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Bringin' the Noise: Once in a Blue Moon

If you're a fan of Carl Sagan, Jodie Foster in "Contact" and "Muppets from Space," you may have noticed a rare astronomical event is scheduled to occur on May 31, a blue moon.

By one definition, a blue moon is the second full moon in a calendar month. Or, for those familiar with adult beverages, it's a refreshing, smooth summer witibier usually served with an orange slice.

For fantasy followers, one player's futile efforts over the first two months has plummeted his value to a once in a blue moon bargain.

Believe me. An occurrence of this magnitude is more infrequent than Wayward Whale Bob Wickman munching on a salad drenched in low-fat dressing.

The aforementioned markdown: Garrett Atkins.

Sifting through my inbox over the past two weeks, I have literally received a Rocky Mountain-high stack of expletive-laced emails from tortured Atkins souls who have whined, worried and become inconsolable over a player they've compared to the tear-in-my-beer Adrian Beltre of '05.

If you're one of the millions of trade sharks out there who smell blood in the water, now is the time to seize the Colorado meat-and-cheese diet at a closeout price.

Why?

Here are four reasons Atkins turns it around and finishes in whizzing distance of a .300 BA with 20 HR and 90 RBI:

1. Clint Hurdle refuses to have a short-term memory on Atkins and will not replace him anytime soon with either Jeff Baker or hot prospect Ian Stewart.
2. Atkins career BABIP of .312 means it's highly unlikely his current .248 output will sustain – especially with a quality 10.2 BB%.
3. Once Atkins tweaks his plate approach, his sky-high 49.1 FB% will translate into more homers.
4. The Triple-H attack of Holliday, Helton and Hawpe have body-slammed opposing hurlers in May, notching a combined .315 BA, 15 HR and 51 RBI – softballs will soon come Atkins' way.

Here are this week's flames, lames and buyer aims:

Fantasy Flames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Kevin Kouzmanoff
3B 787 2.0
'07 Stats: .206 BA, 4 HR, 22 RBI, 8 R, 33:11 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: Holy Sputnik! With 18 RBI in May, Kooz "The Cosmonaut" has jettisoned to the abandoned bastard stepchild of the Solar System, Pluto. Since May 11, the Padres rookie has clubbed three home runs, driven in 15 and raised his average by an obscene 90 points. Credit Bud Black for standing behind the youngster through his tribulations instead of instituting a time-share with Rob Deer-impersonator Russell Branyan. Kouzmanoff has fixed the black holes in his swing and doubled his LD% over the past month. He has stroked a .330-plus BA at every professional level and should inch his way close to .290 by the break. In a redraft I would take Kooz over Scott Rolen, Eric Chavez and Aubrey Huff. Hopefully, keeper leaguers followed my "must buy" advice back on April 11.
Casey Kotchman
1B 196 2.2
'07 Stats: .302 BA, 4 HR, 25 RBI, 18 R, 2 SB, 12:16 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: If Kotchman continues to rake, Dodger loyalist Alyssa Milano may have to switch L.A. allegiances. Similar to Kouzmanoff, the 24-year-old Kotchman had a legendary minor league career and it was only a matter of time before his swing would translate to major league success. Among one-baggers with 70 or more May at-bats, Kotchman ranks fifth in BA with a searing .342 mark. A multi-hit machine, over his past 10 games he's compiled six multi-hit games with six RBI. Batting fifth in a stout Halos lineup, his heavenly 12:16 K:BB split indicates his fiery lumber is no aberration. His sticky glove and plate performance remind me of Mark Grace. Nostradomus Noise: .310 BA, 15 HR, 85 RBI.
Yuniesky Betancourt
SS 229 2.4
'07 Stats: .287 BA, 4 HR, 20 RBI, 22 R, 2 SB, 14:5 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Ranked ahead of shortstop superstars Bill Hall and Rafael Furcal in Y! leagues and on pace for 14 homers, 70 RBI and 77 R, Betancourt has been a pleasant surprise. The 25 year-old is an excellent contact hitter with gap power who has the speed to steal 15-20 bases if not for his tepidness on the basepaths. Betancourt is relatively unpolished with only five walks in 161 at-bats, but he should be an undercover top-30 MI, useful in deeper mixed formats. Survey Says: .285 BA, 12 HR, 69 RBI, 70 R, 10 SB.
Jeff Francis
SP 663 11.3
'07 Stats: 4 W, 73.1 IP, 3.93 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 41:22 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Every time I gaze at Francis' picture, I swear we have the same daddy. The Noise doppelganger quietly has amassed a stupid 1.70 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in his past five starts. Francis' horrific 6.52 ERA and 2.00 WHIP April was largely blamed on a lack of location that he "couldn't put a finger on." Now with his ERA under 4.00 for the first time this season, the southpaw has remained ahead in counts and corrected his previous flaw of leaving fastballs up in the zone. With his BB/9 at a career best 2.70, his pristine command is back and quality starts will likely ensue. His low K/9 rates (5.03) aren't sexy, but he's a secretive source of ERA and wins who, in fantasy speak, is a left-handed Derek Lowe. Mad Prophecy: 13 W, 3.68 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 135 K.
Kevin Slowey
SP N/A 0.07
'07 Stats: (AAA) 64.2 IP, 1.54 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 57:5 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Slowey could be a Cinderella story much like his Alma Mater, Winthrop, was in this year's NCAA Tournament. Slowey's claims to fame are his aggressive mound moxie and tricky 88-92 mph fastball, which he controls with Jedi mind precision. Scouts have compared his game to Brad Radke and, based on his unbelievable 277:35 K:BB in 285.2 minor league IP, he has the command to be a frontline starter. Don't expect a reincarnated Radke from '97 right away, but an ERA around 4.00 with top-flight WHIP numbers and a K/9 of 7.00 is achievable. Snag him in 12-team leagues if you're a frustrated Dave Bush owner looking for a possible long-term replacement. Expected to replace Ramon Ortiz in the rotation versus Oakland on Friday, all he needs is a couple of strong performances to be a fixture in the Twinkie rotation.
Fantasy Lames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Tadahito Iguchi
2B 784 51.8
'07 Stats: .220 BA, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 18 R, 3 SB, 23:19 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Last year Iguchi was one of three second basemen, along with world-class two-baggers Chase Utley and Brandon Phillips, to reach the bleachers at least 15 times and swipe 10 or more bags. Notoriously inconsistent in his career, his recent troubles – he's currently mired in a 3-for-26 slump – can be surmised in a word: unlucky. Yes, his pathetic .220 BA is an eyesore, but examine the peripherals. Amazingly, his LD% is up by nearly three points, his BB% is over 11 for the first time in his career and his K% (16.3) is well below his career average of 20.5. Jabber Jaw (Ozzie Guillen) is steadfast in his commitment to keep Iguchi as his two-hitter and, based on his career .282 BA in June/July, a rebound is looming.
Lance Berkman
OF, 1B 217 99.9
'07 Stats: .250 BA, 5 HR, 24 RBI, 24 R, 3 SB, 40:42 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: If you truly believe Berkman will have fewer homers than Elijah Dukes by season's end, the D-Rays model citizen will receive a endearing Father's Day card from his estranged spouse. To say Berkman's power shortage has been a massive letdown is a gross understatement. An in-depth inspection of the numbers shows he's become gopher-happy with an absurd 47.4 GB%, well-above his career average of 41.4%. Because his walk totals remain healthy (19.5 BB%) and he showcases one of flattest, most natural through-the-zone swings of any hitter in baseball, the homers will come. Last year he followed an equally ghastly May (.240 BA, 4 HR, 16 RBI) with a sizzling June (.348 BA, 8 HR, 25 RBI) and will likely repeat the feat. Dealt for John Smoltz, Mariano Rivera and James Shields in recent one-for-one trades, steal him before his unpreventable explosion squanders any chance of a trade discount.
Conor Jackson
1B 618 27.8
'07 Stats: .274 BA, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 20 R, SB, 15:23 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy/Sell
Lowdown: Now that Bob Melvin has asininely compared upstart Mark Reynolds to Mark McGwire, it's safe to assume Jackson's days as a full-timer are in jeopardy. Reynolds' improbable journey from Double-A dark-horse to big league juggernaut puts an enormous amount of pressure on Jackson. The marvelously talented 25 year-old is a pole-to-pole whacker who has collected six multi-hit games in his past eight contests. Although he deserves "flame" status after raising his average by nearly 52 points since May 18, he could enter into a platoon at first when Chad Tracy returns to the lineup in a week. For those of you indulgent tweakers out there who fervently click the add/drop button, the motivated CJ is a superb temporary play. However, if I were in an NL-only league, I would try to maximize profit based on Melvin's man-crush for Reynolds.
Pat Burrell
OF 580 71.5
'07 Stats: .226 BA, 6 HR, 22 RBI, 21 R,
Market Value: Hold
Lowdown: In similar fashion as Miss USA in the Miss Universe pageant, Burrell has tripped on his dress in recent weeks. In an awful 1-for-19 slide, it's obvious the mammoth two-week void left by Ryan Howard taxed "The Bat." Burrell has always had squirrel stones in pressure situations, so his recent downswing is no surprise. Interestingly, his BB% has skyrocketed this season, eclipsing the 20 percent mark for the first time in his career. But a sharp rise in FB% (54.1 in '07 vs. 47.8 in '06) shows he's become too pop-happy. Howard already has three homers in his first five games back, which implies Burrell will benefit soon. Stay the course, peeps. He'll still finish close to 30 homers with 95 RBI.
Gil Meche
SP 277 86.6
'07 Stats: 3 W, 70.2 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 52:19 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell
Lowdown: Like Lindsey Lohan after a late-night tango with the Captain, Meche will crash your ERA into the curb. Tattooed for 12 ER in his past 9.1 IP, the most overpriced, overrated starter in the game has finally returned to his estate in fantasy crap-land. To Meche's credit, he has trimmed his BB/9 rate by nearly 32 percent, but his fondness for coughing up the longball will push his ERA into 4.00-4.25 range in the very near future. He's not won a game in nearly a month, receives adequate run support and is now dealing with lower back stiffness, which plagued him at times last year. Package him before he becomes utterly worthless.

TRUE OR FALSE?
We've all seen these seemingly ambiguous statements on exams and quizzes since elementary school, now the classic test teaser gets a fantasy makeover. Each week, I'll tackle pressing diamond topics with a direct, succinct answer. Please, keep your eyes on your own paper.

1. Now is the time to maximize profit on Magglio Ordonez. – Andrew, Middleport, NY

Answer: False. Has anyone else noticed that the Magglio Mane resembles Sylvester Stallone's greasy mop from "Rambo"? Maggs, on pace to establish new career watermarks in homers (39) and RBI (157), has killed more baseballs this year than Stallone did Soviets in "Rambo III." Obviously, the presence of Gary Sheffield has influenced Ordonez's pitch selection, which explains his current career best 12.2 BB%. Despite being on the backside of his power prime at 33, he has increased his FB% (45.6) by eight percent, effortlessly driving balls out of the park. He's always been a .300-plus hitter and as long as Sheff remains healthy, the 33-year-old Ordonez will imitate Jermaine Dye of 2006. Although his .356 BA is a smidge inflated, he's a consistency king who will continue to command and conquer. Fearless Forecast: .320 BA, 38 HR, 125 RBI, 105 R.

It's all downhill for the rest of Rich Hill's season. – Ken, St. Louis, MO

Answer: False. Ignore the decay in ERA, "climbing up on Solisbury" Hill will continue to make your heart go boom, boom, boom. The downcast string of games in which Hill posted a 7.41 ERA (May 11-22) is the law of averages doing its work. Because he's a flyball pitcher (43.1 FB%) the longball will pummel him on occasion – indicative of his four homers allowed in San Diego on May 22. After an insanely efficient 66-pitch, six-inning performance in LA on May 27, it appears he's ironed out the kinks. If he balances his sick 12-to-6 hammer with more fastballs and changeups (i.e. what he did to the Dodgers) he's nearly unhittable. As I've maintained since March, Hill will finish with a final line around: 13-15 W, 3.40 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 185 K.

NOTABLE NOISE
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Barry Bonds? 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?

I think you misused the BABIP stat in your recent analysis of Randy Wolf. You said his high BABIP would lead to a higher ERA. If he has a high BABIP it is likely to go down and therefore help the ERA and related stats.

Patrick, Akron Ohio

Noise: In many ways, the "Noise" mimics Jose Canseco. When mistake free it sleeps with Madonna and posts 40/40 seasons. When ridden with error it takes a deep Carlos Martinez fly off the melon for an unfortunate home run – the misuse of Randy Wolf's BABIP data is one of these moments. Patrick, you and the dozens of other saberheads that wrote-in are completely correct. Most BABIP pitcher numbers – it denotes hits a pitcher allows, not including HR – normalize around the .300 mark by year's end. Since Wolf showcases a dynamite 9.68 K/9, less contact will be drawn, subsequently dipping his BABIP and, more importantly, his ERA – unless he doesn't eat his Lucky Charms. Honestly, I've always had a couple of toes, but not an entire foot soaking in the saber pool. For those of you curious what other pitching bargains are out there based on BABIP numbers, here's a shortlist:

Curt Schilling, Bos (.339)
David Bush, Mil (.337)
C.C. Sabathia, Cle (.335)
Cole Hamels, Phi (.325)
Boof Bonser, Min (.325)
Erik Bedard, Bal (.323)
Aaron Harang, Cin (.321)
Greg Maddux, SD (.319)


Brad, would you get off the Corey Patterson bandwagon already? That lame ride lost all its wheels at least two years ago. Seriously, if you set aside the one good year he had in '04, the guy's average stats in his other four full seasons are: .258 BA, 14 HR, 49 RBI, 61 R, 24 SB. The guy is a fantasy wasteland in four categories and less serviceable than the ancient Kenny Lofton in steals. He's unownable and is a poor man's Adrian Beltre. I've never had any interest in owning him and the fact that you're still trying to get people to buy on him makes me think Patterson is paying your for street cred.

Matt, Syracuse, NY

Noise: The only people paying me for street cred are Rich Hill and Axl Rose, who crawled out of his bear cave last week to collect the extra twenty bucks he made from the spike in "Patience" downloads on ITunes. Maybe now he can get over Stephanie Seymour. Yes, Patterson's dreadful numbers won't take you down to the Paradise City in several categories, but he was one of only five players to have at least 15 homers and 40 steals last year. Since I labeled him a "strong buy" on May 23, he's hit safely in six of seven and has five steals over that span. Patterson will post an undesirable BA, but another 40-plus steals seems probable. BTW, if you're looking for a true fantasy wasteland, see Rocco Baldelli.


Brad, in your recent "Noise" you called John Maine a strong sell. Are you kidding me? Have you watched him pitch? The kid has nasty stuff, averages nearly a K per inning and because he's pitching for the Mets, it's no stretch to expect 20 wins from this stud. Ignore his last three mediocre starts and you've got a pitcher who, over the past two years, is 11-5 with a sub-3.00 ERA and 108 Ks in 134 IP. Sure, his last three starts were run-of-the-mill, but his previous 20 starts are a better reflection of the kind of pitcher he will be in the future. You need some patience for a kid who just turned 26.

Dan, Denver, CO

Noise: Indeed his 6.46 RS/9 (7th in the NL) conjures up thoughts of 20 wins, but as I mentioned last week, the amount of walks the guy has yielded (34 BB in 64.1 IP) gives me pause. Hell, the last time a starter tallied over 100 free passes in a season and won 20 games was Russ Ortiz back in 2003. For those of you saberheads familiar with Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) stats – unlike BABIP it measures how a pitcher truly pitches based on what he specifically controls – it suggests Maine's ERA should sit at 3.85 not 2.79. Until his wretched 4.99 BB/9 drops to an acceptable level, he'll be an overvalued fantasy starter. You said it best – Maine will be a trustworthy top-of-the-rotation starter "in the future."


Kazuo Matsui a strong buy? Man, I think my IQ just dropped 10 points after reading your column. Mark Reynolds? Are you nuts? I'm guessing next week will consist of Alex Cora and Angel Pagan. Am I correct?

Reed, Cincinnati, OH

Noise: Wow, that statement ranks second on the imbecile scale only to Steelers coach Larry Zierlein, who forwarded pornographic emails to NFL Commish Roger Goodell last week. Let's see, since I tagged Marky Mark and Matsui strong buys on May 23 they've accumulated a combined 18 hits, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 13 R and 1 SB. Yep, a part primate, part Paris Hilton chimpanzee that huffs gasoline for a hobby has a higher fantasy IQ than me. No wonder I never got into an Ivy League school. Next week, anticipate 4,000 words on the greatness that was Sid Bream.


On man Evans, your last Noise was the best yet – Duran Duran, Speed Racer and Turd Ferguson references. Clutch performance.

W.N.S., Boston, MA

Noise: If I get to the point when Bananarama references are written regularly, please burn my parachute pants and sacrifice me to the pop culture gods.