Bringin' the Noise: The big chip

Over the past three weeks, Lance "Big Puma" Berkman's sizzling bat has caused owners to chase the cat.

During that span, the smooth-swinging switch-hitter has entered a dimension paralleled in recent weeks only by Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Braun. The name of this alternate universe: the Fan-sanity Zone.

His numbers since May 1 are unequivocally gaudy: 72 ABs, .500 BA, .571 OBP, 1.502 OPS, 8 HRs, 19 RBI, 24 runs and 5 SB. His historical achievements this month, per Elias Sports Bureau, are equally legendary:

  • Became the fifth major leaguer in the post-World War II era to compile 29 hits and seven homers over a 13-game stretch. Chipper Jones (2006), Richard Hidalgo (2000), Ivan Rodriguez (1999), RBI baseball monster Kent Hrbek (1986) and, trivia stumper, Lu Clifton (1962), were the others.
  • From May 2-13 his 26 hits in a span of 40 at-bats equaled the most by any player during the expansion era. Rod Carew (1977), Pete Rose (1979), Kenny Lofton (1997) and Hal Morris (1998) also accomplished the milestone.
  • Joined Pete Rose (1979) to become the second player since 1957 to record a 31-for-50 streak.
  • Tallied a 17-game hitting streak from April 30 - May 19

Berkman hasn't attributed his mammoth May to a rigid offseason diet, workout regimen or LASIK surgery. Instead he recently told the Chicago Tribune his recent success is simply due to "seeing the ball and reacting to it … when things are going well for you mechanically you feel in sync."

Obviously he doesn't possess Willie Mays' over-the-shoulder dexterity, Brady Anderson's trendy sideburns, A-Rod's bank account or Ken Griffey's proclivity for numismatic pranks, but if Berkman continues to destroy opposing teams with his quick hands and shockingly fleet feet, he will become the fifth member of baseball's ultra-exclusive 50-20 club.

That's pretty amazing considering he's never once surpassed 10 steals in a season at any level in his career.

But despite the glowing accolades, records and obscene production, the 'Stros slugger is a strong sell high candidate. That is, if you’re a Berkman owner wallowing in mediocrity.

No, the Noise isn't advocating that you must deal the No. 1 player in Y! Fantasy. In fact, he will be a key asset on several championship teams. However, for those Puma backers with several glaring flaws, flipping the fattest cat to fulfill multiple needs is an intelligent endeavor. This is what pundits call "peak dealing."

Remember, in this arduous game it's imperative to have a "what will you do for me later" rather than a "what have you done for me lately" attitude.

Over the past three days, a handful of Y! Plus league owners have already taken advantage of Berkman's bull market. Some of the more noteworthy transactions:

Lance Berkman/Hideki Okajima for Magglio Ordonez/Jorge Cantu/John Maine
Lance Berkman for Brady Penny/Shaun Marcum/Hunter Pence
Lance Berkman for Mark Teixeira/Nate McLouth
Lance Berkman for David Ortiz/Mike Lowell/Matt Garza
Lance Berkman/Brandon Inge for Chipper Jones/Scott Kazmir

For those owners unwilling to cut ties with their treasured cornerstone, expect a prolonged cool-off period soon. The 32-year-old's lowly 15.6 LD% is over three percentage points lower than the league average and nearly equal to marks notched by BA liabilities Adam Dunn (.237 BA), Carlos Pena (.206) and Richie Sexson (.204). That doesn't mean his average will sink into an irretrievable abyss, but if that trend persists, he obviously won't flirt with .380 or even .330 much longer.

Given his astronomical contact rates (81.1 CT%) and 1.25 GB/FB split, it's not unfathomable the still Killer B will finish in range of .300-.315 BA, 120 R, 45 HRs, 130 RBIs and 18 SBs.

Yes, it seems nothing could cage the "Big Puma," but if his bat is solely keeping you afloat, it's time to advertise.

Why must I feel like that?

Why won't I chase the cat?

It's nothin' but the Berkman dog in me.

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

Fantasy Flames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Bronson Arroyo SP 1144 50.8
'08 Stats: 52.1 IP, 2 W, 6.02 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 46:21 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only leagues)
Lowdown: Two weeks ago Arroyo's sole high note this season was restricted to commercials about steakhouse angus burgers. However, in his past three starts the guitar-strumming starter has shattered more bats than glass. Over that span, Arroyo has compiled a 1.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and sparkling 7.65 K/9. For much of the season, his control has been uncharacteristically cumbersome ('07: 2.69, '08: 3.61). Equipped with a more creative than conquering arsenal – high-80s fastball, rainbow curve, deceptive change, average slider and 88-90 mph cutter – the 31-year-old has always had to pinpoint his offspeed junk consistently to maximize effectiveness. The longball will plague him occasionally (HR/9 1.38), but if he can continue to coax groundballs with regularity (41.1 GB% since May 10) and limit free passes, his very unfortunate .371 BABIP arrows to an ERA turnaround. Chip in a sharp rise in K/9 ('07: 6.66, '08: 7.91) and the Reds innings-eater is on course to regain respectability in 12-team mixed leagues. Acquire him for peanuts.
Fearless Forecast: 210 IP, 11 W, 4.28 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 173 K
Aaron Laffey SP 119 19.7
'08 Stats: 26.2 IP, 2 W, 1.35 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 14:5 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Apparently, Cleveland's Laffey Taffy isn't comprised of artificial flavors. Through his first four games, the southpaw has notched three quality starts and 21-straight scoreless innings. His repertoire – 86-89 mph sinker, mid-80s slider, elusive change – won't blaze the brows of opposing hitters, but his surgical precision (1.69 BB/9) and ability to induce groundballs (51.8 GB%) indicate his speedy start isn't fluky. Laffey recently told the Akron Beacon-Journal that his sudden success is primarily due to a modified slider, which moves more sharply than last season. Yes, his .227 BABIP implies that Lady Luck has watched over him and his unspectacular 4.73 K/9 is quasi Brian Bannister, but he has the tools and confidence to maintain a terrific No. 4 level of production. At this point, view him as a slightly better version of ping pong master Andy Sonnanstine. In other words, he's an invaluable low-K WHIP source.
Fearless Forecast: 165 IP, 12 W, 3.11 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 97 K
Randy Winn OF 157 2.6
'08 Stats: .291 BA, 2 HR, 16 RBI, 23 R, 8 SB, 23:13 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: Randy Winn's fantasy prowess is more underrated than Penelope Cruz's criminal No. 82 Maxim Hot 100 ranking. Amazingly, Winn has hit safely in 33 of 41 contests, including a 15-game hit streak from May 6-20, the longest by a Giant since Robby Thompson (21) in 1993. The scrappy outfielder has always possessed marginal power, but his gap-finding stroke and knack for swiping bags makes him laudable. Bruce Bochy's aggressive base tactics has the fleet-footed 33-year-old on a 29 stolen base pace. Toss in a history of high contact rates (career 85.8 CT%) and low double-digit power and the 2.6 percent-owned Winn is essentially a poor man's version of Johnny Damon. Sure he's not the most attractive name available in shallower leagues, but he's a consistency king who won't be an eyesore in any single category across-the-board. Lean on him in 12-team mixed leagues if you're outfield deprived.
Fearless Forecast: 590 at-bats, .292 BA, 11 HR, 62 RBI, 83 R, 26 SB
Jose Guillen OF 236 17.6
'08 Stats: .235 BA, 5 HR, 31 RBI, 18 R, 0 SB, 39:7 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Guillen should store his bats in a sauna. After dismantling the Florida Marlins last weekend (6-for-12, HR, 8 RBI), the sizzling outfielder was appreciative of the steamy mid-90s South Florida heat. Surely, the Marlins Manatees felt differently. Similar to Randy Winn and former Mariners teammate Raul Ibanez, Guillen has always been an underappreciated commodity. His attention span at the plate (22.3 K%) might be as short as his temper, but overly aggressive hitters with commendable contact rates (Guillen 76.3 CT%) and all-fields power tend to be profitable RBI and long-ball sources, especially when batting cleanup. Since May 7, Guillen has been exactly that. Over that span he's logged seven multi-hit games, driven in 16 and has raised his BA 50 points. With an otherworldly 28.2 LD% in his past 13 games, ride Guillen's scorching hand in all leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 590 at-bats, .283 BA, 22 HR, 99 RBI, 73 R, 0 SB
Ramon Vazquez 2B, SS, 3B 658 3.5
'08 Stats: .329 BA, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 15 R, 0 SB, 15:12 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: Hank Blalock's transition to first means the versatile Vazquez, whose porn-stache might be the greasiest to grace the diamond since Don Mattingly, is worth owning in 14-team-plus mixed and all AL-only leagues. Locked in a lefty-righty platoon with German Duran, the smooth-swinging hook has posted a .375 BA with a homer and eight RBIs. A disciplined hitter (12.8 BB%) with fantastic contact (86.2 CT%) and line-drive numbers (career 23.7 LD%), Vazquez has the intangibles needed to sustain a .300 BA. Hitting ninth, he won't wow you in runs, homers or steals, but he could be to the Rangers what Jose Vidro was to Seattle last year (.314 BA, 6 HR, 59 RBI, 78 R). Ron Washington describes Vazquez as a "special utility player." Given his position flexibility owners in deep leagues will echo that sentiment.
Fearless Forecast: 400 at-bats, .311 BA, 9 HR, 51 RBI, 73 R, 3 SB
Fantasy Lames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Brad Hawpe OF 695 78.8
'08 Stats: .231 BA, 3 HR, 17 RBI, 16 R, 0 SB, 33:25 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: At this point, Hawpe owners would rumble with Jose Canseco for five rounds if it could ignite the Colorado outfielder's stagnant bat. In his past 35 at-bats, one of fantasy's steadiest '07 producers has slapped a mere five hits with three RBIs. Although his 12:4 K:BB split over that span may seem unsightly, Hawpe, shockingly, has posted improved contact rates from last season ('07: 70.6, '08: 75.9). Despite his lack of free passes lately, he's still notched a healthy 14.9 BB% on the season. Patient hitters who consistently lay the bat on the ball usually experience abbreviated slumps. Hawpe will be no different. However, don't anticipate a return to the RBI century club. Given the Rockies collective struggles at the dish and Hawpe's 1.12 GB/FB mark, he's likely to match his power numbers from '06 (22 HR, 84 RBI), not '07 (29 HR, 119 RBI). Because he has fewer homers than part-timers Cody Ross, Dave Dellucci and Jay Payton, owners have moved him to the clearance rack. Just this week, Hawpe was dealt straight up for Willy Taveras, Mike Mussina and Gary Sheffield in Y! Plus leagues. Steal him from a frustrated owner.
Fearless Forecast: 535 at-bats, .288 BA, 23 HR, 88 RBI, 71 R, 2 SB
Xavier Nady OF 29 97.0
'08 Stats: .318 BA, 6 HR, 37 RBI, 25 R, 1 SB, 32:16 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Nady's inevitable descent into fantasy hell is officially underway. Well, sort of. On the road last week against intradivision rivals St. Louis and Chicago, the Buccos outfielder went 2-for-21, slicing nearly 20 points off his BA. But instead of submitting to the demons of slump, Nady has rebounded against Milwaukee collecting four hits, including a solo homer on May 21, in his last eight at-bats. Still, despite the abrupt about face, it's time to exhibit Xavier. Over his past eight games, the 30-year-old slugger has seen a marked increase in FB% (39.3; season: 31.9). That, coupled with his propensity for strikeouts (18.8 K%) and notorious June swoons means he's on the verge of a downfall. Incompetent owners will overpay for his 132-RBI pace, as scene in Y! Plus league one-for-one swaps made for Nady this week (e.g. Tim Hudson, Brandon Lyon and Michael Young). He'll be serviceable in deeper mixed leagues, but those in 12-team formats need to shop him up before the calendar flips.
Fearless Forecast: 580 at-bats, .282 BA, 19 HR, 92 RBI, 83 R, 3 SB
Johnny Damon OF 139 94.8
'08 Stats: .256 BA, 5 HR, 19 RBI, 28 R, 5 SB, 28:21 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Now with six hits in his past 38 at-bats (.158 BA), you just know Jason Giambi's famed golden popsicle wrapper is hanging portentously in Damon's locker. For Johnny's sake, hopefully the clubhouse manager has stockpiled Gold Bond. Unlike last year, the nails-tough outfielder hasn't had to battle through injuries. But his surface and peripheral stats are on par with last season's underwhelming effort. At 34, Damon has entered the penultimate phase of his career. His deflated GB/FB ('08: 1.16, career: 1.33) and elevated strikeout splits (17.1 K%) clearly show he's slowly regressing. Because he's a brand name obtuse owners will spend extravagantly to acquire his services, thinking he'll yield near 25-25 results like in '06. Without question he'll be productively robust in all five offensive categories, but considering he's attracted the likes of Eric Byrnes, James Shields and Scott Kazmir in Y! Plus league solo swaps this week, it's wise to shop him. Anticipate an end-season line similar to '07.
Fearless Forecast: 580 at-bats, .273 BA, 15 HR, 66 RBI, 100 R, 18 SB
Matt Cain SP 759 86.8
'08 Stats: 61.0 IP, 2 W, 4.57 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 53:32 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Cain's current value is eerily reminiscent at the season's quarter pole last year. Annihilated by the brawny White Sox on May 18 (7 IP, 6 ER, 6 H, 3 BB, 4 HR, 6 K), Cain's long-ball vulnerability was visible. Over his past three starts, his 52.9 FB% has been appalling. Toss in his penchant for walks (4.72 BB/9) and the conclusions have been disastrous (5.54 ERA, 1.42 WHIP). Outside of his recent efforts, Cain has registered only four quality starts in 10 outings. In several games, he's gone from untouchable to penetrable in the blink of an eye. Too often, he's fallen behind hitters early in counts, which has left his mid-90s fastball exposed. Still, when grooving, he's filthy. After an equally miserable May in '07 (5.25 ERA, 1.69 WHIP), Cain rebounded in June (3.27 ERA), which will likely happen again. Swapped for Eric Byrnes, Shane Victorino and Ian Snell in one-for-one Plus league transactions this week, Cain is an excellent buy low candidate for owners seeking strikeouts.
Fearless Forecast: 200 IP, 9 W, 3.59 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 181 K
Dustin McGowan SP 747 86.1
'08 Stats: 57.2 IP, 2 W, 4.21 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 42:27 K:BB
Market Value: Hold (mixed leagues), Moderate Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: McGowan's mutton chops have lost their magical aura. In his past three starts, the Blue Jays rocket-launcher has posted a regrettable 7.79 ERA, 1.73 WHIP and two losses. Since May 5, his ERA has quickly marched north, jumping 1.26 points (2.95-4.21). McGowan's troubles are rooted in his inability to effectively locate his curve. On the year, his BB/9 has risen sharply ('07: 3.24, '08: 4.21) while his K/9 has dipped from 7.64 to 6.55. He still boasts one of baseball's most electric fastballs (96-99 mph), but until he harnesses his bender or relies more on his change and slider, problems will persist. Because his groundball percentage is very healthy (46.3), the only thing holding him back from superb No. 3 totals is his command. Expect the 26-year-old to tighten the screws soon. McGowan was swapped straight up for Justin Verlander, Stephen Drew and James Loney this week in one-for-one Y! Plus league transactions.
Fearless Forecast: 195 IP, 11 W, 3.96 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 154 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 May 21

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?

I've long been a fan of your pants-wetting humor and until recently have followed your player advice almost unfailingly. Now, however, I look forward more to clicking on the links in your columns than the actual strategic substance. Last week, I followed a "Brad Penny's alleged girlfriend Eliza Dushku" link and didn't get back to your column for an hour!! You da man!Bill, Chambersburg, PA

Noise: An hour? Doesn't it normally take 30 seconds? No wait. That's me.

To be quite frank, I hate you. The second you mention Santiago Casilla, he gets injured. I used to like your articles, but now I just hope for your immediate dismissal. I really don't see my fantasy season getting any worse, but I'm sure you'll write about another one of my players and subsequently their left testicle will explode in the bottom of the ninth while they're pitching a no-hitter that would save my weekly matchup. Thanks buddy.JG, Philadelphia, PA

Noise: When being frank, which big league Frank are you? Viola? Catalanotto? Thomas? Nah, given your standoffish, disdain-filled attitude and presumed penchant for throwing chairs, you're definitely Frank Francisco.

Not sure you're aware, but testicular eruptions are typically reserved for underachieving top prospects that play centerfield on Chicago's North Side. Usually, pitchers, such as Boston's Jon Lester, are titanium endowed.

Yes, every time the Noise fawns over someone they either, flounder, log significant injury time or, in Rich Hill's case, descend into an unrecoverable mental retrogression. No curse is more damning than the Noise's man-kiss of death.

Why isn't Todd Wellemeyer on a roster in the Friends and Family League? While the likes of Randy Johnson, Wandy Rodriguez and Gil Meche get respect, "The Well" is hanging out in free agency. Someone have some sense! I'm not just looking at his numbers...I actually watch him pitch (thank you Extra Innings) and his fastball is consistently in the mid '90s and he keeps the ball down. Why is he being avoided?Gavin, Baltimore, MD

Noise: Gavin, couldn't agree more with you. In fact, this week, I dropped Joey Devine and streamed the "Wishing Well" against the hopeless Padres. The result: W, 6.0 IP, 2 ER, 2:3 K:BB - not too shabby.

Wellemeyer, the only Chicago Cub to earn a save in his MLB debut, has always had dynamite stuff. His mid-90s fastball is overpowering at times, but his erratic location with breaking pitches has led to numerous big-flies. But Dave Duncan's wizardry has completely transformed the journeyman hurler.

As detailed in this space on April 10, Duncan worked extensively with the 29-year-old this spring on offspeed pitch location down in the zone. Wellemeyer has yielded dramatic results (5 W, 3.25 ERA, 1.16 WHIP), evident in his increased K/9 ('07: 6.81, '08: 7.23), sharpened BB/9 (4.54, 3.25) and declining HR/9 (1.25, 0.89). If his peripherals sustain, he should finish with a line around: 200 IP, 13 W, 3.75 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 165 K. In other words, nearly identical to what Ted Lilly accomplished with Chicago last year.

Can I go ahead and drop Ian Snell now? This guy single- handedly has provided me with an insurmountable deficit in the ERA and WHIP categories. And for the record, if it wasn't for all the preseason hype coming from you experts, I still wouldn't know who the hell Ian Snell is and I'd be doing a lot better in my league because of it.Joe, Pasadena, CA

Noise: For the record, although our composite ranking of Snell - No. 32 among SPs - was sandwiched between Ted Lilly and Ben Sheets, no additional extolments were penned about the underachieving Bucco in preseason.

Yes, the Snell that has emanated from the Bucco youngster's arm is intolerably putrid, but it's not time to hit the eject button just yet. As discussed in the May 1 edition of the "Noise", the 27-year-old's struggles can be largely blamed on mental demons. His velocity hasn't changed but his approach has. Instead of throwing hard and overmatching hitters with his mid-90s heater, he's fancified his game. This explains why Snell's K/9, BB/9 and WHIP numbers have devolved.

Still, his very unfortunate .353 BABIP and impressive 0.52 HR/9 mark suggests his ERA will fall below 4.00 by the break. At this time, he's still an excellent buy low candidate and someone worth rostering in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues.

How can you say with conviction that Justin Duchscherer holds the crown for most difficult to pronounce? Surely that award needs to be given to Jared Saltalamacchia. Even Ralph Kiner is able to pronounce the name of the Oakland Dutchman, but the Salty Dog, there is no way!!Mitch, Charleston, SC

Noise: The Sultan of Sodium's surname is unquestionably a mouthful. Really the only true way to resolve this issue is to reanimate Harry Caray, give him 30 minutes to consume a six-pack of Bud, present him the two names and see which one is butchered the most. Better yet, let Ryan Dempster and Will Ferrell engage in a slur-off by channeling the spirit of Harry.

Regardless of how this completely pointless experiment is conducted, the Noise's money is still on Dutchy.