERA, 0.78 WHIP and 73 strikeouts in 60 innings in 2010. He returned from the disabled list May 1 and allowed four runs in one-third of an inning. On Wednesday, he pitched a scoreless frame.

Don't be surprised if Padilla gets more opportunities early as Kuo is eased back into the bullpen. In the coming weeks, however, he should be the choice as long as he's healthy.

If that's the case, he's a top-15 closer in any format.

-- Astros: Brandon Lyon has a partial tear of his rotator cuff and biceps tendinitis. Surgery isn't required and I don't play a doctor on the Internet, but I'm guessing he will be out quite a while.

Melancon has appeared in 18 games and been effective -- a 1.72 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 12 Ks in 15 2/3 innings. He's in his third year and was very productive in the minor leagues (19-3, 2.79 ERA, 15 saves and 211 strikeouts in 216 innings).

He could keep the job for the rest of the season but shouldn't be considered much more than a low-end No. 2 closer in a 12-team league, if that, because of Houston's status as one of the worst teams in the National League.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Fantasy baseball: Did anyone start Francisco Liriano?

Edwin Jackson threw a no-hitter for Arizona on June 26, 2010. The Diamondbacks thought so highly of him they traded him to the White Sox a month later.

Jackson is 50-54 in his career.

Juan Nieves (32-25 career) tossed a no-no for the Brewers in 1987.

Francisco Cordova (42-47 career) and Ricardo Rincon combined on a 10-inning no-hitter for the Pirates in 1997.

Bud Smith (7-8 career) had a no-hitter for the Cardinals in 2001. He pitched one more season in the big leagues.

Heck, last month, the Marlins' Anibal Sanchez (32-30 career) came within three outs of throwing his second career no-hitter.

Obviously, Francisco Liriano's no-hitter Tuesday night isn't the most unlikely we've seen. The above list was compiled looking only at each major-league team's most recent no-hitters -- not all of them.

But Liriano's was one of the momentous games many fantasy owners dread -- the ones in which the player has the best game of his career, while he is on your bench.

Prior to Tuesday's gem at the White Sox, the Twins pitcher was 1-4 with a 9.13 ERA this season.

He had pitched more than five innings once in five starts.

He had as many walks (18) as strikeouts (18) in 23 2/3 innings pitched, and he had allowed 27 hits -- good (bad?) for a 1.90 WHIP.

The Twins are scheduled to play only five games this week, making Liriano's Tuesday start his lone appearance of the week. If you left him out of your lineup, you are far from alone. (My guess is Liriano wasn't used in more than three-quarters of the leagues in which he is owned.)

Liriano has pitched effectively in two of his last three starts, dating back to a win at Baltimore on April 18, when he allowed two runs in 6 1/3 innings. But in his two wins this season (April 18 and Tuesday), Liriano has a combined 11 walks and four strikeouts.

On the season, he is 2-4 with a 6.61 ERA, 1.56 WHIP and four more walks (24) than Ks (20).

Since his brilliant 2006 (12-3, 2.16 ERA), he has been extremely inconsistent. For his career, he's 40-36 with a 4.12 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 3.4 walks per nine innings.

His best asset in terms of fantasy production is his strikeout total (587 in 581 2/3 career innings). If walks were rewarded, he'd be the Roy Halladay of the category.

Next week, Liriano is slated to start twice -- May 9 at Boston and May 15 at home vs. Toronto.

Naturally, you start him following a no-hitter, right?

Uh, no.

The Red Sox have scored 74 runs in 14 home games this year, compared to 52 in 15 road contests. Liriano's start against Toronto in a pitcher's park (Target Field) seems favorable -- until you realize Liriano is 0-2 with a 15.75 ERA and 2.38 WHIP in two starts at home this season.

I wouldn't play him -- no-hitter or not.

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