CRACK! SMASH!! CRASH!!!
That kerfuffle you just heard was Bryan LaHair busting through the Quad-A ceiling.
Up until 2012, the former farmhand in the Mariners and Cubs systems toiled in relative obscurity milking cows and crushing baseballs, waiting for a chance to prove he was no "Crash" Davis.
Every year, extraordinary minor league sluggers like LaHair are gifted a chance to plant firm roots as big league regulars. Some seize the moment (e.g. Matt Stairs, Ryan Ludwick and Nelson Cruz) while others flounder miserably, permanently banished to a frugal life of bus rides and cheap hotels (e.g. Dallas McPherson, Jake Fox and Brad Eldred).
But sheer determination and the right opportunity has helped LaHair live in statistical opulence.
For a rebuilding Cubs team, the feel-good story of the early season is one of the few positives on a club overrun with negatives. Ryan Dempster, despite owning a 1.02 ERA, has fewer wins than Baltimore's Chris Davis. Carlos Marmol, once one of the more dominant closers in the NL, would have a hard time finding the strike-zone even if his pitches were equipped with a laser guide. And bloated pile of Benjamins, Alfonso Soriano, who might be the game's most overpriced player, has yet to homer in nearly 100 at-bats and posted a strikeout-to-walk rate (23:4) worthy of a face-palm.
Still, LaHair, along with Starlin Castro and, to a lesser extent speedster Tony Campana, have made North Side hitters at least somewhat relevant to the fantasy community. The first baseman in particular is driving dumpster divers, who nabbed him off waivers a couple weeks ago, wild. His .373-8-17-14-0 line through 83 at-bats currently checks in at No. 18 among hitters in the Y! game and No. 31 overall. More ridiculous, his galactic 1.241 OPS ranks third only to space aliens Josh Hamilton and Matt Kemp. Now at 81-percent owned, even owners in four-team NL Central-only leagues have caught on.
However, many in Fantasyland remain pessimistic about his long-term prospects.
Batting Average Balls in Play (BABIP) is a tricky statistic used by saber-heads to quantify how lucky/unlucky a player has performed. A wide differential above one's batting average denotes good fortune. Conversely, a sizable gap in the other direction means you wouldn't want said player to blow on your dice at the craps table. Because LaHair's BABIP currently sits at an unsustainable .500 many owners within the fantasy community are screaming "Sell!" Their argument: Once his torrid relationship with Lady Luck ends, his BA, and subsequently his overall value, will experience a fiery end. Deal him now for the likes of Mike Moustakas, Jarrod Parker and David Robertson, commodities he attracted in one-for-one deals this past week, and be thankful.
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Though naysayers' reasoning is sound, it doesn't mean LaHair deserves to be pawned off for a sixer of Natty Light. BABIP anomalies occur every year. Last year, for instance, Emilio Bonifacio registered a BABIP (.372) 76 points above his final batting average (.296). Inevitably his lofty number will normalize, but it doesn't mean he's bound to hit .250 the rest of the way. Nor does it suggest he will suddenly morph into a Jack Cust-type.
The Barber of Clark Street 's formidable MiLB track-record, entrenched spot in the middle of the order and line-drive stroke all arrow to continued success. Recall he cracked 89 homers and tallied a .310 BA in three seasons at the Triple-A level from 2009-2011. In each of those campaigns his isolated power and walks rate climbed, characteristics of a maturing hitter. As his recent past shows, it's no surprise he's compiled a 25.9 line-drive percentage thus far. And with Castro and Campana stealing bases at a prolific rate, he'll likely have several additional chances to beef up his RBI total. Point blank: The dude can rake. According to the sensation, it's all about keeping it slow and steady. From the Sweet Spot Blog:
"I think for me I just stay consistent with each at-bat," LaHair told ESPN Chicago's Doug Padilla a couple of days ago. "I don't let any one at-bat overwhelm me. I go pitch to pitch and all I try to do is to get good pitches to hit and hit them hard every at-bat. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't but if I'm consistent doing that I'll be all right."
Eventually his BA will slide back to a believable level, but don't expect his power totals to suddenly vanish. As stated previously, it would be no shock if he finished just ahead or near established producers Mark Teixeira, Paul Konerko and Gincarlo Stanton.
In this month of graduations, LaHair has officially turned his tassel.
Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 426 at-bats, .281 BA, 24 HR, 68 RBI, 60 R, 1 SB
FLAMES OF THE WEEK
Josh Reddick, Oak, OF (19-percent owned) — Oakland's heavy air be damned. Reddick might be this year's Josh Willingham. The former Red Sock has quietly smoldered over the past couple weeks. Since April 25 the lefty-swinger has collected five multi-hit games, jacked four homers, driven in 10 and touched the plate 10 times. Also with three steals on the season, he's contributed sound across-the-board totals. The 25-year-old, a relatively patient hitter who feasts on off-speed junk, has always possessed 20 HR potential, but trapped in a crowded outfield while in Beantown, he rarely received opportunities to showcase his wares. Now a regular, he should continue to post desirable numbers as a OF4/5 in 12-team and deeper mixers, especially if he remains a fixture in the three-hole. Click. Add. Reap.
Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 431 at-bats, .273 BA, 17 HR, 58 RBI, 63 R, 7 SB
Joe Blanton, Phi, SP (10-percent) — The Phillies hurler is reason No. 563 why the Pianowski Plan of continuous streaming can work effectively. Including his masterful three-hit shutout of the Braves last week, has quietly worked the opposition. He's logged a quality start in four of six turns, notched a glistening 28:6 K:BB split and drawn ample weak contact evident in his 1.43 GB/FB ratio. Blanton says "physically and mechanically" he hasn't felt this good since 2007. Recall that year he was a reliable back-of-the-rotation starter in deeper mixers, totaling 14 wins while notching a 3.95 ERA. His strikeout numbers are far from sexy and the Phills' offensive inconsistencies are a concern, but he is a useful plug 'n play option at a minimum.
Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 158.1 IP, 10 W, 3.77 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 121 K
LAMES O' THE WEAK
Jose Bautista, Tor, 3B/OF — Despite his respectable numbers in HR, RBI and R, Bautista's vomit-inducing .187 BA makes Mario Mendoza look like Tony Gwynn. Uncharacteristically outwitted by fastballs, he's struggled mightily applying bat-to-ball. However, bad luck has played a major part in the home run king's unfortunate start. Though his peripheral numbers have remained intact, few balls have found green pasture evident in his .176 BABIP. Bautista cites a lack of juicy pitches over the inner-half, noting hurlers have done a marvelous job painting the corner. Because he still boasts one of the keenest eyes in the game and at 31 is entrenched in his prime power years, a long-ball binge or 10 are in the offing. He's simply too good to struggle for much longer. If you can coerce a leaguemate to sell him at a discount, pounce.
Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 422 at-bats, .279 BA, 35 HR, 86 RBI, 82 R, 4 SB
Derek Holland, Tex, SP — Holland's greasy moustache/mullet combo may rank only behind Jeff Samardzija's, but his fantasy contributions, sadly, pale in comparison. Signed to an exorbitant five-year extension in late-March, the southpaw hasn't lived up to expectation. He's delivered just one quality start in his past three appearances. Still, he's a superb buy-low. His K/BB and GB/FB rates are nearly identical to last year. Most importantly, he's featured his curve more which has limited long-balls. With healthy run support and several favorable upcoming matchups on the docket (Next five: at Bal, KC, at Hou, Tor and Sea), he should undergo an ERA revival in short order. Holland, swapped this week for Bryce Harper, Michael Cuddyer and Carlos Lee in one-for-one industry moves, should be sought after while the market is still fairly cool.
Fearless Forecast (rest of season): 156.0 IP, 11 W, 3.78 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 139 K
QUICK HITTERS (Random musings from my demented head)
• The Majors' pacesetter in wins, Lance Lynn, needs to be shopped. His 3.36 K/BB and microscopic 1.40 ERA in 38.2 innings is nothing short of spectacular. However, his underlying stats paint a grim picture. He's benefited from a near 94-percent strand rate and .209 BABIP. Unless he's the exception to the rule, his rest of season ERA should land in the 3.50-4.00 range. Considering the names he's attracted in one-for-one deals this week — Aramis Ramirez, Michael Bourn and Joel Hanrahan — it's wise to advertise his availability.
• Including the Dodgers and Padres' changing of the guard, an astonishing 14 bullpens have busted since March 20. In the 16 years playing fantasy baseball, I've never seen that much turnover over such a short stretch. According to data compiled by the Baseball HQ folks, 32.5 percent of 'pens or 9.7 per year failed from 1999-2011. This year's closer carnage is blowing that out of the water. No one is safe. For those that stole Fernando Rodney off waivers or draft Jim Johnson in the inebriated stages of your draft, count your lucky stars.
• Generally overlooked by the mixed league crowd, Jarrod Dyson is planting firm roots in the KC catbird seat. So far this month, he's tallied four multi-hit games, eight runs, two RBI and a pair of steals. The base burglar swiped 38 bags in just 83 games with Triple-A Omaha last year. Walks will be a rarity, but if he continues to find green pasture, he could be a cheaper version of Brett Gardner. Lorenzo Cain, out for another 4-8 weeks with a torn hip flexor, isn't walking through the clubhouse door any time soon. Only three-percent owned, he's worth an immediate add in challenging formats.
• Dubbed by some "the ugliest mock draft in human history," my 14-team standard team from last week's Rotowire magazine exercise is prettier than you think. Most of the vitriol centered on the Ryan Mathews pick at No. 5, which is shortsighted. Yes, he is an injury risk — you could argue any premier back is — but the third-year RB will be the indisputable bell cow in a Norv Turner offense that made LaDainian Tomlinson a megastar a few short years ago. With Mike Tolbert in Carolina, Mathews could net upwards of 325-350 total touches and should be the featured back in goal-line situations. Recall when Tolbert's workload was reduced after Week 12 last year, Mathews averaged 117.4 total yards per game and scored three TDs in five games, good for a 15.3 points per game average. Building a team around the rusher isn't stupid. It's rather savvy.
• MCA will be sorely missed. Few rappers would ever venture into the realm of astrophysicist fashion for lyrical inspiration. Case in point, "I've got billions and billions of rhymes to flex. Cause I got more rhymes than Carl Sagan's got turtlenecks." Pure genius. For your listening enjoyment, here is one my favorite Beastie songs and MCA moments.
• According to British scientists excessive flatulence and belches may have led to a spike in temperatures in prehistoric times. Somehow Bartolo Colon must be responsible. Baseball's diplodocus could take out a T-Rex with one release of the cheeks. With every plate of chili cheese fries he consumes, I fear for the ozone layer's safety.
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