Bringin' the Noise: Hit Sematary

Peruse the box seats at Fenway and you're bound to run across devoted Sox fan and literary horror icon Stephen King. The prolific writer, whose Red Sox obsession has crept into his work, has continuously invented nightmarish new ways to spook readers. Like any restless writer, he's always searching for different colors, textures and feelings to inspire future works.

For the subject of his next novel, King should look no further than the husky, bearded Dominican taking practice swings in Boston's on-deck circle.

Beloved Beantown sports hero David Ortiz has become fantasy's most loathed monster. His abhorrent 13-for-59 start (.220 BA, five extra-base hits, zero homers) has transformed one of the game's most reliable power sources into a contemptuous points-sucking vampire. For owners heavily invested in the five-time All-Star (The Noise owns him in four of six leagues), garlic cloves, crucifixes and cans of Kevin Youkilis' Slump Buster have failed to lighten the hitter's deadweight.

Papi's dawdling start has many in fantasyland understandably concerned. But despite his unnerving April, the 33-year-old is someone to pluck off the clearance rack. Although the Noise's preseason projection may have been a bit ambitious, it's safe to assume Ortiz isn't this year's Andruw Jones.

Papi's Nosferatu alter-ego has bared its fangs in April, but after clubbing four extra-base hits in his past three, the slugger's sinister side may be buried. (Getty)

Skeptics maintain his troubles are rooted in residual wrist soreness, advanced age or separation anxiety spurred by Manny Ramirez's absence. In truth, their claims are either baseless or only tell part of the story.

According to hitting instructor Dave Magadan, the core problem is mechanical, not physical. Analyzing photos from this season and during his scorching stretch prior to the break last year, Magadan noticed Ortiz's hand placement was in an unfavorable position when the ball was located halfway between the mound and home. The flaw has affected his timing, causing the maligned hitter to be tardy on fastballs. As Magadan noted to the Boston Globe on Monday:

"When you're a little bit late … getting to the spot where you need to put a swing on the ball, 87 is like 97."

This setback has caused Ortiz to generate numerous whiffs (27.1 K%) and weak contact. Fly-balls have rarely escaped the infield (16.7 IFFB%) and he's looked foolish flailing at several outside pitches (28.4 O-Swing%).

With the mechanical ailment diagnosed, Ortiz will log extensive cage time to retool his approach. On-the-field results may not be immediate, but he should rebound and post admirable fantasy numbers. Interestingly, when he's made solid contact this season, he's driven the ball sharply at fielders, shown in his 22.2 line-drive rate. Inevitably, when his swing is refined, he will explode in a major way assuming his LD percentage hovers around 20.0.

Will he ever regain his '04-'07 form? Probably not. But a campaign similar to '03 is still very attainable (.288 BA, 31 HR, 101 RBI, 79 R). With standout table-setters Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia hitting in front of him, it's, as Magadan put it, "only a matter of time" before Papi's resurrection begins. His five hits since Patriots Day, including four RBIs, implies a breakout is already under way.

Ortiz, who was traded straight up for Chris Young (OF), Emilio Bonifacio and Manny Corpas in one-for-one Y! Plus league deals this week, will soon drive a wooden stake into the heart of his evil Dracula twin. And hopefully force the Noise's fledgling Friends and Family team to rise from the dead.

Fearless Forecast: 520 at-bats, .286 BA, 27 HR, 103 RBI, 89 R, 1 SB

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

Fantasy Flames
Ian Stewart COL 2B, 3B 123 58
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Stewart, a popular preseason breakout selection, has virtually become an everyday player. Because of the former elite prospect's versatility, Clint Hurdle has found creative ways to incorporate him into the lineup. Splitting time between second, third and left, Stewart has relished the challenge, hitting safely in five of his past seven with two homers and five RBIs. His high propensity for whiffs (career 35.7 K%) will eventually drive his batting average down into the .265-.275 range, but equipped with plenty of muscle, his long-ball tally by year's end could rank near the top among qualifying middle infielders. The breakthrough season we've anxiously waited for may have finally arrived.
Fearless Forecast: 466 at-bats, .269 BA, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 70 R, 6 SB
Freddy Sanchez PIT 2B 68 41
Market Value: Strong BA Buy (12-teams-plus mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Confounded by shoulder pain for much of last year, Sanchez now looks reinvigorated. Just three years removed from winning the NL batting title, the 31-year-old has been an extra-base-hit machine, smacking eight doubles, two triples and two homers (.359 BA) in 64 at-bats. Batting second, he's also scored 12 runs. When healthy, he's always been a tremendous source of BA, runs and RBIs at one of the toughest-to-field positions. For now, a repeat of '07 is certainly possible.
Fearless Forecast: 580 at-bats, .311 BA, 10 HR, 78 RBI, 85 R, 1 SB
Cody Ross FLA OF 147 18
Market Value: Strong Power Buy (14-teams-plus mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Until recently, Ross, affectionately known as the "Toy Cannon" on South Beach (sorry Jimmy Wynn fans), has largely been fantasy fodder. But in his past eight contests the pint-sized punisher has fired rockets into the bleachers, launching three homers and driving in 12. His vulnerability to punchouts will temper his BA, but he has 25-plus homer potential. Recall last year in his first season as an everyday player, he clubbed 22 homers in 461 at-bats. Power starved teams in deeper formats should cast a line for the Marlin.
Fearless Forecast: 477 at-bats, .262 BA, 24 HR, 78 RBI, 67 R, 5 SB
Pedro Feliz PHI 3B 213 9
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-teams-plus mixed), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: He may be the antithesis of Mike Schmidt, but the 33-year-old hot corner shouldn't be overlooked in deeper formats. Based on his career .253 BA, his current hitting prowess (.333 BA) is likely a mirage, but the RBI contributions are not (9 RBIs in 42 at-bats). Remember, with the Giants from '04-06 he averaged a stout 21 homers and 87.7 RBIs per season. Raul Ibanez's consistency at the dish should continue to benefit the seven-hole hitting Feliz. Eventually his BA will cool, but a HR-RBI rebound back to the 20-80 level is fathomable. Deep-thinking owners could do much worse at corner infield (i.e. Bill Hall, Joe Crede, Adrian Beltre or Edwin Encarnacion).
Fearless Forecast: 485 at-bats, .258 BA, 21 HR, 79 RBI, 67 R, 1 SB
Brandon Wood LAA 3B, SS 965 19
Market Value: Watch (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: Wood's promotion this week from Triple-A Salt Lake has created a wire frenzy in leagues where resources at middle infield are exhausted. For the past decade, it seems, every fantasy pundit from Anaheim to Yonkers has crowed incessantly over the youngster's power potential. However, when provided opportunities he's floundered. But with Vladimir Guerrero on the shelf for at least the next month, Wood could develop into a serviceable middle infielder. Prior to being recalled, he crushed PCL pitching – 26 at-bats, .346 BA, 4 HR, 8 RBI. Per Mike Scioscia, the 24-year-old will occupy a reserve role, but will be given an opportunity to earn playing time. However, if he logs minimal at-bats over the next 2-3 weeks a return to Utah is likely. Currently, he's only rosterable in extremely deep mixed and AL-only formats. Keep a watchful eye on his situation.
Fearless Forecast: 177 at-bats, .251 BA, 7 HR, 21 RBI, 14 R, 2 SB
Glen Perkins MIN SP 50 55
Market Value: Moderate Buy (12-team-mixed-plus, AL-only)
Lowdown: No longer nonchalant with his approach, the better prepared Perkins has suddenly morphed into Frank Viola, minus the killer cookie duster. In three starts he's posted a stellar 1.50 ERA and 0.83 WHIP. More impressively, he's yet to allow a homer in 24 innings. Based on his 45.8 fly-ball percentage, gopheritis will eventually set in, but if the southpaw continues to limit the freebies (1.50 BB/9), his ERA shouldn't be burdensome. He is Wang-like in the strikeout department, but Perkins should be labeled a reliable rotation caboose in deeper formats.
Fearless Forecast: 171 IP, 12 W, 4.04 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 96 K
Ross Ohlendorf PIT SP 248 6
Market Value: Moderate Buy (14-teams-plus mixed, NL-only)
Lowdown: Ohlendorf is one of several reasons why Pittsburgh has transformed from a group of bumbling scalawags into a band of fearsome Pirates. The Princeton grad, whose senior thesis dissected the economics of baseball's amateur draft, is a deceptive righty who coaxes appreciable ground balls with his nasty low-90s sinker. His studious approach is also commendable. In his last start against Florida, he targeted each hitter's individual weaknesses to draw poor contact (1.29 GB/FB in '09). The result was seven innings of two-hit, shutout ball (5:1 K:BB). If he can continue to pound the zone ferociously and vary his offerings a final ERA under 4.00 is possible.
Fearless Forecast: 165 IP, 10 W, 3.97 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 97 K
Phil Hughes NYY SP 365 17
Market Value: Stash Buy (12-teams-plus mixed), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Lowdown: With Chien-Ming Wang's ERA eight points higher than what the New York Giants averaged in points per game last season, Hughes immediately becomes a player of interest in 12-team mixed leagues. The much ballyhooed phenom, who was derailed by a fractured rib last season, could earn a promotion soon with Wang in "full laboratory mode." So far at Triple-A, the 22-year-old has surrendered just two runs in 11.2 innings. He's also notched a spectacular 12:2 K:BB split. Inevitably, he'll be given another chance. Stash him pronto.
Fearless Forecast: 115 IP, 8 W, 4.02 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 107 K
Fantasy Lames
Lance Berkman Hou 1B 197 99
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: Berkman, who's numbers fell into an abyss after the break last season, has carried over his massive slump into '09. Although he's reached the cheap seats three times and has driven in eight runs, his 11 hits in 51 at-bats (.216 BA) is not the yield owners who invested a second-round pick anticipated. Bothered by biceps tendonitis late in spring training, the Big Puma is still in exhibition mode. To rectify the situation, he's taken extensive BP in an attempt to regain his "hitting feel." Forty-homers will be a stretch, but he should eventually finish with power totals similar to '08 (.312 BA, 29 HR, 106 RBI, 114 R). Purchase at a discount.
Fearless Forecast: 550 at-bats, .299 BA, 30 HR, 101 RBI, 95 R, 7 SB
Jay Bruce CIN OF 230 92
Market Value: Strong Buy (all leagues)
Lowdown: For much of April, Bruce's power has been "Dancing in the Dark." Limited by a minor hand injury, the brawny youngster has collected a mere 10 hits in 42 at-bats (.238 BA). He's also posted an absurdly low 6.5 line-drive percentage. Despite the torpid start, the lefty-swinger has remarked he still "feels good at the plate." Since exploding onto the scene early last year, Bruce has at times been overanxious, evident in his career 30.7 outside swing percentage. Still, after clocking two homers in the Cubs series, he's starting to rediscover his groove. Thoughts of 35 homers are a stretch, but he should flirt with 30. The 22-year-old, swapped this week for Dan Uggla, Johnny Damon and Clayton Kershaw in one-for-one Plus league deals, is someone to inquire about for those who don't believe in sophomore slumps.
Fearless Forecast: 585 at-bats, .277 BA, 29 HR, 90 RBI, 81 R, 9 SB
JJ Hardy MIL SS 708 91
Market Value: Hold (all leagues)
Lowdown: In an attempt to snap out of their early season funks, Hardy and Swedish-looking teammate Corey Hart have dyed their hair jet black. After a disturbing 8-for-51 start (.157 BA), the shortstop should really dip his entire body in Braun juice. Back stiffness is partially to blame, but Hardy's laggard start isn't far from the norm. Last season the streaky swinger hit just .244 in April. If things don't turn around quickly, impatient owners will likely auction him off at a cheap rate. When that happens, pounce. In his five-year career, he's been one of the finest post-ASB shortstops in fantasy (career pre-ASB BA: .251, post: .276). This week he was dealt straight up for Coco Crisp, Stephen Drew and David Price in Plus league solo swaps.
Fearless Forecast: 560 at-bats, .275 BA, 22 HR, 71 RBI, 68 R, 2 SB
Mike Fontenot CHC 2B 719 17
Market Value: Hold (14-teams-plus mixed), Moderate Buy (NL-only)
Lowdown: A popular Rip Van Winkle in March, the Little Baby Ruth's bat continues to collect frost in the meat locker. After ripping the baseball to begin the year, the miniature masher has slapped just one base hit in his past 22 at-bats. His 1.42 GB/FB split is uninspiring, but Fontenot backers should keep the faith. His keen eye (18.8 BB% in '09) and track-record of favorable contact rates (career 81.0) implies this is only a short-term setback. Taking the field even against lefties and hitting primarily behind Aramis Ramirez, he will still notch top-flight middle infield numbers in deeper formats. Light-hitting Aaron Miles is no threat.
Fearless Forecast: 465 at-bats, .280 BA, 15 HR, 74 RBI, 66 R, 3 SB
Jarrod Saltalamacchia TEX C 626 40
Market Value: Strong Sell (all mixed leagues), Moderate Sell (AL-only)
Lowdown: The Sultan of Sodium's atrocious start has generated a hypertension outbreak among his owners. The 23-year-old backstop has recorded just seven hits, five for extra bases, in his first 38 at-bats. More alarming, he's posted a 40.5 K percentage and a contact rate below 60 percent. Despite his horrific April, Ron Washington remains committed to the youngster. Still with Taylor Teagarden, and to a lesser extent Max Ramirez, lurking in the shadows, a prolonged dry spell could change Washington's mind. Until Salty can exercise more patience at the plate, he will be a BA burden. John Baker (55 percent owned), Jesus Flores (10 percent) and Ivan Rodriguez (27 percent) will continue to prove more valuable.
Fearless Forecast: 341 at-bats, .256 BA, 13 HR, 47 RBI, 40 R, 1 SB
Francisco Liriano MIN SP 1152 97
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Lowdown: Fransucko has reemerged. On the losing end of his first four starts, Liriano has surrendered 17 earned in 21.2 innings pitched (7.06 ERA). Although his fastball's velocity is up about a tick compared to last season, he's not overpowered hitters. His K/9 currently stands at a mediocre 7.06. According to Ron Gardenhire, the southpaw's command has been "all around the plate." If he can rekindle confidence in his change and build speed on his heater, he should post adequate across-the-board totals. However, it's safe to assume his strikeout rate will never again touch his pre-surgery level ('06: 10.71 K/9).
Fearless Forecast: 165 IP, 11 W, 3.98 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 128 K
Ricky Nolasco FLA SP 1155 96
Market Value: Strong Buy (all formats)
Lowdown: Last year's rising star posted his third consecutive letdown Wednesday, conceding five runs (8 HA, 3 BB, 5 K) in six innings against the scorching Pirates. Projected to be a strong middle-of-the-rotation mainstay for mixed league owners, Nolasco has stumbled out of the gates. Despite the downturn, his peripherals are nearly identical to last year's with line-drive rate the lone exception. Having difficulty consistently nailing targets with his fastball, he's surrendered an unsustainable 29.0 LD%. The initial yield has painted an ominous picture, but once he reclaims command of his heater on both sides of the plate the quality starts will come rolling in. Believe me. Nolasco isn't Spanish for Falco.
Fearless Forecast: 205 IP, 13 W, 3.79 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 178 K
Fausto Carmona CLE SP 1159 61
Market Value: Moderate Sell (all formats)
Lowdown: Carmona, like most on the Indians staff, has struggled immensely to start the season. Based on Cleveland's 6.96 ERA, Mark Shapiro should seriously contemplate putting the full-court press on the high school no-hit wunderkind, Patrick Schuster. Dreadful since his standout '07 season, the 25-year-old hurler has allowed 14 earned in his past 16 innings. Although he netted the win in his last start, Carmona noted his command wasn't sharp and that he fell behind numerous times. Because he doesn't blow hitters away, he must exude pinpoint control to coax grounders. Given his despicable 5.63 BB/9, 1.20 GB/FB and recent string of diminishing returns, he may never recapture the magic.
Fearless Forecast: 170 IP, 11 W, 4.38 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 88 K

To remind colleagues Jeff Passan and Mark Pesavento of the $50 donation they'll be contributing to the Noise's import beer fund, Nelson Cruz's long-ball tally will be noted each week. Remember, the original bet was over/under 25 homers.

Caribbean Cruz connections since last week: 1
Season total: 6
Moonshots to the money: 20