Bringin’ the Noise: Reborn by the Bay

Giants backers and resentful fantasy owners could list $126 million reasons why Barry Zito(notes) is a statistical abomination.

Since crossing the Bay in 2007, the yoga-practicing beatnik has contributed more to music scenes, Castro District walls and lascivious Twitter pages than to virtual rosters. Over the past two seasons, he’s accumulated a line the fantasy equivalent of waterboarding – 10.5 wins, 4.84 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 4.43 BB/9 and 6.01 K/9. Per Baseball Monster, that’s Sidney Ponson(notes) territory, a place where no Aruban judge, burrito or WHIP-deprived owner feels safe.

But since late-April, the San Francisco southpaw has partially recaptured the form that once made him the American League’s most feared pitcher. Even Giants fans, who’ve regularly hurled verbal epithets in his general direction, have showered the southpaw in “Barry!” adulation.


Surrendering only three earned runs in his past 20.1 innings, Zito’s future destiny judging mental train-wrecks on “America’s Next Top Model” may have to wait (TrueReligionJeans.com)
The cheers are surprisingly deserved. Though still winless on the year, the resurrected hurler has tallied a microscopic 1.34 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in his past three outings, his longest consecutive quality starts streak since September 2007. Clint Hurdle, whose Rockies team was blanked by Zito over seven innings May 3, believes the cumbersome starter has found a rhythm:

“I think if you look back to the second half of last season you’ll see that Barry has been sharp. He’s got things in place. He still has the big sharp hook and a very good changeup. There weren’t many opportunities for us against him.”

Why the sudden turnaround?

This past offseason, the 30-year-old conditioned his body and mind in an attempt to regain velocity and focus. The results have been remarkably un-Zito-like. Once equipped with the most pedestrian fastball in the league, he’s now topping out consistently in the 87-90 mph range, deceptively fast when matched with his filthy 12-to-6 snapper, slider and change. Former teammate Barry Bonds(notes), who is still seeking employment (Shocking!) remarked to Jon Miller last week on KNBRthat he believes Zito has discovered his inner Mad Dog:

“He’s using both sides of the plate better, and he’s getting his three main pitches (over the plate). … If Zito stays like this, just like with Greg Maddux(notes), you don’t have to be a power pitcher, you just have to be a smart pitcher.”

Most would question any words that spew from Bonds’ mouth, but, based on Zito’s sabermetrics profile, the home run king’s scouting report isn’t fallacious. Last season, Zito’s combination of unsightly walks (5.10 BB/9) and hard hits (23.9 LD%) caused his ERA and WHIP numbers to balloon. But this year, he has placed more emphasis on his off-speed stuff to sharpen his control (3.07 BB/9). The approach has actually drawn more contact, but also more groundballs, evident in his marked GB/FB rise (’08: 0.90, ’09: 1.25). If he can maintain tactical consistency, it’s not unfathomable the three-time All-Star could earn Comeback Player of the Year honors.

Run support will be an ongoing issue (1.86 RS/9), but if his current trends stabilize, he will be a reputable No. 4 or 5 starter, similar to a Mark Buehrle(notes) or Jair Jurrjens(notes), in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues. Of course, given his recent track-record, it’s wise to remain cautiously optimistic.

Zito may still be the game’s most overpaid pitcher, but for owners with disdainful memories, the 19-percent owned hurler might finally be worth more than a buck.

Fearless Forecast: 180 IP, 9 W, 4.08 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 121 K

Here are this week’s flames, lames and stars of video games:

Fantasy Flames
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Russell Branyan SEA 1B, 3B 51 73
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Finally getting regular playing time, Branyan was one of the primary reasons why Seattle was one of April's most surprising squads. No longer feeling "pressed" as a part-timer, Branyan has thrived. The historically prolific whiffer has batted an astonishing .321 with seven homers, 15 RBIs and 18 runs. A classic aggressive fly-ball hitter (0.65 GB/FB in '09), he's placed an uncharacteristically high amount of wood on the ball, indicative in his 75.2 contact percentage (career 61.8). Despite the positives, the slugging first-baseman should be shopped around. His 30-plus homer pop is legitimate, but his Dave Kingman-like approach will inevitably drive his average down into .250 territory.
Fearless Forecast: 535 at-bats, .254 BA, 31 HR, 91 RBI, 85 R, 2 SB
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Todd Helton(notes) COL 1B 148 41
Market Value: Strong BA/RBI Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: The chances of a downward-trending player in his mid-30s recuperating quickly from offseason back surgery are rather unfavorable. However, the 35-year-old Helton has overcome adverse odds to post sterling numbers. Though no longer the 30-plus homer muscle man of his heyday, the veteran infielder still packs a powerful RBI and BA punch. Batting a sensational .341 on the season, including six multi-hit games in his past seven, he's on pace to surpass the century mark in RBIs. Because he's pounding the turf more ('09 GB%: 47.3, career: 35.3) and still showcasing excellent contact totals (87.0 CT%), he will continue to be a valuable three-cat source in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues. Essentially, he's a more trustworthy Derrek Lee(notes).
Fearless Forecast: 535 at-bats, .318 BA, 13 HR, 96 RBI, 74 R, 1 SB
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Michael Bourn(notes) HOU OF 103 41
Market Value: Strong SB Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Houston's Usain Bolt has quietly amassed quality numbers through the first month-plus of the season. Working tirelessly with hitting coach Sean Berry this spring, the once-erratic outfielder has exuded more consistency, slapping pitches routinely to the opposite field, a quality he struggled with a year ago. Keener eyed ('08 BB%: 7.3, '09: 9.7) and more contact heavy ('08 CT%: 79.7, '09: 81.5), he should total an average above .280 if the current trends persist. Even better news, the rise in OBP will provide more base-swiping opportunities. On pace to steal almost 50 bags, he'll be one of fantasy's most valued burglars. It's time to invest in the new and improved Bourn.
Fearless Forecast: 550 at-bats, .282 BA, 3 HR, 53 RBI, 95 R, 46 SB
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Elvis Andrus(notes) TEX SS 594 28
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: A fantasy "Hound Dog" of sorts in April, Andrus gets a value boost due to a promotion from ninth to second in Texas' ultra-productive order. Because of his advanced bunting and speed skills, the shortstop will likely remain entrenched in that spot over the foreseeable future. Last season, batting primarily leadoff for Double-A Frisco, he swiped a juicy 54 bags. If he can show more patience (4.0 BB%), 30 steals and 90 runs are achievable. Although he's made laudable contact (84.4 CT%), his BA will likely hover around .270. Still the two-cat upside is inescapable, especially batting behind white-hot Ian Kinsler(notes).
Fearless Forecast: 490 at-bats, 271 BA, 4 HR, 34 RBI, 96 R, 27 SB
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Adam Rosales(notes) CIN 3B 980 2
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: With Edwin Encarnacion(notes) on the sidelines for the next several weeks, the 25-year-old Rosales immediately becomes a player of interest in deeper leagues. Prior to his promotion, the hot corner collected a scorching .431 BA with four homers and 15 RBIs in 65 Triple-A at-bats. A max effort guy, Rosales has earned praise from Dusty Baker for his enthusiasm and high energy. Right now, the Reds skipper wants Rosales to "marinate" in a tangy teriyaki sauce at the bottom of the order before moving him up the lineup. Recording a hit in four of his first six games, the rookie may force his way into the two-hole sooner rather than later. Equipped with double-digit pop, adequate wheels and a sharp eye, the youngster is a serviceable CI stopgap in deeper leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 286 at-bats, .273 BA, 4 HR, 27 RBI, 22 R, 2 SB
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Joel Pineiro(notes) STL SP 249 25
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Pineiro's remarkable contributions are proof Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan possesses magical powers incomprehensible to mortal humans. Now in his third season with the Redbirds, the former 16-game winner has taken on a more cerebral approach. No longer the 150-strikeout pitcher he once was with the Mariners, the righty has relied more on his 87-90 mph sinker to draw weak contact. Thanks to his substantial increase in groundball percentage ('08: 48.5, '09: 56.5), the results have been fruitful. His 2.70 K/9 is appalling, but with strong peripherals, burgeoning confidence and a supportive offense, the 30-year-old should continue to be a dependable wins and ERA source.
Fearless Forecast: 190 IP, 14 W, 3.98 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 83 K
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Brian Bannister(notes) KC SP 174 31
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all formats)
Lowdown: Brian, the son of Brandon Funston's cherished childhood hero Floyd Bannister, has crawled out from under the minor league rock to post eye-catching numbers for the surging Royals. A contact heavy pitcher similar to Pittsburgh's Zach Duke(notes), Bannister has shelved his slider and featured his high-80s sinker more prevalently in an attempt to induce more grounders. So far, the tweaked method has worked, evident in his groundball percentage gain ('08: 37.8, '09: 41.9). Still his 4.91 BB/9 and very fortunate .212 BABIP are indications a correction could be near. Look for his ERA to rise rapidly soon.
Fearless Forecast: 150 IP, 9 W, 4.68 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 69 K
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Juan Gutierrez(notes) ARI RP 167 2
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Hidden behind a saguaro cactus, Bob Melvin's hard-throwing reliever has compiled enticing numbers in the desert. Arizona's seventh-inning specialist has totaled a very useful 12.00 K/9 in 15 innings. Energetic and aggressive, the converted starter, who was once a touted prospect in the Astros organization, has one of the more varied arsenals for a reliever in the game – 93-97 mph fastball, slider, curve and change. His control can be elusive at times, but his blazing heater outmatches most opponents. On pace 90 innings and 100-plus punchouts, he could be this year's Hong-Chih Kuo(notes).
Fearless Forecast: 84 IP, 4 W, 3.34 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 101 K

Fantasy Lames
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Matt Holliday(notes) OAK OF 603 98
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Despite his atrocious April, Oakland's unfriendly atmosphere and the questionable bats around him, Holliday is the ultimate buy low commodity. With owner confidence in the former five-cat stud waning, now is the time to steal him away at a discounted rate. Earlier this week, a scout commented to the San Francisco Chronicle that Holliday's revamped batting stance and renewed comfort has the Bay basher on the brink of a breakout. With three homers and six RBIs in his past six contests, the resurgence may already be underway. The popular early round pick, dished this week for Felix Hernandez(notes), Cole Hamels(notes) and Bobby Abreu(notes) in one-for-one Y! Plus league swaps, is someone to acquire immediately before he rediscovers his mojo.
Fearless Forecast: 550 at-bats, .292 BA, 24 HR, 107 RBI, 84 R, 9 SB
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Mark Teixeira(notes) NYY 1B 281 98
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: The Yahoo! Cover Athlete curse strikes again. The fantasy hex, which has previously claimed Johnny Damon(notes), Andruw Jones(notes) and Jimmy Rollins(notes) as victims, has handcuffed one of fantasy's most dependable mashers. Although he's on pace for his usual 30-plus homers, Teixeira has remained south of the Mendoza line for much of the season, an outcome he recently called "embarrassing." For those familiar with his previous work, his snail start is far from unusual. Over his storied career, the one-bagger has totaled an unappealing .252 BA in April. The expected return of Selena Roberts' golden goose will undoubtedly boost the slumping slugger's confidence, and his overall fantasy worth. Teixeira, shipped this week for B.J. Upton(notes), Nate McLouth(notes) and Jimmy Rollins in one-for-one Y! Plus league deals, is about to have a monster May.
Fearless Forecast: 570 at-bats, .293 BA, 35 HR, 118 RBI, 101 R, 1 SB
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Conor Jackson(notes) ARI 1B, OF 643 51
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Unable to muster consistent returns at the dish, the D-Back infielder has poisoned rosters. A mere 17-for-87 on the season, Jackson has forced many owners to terminate his services. Interestingly, his peripherals resume is consistent with previous seasons, which means a U-turn could be coming soon. He may never develop into the perennial 25-homer producer many pundits pegged him for three years ago, but his terrific contact rates (90.1 CT% in '09) suggest another .280-plus BA should be expected. Plus, his steals haul could be impressive if he continues to be aggressive on the basepaths (5 SBs in '09). A Lo-Jack revival is imminent.
Fearless Forecast: 525 at-bats, .288 BA, 14 HR, 82 RBI, 68 R, 17 SB
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Coco Crisp(notes) KC OF 160 44
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Crisp has been anything but the fantasy breakfast of champions. But despite the sorrowful batting average and disappointing steals production, the Noise remains cuckoo for Coco. On pace to shatter Kevin Seitzer's single-season franchise runs record, the centerfielder has provided plenty of punch in arguably the most overlooked category in fantasy. Last season, only 14 outfielders reached the century mark in runs. Because of his turf-pounding ways (1.41 GB/FB), increased patience (17.1 BB%) and fleet feet, eventually his average will ascend to around .275. Toss in his ability to smack 10-15 homers and swipe 20-25 bags, and the KC commodity is one of the better clearance rack items on the market. Available in a majority of Y! Plus leagues and attracting names such as J.D. Drew(notes), Troy Percival(notes) and Pat Burrell(notes) in recent one-for-one trades, he'll continue to be an underappreciated fourth outfielder in deeper formats.
Fearless Forecast: 600 at-bats, .271 BA, 11 HR, 64 RBI, 109 R, 22 SB
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Russell Martin(notes) LAD C, 3B 670 98
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Per True Blue LA, Martin could be carving out a Jason Kendall(notes)-like career path. For owners forever scarred by Kendall, that's a frightening prospect. Mired in a 20-for-90 slide, the Dodgers backstop has registered just four extra-base hits, none of them long-balls. In an attempt to bust out of his current funk, the maligned catcher has tried to shorten his stride. Joe Torre believes he's swinging too hard. Whatever the reason for his shortcomings, Martin's unattractive 2.24 GB/FB ratio and marked increase in strikeouts (24.4 K%) must be remedied for a turnaround to occur. His numbers will eventually improve, but he easily could finish well outside the top-five at his position.
Fearless Forecast: 500 at-bats, .273 BA, 10 HR, 68 RBI, 70 R, 12 SB
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Scott Kazmir(notes) TB SP 893 98
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: If Kazmir borrowed Joe Maddon's specs, he would be Tampa's version of Ricky Vaughn. Frustrated by his lack of control, the southpaw has been uncomfortably wild this season. In six starts, he's issued 4.91 walks per nine. More disturbing, his velocity has slowed significantly from a year ago. Popping the glove between 91-93 mph in '08, his average heater speed is registering just below 90 this season. Because of his unappealing long-ball history ('08 HR/9: 1.36, '09: 1.09), decreased speed and untamed command, the folks at Fangraphs believe he's unfixable. Even worse a prolonged DL stint could be on the horizon. Deal him before an inevitable visit with Dr. Death (James Andrews) is scheduled.
Fearless Forecast: 145 IP, 11 W, 4.95 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 122 K
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Armando Galarraga(notes) DET SP 202 95
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: The Tigers' righty, who was one of the game's luckiest hurlers a season ago, has roared out of the gates, emerging victorious in three of five starts. His sharp increase in K/9 ('08: 6.35, '09: 7.98) and current 1.20 GB/FB ratio are admirable traits. However, his 4.30 BB/9, 22.4 line-drive rate and historical susceptibility to gopheritis (1.41 HR/9) are unenviable characteristics. Although his remaining saber profile is commendable, Galarraga is a strong sell high candidate. Eventually, his ERA will stabilize in the 4.25-4.50 range. The 27-year-old, who has attracted such prestigious names as Chone Figgins(notes), Josh Beckett(notes) and Francisco Rodriguez(notes) in one-for-one Y! Plus deals this week, is a pitcher profit seekers should advertise.
Fearless Forecast: 185 IP, 12 W, 4.34 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 142 K
PLAYERTEAMPOSY!RKY!%
Brett Myers(notes) PHI SP 1160 87
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Despite an ERA over 5.00, Myers has surprisingly been the World Champs' best starter, reaching six innings in five of his six outings. However, his unhealthy combination of high walks (3.65 BB/9) and home runs (2.43 HR/9) suggest he's been rather fortunate. His field independent pitching return, which measures events he exclusively controls, says his ERA should be north of 6.00. The righty's 1.29 GB/FB ratio is a positive sign, but his vulnerability to bleacher shots labels him overvalued. Myers, swapped this week for Ryan Franklin(notes), Marco Scutaro(notes) and Mike Aviles(notes) in one-for-one Plus league deals, is a WHIP headache to pawn off on someone else.
Fearless Forecast: 192 IP, 10 W, 4.78 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 161 K

Stats and analysis for games played through May 5.

CRUZ COUNTER
To remind colleagues Jeff Passan and Mark Pesavento of the $50 donation they’ll be contributing to the Noise’s imported beer fund, Nelson Cruz’s(notes) long-ball tally will be noted each week. Remember, the original bet was over/under 25 homers.

Caribbean Cruz connections since last week: 1
Season total: 7
Moonshots to the money: 19

Brad "The Big Noise" Evans has obsessed about his fantasy teams since the days when Jeff George had value. Yahoo! Sports fantasy’s resident baseball, football and bracketology expert, Brad also lends advice on the two-time Emmy-nominated webcast "Fantasy Football Live" each NFL Sunday.
Follow him on Twitter. Send Brad a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, May 7, 2009