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Bringin' the Noise: Over the Hill

If bad things occur in threes, unbearable soul-crushing hell comes in fours.

In a span of nine days, the Noise's Friends and Family squad has gone from a frustrating-to-own band of underachievers to a motley crew of waiver wire nincompoops who find dungeon-dwelling tolerable. The numerous red "NA" and "DL" labels that currently decorate the Y! – Evans roster looks like my team had a violent back-alley encounter with Marvin Harrison.

The carnage began on April 25 when Francisco Liriano was demoted to Triple-A Rochester. Five days later came Troy Tulowitzki's quadriceps tear, followed soon thereafter by news of El Chupacabra's (Yovani Gallardo) torn ACL. And to cap the series of unfortunate events, the most heart-wrenching catastrophe of all occurred May 4 when the Noise's main man-tasy, Rich Hill, was reassigned to Triple-A Iowa after surrendering four walks to the Cardinals in two-thirds of an inning the night before.

The cases of Jose Cuervo consumed on Cinco de Mayo were not therapeutic enough.

After hours of sorrowful introspection, Kleenex consumption and picture burning, the disturbing bro-mance between the Noise and No. 53 is officially over.

You read it right. I'm breaking up with Hill.

No more sharing sundaes on summer days. No more romantic hand-in-hand sunset walks along the shores of Lake Michigan. And no more "Erasure Night" dance parties at Boystown bars.

As Neil Diamond said it best in "Love on the Rocks":

Gave you my heart
Gave you my soul
You left me alone here
With nothing to hold
Yesterday's gone
Now all I want is a smile

Screw smiles. All I want from Richie-kins are quality starts …

Hill's unforeseen meltdown was depressing and disheartening. Unable to hurdle numerous mental roadblocks, his impeccable command unraveled, noted by his soaring BB/9 ('07: 2.91, '08: 8.24) and dwindling K/9 ('07: 8.45, '08: 6.86).

Most of the blame falls on Hill's shoulders, but Lou Piniella's tough-love strategy is also partly responsible for his demise. Twice Hill pitched on eight days rest, something that would disrupt any pitcher's rhythm and routine. And even when he did take the mound, the quick hook always loomed. Clearly, Lou's unsweetened approach bruised the 29-year-old's fragile ego. Ted Lilly, who struggled with his command and velocity earlier this season, was able to work through his misadventures. Why not Hill?

Outwardly, Hill has appeared frustrated, exhausted and dejected, but he refuses to accept the problem is mental. Instead, he says his troubles are the result of a flawed delivery. As the dismayed starter told the Chicago Tribune on May 4, his "arm angle was dropping down consistently," forcing his pitches to consistently stray out of the zone.

So, should you break up with Hill?

Regardless of whether his troubles are psychological or mechanical in nature, a fantasy relationship with Hill in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues is worth salvaging. Despite his setbacks, he's improved in several peripheral areas, including HR/9 ('07: 1.25, '08: 0.91), LD% (21.1, 16.7) and BAA (.236, .190). Sure his 50.0 FB% is unsettling, but once he rediscovers his command, he'll induce more grounders, record more strikeouts and return to a strong No. 3 level. In his first Iowa start Hill's command was nearly immaculate (5 IP, 2 ER, 5:1 K:BB), a great sign his mental rehabilitation will be brief. If you have the bench space, absolutely stash him.

Piniella has maintained that Jon Lieber is merely a placeholder in the Cubs rotation until Hill rounds into form. And after Lieber was torched for five earned in two innings in Cincy on Wednesday, his role as regent is already in jeopardy. Once the mental and/or mechanical demons are tweaked, Hill will be recalled, presumably by the end of May.

And when that happens, maybe, just maybe, the Noise will come crawling back.

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

Fantasy Flames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Gavin Floyd
SP 105 25.9
'08 Stats: 39.2 IP, 3 W, 2.50 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 19:18 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Floyd nearly pulled off the unthinkable for inflatable love cushions everywhere. Floyd's near second no-no has owners feeling "Comfortably Numb." The former Philadelphia top prospect's confidence in his off-speed stuff has soared as he's riddled hitters with a recipe of knee-buckling curves and changes. Without an overpowering fastball, he won't strikeout more than 6.00 batters per nine (4.31 K/9 in '08), but if his somewhat elusive command (4.08 BB/9) can sharpen, he has above average odds of totaling double-digit wins and an ERA near 4.00. Still, as Brandon Funston pointed out, his hideous 53.4 FB% could be disastrous as the weather warms in the very hitter-friendly Cell. His Field Independent Pitching forecast is bleak (4.77 ERA), which means you should package him immediately while his value is at its zenith.
Fearless Forecast: 175 IP, 11 W, 4.36 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 105 K
Scott Olsen
SP 77 48.9
'08 Stats: 48.2 IP, 4 W, 2.22 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 23:19 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (shallow, 12-team mixed), Moderate Sell (NL-only)
Lowdown: Olsen, recently known more for his drunken, face-scrapping WWE matches with law enforcement, has made significant strides in growth and maturity. With his fiery ego in check, Olsen's raw intensity has been channeled positively. Instead of trying to blow opponents away with mid-90s heat, the former premiere prospect has purposely tried to draw more contact. It's worked brilliantly. After dominating Milwaukee over 8.2 innings, Olsen said the key to his success was "staying down and throwing a lot of offspeed pitches … I was trying to let them beat balls into the ground." His 4.25 K/9 rate isn't exactly mouth-watering and his 53.7 FB% and .197 BABIP are alarming, but, unlike Gavin Floyd, Olsen's friendly surroundings suggests he's less likely to rapidly reverse course. Yes, his current 2.22 ERA is unsustainable, but the 24-year-old's improved command ('07: 4.33 BB/9, '08: 3.51) and deception points to solid No. 4 numbers in 12-team mixed leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 185 IP, 13 W, 3.78 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 134 K
Ronny Cedeno
SS, 2B 194 14.5
'08 Stats: .345 BA, 1 HR, 18 RBI, 14 R, 2 SB, 11:7 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (shallow, 12-tm mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: The slender, giraffe-necked infielder could earn additional at-bats very soon. Dangled as a throw-in for Brian Roberts in February, Cedeno has become an indispensable bat in the National League's most ferocious lineup. With Mark DeRosa in a major offensive swoon, the versatile 25-year-old is starting to shag flies in center, an indication he could start stealing at-bats from Reed Johnson once Felix Pie is inevitably sent packing to Iowa. Cedeno's more selective approach at the plate is the primary reason why he's blossomed. Last season, he posted a 3.9 BB%. This season that number has spiked to 12.1. Hitting the ball on the ground with more authority ('07 GB%: 33.3, '08: 43.9) has helped him utilize his largely unnoticed plus speed. Scouts have always raved about his natural tools and, with his eye in focus, he has the potential to be a 15-15 producer with 425 at-bats. Shockingly, he's totaled more RBIs than shortstop icons Derek Jeter, Rafael Furcal and Michael Young in roughly 80 fewer at-bats. Owners in 12-team mixed leagues with deep benches should scour the wire for the blooming Cedeno immediately.
Fearless Forecast: 400 at-bats, .290 BA, 10 HR, 71 RBI, 77 R, 12 SB
Jack Cust
OF 287 4.9
'08 Stats: .242 BA, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 17 R, 0 SB, 34:27 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: For those wanting to purchase power in bulk put "Costco" Cust on your shopping list. Since April 27, Cust has slammed three homers, recorded 13 hits, driven in five runs and notched a stupid 28.1 LD%. The 29-year-old bomber recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that he's "hitting the ball harder" and isn't "missing any good pitches." Cust blamed his early season drought on "soft" bats, citing that the ball is jumping off his latest, harder shipment. Much like Cincinnati's Adam Dunn, Cust is known for searing streaks. For example, from May 6-19 last year, he cracked eight long-balls in a span of just 13 games. Due to his obscene line-drive rates (23.6 LD%), phenomenal plate patience (22.8 BB%) and bruising natural brawn, he'll likely accumulate 27-32 homers this season. For those in need of an instant power upgrade, toss Cust in your cart.
Fearless Forecast: 450 at-bats, .259 BA, 29 HR, 76 RBI, 77 R, 0 SB
Chase Headley
3B 1056 0.08
'08 Stats (AAA): .265 BA, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 18 R, 0 SB, 33:13 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (deep mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: The tasty Portland Beavers left fielder could be on the verge of earning a permanent big league promotion. Rumors on popular fantasy message boards and local San Diego sports radio stations have surfaced that Headley could be recalled when the Padres finish their current road trip in Atlanta on Thursday. Given the Pads' current detestable offensive state, Headley's prodigious bat would be a major upgrade over Scott Hairston and Paul McAnulty, who are hitting a combined .212. Headley has been a slight disappointment thus far at Triple-A, recording a .265 BA with three homers, 13 RBI and a 33:13 K:BB split in 117 at-bats. However, he's a smooth-swinging switch-hitter with all-fields power who has the potential to launch 15-20 homers and tally a .270-.280 BA with 425-plus at-bats. If he earns everyday PT, he'll be just as, if not more, valuable than current widely owned hitters Troy Glaus, Scott Rolen, and Jermaine Dye. Even better, he's currently wading in over 99 percent of Y! free agent pools. Toss him an intertube.
Fearless Forecast: 375 at-bats, .274 BA, 13 HR, 61 RBI, 52 R, 2 SB
Fantasy Lames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Brett Myers
SP, RP 639 93.1
'08 Stats: 44.0 IP, 2 W, 4.70 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 37:12 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: In his past three starts, the Phillies' righty has been pummeled by long balls, surrendering five homers and 12 earned runs in 19 innings. More alarming, the 30-year-old has experienced a steep decrease in fastball velocity, down 2-5 mph from last season. Richard Simmons-trained fitness guru, Charlie Manuel, attributes Myers' troubles to improper arm conditioning. Meanwhile, Myers believes the problems are rooted below the belly, noting that he's "not getting enough drive off his leg." No matter where the epicenter of Myers' woes lie, his sharp decline in K/9 ('08: 8.59, '06: 7.57) and eye-popping rise in HR/9 ('08: 2.25, '07: 1.18) are disconcerting. Despite the worries, Myers remains confident his retooled long-toss regimen and hours of film study will nurse his heater back to mid-90s health. The dual-eligible starter, shipped for Travis Hafner, Michael Young and Francisco Cordero in solo Y! Plus league swaps this week, is a superb buy-low candidate.
Fearless Forecast: 200 IP, 13 W, 3.95 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 171 K
Andy Pettitte
SP 313 91.1
'08 Stats: 43.0 IP, 3 W, 3.77 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 26:12 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Pettitte's 11 earned runs in his past 17.1 IP have caused more of his owners to faint than expanded birth canals have A-Rod. Long-balls have been the bane of the 35-year-old's existence this season. In his past three starts, Roger Clemens' former best friend has conceded five homers, ballooning his HR/9 split to 1.26 (0.67 in '07). Pettitte's poor placement of his curve has left him exposed over the middle of the plate, resulting in a large number of bleacher shots. However, his command was noticeably sharper versus Cleveland on May 6 (6.1 IP, 2 ER, 6:1 K:BB). Because his K/9 has eroded in three consecutive seasons, the 14-year vet has become more elusive, generating tons of groundball outs (58.0 GB%). The Yankees' anemic offense has provided little run support for Pettitte, but once A-Rod returns and everyone else rounds into form the Ws will come. For those seeking a dependable 14-16 game winner, cast a line for the two-time All-Star.
Fearless Forecast: 200 IP, 15 W, 3.98 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 136 K
Vladimir Guerrero
OF 221 100
'08 Stats: .266 BA, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 17 R, 1 SB, 22:14 K:BB
Market Value: Hold (all leagues)
Lowdown: When did big bad Vlad morph into his brother Wilton? Since April 28, the cherished fantasy outfielder has floundered at the plate, recording just five hits in 29 at-bats (.172 BA). At 32, owners are starting to grow concerned that Guerrero's peak bubble is about to burst. The eight-time All-Star has been uncharacteristically un-clutch with runners in scoring position, posting a .241 BA (career .324). Guerrero blamed his problems on "pulling away a little." Meanwhile, Mike Scioscia remarked his troubles were due to "hand position and balance." Although he's underperformed thus far, the slugger's peripherals don't indicate a dramatic downturn in production is expected. Most of his outliers are in line with last year's totals with his LD percentage, which has actually increased ('07: 15.6, '08: 18.9), the lone exception. Logging a hit in four-straight games, it appears he's showing signs of a breakout. Market confidence in Guerrero – he was dealt straight up for Nate McLouth, Joe Nathan and Cliff Lee in recent one-for-one Y! Plus league swaps – seems remarkably low. Try to acquire him at a discount.
Fearless Forecast: 580 at-bats, .326 BA, 28 HR, 119 RBI, 92 R, 4 SB
Nick Swisher
OF, 1B 631 78.3
'08 Stats: .207 BA, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 20 R, 1 SB, 29:24 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: The peroxides from Swisher's Richard Branson-esque blonde goat evidently has seeped into his brain. Mired in an tear-inducing 10-for-63 slump (.159 BA), the hard-rocking Sox centerfielder has become a bench staple in recent weeks. Ozzie Guillen dropped him from leadoff to seventh in the batting order to help jump-start his bat. Because he was schooled in the "Moneyball" philosophy, Swisher has been less aggressive when in the leadoff spot (17.1 BB%), which has sapped his power totals. Now in a more RBI-friendly position, he won't need to be as selective, pointing to a potential surge in homers. If he can continue to maintain a healthy FB% (44.7 since Apr 23), a homer binge is right around the corner. Swapped for Huston Street, Jason Bay and Aaron Rowand in one-for-one Plus league deals this past week, Swisher is another prime buy-low candidate.
Fearless Forecast: 600 at-bats, .264 BA, 29 HR, 76 RBI, 101 R, 5 SB
Mark Reynolds
3B 29 94.8
'08 Stats: .231 BA, 7 HR, 25 RBI, 26 R, 3 SB, 45:15 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Owners would much rather be in the shoes of this Reynolds, who is engaged to the curvaceous Scarlett Johansson, not the free-swinging Arizona third basemen who should pop the question to a pitching machine. Over his past 13 games, the impatient 23-year-old is 7-for-56 with 24 strikeouts. Because of lack of plate restraint and spotty defense, Reynolds could lose at-bats to Chad Tracy when the rehabbing corner-infielder rejoins the senior club in about 10 days. Tracy, who saw his first action of the season with Triple-A Tucson earlier this week, is expected to log 40-50 at-bats in the minors. Undoubtedly, Reynolds has 35-homer potential, but his wild inconsistencies at the dish against righties (.226 BA, 32:7 K:BB in 84 at-bats) paves the way for Tracy (career .308 hitter vs. RHP). Your opportunity to maximize profit on Reynolds vanished a long time ago, but oblivious owners are still overpaying for his services. In Y! Plus leagues this past week, he was shipped for Jon Rauch, Yunel Escobar and Hunter Pence in solo deals. Salvage what you can.
Fearless Forecast: 480 at-bats, .250 BA, 26 HR, 81 RBI, 77 R, 2 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 May 7

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?

Brad, I hope you love the Cubs more than you love that x-rated film you watch every Tuesday night by the fire, that stars Rich Hill and Tim Lincecum, while doing a car bomb every time … well you get the point … my question is how come you give no love to Geovany Soto? I've never seen you give a 500 word or more rant about him, and he's clearly playing well above his expectations. Do you think he keeps this up all year though?James, Natick, MA

Noise: When indulging in high-class Hill/Lincecum bare-chested action, a well-aged scotch, not car bombs, is always consumed. The reason why slammin' Soto doesn't get any love is, well, because he's universally owned. However, if you scan through the Y! Fantasy editorial archives, you'll notice in the February 13 edition of the Catcher Primer, the Noise drooled all over the Cubs backstop as though he were Jody Davis. To wit:

"Soto's well-rounded offensive and defensive assets have him on the fast-track to fantasy stardom. Move over Rich Hill, Soto's name encased in hearts may become the featured doodle in the Noise's fantasy diary this season."

With an ADP in the 160s, the Y! Fantasy gurus collectively agreed that Soto was the primary reason why it was illogical to draft either of the Marts (Victor Martinez and Russell Martin) in the third or fourth round. So far our prediction has been "Nuthin' but a G Thang."

Given Soto's discerning eye (.447 OBP, 16.0 BB%), natural line-drive stroke (26.5 LD%) and table-setters hitting in front of him, he'll become the first Cubs catcher to smack 30 homers in a season since Rick Wilkins reached the milestone in 1993. Expect him to finish with a line around .300 BA, 30 HR, 102 RBI, 78 R. If he does indeed compile those numbers, he'll be the No. 1 catcher in fantasy.


Why hasn't anybody mentioned Edinson Volquez's abilities? Why no Pedro Martinez comparisons for him? Sure, it'd be no less absurd than the Johnny Cueto predictions, but it's the same situation. Volquez is a huge shining star, and even though he won't keep up his ridiculous game, he ahould obviously provide a profitable season. He was the true Red's star (at least for this year) and I am proud to say I called that one. However, he received no recognition before (in the wake of Johnny Cueto) and he still has not received recognition. Where's the Volquez love?John, Silver Spring, MD

Noise: We too had an unmitigated man-love for the Dominican "Voltron," but the fallout from the Cueto waivers fiasco overshadowed our glowing endorsements. In fact, in this space on March 27 I boldly predicted that Volquez would likely be the brightest of the two Reds pitching prospects.

Much like Soto, the main reason why long, lustful stories about Volquez haven't been penned is due to his wide ownership. We constantly strive to uncover interesting tidbits about relative unknowns, not players rostered in over 50 percent of Y! leagues.

In regards to Volquez's continued production, now is the perfect time to shop his services with his value at its pinnacle. Yes, his 11.06 K/9, 54.8 GB% and 32.3 FB% are intoxicating, but I'm concerned that his abhorrent number of free passes (5.10 BB/9) and tendon-snapping pitch counts will eventually besiege him. Don't get me wrong, I do believe he'll be a top-flight No. 2-3 starter in 12-team mixed leagues for much of the year, but his current 1.06 ERA is bound to balloon into the low 3s by midseason. That is, if his arm can stay away from the surgeon's table that long. Volquez, who has attracted offensive monoliths Carlos Lee, Ichiro Suzuki, Carlos Guillen and Eric Byrnes in Y! Plus league solo deals this past week, is one to showcase if you're searching for a marquee bat.


Dear 5-foot-7 smug, unathletic sportswriter: How can you possibly describe Liriano's struggles returning from Tommy John surgery as an 'embarrassing fall from grace'. Come on, dude! The guy is recovering from surgery that ends a lot of players' careers. Fall from grace, OK, but he has no reason to feel embarrassed. The chances of him regaining the dominant form he had pre-injury are slim. And, if anything, the fact that he even has a chance of being an effective pitcher again after having the ligaments in his elbow completely reconstructed is a testament to his athleticism. Obviously you're trying to be entertaining as a writer but be careful with the way you throw words around. Francisco has worked his ass off to get back to where he is now and has nothing to feel embarrassed about.MLB Scout, Parts Unknown

Noise: 5-foot-7? Sure, I find chocolate-striped shortbread cookies appetizing, but I'm hardly the Keebler Elf. In reality, I'm a self-deprecating, 5-foot-11, softball-athletic sportswriter who excels at beer games and attracting homely, chastity-belted members of the opposite sex.

What's "embarrassing" is your misguided interpretation of what was written. Yes, Liriano has worked diligently to overcome his physical setbacks – that wasn't the point of criticism. The "embarrassing" remark was directed at those fantasy owners who blindly believed he was some sort of bionic man. You do realize this is a fantasy column, right?


Dear Brad, please help persuade me to hold onto Ryan Zimmerman. What the hell is going on? Is this going to be just an April thing or should I be worried? I draft this dude every year telling my self "this is his year." Lay out some of your calculation gibberish and make some sweetness for Zim Zimma.Andrew, Brampton, Ontario

Noise: Are you sure Zim Zimma isn't Don Zimmer's bedroom nickname? There's more than calculation gibberish that regularly spews out of my mouth. Analyzing Zimmerman's outliers under a microscope, it appears the only logical explanation for his sluggish start is over-anxiousness at the dish. Shockingly, he's sliced nearly 1.5 percentage points off his K rate and has increased his LD% slightly from last year ('07: 16.9, 18.1). Meanwhile, his GB/FB ratio (1.07) is nearly identical to last year's 1.10 mark.

Mentally, the 23-year-old face of the Nationals franchise seems overworked. On May 4, Zimmerman's 205 consecutive games played streak ended when he asked manager Manny Acta for the day off. Zim's plan is to get a little rest and relaxation occasionally throughout the season to stay mentally and physically fresh, which should help revive his flat-lined bat shortly. Also, remember that he's notorious for slow starts. He's posted career averages of .240 in April and .272 in May. Inevitably, he'll come around – his two homers on May 7 is a step in the right direction. For now, a .275 BA, 25 HR, 100 RBI, 95 R, 4 SB season is still in the forecast. Andrew, slowly remove your finger off the panic button.