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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, May 23, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Start Jose Lopez while you can

If you're an Indians fan, you probably like the idea of Jose Lopez remaining in the starting lineup at third base.

Lopez provides some much-needed pop from the right side for the Tribe's lefty-leaning lineup. In 50 at-bats, he is batting .280 with two home runs, nine RBI and an .833 OPS.

If you play fantasy, you likely are hoping the Indians continue to play Lopez, who is a better option in our fake world than Jack Hannahan, who hasn't played since May 13 because of a back injury.

Hannahan, to his credit, is hitting .287 with three homers, 18 RBI and an .801 OPS in 101 at-bats. But you can't rely on him to help you much at the hot corner in fantasy, considering he's a .236 career hitter who has never had more than nine homers and 47 RBI in a season.

Lopez, however, does have a positive track record.

Yes, he was brutal last season with the Rockies and Marlins (a combined .216 average in 231 at-bats), and he wasn't much better in 2010 (.239 average, 10 homers and 58 RBI in 593 at-bats with the Mariners). In 2008 and '09, though, he averaged 21 homers and 93 RBI with Seattle. In 2008, he batted a career-best .297. The following season, he had career bests of 25 homers and 96 RBI.

If you compete in a daily AL-only league, I would continue to play Lopez until it's announced Hannahan is set to return. In weekly leagues, you can't make the move unless you know Hannahan will be out (say a trip to the disabled list).

In his last five games through Tuesday, Lopez has six RBI. He is riding an eight-game hitting streak in which he is batting .357.

It would seem to make sense for him to stay in the lineup. That likely won't be in left field, since Lopez has played the infield throughout his nine-year career.

The majority of Lopez's at-bats will have to come at third base, with some starts mixed in at first, second and DH.

Maybe the Tribe will figure out a way to play him five days a week. If they do, you should, too.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Fantasy baseball: David Ortiz and other difficult interleague decisions

I was amazed at how undervalued David Ortiz was in three of the drafts in which I participated prior to the season.

Maybe owners forget about him when they look over their rankings during the draft because the Red Sox designated hitter doesn't have another position.

Or maybe it's times such as these that scare most of you away.

Ortiz and the Red Sox will play three games at Philadelphia to close Week 6 of the fantasy season -- this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

That's three games in which Ortiz likely will be limited to pinch-hitting duties.

That's three games that could result in you benching a player who is batting .348 with seven homers, 25 RBI, 24 runs and a 1.026 OPS in 132 at-bats.

I wouldn't sit Ortiz unless you are loaded with utility options. The reason: The Red Sox play a pair of home games against Seattle, followed by two contests at Tampa Bay prior to the weekend, meaning Ortiz will still get four starts this week. Combine that with the likelihood he will get two or three at-bats in Philly as a pinch hitter, and Big Papi should, at worst, compile 18 to 20 at-bats this week.

If you go by Ortiz's season numbers, he would tally roughly seven hits, a homer, four RBI and four runs in 20 at-bats.

Start him.

Let's look at how the May 18-20 interleague schedule will impact other notable American League hitters:

-- Adam Dunn, White Sox: The White Sox play three games across town at Wrigley Field this weekend, likely meaning Dunn will play at least one game at first base. I would sit him because of his batting average (.250) and horrifying strikeout numbers (50 in 120 at-bats), but if you need power, you should keep playing Dunn. The big slugger has 11 homers and 26 RBI.

-- Kendrys Morales, Angels: He's been strictly a DH this season, and he's batted .313 in his comeback from a scary leg injury in 2010. The problem: Morales has mediocre-to-poor numbers everywhere else -- three homers, 11 RBI, 10 runs and a .791 OPS. Combined with the Angels' three games at San Diego's pitcher's haven (Petco Park), Morales is a risky play in most weekly leagues. Sit him.

-- Ryan Doumit, Twins: Doumit has played a combined 21 games at catcher and right field this season, so the Twins' weekend series at Milwaukee won't affect him as much as other part-time designated hitters. In deeper leagues, I'd keep him in my lineup at catcher. Doumit has four homers and 21 RBI on the season, and he's driven in nine runs in his last eight games.

-- Jesus Montero, Mariners: Seattle plays at Coors Field this weekend, which could limit Montero to about five games this week. But he's played enough at catcher (13 games) and provided sufficient pop (five homers and 17 RBI) to start him behind the plate in deep mixed leagues and AL-only formats.

-- Michael Young, Rangers: Don't even think twice. The Rangers will find a spot in their lineup for at least two of their three games at Houston for Young, who has played first, second and third base this season.

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Monday, May 7, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Is Bryce Harper a fantasy starter?

Maybe it's the hair.

Or the demeanor many interpret as cockiness.

Maybe it's just the fact that Bryce Harper has been labeled The Next Big Thing in baseball since he appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in June 2009 -- at age 16.

Whatever the reason, Cole Hamels -- who drilled Harper on the back in the first inning Sunday night -- is far from the only big-leaguer who would seem to like nothing better than to throw something at the Nationals' 19-year-old outfielder.

I might be in the minority, but I love watching Harper play.

If you need to know anything about his on-field demeanor, all you have to do is watch his reaction to getting plunked by Hamels on Sunday. He moved from first to third on a single, then stole home when Hamel attempted to pick off Jayson Werth at first base.

He's old-school. He plays so hard he seems out of place at times. He solicits emotional reactions like few others in his sport.

Bryce Harper is a lot of things.

But is he a must-start in fantasy?

For most rookies, especially in baseball, I would say no. With Harper, I would say yes.

In his first 26 at-bats in the big leagues, he is batting .308 with a .924 OPS. He has more walks (five) than strikeouts (four), and five of his eight hits are doubles.

He hasn't hit a homer, but the power will come.

In 459 at-bats in the minor leagues, Harper batted .290 with 18 homers, 61 RBI, 71 runs, 27 stolen bases and an .865 OPS. Keep in mind, 387 of those 459 at-bats were in 2011, when Harper was 18.

He can hit for average and power, and he could steal 20 bases as a rookie.

He's a starter.

Among other things.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Third base replacement options

The good news: The Nationals' Ryan Zimmerman hopes to return from the disabled list on Tuesday, and the Rangers' Adrian Beltre hopes to be back from a leg ailment on Friday.

The bad: Otherwise, it has been a brutal week for third basemen.

-- The Red Sox's Kevin Youkilis was placed on the disabled list with a back injury to start the week.

-- On Tuesday, it was announced Rays stud Evan Longoria would miss 6 to 8 weeks because of a partially torn hamstring.

-- Today, we learned the Giants' Pablo Sandoval will undergo surgery for a broken bone in his hand and likely will be sidelined 4 to 6 weeks.

What in the name of Chipper Jones is going on here?

If you're hurting for a third baseman, you might be encouraged by the depth of the position in the early going. Let's look at the best of the best on the waiver wire. All of the following options are available in more than 70 percent of the leagues on

1. Pedro Alvarez, Pirates (owned in 27 percent of the ESPN leagues): In his last nine games through Thursday, Alvarez has batted .424 with five home runs, 10 RBI and 10 runs scored in 33 at-bats. He has seven homers, 14 RBI and a .912 OPS on the year. He was effective as a rookie in 2010, when he had 16 homers and 64 RBI in 347 at-bats. Last year, however, he was brutal -- a .191 average with 80 strikeouts in 235 at-bats. If you play in a points league in which you lose a point for a strikeout, Alvarez can be a dangerous start during weeks in which he's not racking up the homers. He has 24 Ks in 70 at-bats this season.

2. Will Middlebrooks, Red Sox (3.3 percent): He had two hits and a steal in his debut Wednesday. Middlebrooks should be a quality short-term fix, since he likely will head back to Triple-A once Youkilis returns. He played at all three levels of the minor leagues in 2011 and hit a combined .285 with 23 homers, 94 RBI and 10 steals in 439 at-bats. Prior to his call-up this year, Middlebrooks was batting .333 with nine homers, 27 RBI and a 1.057 OPS in 93 at-bats in Triple-A.

3. Jed Lowrie, Astros (26.5 percent): OK, he's a shortstop, not a third baseman. But ESPN and other popular sites allow you play Lowrie at third, so take advantage of it. He's hitting .329 with 11 runs, three homers, nine RBI and a .927 OPS in 70 at-bats. He has decent pop (22 homers, 126 RBI and 121 runs in 878 career at-bats), but don't expect him to continue batting better than .300. Lowrie is a career .259 hitter.

4. Chipper Jones, Braves (36.6 percent): The oft-injured 40-year-old is hitting .273 with four homers and 14 RBI. Sure, he'll get hurt again. He's not going to come close to his .304 career average (Jones has batted .264, .265 and .275 the last three seasons). But he still provides some pop, which often is necessary from a corner infielder. 

5. Robert Andino, Orioles (26.4 percent): He's a second baseman who, like Lowrie, is eligible at third. Andino is off to a hot start -- a .342 average with an .831 OPS -- that doesn't mesh with his career norms (.253 average and .650 OPS). He won't help you in the power departments (Andino has one homer and seven RBI this season), but he can be an asset in steals, though that hasn't been the case yet this season. Andino stole 13 bases last season, but is just 0-for-1 in steal attempts in 2012.

Possibilities for deeper leagues

1. Chris Johnson, Astros (2.4 percent): His numbers are somewhat deceiving, since both of his homers and six of his 14 RBI came in one game -- Wednesday against the Mets. But Johnson does have an .807 OPS, and he was effective in 2010, when he batted .308 with 11 homers and 52 RBI in 341 at-bats. Last season, he was terrible (.251, .669 OPS, 97 Ks in 378 at-bats), and he strikes out too much (24 Ks in 90 at-bats this season). But if you're desperate, you could do a lot worse.

2. Matt Carpenter, Cardinals (7.2 percent): He's primarily a first baseman, but you should be able to play him at third. Carpenter is batting .279 with one homer, 14 RBI and an .823 OPS in 68 at-bats as a rookie. In the minors, he did it all -- a .300 average, 27 homers, 161 RBI, 19 steals and an .859 OPS in 1,180 at-bats.

3. Jack Hannahan, Indians (7.3 percent): He's been great in the clutch, going 8-for-13 with one homer and 12 RBI with two outs and runners in scoring position thus far. Aside from that, Supermannahan has been pretty mediocre -- with no other homers and three other RBI on the year. He's also a .234 career hitter.

4. Alex Liddi, Mariners (1.9 percent): He's a more dangerous play than the others on this list because the Mariners are deep at third with Liddi and Kyle Seager. But Liddi has been getting regular at-bats of late, and he's hitting .295 with two homers, five RBI, one steal and an .809 OPS in 44 at-bats. Two causes for concern: Liddi batted only .259 and struck out 170 times in Triple-A in 2011. But he was very good in three other categories -- 121 runs, 30 homers and 104 RBI -- last season.

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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Johnny Damon analysis

If you're tired of seeing Shelley Duncan bat .230 with a strikeout every 2.8 at-bats, the arrival of Johnny Damon to the Indians on Tuesday is welcome news.

If you're hoping for a significant boost to your fantasy baseball outfield, you likely will be disappointed.

Yes, Damon was productive with the Rays last season, batting .261 with 79 runs, 16 homers, 73 RBI and 19 steals.

However, he won't help you much in the power department -- he had a combined 24 homers in 1,121 at-bats in 2010 and '11, and his stolen-base total likely will be down significantly from a few seasons ago.

Damon hit 24 homers in 2009, a number that is deceiving because 17 were at Yankee Stadium, where he could take advantage of the short porch in right field. In the two seasons since, he averaged 12 homers, 62 RBI, 15 steals and 80 runs, and he batted .266 -- 20 points below his career norm.

In the last three seasons, Damon has averaged 17 steals -- down 10 from his three-year norm from 2006-08.

Even worse, in 75 at-bats at Progressive Field from 2007 to '11, he had zero homers and five RBI. In that span, he scored 12 runs, stole three bases and hit .293.

It's to be expected that Damon's numbers will be down across the board at age 38. But if he's not going to be a decent help in steals and batting average, he's not worth playing in almost any format.

Then there's the likelihood he will be in a left-field platoon with Duncan, with Damon getting the majority of the at-bats against right-handers, and we're left with little hope for fantasy success.

If you're desperate in an AL-only league, Damon could be a decent choice if he keeps his average in the .280 range and steals at least 15 bases.

In mixed leagues, you should keep him on your bench.

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