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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, April 30, 2012

Fantasy baseball: More closer drama

By now, hopefully you've learned to punt saves on draft day.

You can always acquire a closer on the waiver wire during the season, and three saves that were recorded on Sunday should tell you all you need to know about spending more than one pick in the first half of a draft on a reliever.

The three developments that caught our attention:

1. Kenley Jansen recorded his second save with the Dodgers.

Manager Don Mattingly tried to defuse any controversy by saying Javy Guerra is still Los Angeles' closer, but you have to believe Guerra's days are numbered. In two innings over his last three games, Guerra allowed five runs on nine hits, lost twice and blew a save. Overall, he's 7-for-9 in save chances -- with a 1-3 record, 6.10 ERA and 1.65 WHIP.

Jansen, meanwhile, is 2-0 with a pair of saves, a 2.45 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 24 strikeouts in 14 2/3 innings. In three big-league seasons, he has an incredible 161 Ks in 95 1/3 innings.

Looking at Guerra's 2011 numbers (21-for-23 in save chances, a 2.31 ERA and 38 Ks in 46 2/3 innings as a rookie), it's understandable why Mattingly is willing to give his closer a couple more chances to fail.

But this much is clear: Guerra is only keeping the seat warm for Jansen, who struck out 96 in 53 2/3 innings last season. The closer's job should be Jansen's soon, and when that's the case, he likely will be a top-10 option at the position.

2. Santiago Casilla is the undisputed closer in San Francisco.

When Brian Wilson went down with a season-ending elbow injury, the initial speculation was the Giants would close by committee. Manager Bruce Bochy, however, seems to have settled on Casilla, who notched his fourth save, and third in the last four games, on Sunday. Casilla is 4-for-4 in save opportunities and has a 1.04 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and eight Ks in 8 2/3 innings. He's a must-start in any format in which you play multiple relievers.

3. Matt Thornton earns his first save for the White Sox.

Manager Robin Ventura said he used Thornton and not Hector Santiago because the former had the "body of work" against the Red Sox's ninth-inning order of Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz. He also said Santiago "still will be in there in the ninth."

The latter has blown two of his last three save chances and has an 8.53 ERA and 1.89 WHIP on the year. As we wrote in the Brian Wilson blog, Casilla was an unlikely choice to begin with.

For now, he's the closer, but his days, like Guerra's, seem to be numbered. Thornton has 10Ks in 11 innings and is 1-0 with a 0.83 ERA and 0.73 WHIP this season. In his career, he has 29 more strikeouts than innings pitched (509 and 480, respectively). He's never been a full-time closer (his career high is eight saves), but he might get his chance soon.

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Week 3 waiver-wire picks (pitchers)

Selecting Philip Humber this week requires less imagination than the Questions To Ask Checklist in the sideline reporters' manual.

By now, you know Humber threw the 21st perfect game in major-league history.

What you probably didn't realize is he entered Sunday available in more than 92 percent of the leagues on Granted, he wasn't very good last year, but perfect games tend to get you noticed by any fantasy baseball owner who is looking for a pitcher (aka every fantasy baseball owner).

Humber is the obvious choice to lead our waiver-wire pitching picks for Week 3. As we have repeated the past few weeks, we select players who are available in more than half of the ESPN leagues, and we usually go deeper than that. This week's group is available in at least 57 percent of the ESPN formats.

-- Philip Humber, SP, White Sox (owned in 7.3 percent of the ESPN leagues): Humber's two-start season stats obviously are dominated by his perfecto, but he was effective in his season debut against the Orioles on April 16. He allowed one run in 5 1/3 innings and struck out seven in a no-decision in that contest. This week, he's a mediocre play, since he will pitch once and the matchup isn't great (Thursday at home against the Red Sox). If you acquire Humber, you'll need to temper your expectations from very good to a decent starter in deeper mixed leagues. Remember, he was 9-9 with a 3.75 ERA and an unimpressive 116 Ks in 163 innings last season, his first full year in the big leagues. He also didn't exactly rip up the minor leagues (40-42, 4.50 ERA, 1.32 WHIP) after he was selected third overall in 2004 -- one spot after Justin Verlander.

-- Ross Detwiler, SP, Nationals (42.2 percent): Like Humber, Detwiler was a high draft pick (No. 6 overall in 2007) who struggled in the minors (23-23, 3.97 ERA, 1.50 WHIP). Like Humber, Detwiler is off to a sizzling start and forcing many of us to give him a chance. He took over the fifth spot in Washington's rotation because of a hamstring injury suffered by Chien-Ming Wang, and all Detwiler has done is go 2-0 with a 0.56 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 15 strikeouts in 16 innings. He has allowed one earned run on the year, and considering Wang has won 13 games since 2008, Detwiler's spot should be secure unless or until he has an extended stretch in which he struggles. This week, again like Humber, he's only a so-so play. Friday, Detwiler will face Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on the road.

-- Bartolo Colon, SP, Athletics (28.8 percent): Colon's ownership percentage is surprisingly low after four starts in which he has allowed one or zero runs in three contests. Colon is 3-1 with a 2.63 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 19 Ks in 27 1/3 innings. Don't expect the 38-year-old to win 15 games, but you should play him until the wheels come off. Last season with the Yankees, Colon was 5-3 with a 3.10 ERA after a win over the Tribe on June 11. In August and September, he was a combined 0-4 with a 5.37 ERA. This week, he's a must-start against the White Sox (Monday at home) and Orioles (on the road Sunday).

-- Henry Rodriguez, RP, Nationals (25.1 percent): As we mentioned in the Brian Wilson replacement options blog, Rodriguez is a good source of strikeouts (116 Ks in 104 2/3 innings) and he's been sharing the Nationals' closer job with Brad Lidge while Drew Storen is on the disabled list. Rodriguez, however, has started to establish himself as the undisputed stopper. He has four saves, nine Ks and a 0.00 ERA in 7 1/3 innings. He has received the Nats' last two save chances, and we should expect to get the bulk of the opportunities until Storen returns from an elbow injury (likely not until sometime around the All-Star break).

-- Francisco Cordero, RP, Blue Jays (2.9 percent): He's a big name among the relievers after saving 34 games or more every year from 2007 to '11 (and all but one season since 2004). Cordero was the setup man to Sergio Santos, but the latter is on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. Cordero saved his first game for the Jays on Sunday, and he's averaged nearly one K per inning in his career (771 in 792 1/3 frames).

Previous waiver-wire picks

BATTERS: Jose Altuve (Week 2), Mike Aviles (2), Zack Cozart (Week 1), Ryan Doumit (1), Raul Ibanez (1), Jon Jay (2), Russell Martin (1), A.J. Pierzynski (2), Nolan Reimold (2), Cody Ross (1).

PITCHERS: Trevor Cahill (Week 1), Kyle Lohse (1), Jonathon Niese (1), Ivan Nova (1), Hector Santiago (1).

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Week 2 waiver-wire picks (hitters)

We have kept you waiting more than two weeks since our last free-agent recommendations for the batters.

In our defense, Week 1 in head-to-head fantasy leagues lasted for what seemed like a month because of the Mariners-A's Japan trip, combined with the remainder of MLB starting its season midweek -- seven days after Seattle and Oakland played twice.

We promise to be more diligent from now on. And we remind you that we select these players based on ownership percentages in ESPN leagues. All of the following players are available in more than 60 percent of the ESPN formats, and only two of them are currently banged up.

-- A.J. Pierzynski, C, White Sox (owned in 33.6 percent of the ESPN leagues): Mr. Sunshine might not be well-liked, but he has been surprisingly dependable the last two seasons. This year, Pierzynski is hitting .400 with four homers, 13 RBI and a 1.250 OPS. The power numbers likely won't last -- Pierzynski had a combined 17 homers and 104 RBI in 2010 and '11 -- but he can hit for a quality average (.287 in 2011).

-- Mike Aviles, SS, Red Sox (20.5 percent): Aviles is off to a decent start as the Sox's replacement for Marco Scutaro at shortstop, hitting .268 with eight runs, two homers, five RBI and one RBI. He has decent pop and speed -- in 2011, he had seven homers, 39 RBI and 14 steals in 286 at-bats -- and until last year, he provided a boost to your batting average. Aviles, who hit .255 last season, is a .288 career hitter, and he hit .300 in 2010 with the Royals. An added boost: He is eligible at second, short and third base in ESPN leagues.

-- Nolan Reimold, OF, Orioles (37.8 percent): Assuming the neck spasm that held him out of Thursday's game isn't serious, Reimold is a quality addition if you're looking for help in the power departments. He has seven runs, four homers and eight RBI in 41 at-bats. He's batting .341 with a 1.064 OPS, but don't count on him to help your batting average (Reimold is a .261 career hitter). He can be a strikeout waiting to happen (170 in 782 career at-bats), but he has an average of 27 homers and 86 RBI per 600 at-bats.

-- Jon Jay, OF, Cardinals (38.7 percent): He left Thursday's game with a shoulder sprain we can only assume won't hinder him next week. Jay is batting .349 with two homers, four RBI and two steals in 43 at-bats. In 785 career at-bats, he has scored 109 runs and has 16 homers, 68 RBI, 10 steals and a .301 average.

-- Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros (37.9 percent): His 2012 numbers won't get your attention (no homers, three RBI and one steal), but the 21-year-old was decent as a rookie in 2011 (.276 with seven steals in 221 at-bats) and was very productive in the minor leagues. In 1,466 at-bats down on the farm, Altuve hit a whopping .327 with mediocre power (30 homers) and excellent speed numbers (117 steals and 276 runs).

Previous waiver-wire picks

BATTERS: Zack Cozart (Week 1), Ryan Doumit (1), Raul Ibanez (1), Russell Martin (1), Cody Ross (1).

PITCHERS: Trevor Cahill (Week 1), Kyle Lohse (1), Jonathon Niese (1), Ivan Nova (1), Hector Santiago (1).

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Brian Wilson replacement options

"Will meet with Dr. James Andrews."

The six words you never want to read about a pitcher.

Brian Wilson -- he of the superhuman beard, memorable post-World Series championship interview and rifle of a right arm -- deserved better than this.

You can't help but like the Giants' closer, who likely is facing season-ending surgery because of structural damage in his elbow. But if you're a fantasy owner, you must put those feelings aside -- and people say we aren't tough -- and find a replacement via trade or the waiver wire.

If you are looking for saves, here are five possible options. All are available in more than half of the leagues on, and two are teammates of Wilson in San Francisco.

1. Hector Santiago, White Sox (owned in 44.4 percent of the ESPN leagues): If you're in a 12-team league or larger, it's likely too late to acquire Santiago, who was Manager Robin Ventura's unlikely choice to pitch the ninth inning. The former minor-league starter who had appeared in two career games in the big leagues prior to 2012 has four strikeouts and three saves in as many chances thus far. He's a must-start in category leagues and points leagues in which you have to play more than one reliever.

2. Henry Rodriguez, Nationals (4.1 percent): The reports say promising Washington closer Drew Storen had "minor surgery" on his elbow and could return before the All-Star break. I say any elbow surgery is scary, and Rodriguez is a very promising option moving forward. Thus far, Brad Lidge and Rodriguez have one save each, but I'd give the edge to the latter. The 25-year-old Rodriguez has three Ks in his last three appearances, a span in which he hasn't allowed a run in three innings, and he has struck out 113 batters in 100 2/3 innings in his career.

3. Alfedo Aceves, Red Sox (38.8 percent): He failed to record an out in his first two appearances of the season, leading many Sox fans to panic following a stretch in which Boston's choice to replace Jonathan Papelbon -- Andrew Bailey, who will miss at least two more months because of a thumb injury -- was already injured. In his last three appearances, however, Aceves has returned to his 2011 level. He has a pair of saves in three perfect innings, striking out four in the process. Last season, he had 80 Ks, a 2.61 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 114 innings.

4. Sergio Romo, Giants (9.1 percent): Manager Bruce Bochy has indicated he will take the closer-by-committee approach in replacing Wilson. He has two quality options in Romo and Santiago Casilla, though Romo -- who struck out 70 in 48 innings last season -- would seem to have the overpowering stuff managers prefer in their stoppers. Plus, like Wilson, he has a great beard. Romo has three career saves, but if he's the choice and doesn't have to share chances, he should be a must-start. Romo has averaged 10.7 Ks per nine innings in his career.

5. Santiago Casilla, Giants (1.9 percent): If Bochy goes the committee route, Casilla, who had six saves last season, is a decent selection in NL-only formats. Last season, the 31-year-old had a 1.74 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. He is a decent source of strikeouts (45 in 51 2/3 innings last season), but not as effective as Romo in that category.

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Monday, April 9, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Week 1 waiver-wire picks (pitchers)

If you're wondering why we're still referring to the fantasy baseball season as Week 1, even though Seattle and Oakland began the big-league campaign on March 28 in Japan, you can thank ESPN and every other major site that was hampered by Bud Selig's brilliant plan to have the A's and Mariners play in Tokyo a week before the rest of MLB started its season.

Week 1 in ESPN head-to-head leagues stretches from March 28 to April 15 -- 19 days (insert joke about the length of the Kim Kardashian-Kris Humphries marriage here). And the Worldwide Leader isn't alone in that forced-by-MLB ridiculousness.

Thus, we're still in Week 1.

And thus, we'll unveil our selections for the best pitchers on the waiver wire (click here for last week's breakdown of the best available batters). As we have explained, we pick players who are available in more than half of the leagues on, and we usually go much lower than that.

1. Ivan Nova, SP, Yankees (owned in 29.4 percent of the ESPN leagues): Nova, who makes his season debut Monday at Baltimore, was 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA in 2011, his first full big-league season. He isn't a huge attraction in fantasy because of his lack of strikeouts (98 in 165 1/3 innings last year and an average of 5.4 Ks per nine innings in two seasons), but if you need help in wins, he is a very good option. He shouldn't hurt you in ERA, either.

2. Kyle Lohse, SP, Cardinals (41.2 percent): He was great in his debut Wednesday, allowing one run on two hits and walking none against the Marlins. Like Nova, Lohse isn't much of an asset in the strikeout department (5.6 Ks per nine in his career). And like Nova, he can provide a boost in wins (14-8 last season and 15-6 in 2008) and likely ERA (3.39 in 2011). Lohse is scheduled to start Tuesday at Cincinnati.

3. Trevor Cahill, SP, Diamondbacks (11.6 percent): His low ownership percentage is baffling, even after a disappointing 2011 (12-14, 4.16 ERA) that resulted in Cahill being traded from the A's to the Diamondbacks. The move to the much more pitcher-friendly National League should be a productive one for Cahill, who was sensational in 2010, his second big-league season. That year, Cahill was 18-8 with a 2.97 ERA, was an All-Star and finished ninth in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award. He is also not a strikeout machine (Cahill had 147 Ks in 207 2/3 innings last season and only 118 in 196 2/3 innings during his All-Star campaign two years ago), but don't be surprised if Cahill becomes more of an asset in that department this season. In 247 1/3 innings in the minors, he was 23-9 with a 2.62 ERA and a very impressive norm of 9.9 Ks per nine innings. Cahill is slated to start Tuesday at the pitchers' haven that is Petco Park in San Diego.

4. Hector Santiago, RP, White Sox (4.0 percent): If you had this pitcher who appeared in two games in 2011 as a rookie and was a starter in the minors in 2011 as the most likely closer for the White Sox, congrats. You were among the very few. Santiago earned the save Saturday at Texas, throwing a perfect inning, and seems to be Manager Robin Ventura's choice to close -- for now. Don't get your hopes too high, though. Santiago had all of four saves in five years down on the farm, where he compiled a 3.65 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. He did record quality strikeout totals, however (9.6 Ks per nine innings).

5. Jonathon Niese, SP, Mets (15.7 percent): Niese earned the win Sunday against the Braves by allowing three earned runs on two hits and striking out seven. He likely will be inconsistent (he was 11-11 with a 4.40 ERA and 1.41 WHIP last season), but if your looking for strikeouts, he's a better option than Nova and Lohse. Niese averaged 7.8 Ks per nine innings in 2010 and '11.

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Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Week 1 waiver-wire picks (hitters)

Your drafts are over.

Hopefully you didn't attend one in person (yes, there are still some leagues that insist on drafting without a chat room) and witness That Guy Who Can't Seem To Keep Track of Who's Been Selected And Calls At Least Three Names Before He Gets To Someone Who's Available.

If you did, I felt your pain.

Anyway, let's get to our first waiver-wire picks of the season. As we did in football, players are selected who are owned in fewer than half of the leagues on, and we usually go much lower than 50 percent.

We'll start with the hitters and come back with the pitchers later in the week.

-- Russell Martin, C, Yankees (owned in 29.6 percent of the ESPN leagues): I realize he is a starting catcher in many leagues, which makes his low ownership percentage baffling. Regardless, Martin should be a considered a low-level regular in a 12-team mixed league after a 2011 in which he batted .237 with 18 homers, 65 RBI and eight steals. If Martin is available in your league, don't get too excited. He had only two quality months last season -- April (.292 with six homers and 19 RBI) and August (.286 with seven homers and 19 RBI). But the position he plays makes us devalue our definition of a fantasy regular.

-- Raul Ibanez, DH, Yankees (11.7 percent): Yes, he batted .245 in 2011, his lowest average since he hit .154 in 26 at-bats with the Mariners in 1997. But Ibanez did produce 20 homers and 84 RBI, and he's a dead-pull left-handed hitter playing in Yankee Stadium. That should help him get back some of the power he has lost the last two seasons (averages of 18 homers and 84 RBI, compared to norms of 28 and 108, respectively, from 2006 to '09). I wouldn't expect him to hit for a high average at age 39, but if you need power, Ibanez should be among the best of the available bats.

-- Ryan Doumit, C, Twins (3.1 percent): Chris Parmelee could be the Twins' regular first baseman, which would result in Justin Morneau switching to DH and could cut down on Doumit's playing time. I wouldn't worry too much, though, because Doumit can catch, play right field and fill in at DH, which should be enough for four starts or more per week. The reason he makes the cut here is you can play him at catcher, where his power (eight homers in 218 at-bats last season) is greater than his much more celebrated teammate (Joe Mauer). Doumit is a career .271 hitter who has norms of 20 homers and 81 RBI per 600 at-bats in the majors. In 2008, he looked like a future star (.318, 15 homers, 69 RBI, 71 runs and an .858 OPS in 431 at-bats). Now, he's a decent starting catcher in deep formats, and a must-start in AL-only leagues.

-- Zack Cozart, SS, Reds (7.6 percent): He batted .324 with two homers in 37 at-bats as a rookie, but what's much more impressive are Cozart's 2011 numbers in Triple-A -- a .310 average with seven homers, 32 RBI, nine steals and an .825 OPS in 323 at-bats. He was a second-round pick in 2012 and was ranked as baseball's No. 75 prospect by Baseball America entering the season. I wouldn't consider Cozart a starting shortstop in a 12-team mixed league, but he's a quality backup who could be a regular later in the season, and he should be a starter in NL-only formats.

-- Cody Ross, OF, Red Sox (11.2 percent): He will be the Red Sox's left fielder with Carl Crawford injured, and he should get plenty of at-bats in his first season in Boston. Ross batted .240 with decent power numbers with the Marlins in 2011 (14 homers and 52 RBI in 405 at-bats). In 2008 and '09, he averaged 23 homers and 82 RBI, and his 600 at-bat norms for his career are 25 homers and 91 RBI. He likely won't help you in batting average (.261 career), but Ross is a candidate to produce 20 homers and drive in at least 80 runs.

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