Bringin' the Noise: The Read on Reed

Brad Evans
Yahoo! Sports

Matt Murton the catcher?

No, it's not a disturbing, yet completely believable, Keith Richards-snorted-a-line-of-his-father's-ashes-laced-with-cocaine-kind-of sick joke – it's a real, albeit unlikely, possibility.

As I watched my beloved Cubbies freeze their collective tails off in the Queen City last Wednesday, WGN play-by-play man Len Kasper made an announcement that rocked my fantasy world. Murton, who hadn't caught a game since his junior year in high school, was the team's emergency catcher.

Of course, Michael Barrett didn't fall into a bear trap and backup Henry Blanco, who testified that morning in a Florida court where his ex-agent Gus Dominquez was implicated in a Cuban smuggling operation, didn't miss a pitch.

But talk about one of the great fantasy sports moments that could've been.

Sure, the odds of Barrett and Blanco being simultaneously unavailable in an extra-inning marathon are about as good as the Noise getting an open invitation to the Playboy Mansion, but, hey, it's not impossible Murton could sneak an inning behind the dish sometime this season, and for me to rub elbows with fellow University of Illinois alum Hugh Hefner … Right?

As a Murton owner in a couple of one-game eligible leagues, though the chances are amoeba-small, the possibility he could become a '06 Josh Willingham or '05 Chris Shelton have my parotid glands salivating like a St. Bernard.

Anyone know Tonya Harding's ex-husband's cell number?

Here are the flames and lames of the past winter wonderland week:

Flames/Lames Notes:
BNR = Big Noise position rank
Y!% = Percent owned in Yahoo! leagues
Market value = Suggested player worth
Stats = For games played through April 10

Fantasy Flames
Player Team Pos BNR Y!%
Akinori Iwamura 3B 23 34.4
'07 Stats: .458 BA, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 8 R, 1 SB
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: Iwamura's sizzling start has fantasy fans singing "Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto." One of my top breakout picks, as predicted, Iwamura's career .300 BA in Japan has translated impeccably. Iwamura has felt "intense pressure" from the swarms of Japanese media, but after a 4-for-4 explosion, including his first career homer, versus Gustavo Chacin on April 6 his horrific spring is now a distant memory. I'm still convinced his 30-plus homer power won't reveal itself, but he'll rake RBIs in a D-Rays lineup loaded with speedy, young table-setters. Owned in less than 35 percent of Y! leagues, he's a top-20, .310 BA, 15-20 HR, 80-90 RBI, 75 R, 8-12 SB third baseman who could hit cleanup and become second base eligible at some point this year.
Reed Johnson OF 52 9.0
'07 Stats: .276 BA, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 5 R, 2 SB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Johnson is the Rodney Dangerfield of leadoff men. Hitting atop a Blue Jays lineup with abundant RBI machines (Wells, Overbay, Glaus, Thomas, Rios), he should amass 100 runs scored – only 16 outfielders cracked the run century mark last year. However, his 81:33 strikeout-to-walk disparity in 461 '06 at-bats implies he's more of a .275 rather than a .300 hitter. Equipped with 20 SB hustle, he could also be a steals stunner. If he hits righties similar to last year (.317 BA), Johnson should develop into a dynamite No. 4 outfielder with end-season totals near: .280 BA, 15 HR, 60 RBI, 100 R, 15 SB.
Kazuo Matsui 2B 26 5.5
'07 Stats: .320 BA, 0 HR, 3 RBI, 3 R, 3 SB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: The Daihatsu of recent Japanese imports, Kaz-Mat has emerged a viable fantasy middle-infielder in Denver. In a rough platoon with Jamey Carroll – Matsui is a LHP casualty – the slap-hitting 32-year-old has already collected seven hits and three steals in 25 at-bats. Remember, Matsui came to the Majors in '03 as a decorated Japanese All-Star, sporting a career .308 BA, while averaging 34 steals per year. Comfortable in Colorado and entrenched in the two hole, he will be a surprising top-20 second baseman. If his BB% enters the realm of respectability: .300 BA, 80 R, 8 HR, 55 RBI, 22 SB.
Joakim Soria RP 35 0.04
'07 Stats: 1 S, 5 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.60 WHIP, 5:2 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Desperate for saves? Advertised in this space as a Rip Van Winkle closer last week, Buddy Bell said "Why not?" and let Soria finish off Toronto on Tuesday to earn his first career save. Impressively, Soria punched out Vernon Wells, Aaron Hill and Jason Smith over two innings. A Rule-5 pick, the 22-year-old has staked a claim in the Dotel-less Royals bullpen after David Riske's three-run implosion versus Detroit on April 8. Armed with a slick low-90s fastball and a plus change, Soria consistently keeps the ball down in the zone, which is something Riske, a HR mishap, has struggled with. Dotel may not return until early May, which makes Soria a temporary 2-4 saves saint.
Kip Wells SP 71 7.7
'07 Stats: 1-1, 13 IP, 1.38 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 14:5 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: The last time Kip was considered hip in fantasy circles, first-year American Idol runner-up Justin Guarini had a music career. Posting back-to-back seven-strikeout quality starts, Wells has been the early season Cardinals ace. Limited by a smorgasbord of injuries in his career, Wells is healthy and, amazingly, has tamed his unwieldy control. Pitching Swami Dave Duncan has taught Wells to relax and not over-pitch, which has done wonders for his confidence. His low-90s heater has excellent movement and with a tight curve and reinvigorated mound swagger, continued success is likely. The Cardinals are glove masters and, as long as Wells cuts down on walks, he has the resources to deliver top-notch backend fantasy numbers. Ballpark end-season figures: 3.85 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 14 W, 135 K.
Fantasy Lames
Player Team Pos BNR Y!%
Jorge Julio RP 39 78.3
'07 Stats: 0 S, 3.2 IP, 14.73 ERA, 4.36 WHIP, 0:6 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell
Lowdown: Julio has gone from waiver wire saint to an ERA murdering ain't overnight. Despite a horrifying 0:6 K:BB ratio and doughboy fat 14.73 ERA, Florida skipper Fredi Gonzalez remains steadfast in Julio as his closer. Although Gonzalez's "he's our guy" line has been mentioned freely, its clear Henry Owens' door-shutting performance against Milwaukee on Monday is more than a one-time only audition. My gut says Julio gets one more shot, but if he spoils, you can bet he'll end up in the land of washed up closers alongside Brad Lidge. Owned in less than one percent of Y! leagues, Owens has house odds to log regular save chances until Taylor Tankersley is 100 percent.
Willy Taveras OF 43 88.8
'07 Stats: .167 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 4 R, 2 SB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: With a 4-for-24 start, Free Willy has belly-flopped off Pike's Peak. On a competitor's site, a fantasy expert had the audacity to label Taveras "this year's Hanley Ramirez." What? Until the guy masters plate patience (8:2 K:BB so far) and somehow morphs into the Incredible Hulk, he'll be nothing more than a poor man's version of Juan Pierre – hardly comparable to Han-Ram. With non-existent power, his value resides completely in his ability to steal bases and score runs. Taveras has said with "75 to 80 chances" he could steal "60 bases easily," but his abhorrent 5.2 career BB% must skyrocket for that to happen. Anticipate 35-40 steals with 100 runs.
Kevin Kouzmanoff 3B 30 1.3
'07 Stats: .136 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 0 R, 0 SB
Market Value: Hold
Lowdown: Expected to be a marquee RBI contributor for the Pads, the "Kooz" has floundered. Day-to-day after taking a Matt Cain rocket off his left elbow on Monday, Kouzmanoff's paltry six strikeouts in 23 at-bats is uncharacteristic of his standout 9.3 BB% in the minors. Projected to be a perennial 25-30 homer player, even in the cavernous specs of Petco, Kooz, who notched a ridiculous .344 BA in the minors, should turnaround his 3-for-22 start rapidly. Owners in keeper leagues must buy on a bear market. Although boom and bust cycles are in the forecast, once he establishes a consistent approach to the plate he'll pay yearly top-15 third base dividends.
Barry Zito SP 42 99.6
'07 Stats: 0-2, 11 IP, 8.18 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 6:5 K:BB .
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Shockingly, the "other" Barry has conjured pessimistic feelings. Allowing 11 earned in his first 12 innings, Zito hasn't been worth the paper his $126 million contract was penned on. Zito described his ugly start best by saying, "I have to stick to my game plan and make adjustments. I've seen this for years in Oakland, getting off to a slow start." A notorious April snail (5.20 ERA, 1.40 WHIP), Zito will iron out the kinks in his delivery and will be near the top of his game by June. Recall, last season he followed an appalling 5.93 April ERA with a sensational 1.32 mark in May. Walks are still an albatross, which labels him a WHIP whale, but 14-17 wins and an ERA around 3.50 is foreseeable.
Alex Gordon 3B 15 43.6
'07 Stats: .077 BA, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R, 0 SB
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: Viewpoints on the be-all, save-all Royals rookie have changed from desirable to disconcerting in a "Flash." Although just 2-for-26 with 10 strikeouts and zero walks, my colleague Andy Behrens insightfully explained in Tuesday's Roto Arcade, the murderer's row of pitchers Gordon has faced is the primary reason for his slog start. The lack of plate patience is uncharacteristic (113:72 K:BB in '06) and once his confidence renews he'll be extraordinaire. Because of his tender age, he'll endure occasional slumps, but his first career homer off Josh Towers on April 10 has him on the upswing. With skyward skills a .280 BA, 20-20 year will be attained. The 373 owners who recently dropped Gordon in Y! leagues will feel salty come June.

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. Adam LaRoche will hit 30-plus homers and drive in over 110 runs in the Steel City. – John, New York, NY
Answer: False. Like I predicted earlier this year, LaRoche's numbers will fallback somewhere between his '05 and '06 totals. It's evident the pressure to perform in the cleanup spot, coupled with inadequate lineup protection outside of Jason Bay, are contributing factors to his 3-for-31, 14-strikeout start. Historically, LaRoche, a .191 career hitter in April, is an egregious early season performer, which conveys a ripe buy for the advantageous. As Pittsburgh, and the entire eastern half of the country, pulls out of this frigid weather pattern, LaRoche's power numbers will rebound, but fall short of many pundits' inflated guesses. My projection: .275 BA, 25 HR, 100 RBI, 90 R.

2. Gil Meche is going to pitch surprisingly well and have a respectable level of fantasy worth. – Bruce, San Jose, CA
Answer: False. It amazes me after one quality start bandwagoners are set to crown a career 4.65 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 4.0 BB/9 cancer, fantasy royalty. Let's be real people, Meche is an overpaid .500 starter who, although armed with a quality low-90s sinker, couldn't anchor a Triple-A team. Despite a respectable 10:3 K:BB in 14 innings this year, his untamable command showcased as a Mariner in six seasons (66 BB/YR) explains why he can't be trusted. Yes, at 28 he's entering his prime, but given his miserable control, history of injuries, less favorable park environment and probable lower run support, Meche is nothing more than an occasional matchup play as a No. 5 in 12-team mixed leagues. For those wishful-thinking owners who plucked him off waivers believing he's a legit top-40 starter: Ignorance is $55 million of bliss.

Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Brandon Inge? 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?

For all of those people who rip your picks apart, I have to give you props on one guy, Rich Hill. I have him in multiple leagues and he's doing great. Great work on Hill! I expect more gems from you in the near future.

Alex, Baltimore, MD

Noise: Muchas gracias, Alex. Richie Rich better get a restraining order because my man-passion has reached uncontrollable proportions. Hill's disguised delivery and wicked menagerie of pitches baffled the Brewers (7 IP, 1 ER, 1 H, 0 BB, 6 K). As a fly-ball pitcher, the winds of Wrigley will affect him negatively at times, but, if his pinpoint control stays consistent, he's a sure bet for a sub-3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 180-200 K and 14-17 wins. With his confidence soaring, he may already be the best fantasy lefty in the NL.

Evans, you're a moron. You just labeled Travis Buck a "Fantasy Flame" and a "moderate buy" saying he'll bat under .300, have little power and bat eighth in a lineup that is going to have a very hard time scoring runs. Are you in any 20-man head-to-head leagues? I'd wager I can find plenty of "consistency kings" in a 12-man format that are of equal or greater value. You shouldn't be so pressured to put people in your Fantasy Flames/Lames. Stop insulting us and just make a third category: "Evans needed a filler so he's gonna put a paragraph in here about some guy you'll never want on your team." Sharpen up, man.

Chris, Phoenix, AZ

Noise: Come on Chris, are you in some kiddy pool league where everyone is an All-Star? Move out of your parents' basement and find a more challenging league. I'm in a mixed 16-teamer and, believe it or not, Buck has some value. For those familiar with my work, I refuse to state the obvious and instead try to focus my flame/lame musings on relatively obscure commodities, which seasoned fantasy players find intriguing. If you're more comfortable with superficial assessments on Albert Pujols, I hear Jennie Finch's column is a must read.

Dude! What's with everybody cuttin' you up lately? Those chowda-heads need to get back to reality. You were MORE than generous with your assessment of Oliver Perez and your columns are well-written and informative. No offense to Passan or Funston, but the Brad Evans column is where it's at – P.S.Your Friends/Family league team is brutal though. I think you're gonna eat your words after promising Boston Nick that rant.

Dave, Caledonia, Ontario

I'm from Boston and I love your columns like a fat kid loves cake. I respect your audacity for selecting Carl Crawford over A-Rod. For some reason A-Rod has always scared me, and as a blanket rule, I refuse to draft him. I will scream until I'm blue in the face that first-round speed will always trump first-round power. Keep up the good work.

Jeremy, Belmont, MA

In your column you basically guaranteed above a top-10 finish. Whoop dee doo. How about guaranteeing a top-three finish cementing yourself as a fantasy expert? You're certainly not going out on much of a limb to say that you might finish in the bottom half of the league. Does that take any guts to guarantee? I think not. It makes me wonder why I'm wasting my time reading your column.

Gene, New Orleans, LA

Brad, I admit the draft in your league was a bit surprising in places/picks. But Nick from Boston is a hater! An opinion is one thing, but when it got to "you're a dope" that email should have hit the trash can! I enjoy all the Yahoo! analysis, and the effort you put into the Noise. But there's no place for haters. Keep up the great work.

Josh, Austin, TX

Way to go Brad! Turning down A-Rod is really the best solution for a fantasy team. How the hell do you pick Crawford over Rodriguez? It's up to you now to moan on how good your team would have been with A-Rod's career-best season.

John, Dallas, TX

Noise: In reference to his A-Rod steal at pick seven in the F&F draft, a smug-faced Andy Behrens should have turned to me and said "That, young man, is how babies are made" With A-Rod on pace for 138 HRs and 347 RBIs, Boston Nick surely has written a laundry list of synonyms for imbecile.