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Bringin' the Noise: Duke of discipline

Owners with outfield vacancies who don't consider Elijah Dukes for employment would be wise to ignore any future incoming text messages with picture attachments.

In his controversial career, Dukes, who graduated summa cum laude from the Milton Bradley College of Anger Mismanagement, has been known more for violent temper tantrums than statistical contributions.

While a top Tampa prospect from 2004-2007 he was suspended an uncountable number of times for altercations ranging from disrespectful comments about the organization to heated verbal and physical exchanges with players and managers.

Away from the diamond, his behavior has been equally destructive. Since 2003, he's been involved in three separate domestic disputes, highlighted by an incident last year in which he forwarded a picture of a handgun to his wife's cell phone with the loving words "You dead dawg," left on a voice mail.

Dukes' villainous acts are definitely not suitable for the "On This Date" section of a vintage Topps baseball card, but he does possess the natural tools to one day post italicized numbers.

That is, if he can squelch the mental demons, something that's already been difficult to do in Washington.

On June 10, the quarrelsome outfielder lashed out at Nationals skipper Manny Acta in the visitor's dugout at PNC Park. Acta confronted Dukes to discuss his excessive celebration of a game-deciding Lastings Milledge blast. The two exchanged verbal pleasantries before being separated by teammates. Dukes later refused to acknowledge Acta's handshake gesture at the end of the game.

Again, it seemed, the troubled 23-year-old had doused another bridge in kerosene.

But the Washington Dukes is kinder and gentler. Instead of allowing the fire to smolder, he apologized to Acta and his teammates for his "heat of the moment" outburst.

Although it may appear small, that acceptance of responsibility was a turning point for the moody youngster, one which could lead to an offensive explosion.

Since June 1, the ultra-athletic right fielder has started to show signs of fantasy maturity. His line over that span – 56 at-bats, .286 BA, HR, 9 RBIs, 8 Rs, and 3 SBs – is respectable production for a No. 4 outfielder in 12-team mixed leagues.

Compared to last year, Dukes has exuded improved discipline at the dish (15.2 BB%), which has dramatically boosted his contact (CT% '08: 75.8, '07: 71.8) and line-drive rates (LD% '08: 18.7, '07: 10.5). Instead of trying to muscle the ball skyward with each swing, he's pounded the ball into the ground more frequently ('07 GB/FB: 0.88, '08: 1.65), maximizing his blazing speed.

Built from a similar mold as Milwaukee's Mike Cameron, Dukes has always possessed the Herculean strength and breakneck wheels necessary to be an annual 20-20 producer. Now that his fiery disposition seems to be somewhat in check, he's started to tap into that enormous potential. Over the past month the 0.16 percent-owned switch-hitter has outperformed Matt Kemp, Jeremy Hermida, Chris Young and Andre Ethier in Y! leagues.

Given his dynamite gifts, everyday at-bats and speed-friendly No. 2 spot in the Nationals order, he could reap major reward for his backers during the rest of the season. It's not unrealistic to think he could compile a line around .280 BA, 5 HR, 38 RBI, 50 R, 15 SB over his next 360 at-bats.

Finally, it seems, Dukes' Incredible Hulk alter-ego is being channeled positively, through his bat.

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

Fantasy Flames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Mike Aviles
SS 1090 2.2
'08 Stats: .333 BA, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 12 R, SB, 7:2 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Aviles' numbers are like a Victoria's Secret catalog left exposed on a coffee table – they're impossible to ignore. As detailed in Tuesday's "Closing Time" the Kansas City shortstop has been an improbable fantasy hero. The former Division II collegiate and Royals minor league player of the year has played with unmitigated zeal since his promotion from Omaha on June 2. With his short, compact swing and aggressive approach early in counts, the 27-year-old has driven the ball convincingly into gaps, showcasing surprising all-fields power. Through his first 45 at-bats, he's collected nine extra-base hits, three homers and four multi-hit games. His history of high contact rates (10.7 K% at Triple-A in '08, 80.3 CT% with KC) and prodigious power numbers in the minors (10 HR in 214 at-bats with Omaha this year) show that he's no accident. Unbelievably, no team wanted to invest $50,000 in Aviles when KC left him unprotected for last year's Rule 5 draft. But he's worth the minimal investment in your fantasy league. A cross between Jeff Keppinger and Dan Uggla, this Royal will pay princely dividends going forward in most 5x5 categories. Anticipate top-10 shortstop production from Aviles over the remainder of the season.
Fearless Forecast: 395 at-bats, .287 BA, 18 HR, 44 RBI, 53 R, 6 SB
Ben Francisco
OF 309 2.9
'08 Stats: .312 BA, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 22 R, 3 SB, 23:9 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: On a team ravaged by injury and ineptitude (see Martinez, Victor and Hafner, Travis), Francisco has been the Indians lone poison arrow. Francisco doesn't excel in one specific category, but he's a multi-dimensional hitter who yields profits across-the-board. As Eric Wedge told the Akron Beacon Journal, he believes the outfielder's "athleticism, quickness and speed, gives us the same kinds of things as a right-handed Grady (Sizemore) gives us from the left." Given Sizemore's statistical prowess, that's quite a compliment. Operating exclusively out of the three-hole, Francisco has amassed a .318 BA, two homers, 12 RBIs, 12 runs and a stolen base in 66 June at-bats. During that stretch, he's slapped five multi-hit games, including a five-hit effort June 4 versus Texas and a four-hit performance versus Minnesota June 12. Given his terrific 83.9 contact percentage, power friendly 48.5 FB% and plus wheels, Francisco has the tools of a dark-horse 15-15 player. He smashed 17 homers and swiped 25 bases with Triple-A Buffalo in '06. Roster him in all 12-team mixed leagues.
Fearless Forecast : 500 at-bats, .299 BA, 14 HR, 78 RBI, 78 R, 11 SB
Jason Kubel
OF 208 1.2
'08 Stats: .257 BA, 10 HR, 36 RBI, 29 R, 40:17 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Puzzling, the Rubik's Kubel is not. Quite possibly the most underappreciated hitter in Y! fantasy, the widely available 26-year-old is tapping into his 25-30 homer upside. In 40 June at-bats, he's cracked a .325 BA with four homers, nine RBIs and nine runs. Compared to '07, Kubel is driving the ball with more vigor, evident in his sharply rising fly-ball percentages ('07: 35.2, '08: 41.9). The Mount Rushmore State native is a superb low-ball hitter who generates plentiful pop with his quick lefty swing. On pace for 25 bombs, 90 RBIs and 70-plus runs, he's essentially Jermaine Dye '07. Although he's shown admirable patience at the plate (17.5 BB% in June), his 77.9 contact percentage arrows to a final BA in the .260-.270 range. Still, his power upside alone makes him lovable.
Fearless Forecast: 520 at-bats, .267 BA, 26 HR, 91 RBI, 75 R, 3 SB
Andrew Miller
SP 262 24.7
'08 Stats: 77.2 IP, 5 W, 4.87 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 62:33 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: If the junior Miller continues to rack quality starts, heavily-decorated teammate Justin Miller may ink the youngster's portrait on his derrire, right next to Billy Koch's name. What an honor. The lengthy 6-foot-6 lefty is starting to live up to the top prospect hype. Minus a couple of hiccups, he's been brilliant since April. Over his past 52 IP, the 23-year-old has won four games and posted an eye-popping 2.76 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 7.62 K/9. Miller's success is largely due to his maturation mentally. Earlier in his career he tried to overpower hitters with his mid-90s fastball. This year, he's purposely decreased his heater's velocity to keep the ball down in the zone. That coupled with his increased confidence in his curve and change has coaxed numerous ground ball outs (44.4 GB% since May 1). More impressively, even on off days, Miller's ability to pound the inner-half of the plate with his fastball has worked wonders, as shown against Seattle on June 16 (7 IP, 1 ER, 2 BB, 2 K). Walks will be an occasional bugaboo, but Miller, who's ranked ahead of No. 2 anchors Dan Haren and Tim Hudson over the past 30 days in Y! leagues, is very capable of upper-tiered No. 3 numbers through September. If it weren't for his horrific April (9.12 ERA, 2.38 WHIP) he would be universally owned.
Fearless Forecast: 180 IP, 12 W, 3.69 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 148 K
Armando Galarraga
SP, RP 105 42.0
'08 Stats: 65.1 IP, 6 W, 3.31 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 44:27 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Now that Dontrelle Willis is relishing 12-hour bus rides in the low minors, Detroit's "Tidy Cat" is primed to shine in the Tigers rotation. A deceptive tosser, the rookie hurler throws an assortment of pitches consistently for strikes. Jim Leyland summarized his arsenal best, recently telling mlive.com, "He moves the ball to both sides of the plate, throws the breaking ball when he's behind in the count and has a 92 mph fastball with late life to it." Galarraga's refined control over the past month has led to bountiful quality performances (30 IP, 3 W, 3.60 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.40 BB/9). Because his low-90s fastball sinks precipitously, he induces abundant groundball outs (46.2 GB%), an excellent sign a sub-4.00 ERA is sustainable. The 26-year-old has bedded Lady Luck in recent weeks (.199 BABIP since May 18) but he has enough plus tools to post respectable totals if his fortunes reverse. Given Detroit's surging offense, the "Tidy Cat" will shock the fantasy world with 12-15 wins.
Fearless Forecast: 155 IP, 14 W, 3.52 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 103 K
Fantasy Lames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Zack Greinke
SP, RP 231 88.6
'08 Stats: 93.0 IP, 5 W, 3.48 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 67:32 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Sell (mixed leagues), Hold (AL-only)
Lowdown: The only thing more frightening than those new Cheetohs commercials is Greinke's ballooned ERA. Since May 23, the Royals hurling highness has failed to win a game and notched a 6.09 ERA and 1.58 WHIP. The reason for his troubles: a venomous mixture of homers allowed (1.74 HR/9) and walks (4.94 BB/9). Incompetent owners will point out that his seven shutout innings versus Arizona on June 13 ended his slump. But the seven walks he issued in that contest, along with his .246 BABIP in June prove he's been unbelievably lucky. Eventually, the free passes and long-ball vulnerability will skyrocket his ERA over 4.00. Greinke's bravery in conquering depression is praiseworthy but if he doesn't refine his curveball's command soon, he could force his owners to seek psychological consultation. Greinke, who attracted Jason Bay, Ryan Ludwick and Aaron Harang in one-for-one Y! Plus league deals this week, is someone worth shopping in mixed leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 200 IP, 11 W, 4.01 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 155 K
Micah Owings
SP 727 69.9
'08 Stats: 81.2 IP, 6 W, 5.18 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 70:26 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Sell (shallow mixed), Hold (NL-only)
Lowdown: If Owings wants to remain a fixture on a big league roster, he better start taking more cuts in the cage. As the Noise projected back in April, Owings' inevitable correction is in progress. In his past 19 IP, the benign Snake has tallied a ghastly 9.95 ERA and 1.58 WHIP. His susceptibility to the long-ball (1.42 HR/9 since May 30) and 35.0 LD% explain his shortcomings. Outside of his disconcerting splits, Owings has still posted three times more strikeouts (7.10 K/9 since May 30) than walks (2.37 BB/9), a positive sign he could regain some respectability. Last year, the 25-year-old experienced a similar meltdown midseason (9.55 July ERA) but reversed course after the break (3.04 ERA). With Max Scherzer lurking in the shadows, Owings will be motivated to turn things around quickly. Owners in deeper mixed leagues shouldn't cut ties just yet.
Fearless Forecast: 185 IP, 13 W, 4.38 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 162 K
Chris Young
OF 136 96.7
'08 Stats: .229 BA, 12 HR, 35 RBI, 45 R, 4 SB, 73:31 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: The MRSA superbug has struck the entire D-Backs roster. And the richly talented Young isn't immune. Incredibly frustrating to own, the youngster's free-swinging ways have gobbled up his batting average. In 65 June at-bats, Young has recorded just 13 hits, with no homers, four RBIs and zero steals. His impatience at the dish (24.6 K% in June), especially early in counts, has forced Bob Melvin to demote him from leadoff to sixth in the Arizona batting order. More worrisome, he's not stealing bases (9 SB pace). Yes, he's the epitome of "all-or-nothing," but Young is too talented to remain dormant forever. With his value deflated – he was recently dealt for Alex Rios and David Murphy in Y! Plus league solo swaps – sagacious owners may want to chase his services at a discount.
Fearless Forecast: 600 at-bats, .243 BA, 30 HR, 87 RBI, 97 R, 15 SB
Michael Young
SS 73 99.9
'08 Stats: .286 BA, 6 HR, 34 RBI, 52 R, 4 SB, 48:26 K:BB
Market Value: Hold (all leagues)
Lowdown: Young's tough guy mentality is stymieing his fantasy production. Since suffering a hairline fracture in a finger on his left hand, the Rangers three-hitter has, unsurprisingly, gone 3-for-32 (.094 BA), slicing 23 points off his batting average. Amazingly, his 0-for-17 stretch from June 11-15 was only the second time in his career he failed to record a hit in four consecutive games. Young's pain tolerance might be higher than a motorcycle stuntman's but he should have rested the injury instead of playing through it. The original diagnosis said he would experience discomfort for a minimum of 20 days, which means another week of fantasy doughnuts is on the menu. Once the finger fully heals, probably in another 2-3 weeks, Young should be back on track. The Texas shortstop, shipped this week for Jason Giambi, Kelly Johnson and Dustin McGowan in one-for-one Plus league transactions, will be a bargain basement buy if the slump persists.
Fearless Forecast: 650 at-bats, .297 BA, 12 HR, 80 RBI, 114 R, 8 SB
Hunter Pence
OF 143 98.6
'08 Stats: .275 BA, 8 HR, 35 RBI, 33 R, 5 SB, 57:16 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: No wonder Pence is mired in a deep statistical coma. Even Zeus' legs would feel like Jell-O if he logged long sweat sessions with Pence's curvaceous love buddy. Hampered by a 10-for-54 drought, the curly-haired 25-year-old has trimmed nearly 20 points off his batting average in June. According to what Pence told MLB.com this week, much of the blame falls on his lack of comfort in the leadoff spot. Based on his .232 BA, 2.9 BB%, 9.3 LD% and 51.2 GB% in that position that's unquestionably the root of his problems. Cecil Cooper officially shifted Pence back into his customary sixth spot in the order on June 17, which should help rejuvenate his bat. Hitting down in the order this season, Pence has registered a .317 BA with seven homers and an 8.9 BB% in 145 at-bats. With his comfort level back to normalcy, it's smart to acquire his services at a clearance price. This week in Y! Plus league solo deals Pence was swapped straight up for Robinson Cano, Ervin Santana and Brandon Lyon.
Fearless Forecast: 600 at-bats, .289 BA, 22 HR, 88 RBI, 77 R, 11 SB

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 June 18

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?

Having a roommate from Cleveland has numerous downsides, but the one positive I can think of is watching Cliff Lee pitch. A dry look at the numbers, which you present, points to the impending implosion which you predicted. Watching him pitch paints a different picture entirely. Since his nine inning shutout performance at Toronto, Lee has had two good starts, two poor starts, and one mediocre start. But after watching his performance at Texas last week I finally became convinced that he's the real deal. A cold examination of his line (5 IP, 9 H, 2 BB, 6 ER, 8 K) would lead one (you) to believe that the end is near. Watching that game though showed Lee hitting his spots like it was April. The Texas commentators even remarked several times about clear strikes (proven by their nifty strike-o-meter graphic) that were called balls. At least two of those calls were with two strikes and two out, and after which Texas scored runs. Had his final line showed the more accurate hypothetical line (7 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 3 ER, 10K) you would have made him a "strong buy" instead of a "strong sell." That being said keep driving his price down, cause I'm buying.Sam, New York, NY

Noise: Sam, does your roommate hold you hostage with "Drew Carey Show" reruns? Or bump Bone Thugs-n-Harmony tunes – "Thuggish Ruggish Bone" is a Noise high school throwback classic – while cruising around the N-Y-C?

Brad, how can you honestly call Cliff Lee a "Strong Sell" in all leagues with the schedule he has coming up? Even dropping numbers can't compete with the easy month he has on the way. Dodgers, Giants, White Sox, Tigers. That at least 4 more W's he should be able to rack up before facing Tampa Bay.Matt, North Attleboro, MA

Noise: Matt, not sure what cave you've been hibernating in since April, but with the exception of the diminutive Giants and possibly LA, a schedule featuring the White Sox (5.6 runs/game in June) and Tigers (winners in 8 of last 11) is hardly "easy." If Clifford wins all four, C.C. Sabathia will still have a Cleveland zip code come August.

You could say that any pitcher on any given day was the victim of inconsistent umpiring, as Sam argued. But, regardless of Lee's unfortunate luck, the Noise is still selling. Although his command was nearly impeccable in his last start versus San Diego, Lee's walk totals (2.63 BB/9 last 34.1 IP, 0.67 BB/9 in previous 53.2 IP) and home-run rates (1.06 HR/9 in last six) are on the rise. The noticeable cracks in his ship foreshadow a potential second-half capsize.

Because he's receiving copious run support (6.13 RS/9), 17-plus wins is a foregone conclusion. But, as I discussed last week, his ERA is likely to swell over 3.50 at some point this season. Jacoby Ellsbury, Kerry Wood and Bobby Abreu, all of whom were traded straight up for Lee in one-for-one Plus league deals this week, would be too attractive to pass up given the southpaw's anticipated downturn.


You have to be kidding me. You're actually suggesting others to pick up Cody Ross and his .226 average? Oh, and he's raised that from .210 in the last 10 games. In that same span, he has one homer and 5 RBIs while scoring a robust two runs. Oh, wait, he does have four steals, but only one in the last 10 games. I realize you have to "reach" sometimes when you write these articles as you can't look predictable as an "ANALyst," but what kind of value could a flash in the pan like this guy have in any sub-standard league? He might be OK for a home run league, or an incredibly shallow NL-only league, but other than that, the only time this guy should be mentioned is as a footnote. He has a better chance of becoming a spokesman for Gleem than he does of ever becoming a member of one of my teams.Wingvie, Dallas, TX

Noise: Given Ross's cheek-to-cheek cheese and home run muscle, he's more apt to be a pitchman for Arm and Hammer, not Gleem.

Wingvie, obviously you struggled identifying topic sentences in paragraphs about hopscotch and kites when you were in elementary school. I didn't suggest that players like Ross had to be leaned on everyday. The point was shallow mixed leaguers that play in daily transaction leagues can benefit from streaming bats. Because Ross has historically performed well against lefties (.278 BA, HR per 11.5 at-bats), it's heady to temporarily employ his services when the matchup warrants, especially if you're in dire straits for power.

Maximizing matchups isn't some forgettable fantasy footnote. It's a strategy worthy of its own chapter.


I'd just like to thank you for your great advice on the "can't miss" prospect of the year, Max Scherzer. You, Funston, Behrens … every one of you so called experts were telling us to blow our No. 1 waiver priority on a guy who didn't even get to finish his cup of coffee, so with my wad shot, I had to sit here impotently as Justin Verlander got snatched up by someone else as of midnight last night while Scherzer packed his bags for Tucson. Thanks so much.Eric, Chicago, IL

Noise: From the minimal details mentioned above two things can be assumed about Eric: 1) He should consult Roger Clemens about popping little blue pills to get an edge in his fantasy league, 2) Justin Verlander's recent availability proves that many of his leaguemates consult this scantily clad fantasy sports analyst for thought-provoking "insights."

As detailed in Saturday's "Weekly Rundown", the "Schiznit's" demotion is one that will benefit him and his devoted supporters in the long run. Getting him regular work every fifth day in Tucson will keep his arm and mind lively.

Unless your terribly shallow league is a keeper, Scherzer is expendable. But, understand that if Randy Johnson, Doug Davis or Micah Owings are beset by injuries or ineptitude, Mad Max will be recalled and reinserted into the D-Backs' rotation. Because he was brilliant against the juggernaut Cubs and Tigers in May (11 IP, 0 ER, 11 K) and given his spectacular 1.50 GB/FB ratio and 9.58 K/9, he's someone to keep close tabs on in the coming weeks. The potential exists for a gigantic second-half.


Stop turning my fantasy season into an Elton John farewell tour. Stick to baseball and stop being such an (expletive). If you can't do that, just stop pretending to be an expert and stay silent. I get all my good advice from Funston and Behrens anyway so feel free to continue watching your boyfriend pole dance at the Toolbox.Caleb, Anywhere but San Francisco

Noise: Come on Caleb, we all know you've belted out a few lines to "Tiny Dancer" sloppy off two Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers. Admit it …

Unbelievably, a joke involving Dick Pole and Chase Headley from Saturday's "Weekly Rundown" has pushed a new word into the fantasy vernacular: "Noiseophobia."

Defined as "the stark fear of flowery adjectives, man-crushes and salacious language in fantasy sports discussions," this bone-chilling "phobia" has created quite a backlash.

To the roughly 40 percent of negative commenters (FYI, about the norm for most sportswriters) who take everything the Noise pens way too seriously, keep trying to plant verbal uppercuts.

For those of you who prefer physical confrontation over words, you can find the Noise at the Civic Center Holiday Inn in San Francisco this weekend celebrating the Funston/Lincecum nuptials. But keep in mind the DJ will be spinning plenty of Elton John classics …

Quick programming note: Because Grizzly Behrens and I plan to stalk Mike Aviles at the Cards/Royals game on Thursday, this week's "Noise" hit virtual shelves a day early. Look for it to return to its regular Thursday slot next week.