Bringin’ the Noise: Slump busters

From SoCal to SoFla superstitious major leaguers, both real and fictional, have devised creative ways to combat epic dry spells.

Pedro Cerrano’s ritual consisted of appeasing Jobu with finely rolled cigars and Caribbean rum. Ozzie Guillen’s team-wide solution was to display inflatable love buddies in the White Sox locker room. While Jason Giambi’s remedy entails donning a golden cucumber canopy to cure the woeful 0-fers.

Each player may swear by his own magical succor to buck downward trends, but, as several big leaguers would attest, there’s only one true “slump buster:” engaging in salacious relations with an unsightly member of the opposite sex.

For Alex Rios owners, they better hope their star outfielder accidentally bumps into Courtney Love soon.

At 27, historically a supernatural age for many ultra-talented players, the popular third-round choice (ADP: 34.6) was destined to have owners dancing on the sand. Instead, those who sank several dimes into him back in March have drowned in his powerless mediocrity.

The first two months of the season weren’t supposed to go this way for Rios. He entered the 2008 season coming off a breakout ’07 where he finished 13th among outfielders and 35th overall in Y! Fantasy. Many, including yours truly, pegged the two-time All-Star to take a major step forward in production.

Unfortunately, that step has only occurred on the basepaths.

Currently mired in a 27-for-115 (.234 BA) nosedive, Rios has lopped 52 points off his batting average since May 1. More worrisome, his sluggish power pace (9 HR, 69 RBI) and unsettling strikeout rate (’07 K%: 16.0, ’08: 23.5) have raised concerns about his plate patience. But, as John Gibbons told the Vancouver Sun May 21, his troubles have more to do with conservative selectivity than, as his strikeout spike would imply, overt aggressiveness, “We think he’s taking a lot of pitches out over the plate that he can do some damage on.”

With his current 1.31 GB/FB rate heading in the opposite direction than ’06 (0.88) and ’07 (0.81) and his pitches per at-bat average on the rise (’07: 4.0/, ’08: 4.5), it’s clear that the Toronto outfielder has chased unfavorable pitches deep in counts instead of attacking fatter balls earlier.

But that’s all about to change.

Yes, unless table-setters Shannon Stewart (.337 OBP) and Aaron Hill (.314) get on base with more regularity, Rios’ end-season RBI total will underwhelm. However, his robust contact percentage (82.6%), .338 BABIP and 11 hits in his past 31 at-bats arrows to an imminent BA and, presumably, long-ball turnaround. Eventually his homer stroke will return and given his more assertive base stealing tactics (33 SB pace), he’ll finish with an end-season line around, .300 BA, 21 HR, 81 RBI, 87 R and 27 SB. That would be a very fruitful outcome. Remember, only four outfielders slammed 20 homers and swiped 25 bags last season.

Rios, swapped straight up for Kevin Youkilis, Connor Jackson, Pat Burrell and Brandon Lyon in Y! Plus league solo deals this week, is an elite multi-categorical commodity that should be sought after pronto before the discount rate expires.

That is if Rios canoodles with Rock’s queen of unclean.

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

Fantasy Flames
PlayerTeamPosY!RKY!%
Jay Bruce OF 1150 20.2
’08 Stats: 4-for-6, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 SB, 0:4 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Jay “The Boss” Bruce is officially bigger than Jesus. Serenaded by a chorus of “BRUUUUUUCE!” chants from the Reds faithful on Tuesday, it seemed that Springsteen, not a 21-year-old rookie phenom, was ready to rock the Great American Ballpark. But, in vintage “Boss” style, the Reds’ Bruce “Proved it All Night.” Hitting out of the two-hole, the flexin’ Texan went a perfect 3-for-3, collecting two RBIs, two runs, a stolen base and two walks. Per Elias, Bruce became only the fourth player in the past 50 years – Kaz Matsui (2004), Ted Cox (1977) and John Pacioreck (1963) the others – to reach base five times in his inaugural game. Although he’s unquestionably the best homegrown Reds product since Barry Larkin and possesses the skills to be a 20-15 player this season, the uber-prospect is someone to shop. The incessant hype created by the Y! staff coupled with Bruce’s initial efforts, has artificially inflated his overall value. Overshadowed by his gaudy exterior numbers at Louisville (.364 BA, 10 HR, 34 RBI, 37 R, 8 SB in 67 at-bats), Bruce posted a lopsided 45:12 K:BB split (24.5 K%, 6.1 BB%). That aggressiveness implies two things: 1) He will hit at least 15 homers this season and 2) Anticipate one or two enduring slumps. Remember, he’s not going to face Ian Snell and Tom Gorzelanny every night. Next to Geovany Soto, Bruce will be fantasy’s most productive rookie slugger, but for owners in yearly leagues the time to cash in on the mania is now. Over the past 48 hours, Bruce has been traded for Clayton Kershaw, Jeff Francoeur and Brian Roberts in one-for-one Y! Plus league swaps.
Fearless Forecast: 425 at-bats, .284 BA, 19 HR, 76 RBI, 78 R, 12 SB
Ryan Spilborghs OF 268 0.19
’08 Stats: .306 BA, 3 HR, 22 RBI, 16 R, 3 SB, 12:16 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: “Toxic” Spilborghs, known more for his seed-spitting technique than his fantasy contribution, will be statistically lethal for at least the next two weeks. With Matt Holliday shelved, the former UCSB Gaucho has been potent toggling between the four and five spots. In his first three games in those slots, he recorded five hits, launched two homers and knocked in five over 12 at-bats. The cornucopia of Colorado injuries has crippled Clint Hurdle’s lineup, but Spilborghs has the tools to be a reputable source of BA and power numbers short-term. Toxic’s improved pitch recognition (’07 BB%: 9.6, ’08: 14.0) is instrumental in why he’s driven the ball with more authority this season. His groundball-skewed 2.48 GB/FB ratio (59.1 GB%) is unusual for a player with double-digit pop, but his independence from upper-cut swings does suggest he can maintain a .290-plus BA. Even when Holliday and Brad Hawpe return, it’s possible Spilborghs could remain a fixture in right if Hawpe’s dreadful bat doesn’t recharge. Plus, with both presumably on the trade block, he could earn everyday play by late-July. If you need an offensive boost in your 12-team mixed league outfield, Spilborghs is capable of doing plenty of damage.
Fearless Forecast (Next 12 games): 50 at-bats, .345 BA, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 6 R, 0 SB
Andre Ethier OF 188 16.6
’08 Stats: .307 BA, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 25 R, 2 SB, 25:17 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: The smooth-swinging lefty, whose sun-fielding tutorial Alfonso Soriano could learn from, has scorched since $36 million eyesore Andruw Jones went under the knife. In his past nine contests, Ethier has collected five multi-hit games, raising his batting average 16 points to a sterling .307. Given his sparkling 85.1 contact percentage, otherworldly 24.0 LD% and natural pole-to-pole stroke, the former Sun Devil will continue to be a lucrative batting average source through the All-Star break. Because he’s more Mark Grace than Mark McGwire, Ethier will likely never surpass 20 homers, but his consistency at the dish should eventually yield gainful run totals once Jeff Kent returns from back spasms. Frankly, the 25-year-old is statistically comparable to Kosuke Fukudome but at a fraction of the cost.
Fearless Forecast: 525 at-bats, .311 BA, 15 HR, 69 RBI, 85 R, 6 SB
Jesse Litsch SP 156 18.8
’08 Stats: 58.0 IP, 6 W, 3.57 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 34:8 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Toronto’s Prince of Pale, who must have been separated at birth from Texas’ Chris Shelton, has blinded opponents with his vivid whiteness and pinpoint precision. An intelligent, cerebral pitcher, Litsch is exactly how John Gibbons recently described him, “a kid who throws strikes … uses the guys behind him.” Compared to last season, the crafty righty has leaned more on his slider to draw weaker contact. That pitch, coupled with his descending 87-90 mph fastball, has generated numerous groundball outs (48.7 GB%) and limited his number of free passes (1.24 BB/9). Homers have plagued him at times (1.40 HR/9) but because he issues few walks, they’ve haven’t dramatically ballooned his ERA. With plenty of run support (4.97 RS/9) he easily could accumulate 14-17 wins. He’s more than a matchup-exclusive pitcher in 12-team mixed leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 165 IP, 15 W, 3.86 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 101 K
Jason Bergmann SP 324 3.1
’08 Stats: 32.0 IP, 1 W, 4.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 34:8 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Moderate Sell (NL-only)
Lowdown: Since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus on May 14, the Nationals hurler has stormed the Mall. In his past three starts, Bergmann has not surrendered a run in 19.2 IP, compiling a dynamite 22:6 K:BB split and 0.94 WHIP over that span. The reason for his dramatic resurgence is between the ears. The 26-year-old’s confidence in his curveball has soared, which has pushed his K/9 total (9.56) skyward. Manny Acta told the Washington Post this week that Bergmann’s always “had the stuff. It’s a matter of being consistent.” Despite the positives, the four-year vet is someone to showcase in NL-only formats. His alarming 63.0 FB% in his past three starts and his 1.41 HR/9 mark on the season are disconcerting. Mixed leaguers, comfortably hop aboard the Bergmann train short-term if you’re in the market for Ks, but expect a derailment to occur sometime in June.
Fearless Forecast: 140 IP, 8 W, 4.08 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 129 K

Fantasy Lames
PlayerTeamPosY!RKY!%
Paul Konerko 1B 691 78.6
’08 Stats: .206 BA, 5 HR, 23 RBI, 18 R, 1 SB, 33:27 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Konerko’s lack of fantasy production is more appalling than Carlos Guillen’s sphincter gremlins. On second thought, maybe not. Virtually destitute for much of May, the Sox first baseman has been bothered by a barely tolerable right thumb injury. The pain has been so overwhelming Konerko has even had difficulties tying his shoes. Undoubtedly, the setback explains why his contact percentage has tumbled (’07: 83.4, ’08: 77.1) and GB/FB numbers have skyrocketed (’07: ‘0.85, ’08: 1.31). Because hand injuries can linger, Konerko is expendable in shallow mixed leagues. Those in deeper formats may want to muster whatever you can out of him before the market bottoms out. Even if he were to fully recover, at 32 he’s on the backside of his power prime. In one-for-one Y! Plus league trades this week, Konerko was dealt for Brian Wilson, Rickie Weeks and David Murphy.
Fearless Forecast: 540 at-bats, .248 BA, 21 HR, 81 RBI, 68 R, 2 SB
Victor Martinez C, 1B 749 99.9
’08 Stats: .302 BA, 0 HR, 18 RBI, 11 R, 0 SB, 17:10 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: So far this season, V-Mart has kicked empty sunflower seed buckets with more vigor than his bat has hit baseballs. Martinez’s mysterious power spiral is puzzling. He did suffer a minor finger injury last week, but he wasn’t even close to a homer prior to the incident. Based on the peripheral stats, the only reasonable conclusion is that he’s not trying to swing for the fences. Evident in his rise in LD% (’07: 20.1, ’08: 25.9), spike in GB% (’07: 41.6, ’08: 47.6) and drop in FB% (’07: 38.2, ’08: 26.1), V-Mart has essentially become Juan Pierre with a mask, minus the steals of course. That’s great news for batting average enthusiasts, but for those who invested a third-round pick in him, expecting 30 homers, it’s very disappointing. This is why the Noise preached ad nauseam in February that it’s too risky to draft a catcher in the early rounds. Just think, current V-Mart owners could have waited 8-10 rounds and selected Geovany Soto instead. Inevitably, the long-balls will come, but if the current trend persists, 15 homers could be a stretch. Because the Martinez market is still bullish – he was traded for Rios, Derek Jeter and George Sherrill in one-for-one Plus league deals this week – frustrated supporters should seek out a sizable return.
Fearless Forecast: 550 at-bats, .309 BA, 11 HR, 74 RBI, 58 R, 0 SB
James Loney 1B 177 90.7
’08 Stats: .272 BA, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 23 R, 2 SB, 31:16 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Loney’s chances of surpassing 20 homers are equal to Jose Canseco’s odds of defeating Vai Sikahema. Embroiled in a 2-for-22 slide since May 23, the popular mid-round pick has shaved 23 points off his batting average. Much of the 24-year-old’s problems can be pinned on his apparent distaste for travel. Under the friendly SoCal skies, Loney is hitting .340. Meanwhile, in enemy territory he’s batting a lowly .208. He is striking out slightly more than a year ago (’07 K%: 14.0, ’08: 15.8), but there are no glaring outliers present in his peripheral stats that project a prolonged drought. Because he makes plenty of contact (87.8 CT%) and possesses a quality line-drive swing (career 18.9 LD%), his current funk will be brief. But owners in daily transaction leagues might want to keep him benched for the Dodgers upcoming series in New York this weekend. Frugal owners searching for a BA and RBI upgrade at CI should attempt to purchase Loney at a discount.
Fearless Forecast: 590 at-bats, .296 BA, 16 HR, 92 RBI, 75 R, 6 SB
Daisuke Matsuzaka SP 72 99.9
’08 Stats: 64.0 IP, 8 W, 2.53 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 55:38 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Dice-BB has become the Shamu of WHIP whales. Matsuzaka, who left Tuesday’s game with right shoulder fatigue, is expected to have a precautionary MRI on Friday to determine whether his wing woes are more substantial. Even if tests yield favorable results, he’ll likely miss his next scheduled start versus the Orioles on Monday. Regardless if Dice-K’s absence is brief or not, he’s someone to pawn off pronto. Looking under the microscope, the BoSox sensation has been incredibly lucky this season (.246 BABIP). His pronounced spike in walks (’07 BB/9: 3.52, ’08: 5.34) coupled with an unsettling 47.6 FB% is a recipe for long-ball disaster. Throw in a decrease in K/9 (’07: 8.84, ’08: 7.73) and it’s evident, Dice-K’s ERA is bound to march northward. Considering he’s damaged goods, it may be difficult to deal him initially. But if everything checks out clean, cover him in bubble wrap. This week in Y! Plus league one-for-one transactions, he was swapped straight up for Nate McLouth, Vladimir Guerrero and David Ortiz.
Fearless Forecast: 175 IP, 16 W, 3.99 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 151 K
Brandon Webb SP 27 99.9
’08 Stats: 74.2 IP, 9 W, 3.01 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 64:20 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: The Desert Spidey has been unmasked in his past two starts. Undeniably the hottest pitcher in the National League through his first nine starts, Webb has unexpectedly dropped two straight, yielding seven earned, 16 hits and three walks in the process. He’s written this script before. After sprinting out of the gates in ’06 (8-0, 2.01 ERA, 1.05 WHIP), Arizona’s ace was mortal over the remainder the season (8 Ws, 3.78 ERA, 1.19 WHIP). Although he complained that his “velocity was bad” against Atlanta on May 26 (4.1 IP, 4 ER, 10 H, 3 BB), his sinker routinely registered between 88-91 mph, which was in line with season averages. All of Webb’s underlying numbers are congruent with ’07 and there are no impending signs of disaster. However, based on history, if you’re looking to maximize profit, advertise. Yes, he’ll obviously maintain a top-five starter ranking but it wouldn’t be a shocker if Webb posts an ERA above 3.50 from this point forward. In Y! Plus league solo deals this week, the ’06 Cy Young winner was shipped straight up for Jimmy Rollins, Josh Hamilton and Derrek Lee.
Fearless Forecast: 215 IP, 20 W, 3.23 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 191 K

Don’t know what FB% means? Check out our sabermetric glossary.
Y!RNK - Overall player ranking in Yahoo! leagues
Y!% - Percentage owned in Yahoo! leagues
- All stats listed are for games played through May 28

NOTABLE NOISE
Upset you don’t have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Joe Borowski? Do you question why on earth you’re not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?

Ramon Vasquez having a great porn stache??? Dude, his does not even COMPARE to Jose Valentin’s, especially in terms of longevity. Valentin has been sporting the baseball world’s best lip raccoon for over a decade. Show the man some respect. Oh, and by the way, I enjoy your Bring the Noise segment. Torsten, Woodland Hills, CA

Noise: Of course, Valentin’s lady tickler is legendary. Allegedly, women’s undergarments dissolved whenever Valentin made his upper lip “dance” in their presence. That’s a marveled skill only iconic rawhide staches of yore – Keith Hernandez, Goose Gossage, Rollie Fingers, Randy Johnson, Don Mattingly, Rod Beck and Mr. Baseball, Tom Selleck – possessed.

Vazquez’s Vincent Price/Luigi crossed stache is slowly working its way to cookie duster immortality. Over the past month (29-73, .397 BA, 2 HR, 10 RBI, 14 R), he’s the eighth-best shortstop, tenth-best second basemen and fifteenth-best third baseman in Y! Fantasy. His keen eye (13.9 BB%), 86.6 contact percentage and career 23.9 LD% are concrete indicators that a .320-plus BA is sustainable. In many ways, his versatility and BA prowess mimic Yunel Escobar ‘07. The 92-percent available Vazquez is one moustache worth riding in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues.


What is with Chris Young? Before he surpassed Marcia Brady as having the most hilarious/brutal broken nose of all time, he posted an unlikely 4.50 ERA (Combined 3.30 ERA in ’06-’07), an atrocious 5 BB/9 (non phenomanal combined 3.6 BB/9 in ’06-’07) and a .242 BAA that although not bad by any standards seems out of place following his past two seasons. Can we expect much better numbers following his return from the DL or at this point do I look to trade his name?Zack, Carmel, CA

Noise: The San Diego Sasquatch would most certainly have trouble catching a nose-swelling laser from Peter Brady, but, unlike Marcia, he probably doesn’t have a delicate ego or posters of Davy Jones plastered on his bedroom wall.

Young’s fantasy contributions are about as intolerable as the pain he experienced from Albert Pujols’ line-drive. His absent command (5.00 BB/9), fly-ball susceptibility (49.3 FB%) and long-ball proneness (1.33 HR/9) clearly explains his inflated ERA and WHIP. Last season, he was able to keep the ball in the park with more regularity despite posting one of the worst fly-ball percentages (54.5) in baseball. Baseballs typically parish in the cavernous spaces of Petco, but when you leave high-80s cheese exposed any hitter can overcome the unfavorable specs.

Given Young’s horrific road splits (6.58 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 2.08 HR/9), marginal run support (4.17 RS/9), fly-ball rates and untamed control, he’s essentially a part-time fantasy player. In other words, if there’s a market for his services in your league, deal him. In Y! Plus leagues this week, he was swapped straight up for Eric Byrnes, Jon Rauch and Jon Lester in one-for-one transactions.


What the hell was that George Clinton chasing the cat crap about? That made all of zero sense. The article was good but please don’t require us to share such odd and outdated tastes in music next time.Edgar, Columbia, MO

Noise: Edgar, how dare you use “crap” to describe one of the godfathers of funk. George Clinton isn’t just an icon for canibus consumers; he’s a staple at college keggers. Didn’t you see “PCU”?

It’s shocking that a guy who lives in a college town doesn’t appreciate the rhythmic beats of “Atomic Dog.” Evidently, you spent, or are spending, many a Friday night choreographing lame N’Sync/Backstreet Boys dance moves shirtless in front of your dormitory mirror. That’s unfortunate. With a little P-Funk in your life, you might have actually chased, and captured, several willing cats in your peak libido years. Embrace the Parliament. Bow wow wow, yippee yo yippee yeah …


Brad, how long do I hang onto Pat Burrell for? His numbers have fallen tremendously, but his Yahoo ranking is still high enough that I could snag a halfway decent player for him. Do I ship him to another team or wait for him to rebound back? Please help. Geoff, Detroit, MI

Noise: Based on history (career .259 BA), it was inevitable Pat “The Bat’s” BA was due for a corrective splat. Mired in an 18-for-81 slump since May 1, his BA has dipped 56 points. Despite the precipitous falloff, he’s maintained healthy line-drive (20.1 LD%), base-on-balls (19.9 BB%) and GB/FB (0.75) totals, which likely means a .270-plus average and 35-homer, 100-RBI pace is maintainable.

With Ryan Howard heating up (5 HRs in his past 11 games), Burrell will continue to see several grapefruit-sized pitches. Unless you can get a top-flight No. 2 starter (e.g. James Shields, Javier Vazquez, Roy Halladay), it’s probably wise to hang onto him. At this point anticipate similar totals to his standout ’05 campaign (.281 BA, 32 HR, 117 RBI, 78 R).


Lance Berkman may not have Brady Anderson’s trendy sideburns now, but you should have seen him during spring training. He definitely lived up to his old nickname, “Fat Elvis”. There’s a picture of those magnificent sideburns on his player profile at MLB.com.Chris, San Antonio, TX

Noise: Get that man a pair of rhinestone-studded bellbottoms and a microphone. Those lightly shaded mutton chops are unmistakably Presleian. Hell, Dustin McGowan would be jealous.

If Berkman ever decided to revive that look, Houston’s “Puma Pack” would unquestionably become the “Graceland Grandstands.”

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 29, 2008