Bringin' the Noise: Late-Season Sweethearts

As the old adage says, life imitates art. And in the virtual realm of quality starts, on-base percentages and inflated WHIPs, this is undoubtedly true.

You see, the arduous fantasy baseball season mimics the often overused silver-screen franchise known as the Hollywood trilogy.

In April, act one of the fantasy season, optimism runs rampant among owners who believe they possess a blockbuster squad. By July, act two, weary participants discard their Opening Day guns – umm, Richie Sexson – hoping that an upstart like Billy Butler or a nicely wrapped deadline gift like Mark Teixeira can rescue them from mediocrity. Finally, when the calendar flips to September, act three, auspicious-thinking owners snag a couple of talent-rich rookies off waivers dreaming that they can carry them to a heroic "Return of the Jedi" finish.

For the Noise's Yahoo! Friends and Family League cast of clowns, Joey Votto's bat better pack a punch like Deebo in the original "Friday", otherwise my team will have a forgetful "Friday After Next" conclusion come October …

In the last installment of fantasy baseball's '06 trilogy, Jeff Baker, at the time a marginal outfield prospect in the Colorado system, emerged the Han Solo of waiver wire difference makers. The former Clemson standout froze opponents in carbonite by lacing a .375 BA with five homers, 21 RBI and two steals in 56 September at-bats.

What recently recalled/current farmhands could make a Jeff Baker-like impact on your team during the most crucial month of the season?

Here is my top-five list of potential late-season sweethearts – other than Votto – that could help you raise the Y! bobblehead championship trophy in triumph:

Rick Ankiel, StL, OF
Minor League Line: 381 at-bats, .270 BA, 31 HR, 86 RBI, 103 R, 3 SB, 86:24 K:BB
Lowdown: Tony LaRussa guaranteed last week that Ankiel would receive a call-up no later than September 1. The connoisseur of stripped socks has launched a homer once in every 12.2 at-bats at Triple-A Memphis. He would be a major offensive upgrade in centerfield over the decrepit Jim Edmonds for the playoff hopeful Cardinals. If he can log 120 at bats, count on 7-9 homers with 18-22 RBI.

Andrew McCutchen, Pit, OF
Minor League Line: 411 at-bats, .253 BA, 9 HR, 46 RBI, 62 R, 15 SB, 77:41 K:BB
Lowdown: The Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirate prospects, McCutchen is an emerging pitcher-pulverizer who'll eventually crack 20-25 homers with 20-plus steals and a .300 average. Only 20, McCutchen had a very sluggish start to his season, but has refined his approach and raked a .304 BA since the end of June. With (snore) Nate McLouth manning center and Chris Duffy's return from an ankle injury in question, McCutchen could be handed the center-field reigns in September if he continues to plug away at Double-A.

Joba Chamberlain, NYY, RP
Minor League Line: 9 W, 88.1 IP, 2.45 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 13.7 K/9
Lowdown: Meet the Junior Circuit's answer to Carlos Marmol. "Joba the Hutt" has had more weight issues than Oprah in his past, but his two scoreless inning, two-strikeout big league debut on August 7 lends insight to his enormous upside. Chamberlain has a drool-inducing repertoire – 95-97 mph fastball, hard-cutting slider, above-average curve, deceptive change – and equally impressive polish. Although he was used almost exclusively as a starter in the minors this year, he's destined to become the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera in the ninth. Until then, he'll dominate in middle relief and provide fantasy staffs with a strikeout surplus.

Eric Patterson, ChC, 2B/OF
Minor League Line: 451 at-bats, .299 BA, 14 HR, 62 RBI, 85 R, 16 SB, 75:43 K:BB
Lowdown: His brother, Corey, may have the gotten the model looks, but Eric inherited a watchful eye. Expected to be the lefty-hitting part of the Alfonso Soriano replacement platoon in left, Patterson is a converted second baseman with 15 HR, 30 SB long-term potential. Scouts have compared his versatile game to Chone Figgins and based on Lou Piniella's recent comments that the Cubs will have to be more aggressive on the basepaths to manufacture runs, he could be a flexible source of steals in deeper leagues over the next few weeks.

Gio Gonzalez, ChW, SP
Minor League Line: 7 W, 122.1 IP, 2.94 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.89 K/9
Lowdown: Normally I wouldn't recommend a young starter to become a September sensation, but G.G. has the stuff to be a fantasy gargantuan. The southpaw from Miami is a fundamentally sound hurler who is equipped with a 92-95 mph fastball, nasty low-80s bender and a tricky change. Scouts project him to be a top-of-the-line No. 2 starter. With a 10.89 K/9 in 122.1 Double-A innings this year, their prognostication might be spot on. With the South Siders dead-in-the-water in the AL Central, a 4-5 start audition could be in the cards.

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

Fantasy Flames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Corey Patterson OF 131 76.7
'07 Stats: .270 BA, 5 HR, 33 RBI, 49 R, 30 SB, 58:18 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: "Peppermint" Patterson has traded in his Birkenstocks for track shoes. Over the past month the fleet-footed O's outfielder has posted better overall numbers than Jose Reyes, racking a .353 BA with three dingers, 12 RBI, 16 runs and 12 steals. Patterson has flattened his swing through the zone, which has helped him generate a respectable 19.4 LD% and 12 multi-hit games since July 12. Although his 16:4 K:BB over that span leaves a lot to be desired, he has significantly sliced his overall K% this season ('07: 15.4, career: 23.5). Patterson's deplorable 4.2 HR/FB% is a clear indication his power is in hibernation, but as long as he continues to churn the Speed Racer wheels, he will be a very valuable commodity. Recently traded for John Maine, Joe Borowski and Todd Helton in solo Plus! League deals, Patterson is an underappreciated third outfielder who could elevate your team up the stolen base and runs categories if the ranks are tightly packed. Fearless Forecast (150 at-bats): .291 BA, 3 HR, 19 RBI, 23 R, 16 SB.
Ryan Spilborghs OF 656 0.44
'07 Stats: .336 BA, 9 HR, 40 RBI, 18 R, 3 SB, 22:14 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: The toxic Spilborghs has been lethal in small doses. Since July 1, Spilborghs has smacked a .365 BA with 6 HR and 21 RBI – that's comparable to what kidney-stone crusher Josh Willingham has accomplished (.296 BA, 7 HR, 18 RBI) in the same span in roughly 45 fewer at-bats. The 28-year-old former UCSB Gaucho is a line-drive lacer (20.0 LD%) who also boasts a Barry Bonds-esque 22.0 HR/FB%. Because the versatile outfielder has mashed southpaws with regularity this year (.478 BA in 41 at-bats) – something Brad Hawpe has had difficulties with this year (.183 BA vs. LHP) – he should see roughly 3-5 starts per week spelling Hawpe, Willy Taveras and Matt Holliday when needed. Those in daily leagues who need BA and pop should employ Spilborghs when Clint Hurdle pencils him in the lineup. Fearless Forecast (125 at-bats): .305 BA, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 14 R, 2 SB.
Yunel Escobar 2B, SS, 3B 833 2.4
'07 Stats: .333 BA, HR, 17 RBI, 25 R, 3 SB, 21:9 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: With Edgar Renteria on the shelf due to a high ankle sprain, the Cuban defector could be a BA life raft in 12-team leagues. In 162 at-bats this season, the 22-year-old Escobar has racked a .333 BA, with one HR, 14 RBI, 25 runs, three steals and a 20:9 K:BB split. When in the lineup, Escobar has showcased a sweet, gap-to-gap stroke, generating numerous line drives (22.8 LD%). His 16 multi-hit efforts in 50 games, above average speed and position versatility (2B, SS, 3B) makes him a fantastic two-week plug n' play at MI in deeper mixed formats. Owned in a microscopic 2.4 percent of Y! leagues, he will post superb BA and run scored totals interchanging between the lead-off and eight spots and is a viable replacement for those frustrated by Ryan Freel's season ending knee injury. Fearless Forecast (150 at-bats): .315 BA, HR, 16 RBI, 24 R, 3 SB
Scott Baker SP 264 5.6
'07 Stats: 6 W, 87.1 IP, 4.43 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 63:17 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Buy
Lowdown: Baker has Crisco'd my bread pan with his mouthwatering August ERA and WHIP totals. In his past two dynamite performances Baker has given up a measly one ER in 16 IP and has painted a Picasso 11:2 K:BB split. Under the hood, Baker's 72.9 FB% in those two starts would make anyone faint, but his insanely low 1.7 BB/9 on the year and one HR allowed in his past five starts means it's nothing more than an ignorable aberration. Essentially, he's Rich Hill without the homers. In his remaining 9-10 starts, Baker does have a favorable schedule, likely facing the swooning Tigers twice and the Royals once – two teams he's notched a combined 2.06 ERA and 0.76 WHIP in 22.1 IP this year. As loyal Noise readers know, I've always been enamored with Baker's otherworldly BB:K splits and impressive arsenal. Now that he's shed the "Home Run" stigma (0.93 HR/9) and corralled his command, I'm once again jumping on the bandwagon. Pick him up in all 12-team formats. Fearless Forecast (10 starts): 5 W, 3.75 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 40 K.
Melky Cabrera OF 177 23.0
'07 Stats: .302 BA, 7 HR, 49 RBI, 50 R, 9 SB, 41:28 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Sell
Lowdown: He may not be an enchilada inhaler like Miguel, but this Cabrera has certainly swung a habanera-hot bat like the Marlins masher in the past few weeks. Melky has reached legendary waiver wire Wonderboy status racking a .416 BA, 3 HR, 18 RBI and 18 runs since July 21. During his three-week clinic, Cabrera has clearly become a more balanced hitter, sporting a 25.3 LD% (On the year: 20.8), 40.2 FB% (28.6) and a 35.8 GB% (50.8). Many would conclude that Jason Giambi's activation on Tuesday would cut into Cabrera's at-bats, but Joe Torre silenced those notions, stating that the 22-year-old would remain the Bronx Bombers regular center fielder. Torre may have the utmost confidence in the kid, but with Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui and Giambi all vying for at-bats, I tend to believe Torre's comments might be a bit misleading. If Melky continues to sizzle, he'll undoubtedly remain an everyday player, but if he fades, don't be surprised to see his playing time curtailed. Package him and turn a profit while his value is at its zenith. Fearless Forecast (150 at-bats): .285 BA, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 21 R, 3 SB.
Fantasy Lames
Player Team Pos Y!RK Y!%
Gary Sheffield OF, 1B 8 100
'07 Stats: .290 BA, 23 HR, 67 RBI, 89 R, 17 SB, 43:63 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell
Lowdown: The racial conspiracy theorist of baseball is destined to have his professional career portrayed on film by Oliver Stone. Sheffield, suffering from nerve irritation and a slight collarbone separation caused by a seemingly harmless collision with Placido Polanco back on July 21, might return to the lineup as early as Wednesday. However, during his 5-for-34, two RBI post-injury funk, Sheffield has accumulated a deplorable 3.2 LD%. If the recent vague comment that he's "not sure" when he'll "return to full-strength" doesn't frighten the bejesus out of you, it should. Given the nature of the ailment, it's foreseeable that Sheffield could accumulate rather vanilla power numbers going forward. Sheffield – swapped for Carlos Zambrano, Francisco Rodriguez and Andruw Jones in one-for-one Y! Plus league trades this week – must be auctioned off now while oblivious owners are bamboozled by his overall numbers. Fearless Forecast (175 at-bats): .260 BA, 6 HR, 24 RBI, 31 R, 4 SB.
Alfonso Soriano OF 42 100
'07 Stats: .297 BA, 18 HR, 42 RBI, 74 R, 18 SB, 95:25 K:BB
Market Value: Hold
Lowdown: Mets loather Ron Santo, who'll never forget 1969 and that time at Shea when an over-head space heater torched his toupee, surely blames Mr. Met for Soriano's quadriceps tear. The original prognosis released on Monday was that Soriano would be out a maximum of four weeks. Now it will easily be six. Prior to the unfortunate injury, "Fonz" was on pace for a 27 HR, 27 SB season. Because the injury will sequester much of his power and speed, he'll be lucky to surpass 20 steals and sniff 25 homers by October 1. Immediately following the injury, Craig Falzone offered me a slumping Troy Glaus and Soriano for Adrian Beltre in the Friends and Family league and I promptly clicked the "reject" button. Surely many Soriano owners in desperation mode are doing the same, but, unless he's being offered to you in exchange for a forty of Old English and Ruben Gotay, throw up a stop sign in yearly leagues. To add to Andy "Grizzly" Behrens' lengthy list of suitable replacements, scour the wire for Garrett Anderson (7.3% owned), Jonny Gomes (4.5%), Nelson Cruz (1.9%), Lastings Milledge (2.4%) and Jason Botts (0.13%).
Richie Sexson 1B 602 66.2
'07 Stats: .199 BA, 17 HR, 54 RBI, 49 R, SB, 82:45 K:BB
Market Value: Strong Sell
Lowdown: The Mariner Moose, who nearly took the crunch out of Coco Crisp, has received an undisclosed sack of cash from yours truly to make Sexson roadkill. If you're clinging to hopes that Sexson's flat-lined .199 BA will resuscitate, get a clue. In bed with Mr. Mendoza for almost the entire season, Sexson, who makes Jay Buhner look like Tony Gwynn, has officially entered into a righty-lefty platoon with Ben Broussard and will not return to full-time duty until his bat awakens – which will happen when Ichiro posts a golden sombrero. Currently mired in a 3-for-25 (.120 BA) slide, Sexson has tallied fewer bleacher shots since July 1 than ever-powerful utility players Tony Graffanino, Ramon Castro and Nate McClouth. What's ironic about Sexson's nightmare season is that he's become a more disciplined hitter ('07 K%: 23.0, '06: 26.1). However, his spike in GB% ('07: 48.9, '06: 42.2) and downward spiral in HR/FB% ('07: 17.0, '06: 19.3) overshadows any eye improvements and explains his downtrodden power efforts. Indicative of fantasy owners' disgruntled feelings toward him, the once formidable Sexson has only commanded the likes of Kelly Johnson, Carlos Marmol and Ty Wigginton in one-for-one trades this week. If someone in your league is still buying that a turnaround is imminent, poach them for whatever you can. Fearless Forecast (170 at-bats): .220 BA, 6 HR, 25 RBI, 23 R
Francisco Cordero RP 91 99.9
'07 Stats: 34 S, 46.2 IP, 3.28 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 61:17 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Buy
Lowdown: Each time Cordero takes the mound, Bernie the Brewer shotguns multiple cervezas out of Chorizo's gallon-sized sombrero. Cordero has squandered three chances in his past five save opportunities and has notched a disconcerting 4.80 ERA and 1.42 WHIP since the break. His continued command troubles (3.75 BB/9) and appalling efforts on the road (8.62 ERA, 4 L away) have transformed Cordero from a trustworthy stalwart to an adventurous circus act in the ninth. Despite his inconsistencies and the Brewers slow southward progression, Cordero remains a quality buy-low option as Milwaukee has 24 games remaining against teams with a losing record. Cordero, traded this week straight up for Michael Young, Cole Hamels and an injured Chase Utley, should be trusted for an additional 10-12 saves this year. Fearless Forecast: 11 S, 2.75 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 24 K
Barry Bonds OF 97.6 96
'07 Stats: .277 BA, 22 HR, 51 RBI, 60 R, 5 SB, 114:46 K:BB
Market Value: Moderate Sell
Lowdown: Now that Bonds' inevitable, completely anti-climactic, yet exhaustive, dethroning of Hank Aaron has finally occurred, trade him to an owner who's incognizant of asterisks. Overshadowed by his historical chase, Bonds is a drab 13-for-his-past-60 with five homers, 9 RBI and 14 runs over the past month – which ranks him behind powerhouses Ryan Raburn, Rob Mackowiak and Ross Gload in Y! OF rankings. One could argue that pitchers will be more willing to challenge Bonds with the record broken, but his deteriorating LD% ('07: 15.8, '06: 20.2) and rise in punchouts ('07: 17.2, '06: 13.9) tells a different story. Plus, with the Giants an insurmountable 13-plus games out of first in the NL West, it's conceivable he could be rested more frequently. Bonds – recently swapped straight up for Brandon Phillips, Curt Schilling and Troy Glaus in recent Y! plus league deals – needs to be dealt while the spotlight is still bright. Fearless Forecast (130 at-bats): .275 BA, 8 HR, 22 RBI, 24 R, SB

Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Richie Sexson? 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?

Brad, I just don't understand why a lot of people give you so much grief. I've been reading "The Noise" religiously this season. My team has only been out of first place three or four weeks, total. To be honest, these guys who try to get under your skin make themselves look really, really stupid. I snatched up Billy Butler, grabbed Corey Hart and just recently scooped up one of my old personal faves Kenny Lofton. Why? Because of your excellent reports, research and suggestions. Thanks.

Christian, Phoenix, AZ

Bad Brad! While your pugnacious prognosticating generally prevails over time, and your rapier wit draws belly-laughs from the Seinfeld crowd, you really dropped the ball in your last "Noise." Don't be surprised when a crowd of flabby wives camp outside your workplace with picket signs that read, "Fire the Pig!" Not that the comment wasn't funny but you forgot one important demographic … there are many lady rotoheads and H2H'ers out there in baseball land. Maybe their ambitions would be upgrading their mostly bald, male chauvinistic, glued-to-the-sports-tube husbands for a Brad Pitt-looking type that will mow the grass on the occasional Saturday instead of watching baseball from sunup to sundown. No waiver claims for a month for you!

Ted, Springfield, MO

Noise: There goes my shot at Rick Ankiel. Unfortunately, the lone female that regularly clicked my column was offended months ago when I described that drafting catchers is similar to "trolling the bar at closing time hoping to find a willing, attractive, late-night companion." After the National Organization of Women and Jessie Spano threatened to protest my chauvinistic mutterings, I forced myself to go on an effeminate journey of self-reflection to get in touch with my inner Susan B. Anthony. Several Melissa Etheridge tracks, Jane Austin novels, Meryl Streep movies and a six-pack of Zima later, and it's safe to assume that I'm a man who now understands what "Calgon, take me away" really means. My apologies to all the big-boned fantasy fans across the globe …

Evans, stick to fantasy sports and stop putting in god-awful pop culture references. You're terrible.

Jon, Casper, WY

Noise: Hey Jon, here's an idea. In next week's column, I'll organize elite fantasy contributors regardless of sport into an NCAA tourney-styled bracket. Each player will receive a regional seed based upon their contributions both on and off the fantasy field. Next, a panel of experts comprised of Nick from Boston, Joe Theismann and Meatloaf will debate the matchups in 200 inconsequential words or less. Then, people with meaningless lives will go online and vote for what player they believe to be the most fantasy and pop culture savvy. In the event of a tie, Erin Andrews and Jessica Biel will wrestle in a kiddy pool of mud – sorry Jessie Spano – to determine who wins. We'll call the segment "Who's More Fantasy Now?" (Expletive) brilliant. Don't you think?

Matt Cain droppable? Aside from having a strong outing in his last start (recovering very nicely from one poor inning), his schedule going forward is a joke. His next 33 games are against the offensively weak Dodgers, Padres, Nationals, Pirates and Diamondbacks. Of those teams he's faced, he's dominated almost all of them. Amazingly, four of those teams have scored even fewer runs than the Giants, so he might actually scratch out a few wins. His rough starts came largely against offensively strong teams and/or in hitter's parks. With 36 games against weak teams in excellent pitcher's parks, Cain should net at least 5-8 wins. Combine that with his '06 August/September splits and I think Cain is a strong candidate to bounce back form his recent struggles.

Brian, New York, NY

Noise: Fantastic detective work Brian, but you forgot three key elements. 1) He walks an asinine amount of batters (4.33 BB/9). 2) He gets minimal run support (3.61 RS/9). And 3) Last year's Aug/Sept split means little when the guy has played only two full seasons. To clarify, not once did I say Cain was droppable in all 12-team leagues. I suggested he should be considered a roster casualty in shallow 12-team yearly leagues. Guys like Buddy Carlyle (16.8% owned), Jeff Francis (64.3%), Brian Bannister (19.9%), Matt Garza (30.7%) and Chad Billingsley (59.3%) – all owned in significantly fewer leagues than Cain (83.4%) – are currently worth a roster spot over the Giants hurler.

Your evidence for a rebound is robust, but, unless we get more of the 18:3 K:BB Cain we've seen in his past 14.1 IP, he'll be a rollercoaster ride of undependability. However, in support of your argument, of the remaining opponents Cain has previously faced this season (Col, LAD, SD, Ari, Cin, Atl, Fla, ChC) he has accumulated a combined 3.35 ERA against them. Call it a gut feeling, but, at this point, I still sincerely believe he'll be lucky to amass 3-4 wins along with an ERA in range of 3.75 and WHIP around 1.35 over the final month and a half.

Hey Brad, love all your wacky nicknames. Can you give us your top-ten favorites before the season is over? Thanks.

Shawn, Salyersville, KY

Noise: Because I'm a man of the people, for the people – and because this is the last rawhide edition of the Noise this season; sorry, but football pays the bills at Yahoo! – here is a list of my most original, borderline ridiculous nicknames of the 2007 season:

Nelson "Carnival" Cruz
Rich "Climbin' up on Solisbury" Hill
Yovani Gallardo – "El Chupacabra"
Hunter "Six" Pence
Billy Butler – "The KC Benson"
Carlos "San" Quentin
Reggie "What cha' Talkin' About" Willits
J.D. "Nancy" Drew
Corey "Peppermint" Patterson
Jonathan "Baby Got Back" Broxton
And my personal favorite … "Beluga" Bob Wickman