Bringin' the Noise: Ageless wonder

Brad Evans
Yahoo! Sports

At an age when most men are consumed by thoughts of prostate exams, little blue pills and Willard Scott shoutouts, 42-year-old extraordinaire John Smoltz(notes) is still vaporizing bats.

Following the path of age-defying flamethrowers Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson(notes) and Roger Clemens(notes), who each posted incredibly valuable seasons at an identical age, Smoltz too will soon exceed expectation.

Before the injury imp feasted on his throwing shoulder last season, the eight-time All-Star was spectacular. In his swan song with the Braves, he tallied a 2.57 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 11.57 K/9, the highest of his career, in six starts. He also compiled a stellar 1.30 GB/FB and 71.2 contact percentage, the lowest total among any starter. Still able to register a consistent 91-93 mph with his fastball and generate wicked break on his mid-80s slider, his stuff popped the mitt with marked ferocity.


Smoltz, who Tiger Woods called the greatest golfer not on the PGA Tour, knows how to dodge treacherous bunkers and bats.

(Golf Digest)

For those familiar with Smoltz's personality, last year's success wasn't surprising. Whether nearly upstaging now unemployed Georgia coaches in a game of H-O-R-S-E or keeping pace with Tiger Woods around Amen Corner, the hunger for athletic competition is what fuels the future Hall of Famer. This explains why he's been arguably one of the most consistent producers, whether as a starter or reliever, over his 21-year career. Remember, he first toed the rubber for Atlanta in July 1988, a period when Def Leppard was pouring sugar on teased-haired groupies and Nuke LaLoosh was promoting fascism one strikeout at a time.

Now rehabbing in the minors, Smoltz, who must be activated by June 19, is on the verge of another triumphant return, this time with Boston. According to Terry Francona, he's slowly rebuilding endurance and stamina. Through his first two appearances, he's looked noticeably strong. Last week, pitching for Single-A Greenville in his former employer's backyard, he was clocked at 90-92 mph, surrendering one hit while striking out two on 29 pitches. Francona was surprised by his initial effectiveness:

"His velocity was better than expected. He actually did very well. He could pitch in the big leagues with [that velocity] and win. He could probably pitch in the big leagues at 84 MPH and win. That's a good sign, and he held it all the way through."

As a member of the Portland Sea Dogs Tuesday, he was encouragingly effective. Over 3.1 innings (60 pitches), he surrendered one run on three hits. His heater registered between 89-91 mph. Afterwards a cautious Smoltz emphasized patience will need to be a virtue:

"This, amongst anything else I've ever done in my career, is going to take a lot of mental toughness to be patient. I want to come out and set the world on fire, but it's going to be patience that's going to allow me to get to that point."

The current plan is for the veteran to toss 75 pitches at Greenville Sunday followed by two additional starts at Triple-A Pawtucket. Assuming no setbacks occur, he'll likely enter the Sox rotation June 16 against a familiar foe, the Florida Marlins. Although Brad Penny(notes) has performed laudably of late (3-1, 4.40 ERA, 6.85 K/9), he looks to be the odd man out. Recent trade rumors suggest a ticket out of Beantown is imminent.

Because of Smoltz's groundball-coaxing prowess, commendable velocity, inner-half aggressiveness and expected plentiful run support (Boston is generating 5.5 rpg), he should pay instant dividends for owners who've exercised patience. Sure the transition from the NL to the AL, especially the hitter-heavy AL East, could inflate any hurler's ERA, but in terms of potential value, he's destined to venture into Derek Lowe(notes)/Ted Lilly/Matt Garza(notes) territory. In other words, he's a top-flight No. 3 in 12-team mixed leagues.

Still available in just under a third of Yahoo! Plus leagues, and recently acquired for Ryan Dempster(notes), Felipe Lopez(notes) and Bobby Abreu(notes) in one-for-one deals this week, the cagey righty's competitive fire will surely burn many AL teams, and fantasy opponents.

Fearless Forecast: 122 IP, 7 W, 3.38 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 114 K

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

Fantasy Flames
Nick Johnson(notes) WAS 1B 98 66
Market Value: Strong BA/R/RBI Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: The subject of several trade rumors, Washington's portly popper continues to devastate opposing pitchers. In 89 May at-bats, he's racked a .337 BA with two homers, 21 RBI and 15 runs, the 10th-most valuable line among one-baggers, according to Baseball Monster. Because he's Humpty Dumpty-brittle, owner's reservations about Johnson are justified. However, because of his keen eye (14.4 BB%) and smooth line-drive stroke (career 23.1 LD%), he should easily post a .300-plus BA if healthy – though it's important to note his 31.2 line-drive rate is unsustainable. The speculation of a potential destination to New York should be enticing enough for shallow mixed owners to cast a line.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 324 at-bats, .291 BA, 11 HR, 59 RBI, 66 R, 2 SB
Michael Cuddyer(notes) MIN OF 62 82
Market Value: Strong Trade Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: The tasty cream filling in the Twinkies' desert sandwich, Cuddyer has been a sweet swinger in recent weeks. Over his past 10 games, he's posted a .390 BA with five homers, 14 RBIs and 11 runs, including hitting for the cycle on May 22. Bothered by injuries and blurred vision last season, the outfielder believes offseason LASIK surgery has aided his game immensely. Sharpened eyes are likely an influential factor, but the presence of Joe Mauer(notes) and Justin Morneau(notes) is the true reason for his success. With an improved walk rate ('08: 9.1, '09: 12.0), career best 18.6 HR/FB percentage and track record of noteworthy production, his numbers are not fluky. A repeat of '06 is well underway. Per the names he lured in recent one-for-one Plus league transactions (Rick Porcello(notes), Clayton Kershaw(notes) and Bobby Abreu), Cuddyer can still be snagged at an affordable cost. Fire an offer.
Fearless Forecast: 373 at-bats, .279 BA, 14 HR, 70 RBI, 64 R, 4 SB
Randy Winn(notes) SF OF 181 33
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Concealed behind the Bay's dense fog, the undervalued Winn is once again totaling appreciable yields. San Francisco is an offensive wasteland, but the outfielder's statistical gains shouldn't go unnoticed. Over his past 10 contests, the 34-year-old has collected five multi-hit games, raising his BA nearly 25 points. He also has driven in two, scored four and swiped two bags. Based on his strong contact rates, high spot in the lineup and efficient wheels (28 SB pace) he will be a steady producer in BA, runs and steals. Keep in mind that last season he was equally as valuable as Milton Bradley(notes), B.J. Upton(notes) and Torii Hunter(notes), per Baseball Monster, in 12-team roto leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 390 at-bats, .287 BA, 6 HR, 47 RBI, 56 R, 14 SB
Adam Kennedy(notes) OAK 2B, OF 677 27
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Known more for his slick glove than his offensive prowess, Kennedy has been otherworldly of late. Released by St. Louis at the end of spring training, signed by Tampa Bay to a minor league deal then traded to Oakland in early May, the 33-year-old has been on an emotional rollercoaster ride. Finding his niche filling in at second base for injured regular Mark Ellis(notes), he's tallied a torrid seven multi-hit games and 11 RBIs since May 17. Understandably, A's skipper Bob Geren has developed a man-crush. During his 11 seasons in the bigs, Kennedy has produced adequately at times. Obviously, he won't sustain a BA over .380 or even .300, but his fair eye (9.5 BB%) and double-digit speed makes him a useful, short-term MI stopgap in deeper formats. Former Akinori Iwamura(notes) owners should acquire his services promptly.
Fearless Forecast: 210 at-bats, .275 BA, 5 HR, 31 RBI, 24 R, 10 SB
Juan Rivera(notes) LAA OF 630 6
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed), Strong Power Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: For power-strapped deep leaguers, Rivera has been a heavenly commodity. Provided limited opportunities last season, the outfielder is finally starting to recapture his '06 swing. Now seeing regular action in left, he's accumulated nine hits in his past 20 at-bats and has launched four bombs in his past 10 games. An aggressive hitter similar in style to free-swinging teammate Vladimir Guerrero(notes), Rivera should maintain a respectable average based on his 1.33 GB/FB and terrific 88.9 contact rate. Hitting down in the order will curtail his RBI and runs totals, but 20-plus homers aren't out of the question.
Fearless Forecast: 368 at-bats, .278 BA, 16 HR, 46 RBI, 42 R, 1 SB
Randy Wells(notes) CHC SP, RP 206 24
Market Value: Strong Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Wells, the pride of Belleville, Illinois, commands your attention. The converted catcher has been marvelous for the struggling North Siders through his first three starts. In those outings, he's totaled an impressive 1.50 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 8.00 K/9. Blessed with a hard-sinking 89-92 mph fastball, he's also coaxed favorable contact, indicative in his spectacular 1.93 GB/FB ratio. Though the sample size is small, his statistical characteristics are comparable to Josh Johnson's.(notes) Still grasping the nuances of the mound, even he admits the need to be more efficient. But once he reaches a comfort zone with his off-speed stuff, Wells will become very reliable. Currently dueling with Sean Marshall(notes) for the Cubs' final rotation spot with Rich Harden(notes) sidelined, the widely available youngster's superb profile alone is worth the purchase.
Fearless Forecast: 120 IP, 6 W, 3.78 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 106 K
Jason Vargas(notes) SEA SP, RP 179 12
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed), Moderate Sell (AL-only)
Lowdown: A footnote in the J.J. Putz(notes) deal, the Mariners southpaw has captivated Don Wakamatsu and deep-thinking owners alike. Since earning a promotion from the pen May 12, he's surrendered just three runs and notched a 1.17 WHIP in 17.1 IP. He's also tallied a respectable 11:6 K:BB split. His rotation spot isn't concrete, but if he can continue to pitch effectively, a long-term gig is very possible. Still, despite the positives, his fly-ball heavy resume (0.63 GB/FB), long-ball susceptibility (1.29 HR/9) and 4.59 FIP are ominous signs. In the cavernous specs of Safeco Field, he should be valuable in very deep leagues, but don't be shocked if a sinister side is revealed on the road. Exercise caution.
Fearless Forecast: 118 IP, 5 W, 4.89 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 91 K
Clayton Richard(notes) CHW SP, RP 734 8
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Nearly shipped to the classiest city in California, Richard has experienced a whirlwind of emotions over the past week. On the field, he's been surprisingly productive as a starter, conceding just one run in his past 13 IP. He's also posted a serviceable 11:6 K:BB split. According to interim manger Joey Cora, the converted reliever's impressive two-start run has earned him a semi-permanent slot in the rotation. His command can be occasionally spotty (3.82 BB/9), but his superb 1.63 GB/FB ratio and 0.83 HR/9 should alleviate most of his troubles pitching in The Cell. Throw in run support provided by the Sox's emerging offense and Richard is definitely an acquirable commodity in deeper leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 112 IP, 7 W, 4.13 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 86 K
Fantasy Lames
Grady Sizemore(notes) CLE OF 111 99
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: As sung by the Piano Man in Tuesday's Closing Time, the popular first-round pick admitted he's disguised a burdensome elbow injury, which could lead to a DL stint. Examining Sizemore's underachieving May (.206 BA, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 12 R) and rise in Ks ('08 K%: 20.5, '09: 24.7), the setback is clearly the culprit for the downswing. Still, vulnerable Sizemore owners peering over the cliff should be taken advantage of. His peripherals profile is consistent with previous campaigns and he's still on pace for a 27-101-94-23 season. Assuming the prescription for his left elbow is just R&R, he's someone to pursue at a slashed price.
Fearless Forecast: 448 at-bats, .282 BA, 19 HR, 65 RBI, 71 R, 19 SB
Aubrey Huff(notes) BAL 1B, 3B 97 109
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: After undergoing a 1-for-18 nosedive, Huff, who was given Saturday off to recollect his thoughts, has shown resurgent life. Logging an RBI in four of his past five contests, the O's first baseman has apparently fixed a "jumping" flaw in his approach, which caused him to lunge anxiously at the ball. Interestingly, Huff's batted ball profile has reverted back to its pre-'08 groundball-heavy level ('08 GB/FB: 0.98, '09: 1.36), which suggests anther 30-plus homers could be a stretch. Still, with several viable table-setters in front of him, he should easily eclipse 100 RBIs again this season. However, based on the recent players he's attracted in Y! Plus league one-for-one deals – Nelson Cruz(notes) (twice), Kevin Youkilis(notes) and Jason Bay(notes) – the corner infielder is overvalued.
Fearless Forecast: 390 at-bats, .273 BA, 16 HR, 69 RBI, 55 R, 1 SB
Jayson Werth(notes) PHI OF 61 96
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: White shavings from excessive donut consumption have decorated Werth's somewhat disgusting chin strip in recent weeks. Mired in a 4-for-35 slide, the streaky outfielder has experienced a near 40-point batting average reduction. Misguided owners would suggest the grind of being an everyday player is taking a toll on the outfielder, but based on his whiff-happy persona (26.1 K% '09) and suspect contact rate (career 75.8 CT%), occasional swoons were anticipated by most. Charlie Manuel has no intention of resting him over an extended period of time and Werth himself isn't concerned about the downturn. He'll likely finish with a BA under .270, but based on his current pace (29-95-121-29), the difference between him and Sizemore will be negligible. Buy on the bear.
Fearless Forecast: 428 at-bats, .269 BA, 21 HR, 68 RBI, 82 R, 20 SB
Chris Davis(notes) TEX 1B, 3B 208 89
Market Value: Strong Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Channeling the whiff-happy spirits of Pete Incaviglia, Rob Deer and Jay Buhner, Davis is on pace (253 Ks, 44.9 K%) to obliterate Mark Reynolds'(notes) single-season strikeout record (204). Uprooting trees and downing power lines with every cut, the fawned-over sleeper is extremely disappointed with his plate performance. Since May 1, he's compiled a lowly .205 BA with seven homers, 14 RBI and 12 runs. Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo attributes Davis' slump to a massive mental breakdown. Once he buries the cerebral demons, Jaramillo feels the first baseman will rebound quickly. If the 23-year-old didn't exude flashy leather at first, he would likely be languishing at Triple-A. Rangers fans have clamored for Justin Smoak, but Davis has far more power upside. Owners frustrated by his epic slide are likely fed up with the 0-fers, meaning he could be available at a clearance rate. Steal him. A monster tear seems imminent.
Fearless Forecast: 386 at-bats, .261 BA, 22 HR, 64 RBI, 60 R, 2 SB
Milton Bradley CHC OF 733 53
Market Value: Strong Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: The demonstrative outfielder, who has officially been surpassed by Mt. Zambrano in seismic eruptions, is slowly starting to emerge from dormancy. Finally on the right side of the Mendoza Line, the Cubs' marquee offseason acquisition is in the early stages of a monumental resurgence. Refreshingly, Bradley has accepted full responsibility for his horrendous efforts, calling his at-bats "terrible." After working with Billy Williams on refining his swing, he's discovered a comfortable groove. His high GB/FB ratio (1.46) is similar to his marginal '06 campaign with Oakland, but his three extra-base hits in his past three games offer proof that he's starting to drive the ball more vigorously. Considering you could probably net his services for a six-pack of Old Milwaukee, he's worth the gamble.
Fearless Forecast: 380 at-bats, .284 BA, 15 HR, 55 RBI, 50 R, 4 SB
Jair Jurrjens(notes) ATL SP 92 96
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Listing Jurrjens, who has allowed three earned runs or more in only one start, on a list filled with fantasy bums may seem completely ludicrous, but based on his underlying numbers, he needs to be shopped. Glancing at the surface totals, the Braves righty has pitched brilliantly. On the year, he's posted a 2.07 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. Per Baseball Monster, he's currently the 18th-best starter in virtual baseball. But based on his incredibly fortunate .255 BABIP, his ERA is expected to climb. More disturbing, he's transformed from a ground-ball inducer into a fly-ball producer, evident in his dramatic GB/FB decrease ('08: 1.94, '09: 0.91). As his 3.74 FIP forecasts, several rough outings could be ahead. Jurrjens, swapped this week for Miguel Tejada(notes), Ryan Zimmerman(notes) and Jay Bruce(notes) in one-for-one Plus league moves, is the definitive sell-high player.
Fearless Forecast: 130 IP, 7 W, 4.24 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 84 K
Gil Meche(notes) KC SP 901 66
Market Value: Strong Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Immersed in a nasty funk, Meche has been more court jester than Royal. Reverting back to his laughable Seattle form, the righty has posted an appalling 5.55 ERA, 1.77 WHIP and 14:11 K:BB split since May 1. Meche has blamed his troubles on location inconsistencies early in counts, which has caused him to fall behind hitters. But despite his recent string of despicable performances, the KC starter is bound to again don a jeweled crown. Looking under the microscope, he's drawn significant weak contact (2.22 GB/FB), displayed adequate command (3.25 BB/9) and kept the ball in the park (0.16 HR/9). Match those qualities with an unlucky .350 BABIP and Meche's ERA will likely plummet soon, assuming the current trends persist. Bargain hunters should pitch a low-ball offer.
Fearless Forecast: 138 IP, 9 W, 3.54 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 109 K
Manny Parra(notes) MIL SP 1234 36
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Looking like he had finally turned the corner, the Piranha has once again become entangled in the fisherman's net, surrendering 11 earned in his past two appearances. Prior to the derailment, Parra had tallied three wins, a 2.79 ERA, 1.34 WHIP and 8.69 K/9 in five starts since April 26. After two very different halves last season, many expected the southpaw to exude more balance. But his shoddy command (5.74 BB/9) has proved injurious at times. Still, his .337 BABIP, healthy groundball rate (46.9 GB%), 7.76 K/9 and friendly offensive support (5.08 RS/9) point to more fruitful efforts to come. His deplorable WHIP numbers are an eyesore, but he'll at least contribute serviceable back-of-the-rotation numbers in deeper mixed leagues, especially in wins.
Fearless Forecast: 125 IP, 7 W, 4.46 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 108 K

*All Fearless Forecasts are projected numbers from today forward

Note: The Noise is scheduled to travel to the Y! Sports home office in Santa Monica next week to brainstorm with the fantasy football think factory. Due to meetings, travel and excessive adult libations, next week's BTN may not post until Friday. Until then, keep petting your Billy Butler(notes) bobbleheads.

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

Caribbean Cruz connections since last week: 4
Season total: 12
Moonshots to the money: 14
Pace: 42