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Bringin' the Noise: Liriano's long road

Three-thousand miles of tropical waters separate their homes. Mechanically and physically they're polar opposites. And only one of them fears vicious random attacks by Jacuzzis..

But despite their obvious differences Kerry Wood and Francisco Liriano are linked together by one tragic commonality, Tommy John surgery.

In 1998, Wood's electrifying entrance sent Cubs fans and fantasy players on 56k connections into a tizzy. That season in 166.2 IP, the baby-faced 21-year-old earned NL Rookie of the Year honors finishing 13-6 with a 3.40 ERA and league-best 12.59 K/9, including a historic 20-strikeout destruction of the Houston Astros on May 6, a performance still considered by sabermetric pundits as the most-dominant effort in major league history.

However, Wood's legendary rise to prominence deteriorated as quickly as it began.

The following spring he experienced right elbow soreness attributed to the stressful workloads and high volume of sliders thrown the year before. The devastating injury required Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss the entire season.

Wood returned to the mound in 2000 but was a shell of his former self. His velocity, command and confidence vanished. In 137 IP, Wood's ERA (4.80), BB/9 (5.72) and HR/9 (1.12) ballooned, while his previously unmatched K/9 mark shriveled to 8.67.

It wasn't until two years A.T.J. (After Tommy John) that Kid K recaptured his giant stature. In 2001, Wood compiled a commanding 3.36 ERA, 12 victories and 217 strikeouts (11.20 K/9), the fifth-highest total in the bigs.

Wood's sorrowful demise earlier this century is eerily similar to Francisco Liriano's catastrophic downfall this year.

Liriano became an instant fantasy sensation when he replaced Carlos Silva in the Minnesota rotation in May of 2006. His nasty mixture of 94-98 mph four-seam fastballs, untouchable high-80s sliders and dazzling circle changes bewildered hitters. In 121.0 innings, the then 22-year-old finished with a sparkling 12-3 record, 2.16 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 2.38 BB/9 and 10.71 K/9.

Tragically, Liriano, whose season was cut short in September due to elbow pain, was forced to undergo Tommy John in November of '06, abruptly ending his 2007 season. Similar to Wood, a future filled with Cy Young plaques and strikeout titles was delayed.

Entering this year, owner confidence in Liriano (138.0 ADP) was aggressive and ambitious. February and March bullpen session reports, which noted he was routinely clocked at 92-97 mph, intoxicated the fantasy masses. Although several signs of futility – most notably location woes and confidence issues with his slider – were also mentioned, many, including yours truly, stupidly chose to ignore them.

Unfortunately, as Paul Harvey would say, we now know "the rest of the story."

After two highly ineffective starts, Liriano's embarrassing fall from grace was capped April 24 in Oakland. In less time than a piping hot Dominos pizza could've arrived at your door (29 minutes), the broken southpaw, who yielded six earned runs in two-thirds of an inning, sat in the Twins dugout with a dejected Zito-esque look on his face.

Liriano blamed his troubles on self-derived "pressure" but a dramatic decline in velocity (4-7 mph), mechanical deficiencies and low confidence in his slider are the real culprits why he's gone overnight from sure-fired perennial All-Star to marginal Triple-A starter. Regardless of what Ron Gardenhire claims, the third-year hurler, 19 months removed from surgery, clearly wasn't ready.

Since his demotion on April 25, the more doofus than dandy Dominican has been dropped in over 19,000 Y! leagues, a 33.9-percent decline in ownership. The plethora of dismissals isn't shocking. In 10.1 IP, his K/9 (6.10) equaled the fabulous Matt Chico's and his BB/9 (11.32) was nearly on par with years Roger Clemens allegedly rolled in the hay with Mindy McCready. Or with this Manhattan bartender. Or presumably with Paris Hilton.

Yes, he was dreadful in his return to Rochester on April 30 (4.1 IP, 5 H, 5 H, 4 ER), but Wood's resurrection in '01 inspires hope for Liriano backers clinging to the past. Once he reconstructs his composure, refines his control and regains his velocity, the former promising prospect will make a triumphant comeback, potentially later this year.

His supporters' tears have probably overflowed several of Minnesota's 10,000 lakes, but it's unwise to discard the richly talented Twinkie in deeper mixed (14-team-plus) and any keeper leagues just yet. After the All-Star break he'll return to at least a respectable No. 4 level.

And if that prognostication proves true, he'll have something else in common with Wood (5-1, 4.26 ERA, 8.98 K/9, 2000 Post-ASB), an improbable second-half resurgence.

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

Fantasy Flames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
John Lannan
SP 210 2.8
'08 Stats: 30.2 IP, 2 W, 2.64 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 24:14 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Chase Utley better hope he doesn't run into the new and improved Lannan this year. The 23-year-old southpaw, who shattered the current NL home run pacesetter's hand last July, is quickly evolving into a must-own No. 4 anchor in 12-team mixed leagues. The Nationals' minor league pitcher of the year in '07 boasts a slick-moving 90-91 mph fastball, sinking two-seamer, change and developing curve. His command could be more desirable (4.11 BB/9), but his ability to induce abundant groundballs (54.8 GB%), whiff hitters (7.04 K/9) and keep the ball in the park (0.59 HR/9) widens his margin for error. Lannan's extensive video research and his comfort level with catcher Wil Nieves have also been very influential in his meteoric rise. The Nationals have backed Lannan with San Francisco-like run support (1.90 RS/9), which means wins will be rare if the trend persists. However, the lefty's stout strikeout and ERA totals are for real. Classify him alongside upstarts Jair Jurrjens, Shaun Marcum and John Danks.
Fearless Forecast: 180 IP, 10 W, 3.63 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 159 K
Greg Smith
SP 135 2.4
'08 Stats: 33.0 IP, 2 W, 2.73 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 21:11 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (shallow, 12-team mixed), Moderate Sell (AL-only)
Lowdown: Smith, poached from the Diamondbacks in the Dan Haren deal back in December, is another Billy Beane coal-turned-diamond. Crafty, cunning and deceptive, the Oakland southpaw is a master of what Bob Geren calls the "hard-soft game." His artful skill of altering velocities on his 88-91 mph fastball and cutter has bewildered foes. Although he doesn't strike out many batters (5.73 K/9), his ability to draw weak contact much like KC's Brian Bannister has been effective. Despite the glowing positives, his 44.1 FB% and .226 BABIP are flashing signs that his string of quality starts is not long for this world. Smith is a pick-off specialist who can limit his mistakes by keeping runners at bay, but, eventually, the fly-balls will catch up to him away from McAfee Coliseum. Rich Harden's return in two weeks could complicate Smith's role, but he's worth streaming right now in shallow mixed leagues. However, AL-only owners should seek a trade suitor pronto.
Fearless Forecast: 135 IP, 7 W, 3.88 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 104 K
Jorge Cantu
1B, 3B 136 15.8
'08 Stats: .296 BA, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 16 R, 2 SB, 21:8 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (shallow, 12-tm mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: Cantu, Andy Behrens' corner infielder on his all-time porn-stache team, is once again wooing Floridian soccer moms and fantasy freaks with his Matt-Dillon-from-"There's Something About Mary" looks and reinvigorated power. On pace to become the NL Comeback P.O.Y., Cantu has excelled hitting behind Jeremy Hermida, Mike Jacobs and Josh Willingham in the Marlins sixth spot. Still only 26, the former D-Ray is a gap-to-gap hitter who aggressively attacks hurlers early in counts. His improving plate approach (7.8 BB%) and plentiful pop explains, as Cantu put it, why "everything is clicking." Given his position flexibility and 20-homer potency he is similar in style and substance to AL counterpart Erick Hinske. If you're a Hank Blalock owner in need of a replacement, call on the Can-do man.
Fearless Forecast: 560 at-bats, .283 BA, 20 HR, 78 RBI, 80 R, 6 SB
Mike Cameron
OF 1032 22.6
'08 Stats: 3-for-8, 0 HR, 2 RBI, 2 R, 0 SB, 1:2 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Banned stimulant suspensions cannot contain the mediocre batting average greatness that is Mike Cameron. The perennial 20-20 force triumphantly returned to the Brewers lineup on April 29 smacking three hits while driving in two against the Cubs. Ned Yost has remained committed to batting Cameron in the two-hole, which should reap profitable runs and stolen base totals for his backers. Last year in San Diego, the vagabond outfielder launched 21 homers and drove in 78 playing half his games in the Petco black hole. If his fly-ball percentages sustain in the mid-40s ('07: 44.1), he has excellent odds of finishing with 23-27 homers logging at-bats in a friendlier hitting environment. Amazingly, at 35, he still possesses the speed, athleticism and durability of a player ten years his junior. Given his history of high walk rates ('07: 10.5 BB%) and aggressiveness on the basepaths he will be a poor man's Chris Young. If you can tolerate a .255-265 BA, the four-category benefits Cameron provides are very lucrative.
Fearless Forecast: 500 at-bats, .257 BA, 24 HR, 72 RBI, 81 R, 20 SB
Gregor Blanco
OF 816 0.17
'08 Stats: .361 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 4 R, SB, 9:9 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (deep mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: Blanco is the greatest Gregor in major league history. Well, because he's the only Gregor in major league history. As Cubs fans know, Blancos with blazing speed are an exotic species. But in Atlanta, this Blanco is an undiscovered source of steals. Seeing a semi-regular dose of at-bats sharing outfield duties with Mark Kotsay and Matt Diaz, the Venezuelan lefty has discreetly recorded four multi-hit performances since April 18. Entering '08, Blanco was considered a mediocre prospect by most publications but his minor league history of sparkling contact rates (86% in '07), high walk totals (12.0 BB% in '07) and bountiful speed (23 SBs last year) are excellent indicators of potential roto reward. Known as a prolific groundball hitter (53.8 GB% this year), he's more Jerry Owens than Carl Crawford, but as long as he continues to draw walks (20.0 BB%) and find holes in the infield, run and steals totals will be gainful for owners in NL-only and very deep (16-team-plus) mixed leagues, especially if Bobby Cox routinely inserts him into the leadoff sport. It's unsung heroes like Blanco that win challenging "only" leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 306 at-bats, .284 BA, 2 HR, 18 RBI, 46 R, 16 SB
Fantasy Lames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Travis Hafner
1B, DH 310 98.8
'08 Stats: .210 BA, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 12 R, 0 SB, 27:12 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: The Noise is this close to trading Hafner for a vile filled with Max Scherzer crack sweat. On April 30, Pronk was told by Eric Wedge that he needed a mental vacation. No kidding. Hafner's eroding eye ('07 BB%: 15.8, '08: 10.7) and skyrocketing groundball rate (57.8 GB since Apr. 24) are very worrisome. Physically, the Indians DH claims he's never felt better, but bouts of shoulder stiffness have been a common occurrence so far this year. Some scouts have remarked his bat speed has decreased, but Hafner attributes his abysmal 7-for-51 slump to "bad swings" and poor "at-bat management." His 24.0 LD% on the year is a silver lining and an indication that his current funk will be short-lived. Frustrated Pronk owners are ripe for the picking right now, evident in the recent one-for-one Y! Plus league deals made for him this past week – Ryan Theriot, Clay Buchholz and Justin Upton. Better days are ahead for Cleveland's beast of burden. Expect him back in the lineup sometime this weekend.
Fearless Forecast: 580 at-bats, .273 BA, 27 HR, 101 RBI, 89 R, 0 SB
Michael Bourn
OF 154 80.5
'08 Stats: .200 BA, 2 HR, 4 RBI, 12 R, 13 SB, 22:10 K:BB
Market Value: Hold (mixed leagues), Moderate Sell (NL-only)
Lowdown: Groin terrorists have permeated the inner thigh of the NL's premiere base burglar. The fleet-footed Bourn has not attempted a stolen base since being sidelined for three games from April 22-24. More disconcerting, his 5-for-32 (.156 BA) drought has convinced Cecil Cooper that Kaz Matsui is more trustworthy as the 'Stros' leadoff man, until the 25-year-old "gets going a little bit." Bourn's deplorable 24.4 K% and dungeon-dwelling 9.1 LD% (17.8 in '07) clearly explains why he's slumping. Ignorant fantasy owners who are thirsty for steals will likely overpay for his 86 SB pace, which means you should feed on the feeble. Honestly, Bourn is the reincarnation of Juan Pierre. In other words, he's an overrated two-cat (SB and R) contributor with an inflated fantasy price-tag. In Y! Plus leagues since April 29, he was swapped straight up for Takashi Saito, Yunel Escobar and Brad Hawpe in one-for-one transactions.
Fearless Forecast: 500 at-bats, .262 BA, 5 HR, 29 RBI, 84 R, 51 SB
Kevin Kouzmanoff
3B 620 63.7
'08 Stats: .256 BA, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 3 R, 0 SB, 25:3 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: Kouzmanoff really should vacation in Tahiti during April and May. The Padres third baseman again plodded through April, but not to the repulsive extent of last season. In '07, he didn't collect his 31st hit until June 7. Kouz's detestable 25:3 K:BB split, equally ugly 50.5 GB% ('07: 41.3) and downward sliding 33.0 FB% (40.5) suggest that his swing has been too top-heavy. Still, the Cosmonaut's bat is primed for a galactic explosion. He experienced a similar outage last year, but really turned things on after May 7, collecting a .309 BA. Bud Black has remained dedicated to him as the Pads' cleanup hitter and once Tadahito Iguchi and Brian Giles start to heat up, the 26-year-old's RBI totals will rise sharply. Kouz connected for his second homer of the season off brontosaurus Jamie Moyer on April 30, which could be the start of a torrid streak. If you need CI help, pitch an offer while he's still hanging on the clearance rack.
Fearless Forecast: 625 at-bats, .280 BA, 21 HR, 88 RBI, 81 R, 0 SB
Ian Snell
SP 765 91.5
'08 Stats: 34.2 IP, 2 W, 4.93 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 23:14 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Through five starts, Snell's ERA and WHIP have emanated a loathsome odor. Based on Snell's forward step last season, many pundits expected the Buccos righty to exceed his moderate expectations (154.7 ADP). Instead of taking another forward leap in production, he's regressed in several key areas – BB/9 ('07: 2.94, '08: 3.63), LD% (16.6, 24.1) and, most disconcerting, K/9 (7.66, 5.97). Snell blames his lack of punchout production on "trying to place the ball instead of throwing hard." It's this finesse style coupled with a rushed approach that has caused his him to surrender eight earned runs in his past 10.1 IP. The 27-year-old undoubtedly still has the mid-90s gas to dominate at times, but his negativity has clouded his confidence. Outside of his pitfalls, Snell has sliced significant chunks off his HR/9 ('07: 0.95, '08: 0.52) and FB% (37.5, 33.6), terrific signs that once he repairs his psyche profitable numbers will follow. A 177-srtikeout repeat isn't likely, but he should reverse the current course and finish with respectable No. 3-4 numbers in 12-team mixed leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 190 IP, 11 W, 3.96 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 162 K
Tom Gorzelanny
SP 890 43.7
'08 Stats: 27.1 IP, 2 W, 6.91 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, 17:27 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: The enormous disdain Gorzelanny has received from fantasy fans about his underwhelming performance has gone so far even his bobblehead likeness has resorted to obscene gestures in retaliation. On the outside, Gorzelanny's six-plus ERA and 1.90 WHIP are despicable, but under the hood there are signs of growth. Surprisingly, the Droopy look-a-like has yielded a 14.3 LD% (18.3 in '07), 47.6 GB% (42.1) and 38.1 FB% (39.6) in 27.1 adventurous innings. Solid. But his atrocious command (8.89 BB/9) has killed him. When he refines his control, his ERA will nosedive. In order to do that, Pirates skipper John Russell noted that Gorzy "needs to challenge hitters with quality pitchers and find life down in the zone." Assuming the back tightness he experienced versus the Mets on April 30 doesn't become a lingering issue expect dramatic improvements soon. Remember, Gorzelanny was equally as valuable as Jered Weaver in Y! leagues last year.
Fearless Forecast: 175 IP, 10 W, 4.09 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 129 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 Apr. 30

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?

Thanks very much Brad and the rest of the Yahoo team, for likely ruining my shot at getting Max Scherzer. I've been watching him since before the season started, but thanks to you guys blowing him up every single day and insisting people try to pick him up, I'm gonna miss out because I don't have the number 1 waiver priority in my leagues. People who have no clue who this guy is will pick him up now ONLY because you guys have been so persistent and not because they've been paying attention. This is garbage. At least stop putting these stories on the fantasy front page where everybody will see it. Very frustrating. Make people do some of their own research, dammit.Brendan, Myrtle Beach, SC

I'm getting really annoyed with these articles on can't miss prospects that everyone should spend their waiver priority on to get. I lost out on Cueto at the beginning of the year because he was so hyped up in these articles. Now I'm going to lose out on Max Scherzer whenever Yahoo decides to add him to the free agent pool. It's really difficult to gain a competitive advantage on your opponents when any casual player gets the inside scoop on top prospects about to be added just the same as someone who studies the game. Come on guys, cut us some slack here.Paul, Kingston, Ontario

Noise: To no one's surprise, my inbox was bombarded with numerous vitriolic emails about my musings on "The Schiznit" and his subsequent unavailability in Y! leagues. Some readers complained about our lack of coordination. Most expressed disgust about our shallow prospect pool. As a Y! fantasy player too, these points are justified. We're currently working on resolving these issues in the future and are dedicated to improving the Web's No. 1 game. But be patient. Implementing changes without repercussion takes time.

To those who find it discouraging that we write about players not available in the free agent pool, maybe it's time you compete in a league that isn't brimming with owners who sleep on Hannah Montana sheets. Providing information and well-formulated opinions on fresh faces is why I receive a purple-colored paycheck every two weeks. Shocking, I know.

What's hilarious about this entire Mad Max saga is that not a single email landed in my inbox when I first detailed him back on March 5 in the RP Primer. Only after he annihilated PCL and now MLB (4.1 IP, 7 K - Goo-goo, ga-ga!) competition did people feel the need to respond.

Sure, we're educating the neophytes, but that's kind of the point. Would you lambaste a history teacher for imparting knowledge to teens about the importance of Jackie Robinson on the Civil Rights movement? Hopefully not, unless your favorite all-time team was the 1947 Philadelphia Phillies.

Put the Johnny Cueto issue to bed. He's clearly got a great arm (to develop) but his last three starts haven't been anything I want on my score sheet. What do you think about Cueto NOW and for the coming months? Forget that its only a month into the season, I want it from Evans in 20 words or less!Rob, Guelph, Ontario

Noise: Rob, as my editors would attest and my weekly 5,000-plus word rambles would show brevity doesn't exist on planet Big Noise.

Unquestionably, I've been wrong on a number of predictions and prognostications in my time &ndash' I'm still waiting for Rich Hill to enter puberty – but I can proudly say that my Cueto forecast was impeccable. The ridiculous comparisons to Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez were laughable and misguided. Yes, he's a terrific talent, but to place him in a class of baseball immortals after only two starts was ludicrous. The underlying numbers, specifically his 50-plus percent FB%, was a clear indicator his ERA was bound to surpass 4.00.

As for the rest of this season, I think Cueto will remain a serviceable No. 4. starter in 12-team mixed leagues. Yes, he was shellacked by the Cardinals (6 ER in 1.2 IP) on April 29, but he's trimmed his FB% down to a manageable 44.6. However, his awful 13.3 HR/FB% and rising BB/9 rate (1.54) suggests his ERA will hover in the 4.20-4.50 range. Chip in roughly 165-175 strikeouts, a 1.10-1.15 WHIP and 9-11 wins and you're looking at a higher ERA version of James Shields '07. Superb? Not quite. Right now, he's certainly not worth Brian Roberts, Edinson Volquez and Miguel Tejada, who he was dealt straight up for in one-for-one Y! Plus league swaps earlier this week.

Brad, What do you make of McLouth's start this year? I had him pegged as a 4th outfielder and drafted him as such. With his production, he has quickly become my number one outfielder. Is he a sell high candidate or should I enjoy the ride? BTW- I took your draft advice and went after Sheffield in both my Yahoo leagues. You owe me a beer for that one!Jason, Cedar Point, IA

Noise: Only our Michael Scott, Brandon Funston, had tent-pitching feelings for the 39-year-ancient Sheffield around the Y! office. Honestly, I thought he was a fair value based on his ADP (87.3), but his susceptibility to injury was a major turn-off. Feel free to "vent" with Funbags over Sheffield at your leisure.

As for the booty-licious McLouth, his greyhound start isn't terribly shocking. His sensational post-ASB last season (.267 BA, 12 HR, 30 RBI, 44 R, 16 SB) and skyrocketing contact rates were clear-cut signs that a leap in production was in the '08 forecast. This season, McLouth has put bat on ball with astounding efficiency. His 23.4 K% from '07 has nearly sliced in half (12.6) and his HR/FB% has soared, up 4.8 percent from last season.

Despite the positives, I believe McLouth is a moderate sell high candidate. When you look at his 49.5 FB%, 17.5 LD% and .344 BABIP side-by-side, it implies that his BA has been in bed with Lady Luck. Usually when a player has nearly identical BABIP and BA totals coupled with a FB% over 45.0 and LD rates below 20.0, it indicates a drop in BA is on the horizon. Realistically, he'll be a 25 HR, 15 SB, 100 R, 80 RBI player, but expect a BA around .280, not .340.

Despite his loss April 29, Tim Lincecum is 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA with 40 Ks and 15 BBs. Should I sell high?Robert, San Jose, CA

Noise: Because of his torrid start, Lincecum erotica has circulated around the Y! office like an Internet virus. Hell, Funston has permanently plastered an enlarged version of the photo on his cube wall. On slow days he gazes into "The Franchise's" BluBlocker-covered eyes and serenades him with Human League's "Don't You Want Me." It's disturbingly hilarious. OOOOHHHH!!

As a strong Lincecum supporter I can safely recommend that now is not the time to sell high. He's this good. Obviously, his miniscule ERA won't remain under 2.00 for the entire season and I would like to see him slice a few free passes of his 3.72 BB/9, but he's shown marked improvement in K/9 ('07: 9.23, '08: 9.91) and FB% ('07: 37.5, '08: 31.5), which will aid him in environments outside AT&T. More importantly, he's getting a fair amount of run support (3.90 RS/9) meaning 11-14 wins doesn't seem unattainable.

Tiny Tim is attracting notable names on the open market in Y! plus league deals – Grady Sizemore, J.J. Putz, Fausto Carmona – but given his sparkling peripherals and noticeable advancements, he's capable of finishing with a line around, 200 IP, 12 W, 3.01 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 198 K.

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