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Bringin' the Noise: Duke of hurl

Whether seen in pop culture or sports, strokes of luck are ubiquitous. Anyone who stumbles across a group of experienced lady wooers at Comic-Con would definitely agree.

In baseball, unpredictable events mystify the masses on a daily basis. Disrespected slugger Josh Willingham(notes) launching two grand slams in a single game (The Noise tried to tell you!), Everth Cabrera(notes) flexing bleacher-reaching muscle and Homer Bailey(notes) actually not inducing sickness, are just a few recent examples.

Sometimes fortuitous episodes can stretch over an entire season.

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With activation and a possible jersey-switch around the corner, "The Duke" could pay royal dividends down the stretch.
(US Presswire)
Last year, Oakland's Justin Duchscherer(notes) was the ultimate Cinderella. Widely considered one of the game's top-flight middle relievers entering '08, his seamless transition at age 30 from the bullpen to rotation was astonishing. In his All-Star honored campaign he compiled 10 wins, a 2.54 ERA, microscopic 1.00 WHIP, 6.04 K/9 and 2.19 BB/9 across 141.2 innings. Per Baseball Monster, the stellar performance was the 54th-most valuable output regardless of position and 24th-best among pitchers. Despite the rotation-anchoring effort, sophomoric humorists continued to purposely mispronounce his name.

Duchscherer's '08 campaign was unquestionably stunning, but many in the virtual sports community characterized him as "The Duke of Fluke." Based on his incredibly fortunate .240 BABIP – the lowest among qualifying starters – and 3.69 FIP, the naysayers had a strong argument. Oakland's efficient defense combined with the Coliseum's ball-suffocating dimensions padded his numbers. To non-believers, the crafty righty was another Kent Bottenfield '99 or Estaban Loaiza '03. It's sufficient to say, his foot wasn't expected to slide into a glass slipper again.

Sidelined since late March after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to relieve intense right elbow pain, Duchscherer has traveled down a long, winding road to recovery. Numerous instances of back tightness prolonged his rehab. Finally healthy, he's on a crusade to prove '08 wasn't an anomaly.

Donning Stockton Ports' threads this past Sunday, he worked two flawless innings, yielding zero runs with two punchouts. Slated to join Triple-A Sacramento Friday, he's scheduled to throw 60 pitches. If the injury imp doesn't resurface, expect him to return to big league action the second week of August. However, don't be shocked if he isn't wearing green. A number of hurler hungry teams, including the Yankees, Brewers and Rangers, scouted his performance in Stockton. Because Billy Beane's asking price is rumored to be a "modest prospect," odds are favorable the free-agent-to-be will be dealt before the deadline.

Whether he remains in O-town or not, the 40 percent-owned starter is a commodity trophy-minded owners should acquire. His potpourri of pitches – mid-80s cutter, high-80s four-seamer, curve, two-seamer – excellent control and ability to draw a respectable amount of weak contact (career 1.09 GB/FB) are qualities that arrow to continued success. But don't expect him to give Lady Luck a bear hug again. It's also important to keep in mind a ticket out of Oakland could increase his chances for Ws at an ERA/WHIP cost. Though still solid, he sported a .253 BAA on the road (2.70 ERA, 1.20 WHIP) compared to a .172 mark at home (2.41 ERA, 0.83 WHIP).

Flukes are indeed omnipresent in fantasy, but Oakland's motivated "Duke" could be the missing piece for champagne-thirsty owners.

Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 59 IP, 4 W, 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 44 K

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

Fantasy Flames
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Miguel Montero(notes) ARI C 572 64
Market Value: Strong Power Buy (10-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: A moderately touted prospect two years ago, Montero has morphed into a ball-punishing goliath. Seizing everyday duties from Chris Snyder(notes), the venomous backstop has cracked a .341 BA with five homers, 15 RBI and 13 runs this month. Per Baseball Monster, that output ranks tops among catchers and 32nd overall. Exhibiting more patience, he's cut down on the strikeouts dramatically this season ('08 K%: 26.6, '09: 16.6), connecting more often on pitches located on the outer portion of the plate. With his confidence and comfort level soaring and Snyder reportedly on the block, A.J. Hinch, who's been very impressed by Montero's leadership qualities, will continue to pencil the 26-year-old into the lineup regularly. Driving the ball with more authority and exuding more balance at the dish, he's finally tapped into his long-term 20-25 homer upside. His July returns are a precursor of valuable performances to come.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 158 at-bats, .273 BA, 6 HR, 20 RBI, 16 R, 0 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Billy Butler(notes) KC 1B 173 40
Market Value: Strong BA/RBI Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Over the past two seasons, the Noise has artificially inflated Butler's perceived value almost single-handedly. As a result, appropriate laughable comparisons to Joe DiMaggio in cola commercials and general owner adoration disdain toward the sweet-swinging Donkey have developed. But the needle on the Ass-o-meter has officially reached Kardashian territory (Fumble by R. Bush!). Blasting the Birds, Butler roped six straight hits over a two-game stretch against Baltimore, including a libido-driving 5-for-5 effort on July 27. For the month, he's batting .313 with four homers, 13 RBI and 10 runs. Showing more aggressiveness at the dish and improved contact on outside offerings, the still very tender 23-year-old is making noticeable strides. Largely due to an unattractive 1.38 GB/FB, his 20-plus power hasn't yet emerged, but eventually the doubles will stretch out. With numbers since May 1 comparable to heavily-owned Todd Helton(notes) (.301 BA, 9 HR, 39 RBI, 33 R), it's time KC's Mr. Belvedere serves your team.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 231 at-bats, .298 BA, 8 HR, 31 RBI, 27 R, 0 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Garret Anderson(notes) ATL OF 434 13
Market Value: Strong BA Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Possibly the only player in the history of glossy cardboard to slide by wearing sweats as dress pants, Anderson's rookie card value is rising. Grab your Beckett. Occasionally showcasing power that once defeated Albert Pujols(notes) in the 2003 Home Run Derby, the 37-year-old has stroked a .346 BA with five homers, 13 RBI and 11 runs since July 1. More recently, he's slapped six multi-hit games over his past nine. When healthy, the lefty-swinger has always hit. Though his skill set has eroded slightly, most of his current underlying numbers parallel career averages. Operating regularly out of the RBI-friendly fifth spot, he should be a dependable BA/RBI source in deeper formats the rest of the way.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 193 at-bats, .308 BA, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 22 R, 1 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Jonny Gomes(notes) CIN OF 714 5
Market Value: Moderate Power Buy (14-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: The "Garden" Gomes has emerged from the flower patch emanating a rosy scent. The disabling of Jay Bruce(notes) and Chris Dickerson(notes) has finally paved the way for the free-swinging slugger to net regular at-bats against lefties and righties, an idea Dusty Baker previously pondered for weeks. Frankly, any man who proudly chugs bubbly from a game-used athletic supporter deserves an everyday gig. With 10 homers in just 109 at-bats since June 1 and a gaudy 22.7 HR/FB percentage on the year, the corner outfielder has enough natural muscle to push owners locked in a power struggle over the top. Due to his Branyan-esque 32.0 strikeout percentage, he will likely be a BA burden. But with the Reds in the middle of a 10-game homestand, Gomes and his fly-ball-heavy 0.59 GB/FB should pay an appreciable long-ball dividend. Even when Bruce returns in roughly 3-4 weeks, don't be surprised if he remains in the lineup in left.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 181 at-bats, .261 BA, 13 HR, 28 RBI, 24 R, 1 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Andy Marte(notes) CLE 3B, 1B? 1114 6
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Tossed in the rubbish bin years ago by the fantasy masses, Marte is the definitive post-hype sleeper. Still only 25, the hot corner has made tremendous advancements at Triple-A this season. In 300 at-bats with Buffalo he totaled a .327 BA, with 18 bombs, 66 RBI and a 0.44 BB/K ratio. Per Indians GM Mark Shapiro, "he's taken responsibility, shortened his swing and worked very hard." With Ryan Garko(notes) in San Francisco, the former elite Braves prospect will be given every opportunity to finally prove his mettle. Impressive in his season debut, going 2-for-3 with a runs scored against the Angels, he has always possessed a Grade-A pedigree. Deep leaguers seeking assistance in power categories should play the snatch and see game.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 195 at-bats, .277 BA, 7 HR, 22 RBI, 21 R, 1 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Luke Hochevar(notes) KC SP 649 49
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team mixed), Moderate Sell (AL-only)
Lowdown: Falling just one punchout shy of Mark Gubicza's club-record 14 strikeouts in a contest set back in 1988, Hochevar was an unlikely candidate to flirt with history. Simply put: for a groundball/contact pitcher with a 4.98 K/9 entering his last turn, his 13-K performance against the vaunted Rangers was startling. More incredible, over his past three outings he's notched an alien 27:1 K:BB split. The former No. 1 pick's meteoric rise is somewhat, but not completely, surprising. He's always possessed the characteristics of a frontline starter. Double-digit strikeout performances will be a rarity, but if he continues to confidently pound the strike zone, he has the stuff to tally a commendable amount of Ks down the stretch. Couple that with a sensational 1.48 GB/FB and 2.55 BB/9, and he has the chops to be a quality No. 4 in 12-team mixed formats. However, avoiding gopheritis must be a top priority. Despite his remarkable success this month, he's totaled a ghastly 1.79 HR/9. Anticipate some volatility.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 62 IP, 4 W, 4.27 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 47 K
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Tommy Hunter(notes) TEX SP 172 37
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Nicknamed "Big Thunder" by C.J. Wilson(notes), the suddenly valuable rookie has stormed through the competition. Determined, focused and undaunted, the righty has racked three wins, a 1.49 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 2.52 BB/9 in five starts since being recalled June 28. Unlike ultra-hyped prospects Derek Holland(notes) and Neftali Feliz(notes), Hunter's ceiling is limited. However, his general polish, curveball advancements and hard-cutting fastball action are plus characteristics. He's stranded an extraordinarily high amount of base runners thus far (90.0 LOB%), but if he continues to deliver in high-leverage situations (i.e. striking out Miguel Cabrera with the bases loaded in his last start), the youthful 23-year-old should be a useful rotation caboose in deeper formats.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 58 IP, 4 W, 4.56 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 36 K
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Brett Cecil(notes) TOR SP 831 17
Market Value: Strong Short-Term Buy (14-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: One of Doc's many young apprentices, Cecil has recently carved up opponents with surgical precision. In his past three rubber taps, he's emerged victorious twice, posting a miniscule 0.45 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 9.45 K/9 in 20 innings. The sharp-moving action on the southpaw's plus slider and 90-92 mph two-seamer generates abundant whiffs and grounders, excellent characteristics for a still very inexperienced rookie. Walks (3.66 BB/9) and homers (1.37 HR/9) have occasionally been an issue this season, but it appears the 23-year-old is quickly maturing before owners' eyes. Unfortunately, as with any future franchise cornerstone, his arm will be preserved in mothballs come September. But because of Cecil's fabulous make-up, he will undoubtedly notch a handful of serviceable efforts in the few innings he has left.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 42.1 IP, 3 W, 3.96 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 34 K
Fantasy Lames
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Josh Hamilton(notes) TEX OF 745 98
Market Value: Hold (all leagues)
Lowdown: Unnatural in his past several contests, the popular first-round fantasy selection is in the midst of a massive slide. Maybe rocket scientist Ron Washington will permanently bench his two-time All-Star for future HOFer David Murphy(notes). Constrained by frustration, the downtrodden slugger has recorded just four hits, zero for homers, and two RBI in his past 40 at-bats. Accumulating an unsightly 35.0 K percentage over that span, he's been dropped to the seventh spot until a reversal of fortune occurs. Admittedly "overanalyzing," Hamilton appears mentally exhausted. Until he exhibits more patience ('08 CT%: 74.1, '09: 68.6) and squashes his pull-happy attitude ('08 GB/FB: 1.38, '09: 0.84), he will inch his way closer and closer to "bust" status. Hold onto him in shallow leagues, but if the right deal comes along, seriously debate the positives gained from clicking the accept button.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 182 at-bats, .274 BA, 8 HR, 32 RBI, 29 R, 3 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Brandon Inge(notes) DET C, 3B, OF 109 94
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Inge is the anti-Nomar. Although plagued by a terribly painful case of patella tendonitis in his left and right knees, a condition the versatile Tiger described as "excruciating," the warrior continues to play. His selfless reason: "How would I come out in a race this close when the fans in Detroit are going through what they're going through?" Inge will surely be the subject of Toby Keith's next No. 1 hit. Though his toughness is laudable, in fantasy circles, the injury will unquestionably sap his remaining value. Then again, it may have already. Since the All-Star break, he's found open pasture just five times in 37 at-bats (.135 BA). He's also failed to register a homer or RBI and has compiled a wretched 43.2 strikeout percentage. Expected to be hampered by the setback the rest of the season, he's expendable via trade in any format and cut-worthy in shallow mixed leagues despite his catcher eligibility. This week he was shipped for Marlon Byrd(notes), Rafael Furcal(notes) and Joba Chamberlain(notes) in one-for-one Plus league moves. Squeeze out what little value you still can.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 157 at-bats, .231 BA, 4 HR, 19 RBI, 15 R, 0 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Luke Scott(notes) BAL OF 150 69
Market Value: Moderate Power Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: For the power-packed Oriole, Scott's BA apparently has already flown south for the winter. Mired in a 2-for-32 downswing since the break, Scott's average has tumbled from .298 to .275. Based on his batted ball and contact profile, sustaining an average well above .290 was very improbable. A downturn was destined to occur. However, Scott's power surge isn't ridiculous. Entering the season, he had posted three consecutive 14-plus HR/FB percentage seasons. Now that his average has bottomed out to a more appropriate level, owners pining for power should pounce while the buy-low door is wide open. Batting sixth in an explosive lineup will net ample RBI opportunities. A change of address could also spark his slumbering bat.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 175 at-bats, .269 BA, 10 HR, 31 RBI, 25 R, 0 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Casey Blake(notes) LAD 1B, 3B 126 78
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: The once mighty Casey continues to strike out. Languishing in a 16-for-75 slump since July 1 (.213 BA), Blake has touched souvenir city just once with a pair of tens in RBI and runs. Subtract his marvelous May (.353 BA, 4 HR, 18 RBI, 17 R) and the corner infielder's season totals are very vanilla (.242 BA, 8 HR, 45 RBI, 35 R, 2 SB). On a positive note, the bearded bagger continues to draw plenty of walks and log at-bats in the RBI-friendly five spot. But he'll likely be an unbearably bland commodity to own going forward. Widely available options, Edwin Encarnacion(notes) (35 percent-owned), Casey McGehee(notes) (31 percent) and Kevin Kouzmanoff(notes) (20 percent) have the potential to net more production.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 201 at-bats, .265 BA, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 30 R, 1 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Freddy Sanchez(notes) SF 2B 228 67
Market Value: Strong BA Buy (12-team mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Crossing the diamond from the visitors to home dugout Wednesday in San Francisco, the line-drive-lacing Sanchez is an asset to inquire about for the BA-starved. The left knee soreness he presently is suffering from appears to be relatively minor. Trapped in a 1-for-21 funk, the two-bagger's average has dipped below .300 for the first time this season. His sterling LD rate (22.6) and contact profile (84.8 CT%) are strong indicators his numbers plunge is only temporary. The 25th-best pivot man on the season in the Y! game, don't be surprised if he compiles a borderline top-15 performance down the homestretch. This week in one-for-one Plus league deals he attracted Jose Contreras(notes), Andy Pettitte(notes) and Jose Lopez(notes).
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 206 at-bats, .299 BA, 4 HR, 26 RBI, 31 R, 2 SB
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Chad Billingsley(notes) LAD SP 596 98
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Ramming by Mac Truck is the penalty Billingsley owners have had the pleasure of absorbing in three of his past four starts. Tagged for 19 runs in 17.1 innings (9.99 ERA), his ERA has leaped from 3.14 to 3.96. More repulsive, he's also notched a 2.11 WHIP. Location and endurance issues seem to be the primary culprits. After mowing down Cardinals early in his last start, surrendering just one hit in the first five frames, he rapidly unraveled in the sixth. As True Blue LA observed, balls missed Dodgers' gloves and Billingsley pitches danced around the strike-zone. In total, he conceded six runs and six walks in 5.2 innings. Despite coaxing a commendable amount of grounders (50.0 GB% in last four), his unappealing 22.4 line-drive shows he's getting pounded. Add that to his fateful 4.02 BB/9, and the supposed LA ace is a pitcher to pawn off.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 78 IP, 4 W, 4.19 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 70 K
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
Ricky Romero(notes) TOR SP 556 87
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: The untarnished reputation Romero had quickly established has slowly eroded in recent weeks. Reverting back to his May form, the rookie's control has evaporated, causing his ERA to increase sharply. In his past three efforts, including marginal wins against offensively-flaccid Seattle and Cleveland, the southpaw has allowed 12 earned in 15.2 innings. More alarming, he's walked 10 batters. Strangely, the 24-year-old blames the lackluster efforts on throwing "too many strikes." During different stints this season, control has routinely been an issue, which is typical for an immature starter. But because he's allowed an abnormal amount of liners lately (29.6 LD%), Romero owners are feeling especially squeamish. If his command isn't harnessed quickly, his ERA could be tough to stomach in August. The youngster's next four games: vs. NYY, at NYY, vs. Bos and vs. TB – scary.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 65.1 IP, 3 W, 4.33 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 54 K
PLAYER TEAM POS Y!RK Y!%
John Smoltz(notes) BOS SP 867 65
Market Value: Strong Buy (12-team mixed, AL-only)
Lowdown: Based on his deplorable returns, the Tiger Woods wannabe may soon need to turn his attention from the diamond to links. Seemingly buried in an intimidating Turnberry bunker, Smoltz has shown little promise in six appearances – at least superficially. In 30.2 innings, he's posted a head-pounding 7.04 ERA and 1.53 WHIP. Despite his substandard performance, Terry Francona is convinced he will turn things around. Examining his underlying numbers, the skipper's words may indeed prove prophetic. The forty-something's 28:5 K:BB, grossly unfortunate .394 BABIP and 3.96 FIP point to sunnier days. Deep leaguers should buy on the bear.
Fearless Forecast (Rest of season): 64.2 IP, 5 W, 4.05 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 58 K

CRUZ COUNTER
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(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: 24
Moonshots to the money: 2
Pace: 39

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