He couldn't escape from a straitjacket while suspended from a crane like Harry Houdini. He couldn't make Oprah-crazed soccer moms squirm uncomfortably in their seats like David Blaine. And he never learned Transfiguration techniques at Hogwarts from Dumbledore.
But in spite of his lack of certain illusionary powers, Oakland's Santiago Casilla is a mound magician.
Although widely considered a top-flight prospect by Baseball America, Casilla was a relative unknown from 2000-2005. That's because the documents he carried from the Dominican Republic were, um, slightly doctored.
In an attempt to look more attractive to scouts, Casilla played under an alias to cloak falsities about his age. When he revealed to Oakland management during the spring of '06 that his identity was untruthful, the then 23-year-old Jairo Garcia transformed overnight into 25-year-old Santiago Casilla.
Those are concealment skills Miguel Tejada could admire.
Outside of his age controversy, Casilla showed signs of future domination throughout his minor league career. His dizzying late-life 96-98 mph fastball and nasty-breaking slider, a pitch described by one scout as "borderline illegal," embarrassed opponents to the tune of 11.72 strikeouts per nine in 119 Triple-A innings. Only Casilla's untamed control (career 4.01 BB/9 at Sacramento) prevented him from reaching the bigs sooner.
Now in his second full season with the senior club, the 27-year-old flamethrower – eerily similar in style and substance to Brad Lidge – has sharpened his command ('07 BB/9: 4.09, '08: 1.86) and developed into the AL's finest middle reliever. Oakland skipper Bob Geren has felt comfortable inserting Casilla into a variety of roles this season, remarking that his stuff is "better than anybody's when it's on." With Geren's backing, the aficionado of filth's regular work (80 IP pace), obscene 10.24 K/9 and sensational groundball rate (44.2 GB%) has turned the artist formerly known as Jairo into a household fantasy name.
Try to understand. Try to understand. Try, try, try to understand. Casilla is indeed a magic man.
Naturally, after my glowing Casilla endorsement, he threw one pitch in Thursday's game versus Cleveland – a fastball Jhonny Peralta air-mailed to the left-field bleachers – felt a sharp pain in his throwing arm and promptly exited the game. Mummies, Madden and SI ain't got nothin' on the Noise's death curse.
As LIMA strategists already know, middle relievers, like the 30 percent-owned Casilla, with impeccable command and lofty K/9 splits are unsung heroes in deep leagues.
Last year, Rafael Betancourt and Pat Neshek were prime examples of how these rawhide charmers can shrink team ERA and WHIP numbers while simultaneously rewarding owners with occasional saves and wins.
Other than universally owned sorcerers Carlos Marmol, Joba Chamberlain, Jonathan Broxton and Hideki Okajima, here are five widely available middle relievers who could sprinkle pixie dust on your team's bloated ERA and WHIP numbers as the season heats up:
Hong-Chih Kuo, LAD
'08 Stats: 26.0 IP, 2 W, 2.77 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 34:9 K:BB
Y! ownership: 14.4
Lowdown: The Taiwanese Tiger has packed a ferocious bite in middle relief. Occasionally toggling between the Dodgers bullpen and rotation, Kuo has become a flexible source of strikeouts. The southpaw's dynamite high-90s fastball, offsetting breaking ball and adequate change have catapulted his K/9 skyward ('07: 8.01, '08: 11.77). More eye-opening, the 26-year-old has coaxed more groundballs ('07 GB%: 30.5, '08: 49.2), a byproduct of his improved command ('07 BB/9: 4.15, '08: 3.12). His Scherzian performance versus the Mets on May 6 (3.2 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 8 K) was no fluke. Three times already this season Kuo has whiffed five-plus batters in long relief. Heath Bell was the only reliever in '07 to surpass the century mark in Ks. Kuo will likely be the lone wolf in that category this year. Absolutely add him in 12-team mixed leagues.
Fearless Forecast: 102 IP, 3.12 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 6 W, 119 K
Heath Bell, SD
'08 Stats: 22.2 IP, 0 W, 0 SV, 2.38 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 16:7 K:BB
Y! ownership: 40.2
Lowdown: Despite his dramatic decline in K/9 ('07: 9.80, '08: 6.35), the closing heir apparent to Trevor Hoffman is still dependable. Evident in his sinking K/9 ('07: 9.80, '08: 6.35), Bell hasn't overpowered hitters with the flair of '07. More worrisome, his GB/FB split has reversed course from last year ('07: 2.60, '08: 0.74), which means his fastball isn't sawing off hitters with as much success. Still, his intimidating mid-90s fastball and tenacious approach should eventually reverse his current GB/FB trend. Look for stegosaurs Hoffman to eventually succumb to the tar pit's relentless grip, opening the door for Bell to close.
Fearless Forecast: 90 IP, 3 W, 9 SV, 2.42 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 73 K
Jesse Carlson, Tor
'08 Stats: 17.0 IP, 1 W, 1 SV, 2.12 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 18:4 K:BB
Y! ownership: 3.4
Lowdown: This Jesse may not have been student body president of Bayside High, but his 9.72 K/9 has deep-minded owners "so excited." Toronto's lanky lefty specialist has been a pleasant surprise for a bullpen that's largely struggled. Although his 1.07 HR/9 and 50.0 FB% are troublesome, Carlson's spectacular 9.72 K/9 and 1.62 BB/9 are positive peripherals. If he can maintain his current pace, the 27-year-old could a lefty version of Pat Neshek '07.
Fearless Forecast: 65 IP, 4 W, 3 SV, 3.21 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 68 K
Joey Devine, Oak
'08 Stats: 15.0 IP, 3 W, 0 SV, 0.60 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 17:3 K:BB
Y! ownership: 4.3
Lowdown: More substandard in a Braves uniform than his last name would indicate, the 24-year-old mound bulldog has developed into one of fantasy's deadliest middle men in Oakland. Command woes have beleaguered Devine in the past, but his refined control ('07 BB/9: 8.64, '08: 1.80) this season has enhanced his electric stuff – 94-97 mph fastball, plus slider. If he can sustain his sparkling BB/9 rates and continue to induce ample groundballs (44.7 GB%), he'll finally live up to the premiere prospect hype that once encircled him in Atlanta.
Fearless Forecast: 64 IP, 6 W, 1 SV, 2.43 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 68 K
Michael Wuertz, ChC
'08 Stats: 20.0 IP, 0 W, 0 SV, 3.60 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 11:6 K:BB
Y! ownership: 0.11
Lowdown: Touched repeatedly during the first half of April because of a mechanical flaw with his slider, Wuertz's tweaked delivery has scattered just four hits in his past eight appearances. The 29-year-old righty possesses a scorching mid-90s fastball and hard-biting slider, which, normally racks numerous Ks. However, due to his location problems earlier this year, he's uncharacteristically on a 43 punchout pace. With his confidence rebuilt, look for his K/9 splits to surge over 7.50 (9.83 in '07) as the season progresses.
Fearless Forecast: 75 IP, 2 W, 3.01 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 64 K
Here are this week’s flames, lames and stars of video games:
60.1 IP, 4 W, 3.58 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 37:24 K:BB
Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Sell (AL-only leagues)
The only conclusion for the perennially over-hyped Cabrera's sudden success: he's wearing Jim Palmer's Jockeys. As detailed in Wednesday's Closing Time, Cabrera's flash-forward mindset and somewhat harnessed control has thrust him into the "must own" category. On May 14, Cabrera surrendered just three earned in seven sensational innings against a Boston team that had torched him previously for 43 earned runs in 49.1 career innings. The outing was his seventh straight quality start. Based on comments made recently in the Baltimore Sun, the 26-year-old's confidence in his hard-diving 93-95 mph sinker, as his 56.7 GB% attests, is the reason for his early season success. Sure, his BB/9 has improved ('07: 4.05, '08: 3.59), but his occasional mental blunders, dwindling K/9 ('07: 7.31, '08: 5.54) and rather fortunate .226 BABIP are signs his ERA is bound to swell past 4.50 by the break. It's not unwise to ride the hot hand in mixed leagues, but be ready to hit the eject button if his quality start streak extends into June. AL-only owners should search for a trade suitor pronto.
28.2 IP, 3 W, 2.20 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 24:7 K:BB
Strong Buy (all leagues)
At his current pace, the most unpronounceable name in baseball could have as many quality starts by early June as consonants in his surname (8). Duchie doesn't possess blazing stuff, but his deceptive concoction of high-80s sinkers, cutters and slow-bending curveballs makes him extremely difficult to touch at times. Much like Greg Maddux, the 30-year-old converted reliever is a Picasso on the corners, which is highly effective given his ability to masterfully change speeds. Examining Duchie's saber resume, his sharpened command ('07 BB/9: 4.41, '08: 2.20) and improved FB% ('07: 35.8, '08: 32.8) have significantly trimmed his HR/9 ('07: 1.65, '08: 0.63) totals and, thusly, his ERA and WHIP. Outside the positives, his history of hip problems and lack of innings – his career high is 96.1 – makes him susceptible to possible DL time. However, if he can stave off the injury imp, he could easily be a poor man's Tim Hudson. With dual eligibility in Y! leagues, the sneaky righty is very valuable in mixed formats.
.304 BA, 6 HR, 14 RBI, 18 R, 0 SB, 20:8 K:BB
Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (AL-only)
Toronto's Labatt Blue keg continues to defy Father Time. On May 14, the forty-something Stairs cracked his sixth homer of the season, a grand slam off Andy Behrens' man-tasy Boof Bonser, increasing his season RBI total to 14. Despite his advanced age, Stairs still showcases a lightning-quick lefty stroke, which elevates pitches with regularity (career 40.5 FB%). He's logged more worm-burners so far this season than in year's past ('07 GB%: 39.9, '08: 48.4) and he isn't walking as much ('07 BB%: 11.0, '08: 6.7), but batting consistently in the 4-5 spot should boost his RBI totals, especially if his current 19.4 LD% sustains. Given his all-fields power and position flexibility (1B/OF) he's more valuable than you think. Pencil him in for nearly identical totals from '07 (357 at-bats, .289 BA, 21 HR, 64 RBI, 58 R, 2 SB).
2B, 3B, SS*, OF
.357 BA, 1 HR, 6 RBI, 6 R, 3 SB, 5:2 K:BB
Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only)
It's been tough sledding for Reds fans in recent days. In less than a week Mr. Redlegs suffered a near fatal decapitation and cherished upstart Jeff Keppinger was sidelined by a fractured kneecap. Although rookie Paul Janish, who gleefully spurted blood after his first MLB at-bat on May 14, will occasionally spell Hairston, the futon flexible journeyman is expected to be the primary shortstop for Dusty Baker's club over the next 4-6 weeks. In his first start at short Wednesday, the 31-year-old sparkplug collected three hits, drove in one, scored twice and swiped his third base of the season. Jerry Jr. has always boasted a respectable eye and double-digit speed, which, given his versatility, makes him a reputable short-term BA, R and SB source in mixed leagues. Because shortstop has been decimated by devastating injuries in recent weeks (e.g. Keppinger, Troy Tulowitzki, Rafael Furcal and Jimmy Rollins), many owners have had to rely on inferior stopgaps (e.g. Khalil Greene, J.J. Hardy or Juan Uribe). If your temp is prompting migraine headaches, snag Little Big Red off waivers immediately. If he can maintain an LD% above 20.0 (29.7 currently), he'll be a terrific 100 at-bat rental.
'08 Stats (AAA):
.210 BA, 0 HR, 13 RBI, 3 R, 0 SB, 12:7 K:BB
Moderate Buy (mixed leagues), Strong Buy (NL-only)
Ryan Doumit's devastating thumb injury, which could keep him shelved 4-plus weeks, could wake Paulino from a deep fantasy coma – the 27-year-old backstop has failed to recapture the .310 BA goodness of '06. Historically, his bouts of prolonged ineptitude at the plate were primarily due to his struggles with breaking pitches. However, when given opportunities this season, albeit limited, Paulino, as John Russell recently remarked, "has taken advantage." Diving into the sabermetrics, he has shown more plate discipline ('07 BB%: 6.7, '08: 10.1) and has tallied a GB/FB ratio in line with his breakout '06 season ('06: 1.53, '08: 1.56). With five RBIs in his past four games, the Buccos receiver is a reasonable No. 2 catcher in 12-team and deeper mixed leagues over the next few weeks. Mentally beaten J.R. Towles, Josh Bard and Ramon Hernandez backers should employ his services.
.214 BA, 3 HR, 15 RBI, 22 R, 4 SB, 23:11 K:BB
Strong Buy (all leagues)
Practically paralyzed by hamstring injuries since spring training, Brynes, who was the 11th player in major league history to smack 20 homers and swipe 50 bases last season, has greatly underachieved. "Max Effort" has seen his BA minimized by a 6-for-62 slide. His 17:4 K:BB split and wretched 53.8 GB% (35.3% in '07) over that span unquestionably proves his legs are not at full-strength. Byrnes recently divulged to the East Valley Tribune that he's been "overanalyzing" his problems at the plate, but added that his "legs are getting better … results are going to follow." The high-octane outfielder has been plagued by enduring slumps in his career, but has offset them with equally long torrid streaks. Although it's delusional to believe he'll finish with numbers in line with '07, he's still an excellent buy low candidate right now. In one-for-one Y! Plus league transactions this week he was swapped straight up for Brad Hawpe, Rich Harden and Shaun Marcum.
.284 BA, 3 HR, 12 RBI, 19 R, 0 SB, 19:28 K:BB
Strong Buy (all leagues)
There are two things that the Noise can't comprehend: 1) How glorified plastic gardening shoes (Crocs) are en vogue and 2) Why on earth are people banishing Todd Helton to waivers in "expert" leagues? Falzone, I'm talking to you. Colorado's offensive rock has collected only three extra-base hits and three RBIs in his past 14 contests. Up until his 3-for-4 outburst against Arizona on May 14, Helton was mired in an 11-for-48 (.229 BA) nosedive, which had shaved nearly 20 points off his batting average. After he was granted a mental holiday by Clint Hurdle on May 13, the five-time All-Star told the Denver Post he wasn't sure if his recent woes were fatigue-related or not. Still, the brief siesta seemed to work. At 34, his skills may erode somewhat, but with a career 25.5 LD% and current 15.8 BB%, he's a near lock to register a .300 BA for the 11th-straight season. Shipped straight up for Jacoby Ellsbury, Justin Verlander and Josh Willingham in Y! Plus league solo swaps this week, Helton is someone to purchase at a discount.
61.1 IP, 2 W, 3.38 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 52:27 K:BB
Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Right now, Seattle's "King" is more fit to pitch breakfast croissants than baseballs. Hernandez has been battered by self-inflicted wounds. His spotty location has caused his BB/9 to soar ('07: 2.51, '08: 3.96) while sinking his K/9 to the lowest level of his career (7.63). John McLaren has pointed fingers at Kenji Johjima's lack of "sync" with his staff, which is partly to blame for Felix's struggles. However, the 22-year-old's almost lackadaisical approach is the real culprit for his missteps. Looking under the hood, Hernandez's .324 BABIP implies that the baseball gods have not been kind. Still, the Mariners' shoddy defense – they've committed 31 errors, the second most in the AL – marginal offense and Johjima's suspect communication skills could continue to smudge King Felix's crown. Unless Seattle rights the ship in a hurry, Hernandez may experience a dramatic regression across-the-board this season.
53.0 IP, 5 W, 5.09 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 28:18 K:BB
Moderate Sell (all leagues)
Penny has had fewer quality starts this season than Derek Jeter romp-o-ramas with Maxim Hot 100 babes in his romantic career. One would think based on Penny's recent performance – he was annihilated for 18 ER in his past 15.2 IP (10.66 ERA), including a career-worst 10 earned runs in 4.2 forgettable innings against the Mets on May 7 – his peripherals would be in a perilous state. In fact, the opposite is true. With the exception of his K/9 (4.75), which is declining for the third straight year, all of his vital signs are identical to last year. The root of Penny's problems is locked in his conscious. According to battery-mate Russell Martin, Eliza Dushku's alleged ex-flame (Lucky dog!) has "left his splitter up" when ahead in counts. Once Brad plays with his tackle-box one off-day to clear his head, his numbers should improve. But don't think his end-season line will come remotely close to last year's.
.190 BA, 5 HR, 13 RBI, 31 R, 7 SB, 28:21 K:BB
Strong Buy (all leagues)
If President Bush, who was recently asked a few baseball questions in an exclusive Yahoo/Politico interview, had to choose a manager to run his Roy Halladay/Chase Utley anchored team it would have to be the equal-minded Ned Yost. The Brewers puzzling skipper continues to bat Weeks, whose OBP currently stands at an outstanding .311, in the leadoff spot – a great move for fantasy owners, but utterly dumbfounding in reality. If Weeks maintains a BA below .240, he will post one of the strangest 100-20-20 seasons in baseball history. What's even more bizarre, he's actually exuded more patience at the plate ('07 BB%: 12.1, '08: 16.0). Because of his focused eye, increased GB% ('07: 41.4, '08: 50.4) and declining strikeout trend ('07 K%: 28.3, '08: 18.3), the 25-year-old second baseman should quickly rebound from his current 7-for-45 skid. With his BA wallowing under the Mendoza line, owner confidence in Weeks seems bearish. Over the past week, he was swapped straight up for Willy Taveras, Johnny Cueto and Fausto Carmona in Y! Plus leagues solo deals. Rob a competitor blind.
*Hairston will likely be SS eligible in Y! leagues early next week
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 14
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?
Noise, This is 100% the best thing I have ever seen you write. Not that everything else was bad, it's just that this is really good. I have the same feelings about (Rich) Hill (I drafted him in both my leagues and 1 league I run for a friend) and his lack of performance is truly shocking and crushing to my ego and supposed know-how. Thanks for sharing this pain with me.– Jordan, Long Beach, NY
Brad, your argument against Hill is paper thin. You shouldn't use a handful of starts in 2008 as anything substantive. It's a small sample size, and you can't make any judgment on his abilities. As such, you are wrong to conclude he is trending down from 2007 to 2008. Besides the fact that his 2008 stats have little value, you also can't conclude there is any kind of trending based on one season.–Adam, Spokane, WA
Noise: Actually the argument was penned on rigid Dunder-Mifflin cardstock, which is comparatively thicker than most standard papers.
Fair argument Adam, but I'm what you call a Hill-a-holic. Since his starting debut against San Francisco on July 25, 2005, the Noise has absorbed, dissected and scrutinized every performance by Richie-kins. You could say I was not only the president of the Hill Club for Men, but also a devoted client. Although his '08 sample size is minute and many peripheral numbers are skewed by his uninhibited control, there are several potential trends that can be ascertained from this year's data, especially by a person with a PHD in Hill-nomics.
For those wondering how Hill's toils in Iowa are unfolding, he's performed encouragingly. Through two Triple-A starts he's posted a 1.69 ERA and 13:5 K:BB split in 10.2 IP. Most importantly, he finally admitted to the Chicago Tribune earlier this week that he hasn't been mechanically sound since the beginning of spring training. Admission is the first step to recovery.
Obviously there are a few structural kinks to iron out, but, unless newly appointed fifth starter Sean Gallagher reaps immediate success, Hill will likely return to the Cubs rotation no later than mid-June. Those who've stashed him will be overjoyed come midseason.
Dude. Are you playing or are you seriously gay? This whole man-love thing is disturbing. You started in football with Brandon Jacobs and now you seem to have a lot of fake lovers in baseball. I stopped reading your columns in football because of your love of men (think about it!!!) and because you are also not funny at all and try so very hard to be. I also find your advice sucked in fantasy football. I decided to give another chance and read a baseball column and here you are talking about man-crushes again. I can only imagine what you've said in your columns in between. It's getting VERY old and tired. Most of your peers on Yahoo! are WAY better with insight and they don't try to be funny like you, they just let it flow. Either come out the closet or get a new gimmick. PLEASE!!!!– Jay, New York, NY
Noise: Just because I find Big Gay Al's wardrobe fashionable, know the lyrics to "Karma Chameleon" word-for-word and use adjectives like "super," "fabulous" and "fierce" to describe the rainbow 'Stros' retro uniforms doesn't mean the Noise plays for the other team.
Jay, humor is in the eyes and ears of the beholder. Some people find my tactless shtick uproarious, others find it appallingly unfunny. You're absolutely correct in your assessment that the insight my fellow Y! colleagues provide is informative, but so is the Noise. Ever since I broke into this business professionally five years ago, I've strived to entertain readers with a unique, energetic and constructive opinion. Sorry, but the obnoxious man-crush "gimmick" is just a reflection of my quirky personality. And don't believe it will be abandoned anytime soon. In R. Kelly fashion, the Noise still has several "Trapped in the Closet" chapters to write.
Brad I was wondering a bit about your logic on "flames and lames" – there are times when you call a player a moderate buy in mixed leagues but a moderate sell in NL or AL-only leagues. Maybe I don't understand single leagues that well, but aren't most if not all players more valuable in a single league just due to scarcity of players who actually log innings or at-bats? Keep up the good work and I loved that Marvin Harrison comment in the opening paragraph.– Kurt, Miami, FL
Noise: Players such as Atlanta's Gregor Blanco and Texas' Brandon Boggs are indeed indispensable commodities in "only" formats. However, the purpose of the market designations in the Flames and Lames isn't a recommendation for owners to brazenly add/cut a player, but rather to understand when it's the appropriate time to buy/sell.
Because resources in single league formats are exhausted – currently in my local 12-team NL-only league Mike Fontenot is the best offensive free agent, Burke Badenhop pitching – trading is really the only way an owner can address team need. For example, in last week's Noise Scott Olsen was labeled a "moderate buy" in mixed but a "moderate sell" in NL-only leagues. Because he was owned in fewer than 50 percent of Y! leagues, the "buy" designation for mixed leagues was appropriate. Meanwhile, because he would be universally owned in NL-only formats, his overachieving numbers arrowed to a "sell" opportunity. Hope that clarifies things a bit.
Yo Evans, I was out at a bar two weeks ago, where I saw a guy stand up on the bar chugging Cuervo. It was Shawn Hill with some Nationals players celebrating his birthday. The next day was a 4:00 start to that Braves game where Hill pitched a gem (8 IP, 1 ER)! How 'bout that? – Thayer, Washington D.C.
Noise: For some disturbing reason (NY Jay, click away), when I first read this email I wondered if Hill did shots off the dome of Nick Johnson.
From my extensive experience mixing alcohol with athletic events, Hill's stat line – whether hearsay or not – was an impressive achievement. The last time the Noise expended energy for a team sport (softball) after a late-night rendezvous with Cousin Jose, second base was decorated in brown liquid and Taco Bell chalupa chunks. Proud moment.