It's a contraption composed of mahogany, bronze and brushed nickel. It's fueled by Homer Bailey scouting reports, memorable Mark Prior performances, Todd Van Poppel magazine covers, Brien Taylor Topps Stadium Club rookie cards and Hideki Irabu cellulite. And its functions are to manufacture uninhibited excitement and foster unrealistic expectations.
The name of this influential instrument: the hype machine.
In less than two months, this seducing apparatus has transformed owner perceptions of Cincinnati's favorite son, Johnny Cueto, from intriguing top prospect to future Cooperstown inductee. From Sportscenter highlight reels to Baseball Weekly covers to our own hyperbolic endorsements, the buzz surrounding the Baby Bull is omnipresent.
Why wouldn't it be?
In two starts, Cueto, who has officially surpassed the once TE-eligible Marques Colston as the most controversial commodity in Yahoo! Sports fantasy history, has dominated opponents. Against rather potent lineups, Arizona and Milwaukee, he yielded just two earned runs on six hits and, most impressively, walked none in 13.1 dynamite innings. More intoxicating, his spectacular arsenal – mid-90s fastball, hard-biting slider and plus change – has completely embarrassed hitters to the tune of 12.15 strikeouts per nine.
But, despite his two infatuating performances, the current king of the Queen City is a strong sell high candidate.
The historical baseball record is loaded with similar stories of ultra-hyped prospects that thrived initially, but eventually collapsed under the weight of inflated expectations. Some prime examples:
Former 1989 No. 1 overall pick Ben McDonald tossed a complete game shutout in his first major league start on July 21, 1990. Although he finished that season with a sparkling 2.43 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 65 Ks in 118.2 IP, his career ERA in nine seasons was 3.91.
In his highly anticipated MLB debut in 2007, Daisuke Matsuzaka baffled the Kansas City Royals, allowing one earned run while striking out 10 in 7.0 IP. Dice-K was a stellar mid-rotation starter last season in 12-team leagues because of his 15 wins and 201 Ks, but many were disappointed by his end-season 4.40 ERA and 1.32 WHIP.
Brandon Funston's fantasy fetish, Tim Lincecum, whiffed 10 Houston Astros in his third career start on May 17, 2007. The diminutive flamethrower was untouchable at times, but his sometimes erratic control (4.00 BB/9 in '07) proved costly in several outings. In five of his 24 starts he surrendered five or more earned runs, finishing with a respectable, yet unspectacular, 4.00 ERA.
Yes, the Dominican dandy's early season ascendancy has been nothing short of magnificent, but the anticipation of his Y! availability coupled with the media's outlandish comparisons of Cueto to Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal and Pedro Martinez, have misleadingly skyrocketed his value to tier one/two levels.
Sure, he's the ideal combination of Greg Maddux polish and old Pedro power. And, yes, the sweat from his brow could rid the world of disease. But there are numerous negatives working against him. For starters, he's still very green. The 22-year-old has pitched only 35.1 innings above Double-A. Second, the Great American Bandbox is very unfriendly for pitchers. If his flyball percentage remains above 45.0 – it's currently 50.0 – longballs could become problematic. Third, this is the first time many big leaguers have seen his stuff. As Dice-K proved last year, unseasoned pitchers are not nearly as effective the second time around. Finally, notorious arm destroyer Dusty Baker is his manager. Under Baker's guidance, it's certainly possible Cueto's arm could be amputated by midseason. Although, to be fair, Dusty has yet to allow his cherished hurler to surpass 100 pitches in a start.
Without question, Cueto will be a terrific No.3 in 12-team mixed leagues. But it's absurd to think that come September he'll be more valuable than Adrian Gonzalez, Ryan Zimmerman or Billy Butler – all of whom he was recently dealt straight up for in solo Y! Plus league trades.
Seriously, it's time to go "Office Space" on the Cueto hype machine.
Expect the much ballyhooed youngster to finish with a line around, 4.00 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 175 Ks and 11 wins.
Here are this week's flames, lames and stars of video games:
16.0 IP, 0.56 ERA, 0.69 WHIP, W, 9:3 K:BB
After Saunders hurled his second-straight eight-inning gem on April 7, owners swarmed Y! waiver wires as though he were the Olympic torch and they were pro-Tibetan demonstrators. The Angels selected the former Virginia Tech standout ahead of Scott Kazmir in the 2002 draft, but until now he's been an underachieving former top prospect. The 26-year-old southpaw doesn't have otherworldly stuff, but his impeccable command, aggressive mentality and ability to create abundant groundball outs (53.5 GB% in '08) are commendable attributes. In style and substance, he's a left-handed version of Jon Lieber. Sporting an incredibly low .162 BABIP, he's been rather lucky thus far. Saunders has the poise and innings-eating arm to be a serviceable back-of-the-rotation starter in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues, but anticipate his ERA to surge over 3.75 by June. Pluck him off waivers and enjoy the short-term ride in mixed leagues. However, AL-only owners may want to seek a profit.
12.0 IP, 2.25 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, W, 13:4 K:BB
Not even a nosebleed can stop Todd Wellemeyer from achieving greatness. The journeyman reliever-turned-starter overcame red nasal drip in Houston on April 7 to deliver his second-straight attention-grabbing start – 7 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 7 Ks. In his days as a reliever, Wellemeyer always tried to overpower hitters with his electric mid-90s fastball. Embracing the teachings of mound Master Splinter Dave Duncan this spring, the 29-year-old hurler has learned to keep the ball down in the zone, leaning on a nasty breaking ball to offset his heat. If Wellemeyer can continue to stay ahead in counts (3.00 BB/9 in '08), harness his aggressiveness and throw with more finesse, he will continue to induce groundball outs (46.4 GB%) and work deep into games. Eligible at SP and RP, Wellemeyer is a flexible source of strikeouts who could post early season numbers similar to what teammate Braden Looper compiled in April and part of May last year.
36 at-bats, .306 BA, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 9 R, 0 SB
Only Adam Dunn can rival the boom/bust ways of the Desert Destroyer. Cracking a MLB-best five homers with 13 RBIs and five multi-hit games in his first nine contests, the scorching 24-year-old third baseman has picked up where he left off last September (.300 BA, 5 HRs, 13 RBIs in 90 at-bats). Despite his searing start, don't expect the prolific production to continue. Reynolds does possess 30-homer strength, but his astronomical 34.6 K% in 402 career at-bats implies that his BA is destined to finish in the .265-.275 range. Because Chase Field historically has been a hitter's paradise, Reynolds could be just as valuable as a Kevin Kouzmanoff or Mike Lowell by year's end. However, his over-aggressiveness at the dish will lead to occasional dry spells, which is something head-to-head (H2H) owners can ill-afford. Ride Reynolds' hot hand in mixed formats, but those in H2H and NL-only leagues may want to shop his services. Adam Jones, Nate McLouth and Aramis Ramirez are a few names Reynolds has attracted in Y! Plus league solo deals this week.
23 at-bats, .261 BA, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 5 R, 0 SB, 5:2 K:BB
San Quentin, whose lumber was locked in solitary confinement for much of '07 due to a shoulder injury, has pulled an Andy Dufresne to start the season. At the beginning of March, most projected Quentin to start the season in a timeshare with speedster Jerry Owens. But, with Owens still rehabbing his injured groin in the minors, the 25-year-old former Arizona top prospect has seized the opportunity. Hitting seventh in a steady run-producing White Sox lineup, Quentin has driven in eight runs and slapped a hit in five of his past six games. The Sox outfielder has always possessed enough bat speed and natural strength to be a perennial 20-25 home run basher. If his flyball percentage can soar over 40.0, he will live up to that expectation this year. U.S. Cellular Field ranks first in home runs yielded to right-handed batters since 2006. Even if Owens blazes the basepaths during his rehab assignment, it appears Quentin will be an everyday player as long as he continues to build a strong statistical profile. Owners in 12-team mixed leagues searching for a trustworthy utility player that can provide some pop should scour the wire for Quentin.
26 at-bats, .385 BA, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 6 R, 2 SB, 5:2 K:BB
The sweet-swinging Texas lefty has looked more like legendary Murphy, Dale, than the player the Red Sox abandoned for Eric Gagne last year. The former 2003 first-round pick has collected four multi-hit efforts in his first six games. Last season in 103 at-bats with the Rangers, he posted a .340 BA, stupid .410 BABIP and .384 OBP. Given his line-drive lefty stroke (career 23.4 LD%), Murphy's skills composition is similar to that of Dodgers outfielder Andre Ethier. Like Ethier, he has a 15-20 home run ceiling, but based on his mature approach and ability to rope lasers to the gap, he could sustain a .300-plus average for much of the season and produce respectable RBI totals, especially if he remains entrenched in the fifth spot behind Hank Blalock. In terms of numbers, he'll be very similar to the underrated '07 version of Randy Winn (.300 BA, 14 HR, 65 RBI, 73 R, 15 SB).
26 at-bats, .269 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 2 R, 0 SB, 9:0 K:BB
Tragically, thousands of Y! users are avoiding Kemp like coast-to-coast flights on American Airlines. Benched for three straight games April 5-7 in favor of on-base gerbil Juan Pierre, Kemp has been unfairly tagged as a bust. During spring training, the talented 23-year-old worked extensively on driving the ball to the opposite field. Unfortunately, his overanxiousness to slap the ball to right side has caused him to chase numerous breaking balls off the plate, which explains his 9:0 K:BB split. Fantasy owners are livid with Torre's infatuation with Pierre, but he'll inevitably realize the 20-20 tooled Kemp is more valuable to the Dodgers as an everyday player. Those who prematurely bailed on Kemp will sorely regret the move. His current .412 BABIP coupled with his stunning 23.5 LD% proves he'll snap out of his funk in a big way soon. With a hit in three straight games, he may already be on the verge.
43 at-bats, .186 BA, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 4 R, 1 SB, 11:0 K:BB
Nightmares of animated sliding glass doors must be affecting Pence's performance. The gifted Houston outfielder is currently ensnared in an 8-for-43 drought. Bizarrely, the contact-drawing Pence has whiffed 11 times (25.6 K%), drawn zero free passes and has the same number of RBIs (1) as the Cardinals Rico Washington (who?). After going 0-for-4 with three punchouts versus St. Louis on April 7, Pence studied video of his swing in order to diagnose the problem. He uncovered subtle differences in his stance, which he claimed made him feel uncomfortable. Since his study session, Pence has roped two extra-base hits. Based on his 46.9 FB% ('07 FB%: 31.6), the 24-year-old phenom has suffered from the dipsy-doos. The adjustments he's made will pay dividends for his owners shortly. See if you can't acquire Pence at a discount if there's an owner in your league concerned about a sophomore slump. Eventually, he'll emerge a top 20 outfielder.
28 at-bats, .107 BA, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, 0 SB, 13:3 K:BB
After a marvelous spring and a 2-for-6 Opening Day against Atlanta, many believed LaRoche might finally recapture his '06 glory days. But once the calendar flipped to April, the Buccos first baseman reverted back to his sorrowful ways. Mired in a 1-for-22 slump, at a contract impasse and battling a minor thumb injury, his '08 start is certainly disconcerting. Based on LaRoche's Luis Castillo-like 53.3 GB%, his tender right thumb has undoubtedly wreaked havoc on his play. Notoriously, LaRoche has been a turtle out of the gates, indicative of his career .174 BA in April. Last season, he collected just 11 hits in his first 83 at-bats and finished with a .239 pre-ASB batting average. Although a return to 32 homers seems unlikely, LaRoche will be a serviceable CI in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues as the weather warms. With Nate McLouth smoking at the top of the Bucs lineup, LaRoche's RBI totals will benefit.
8.1 IP, 9.72 ERA, 1.68 WHIP, 0 W, 5:2 K:BB
If Lilly's ERA finishes below 4.25 this year, Jake Peavy's throwing hand really was covered in dirt – because it was – not Little Debbie Fudge Round residue. In his first two up-chuck starts, Lilly has been tattooed. Versus Milwaukee and Pittsburgh he failed to reach the fifth inning and surrendered nine total earned runs. Much like last year, Lilly's early troubles can be blamed on his disgusting 53.1 FB%. The North Side southpaw was incredibly profitable last year (15 W, 3.83 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 174 K), but also lucky. His .272 BABIP and Field Independent Pitching (FIP) numbers showed that his ERA should have surpassed 4.00. Although a repeat of last season seems unlikely, Lilly isn't about to mimic Barry Zito. If he can shave several percentage points off his FB% and generate more groundball outs, he will be trustworthy as a No. 3 in 12-team mixed leagues.
4.2 IP, 9.64 ERA, 2.57 WHIP, 0 W, 3:4 K:BB
Billingsley needs to sip off Hiroki Kuroda's sake. Detailed April 9 by my astute colleague Andy Behrens, Billingsley's April has been hardly routine. Twice he's been used in a relief role, which has made it difficult for him to establish a rhythm. Mechanically, his delivery has been flawed, which is apparent in his 7.71 BB/9. It may take Billingsley a handful of starts to regain his confidence and cadence, but, eventually, the electric pitcher we all became enamored with after the break last season (3.12 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 83 K, 92.1 IP) will resurface. Stupidly, thousands of Y! users have already tossed the 23-year-old flamethrower into the free agent pool. In savvier leagues, where owners are not as impulsive, consider pitching a discounted offer for Bills. Given his position flexibility, he will be a useful hurler once Joe Torre stops tinkering with his schedule.
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 Apr. 9
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?
Good call on Joe Crede! Here's the great quote, "Crede is one of fantasy's weakest third basemen. He merely is keeping the seat warm for the more offensively potent Fields." You also said Crede would be lucky to get HALF his numbers of '06. So he'd be lucky to hit 15 HRs, get 50 RBIs and 40 runs. Nice job expert! He has 2 bombs with 10 RBIs already. How soon we forget he won a Silver Slugger. – Steve, Chicago, IL
Noise: Steve, just a hunch, but I have the feeling you're the only man in America who has an extensive collection of Rusty Kuntz memorabilia.
Naturally, after I harshly criticized Crede in last week's Noise he vaulted to the AL lead in RBIs. I confess, my words were overly critical, but the frustration of the Josh Fields situation still weighs heavily on my mind. Frankly, Crede's searing start is the best thing that could have happened for Fields. The 30-year-old third baseman has always flashed a marvelous glove and now that his bat has rekindled the 30-HR flame of '06, Ken Williams' odds of finding a suitor for Crede have multiplied. The Dodgers, who are currently leaning on Blake Dewitt at third, could be one team that might express interest. Also, the offensively awesome San Francisco Giants could also pitch an offer. Brian Sabean is a friggin' genius.
As for the 89 percent available third basemen's current fantasy value, it's certainly on the rise. Because he hits a ton of flyballs (47.6 career FB%) and plays a majority of his games in the Coors Field of the AL, U.S. Cellular Field, he's capable of 22-27 homers. However, his dwindling line-drive percentage over the past four seasons is a clear sign he's more of a .260, not a .300 hitter. As long as Crede dons black threads, he'll be a reputable source of power numbers as a CI in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues.
Brad, your love of the Cubs has no end. Wake up and smell the coffee. "Once he harnesses his control and rediscovers his confidence" Wood's never has had control and certainly not the control to be a viable closer. He'll BB himself out of that job if he doesn't hurt himself sooner. Don't be part of the flock of sheep.–Sean, Indianapolis, IN
Sean, each day when I roll out of bed, Juan Valdez and his trusty pack mule, Poncho, greet me with 100 percent Columbian coffee – the richest coffee in the world. I've woken up, smelled the coffee and chugged the entire pot, in honor of "Distinguished K."
With Opening Day and April 9 the exceptions, Wood has been sensational in his new role. In five appearances, he's logged three saves and posted a superb 6:1 K:BB split. His fastball has routinely registered in the mid-90s, peaking at 97 mph on April 5, and he's generated abundant groundball outs (58.3 GB%). From my observations, the control and demeanor are unquestionably there.
Frequent trips to the DL are always a concern with Wood, but it's important to keep in mind that his chances of injury as a reliever are minimized. Because his workload is dramatically lower, the strain of 110-pitch outings on his arm is no longer an issue. If Wood continues to notch similar efforts as he has in his three door-slamming appearances, he'll be a top-10 closer. He deserves to be discussed in the same breath as elite stoppers such as Jose Valverde, Takashi Saito and Bobby Jenks.
You won't waste your waiver priority on Johnny Cueto? Are you crazy? This guy has electric stuff, no one's done any real scouting on him, and he showed us that in his first start with a 10 K performance. He's got the potential to be a top 15 starter some day if not this year, and right now it's gonna take a while for the league to catch up to him. I don't doubt Kershaw is going to be a top starter himself someday and is the better talent, but there's no time like the present. Kershaw might not even make the league this year, or at least not in time to make a substantial difference, not like Cueto will right now. Imagine having Tim Lincecum for a full season last year. That's Cueto this year.– Jon, Wading River, NY
Noise: Jon, if you're ever in the fortunate position to seal the deal on a late-night sweat session with Alyssa Milano, never, ever say that Kershaw "might not make the league this year."
Per many scouts, Kershaw and Tampa's David Price will be more lethal than Cueto once they make it to the show. Kershaw's wicked 12-to-6 hammer, 93-94 mph late-life fastball, improving circle change and ultra-competitive nature will make him a superstar at the next level. After bewildering hitters in spring training (14.0 IP, 1 ER, 19:3 K:BB), Joe Torre compared Kershaw to Joba Chamberlain and indicated that he would be a key contributor for the Dodgers sometime this year. In his first start at Double-A Jacksonville on April 4, the 20-year-old southpaw allowed one earned run and whiffed four in three innings. Don’t be alarmed by the lack of work. Dodgers' management noted they will limit Kershaw's innings in the minors to keep him fresh.
Considering how poorly Esteban Loaiza has performed this year (2 L, 6.75 ERA), the lefty phenom could wind up in L.A. by June. When he does, my No. 1 waiver priority will be spent.
I agree that Cueto will be an outstanding fantasy contributor this year, but, for the reasons mentioned in the introduction above, his ceiling is slightly lower than Kershaw's. Remember, the cavernous specs of Dodgers Stadium are much more favorable than the shoebox dimensions of the Great American Ballpark.
Ok Evans, I'm curious what you think Rich Hill is capable of this year. I know Hill had a rough spring, but I refuse to believe the naysayers. This man has the best curve ball in the majors and also some of the most provocative photos in circulation on the World Wide Web. I think he might have even been at the now infamous Matt Leinart house party sporting Cubby blue skivvies. Get back to me with a fearless forecast when you stop Googling the phrase "Rich Hill in Matt Leinart's hot tub."– Matt, Chicago, IL
Noise: Actually, Tim Lincecum holds the title of "most provocative photos on the Web." Funston has enlarged versions plastered all over his office wall. But, to be fair, Hill, along with Brandon Jacobs, Rashard Mendenhall and Billy Butler, would undoubtedly be permanent fixtures in my James Brown celebrity hot tub – champagne bubbly and serenades from Nick Lachey included.
Hill pitched effectively in his first start of the season, yielding just two runs while striking out four in six innings against the Astros. If he can keep his BB/9 under 3.00 and FB% at or below 40.0 an 11-14 win, 3.65-3.75 ERA, 1.10-1.20 WHIP, 175-plus K season is inevitable. However, as was the case on April 4, it's uncanny how the Cubs swing toothpicks every time he takes the mound. Hopefully, this year he'll finish higher than 77th in run support, otherwise he'll be lucky winning 10 games.
Dear Bonerhead, I heart your columns as I find them informative first and foremost and hilarious second and second-most. In your bio blurb at the bottom of your columns you note "You can listen to Brad regularly on Fox Sports Radio Network." I am an FSR devotee however your voice has yet to grace my car radio. What gives? PS – Am I the only one who thinks that Kaz Matsui's 'anal fissure' is gruesome however hilarious? Probably. – Alex, Washington, D.C.
Noise: From 2004-2006 I was the fantasy voice of FSR, but, because of my affiliation with Yahoo! and my extravagant A-Rod-like salary, I was benched in favor of in-house talent. Obviously, my bio is outdated. Hell, TalentedMrRoto.com no longer exists in its original capacity. I'll get that fixed sometime soon.
On another note, for those sick folks out there who find an earful of Noise pleasurable, we will be launching our own podcasting brand in the not-so-distant future. Tentatively, our plan is to offer an energetic, informative and interactive one-hour program each week during the baseball season. If the initial trial is received well, we may add more shows. I'll provide more information in this space once the details are cemented.
Oh, and you're not the only troubled mind who found "Preparation H" Matsui's sphincter setback disturbingly funny. Undeniably, Matsui now understands what the popular English phrase to "tear a new one" means…