Whether you're talking about the Rip Van Winkle beards of ZZ Top, the obscene San Antonio Spurs NBA Finals midcourt logo or the well-endowed bustline of Waco native Jennifer Love Hewitt, the Lone Star State adage that "Everything is big in Texas" is unequivocally true.
Other than its colossal contributions to American pop culture, Texas is also known for something fantasy devotees cherish: flame-throwers.
The hard-throwing hurlers that make up the Lone Star pipeline have written stories filled with pinnacle performances and unfulfilled expectations.
The legends: Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens.
The losers: Kerry Wood, Greg Swindell, Kirk Dressendorfer and, rookie card lemon of them all, Todd Van Poppel.
Barely old enough to order a Shiner Bock in Austin, the 21-year-old struck out three, including Grady Sizemore twice, allowed two earned, five hits and four walks over five innings of work to earn his first of what will surely be many big league victories.
So, is Bailey more Clemens than Van Poppel?
My projection: he will be what Kerry Wood was supposed to be.
With a lively, explosive mid-90s fastball that can touch 98 and two lethal curveballs, a 12-to-6 hammer and a loopy 11-to-5 bender, Bailey, albeit unpolished, has the arsenal to become revered. However, his immediate success depends solely on two things: 1) He must throw his curves consistently for strikes. 2) He has to curtail the staggering amount of free passes (4.0 BB/9 in the minors).
Sure he's oozing with talent, but he's essentially Matt Cain 2001 pitching home games in a bandbox. This means that unless his propensity for walks declines, his ERA will hover in the mid-4s and WHIP in the 1.30s for much of the season.
Because an abundant amount of fantasy owners are genetically predisposed to slurp, hyped pitching talent, now is the ideal time to sell Bailey to an owner who's convinced he's destined for immediate greatness. In Y! Plus leagues this past week, he's wrestled away Adam LaRoche, Jhonny Peralta and Kazuo Matsui in solo trades.
At this point, only those in keeper leagues should buy on a bull market. That is, unless the November 2005 Maxim issue with a scantily clad Jennifer Love Hewitt splashed on the cover is dangled.
Here are this week's flames, lames and stars of video games:
.267 BA, 2 HR, 12 RBI, 15 R, 4 SB, 17:5 K:BB
On a team full of fantasy George Michaels (Alfonso Soriano, Derrek Lee, Aramis Ramirez, Rich Hill), Pie is the other guy from Wham!. Since being reinserted into the everyday lineup on June 3, Pie has cooked at the plate racking a .317 BA with 1 HR, 8 RBI and 4 SBs in 41 at-bats. Pie has struggled immensely versus southpaws this season (.150 BA), but his demeanor at the plate has mellowed a twinge, which has led him to take more pitches and draw more walks (4 BBs since being recalled). Scouts have gushed over his Carlos Beltran-like skills and it's only a matter of time before the 22-year-old posts 25-25 seasons annually. Currently the Cubs' primary two-hitter in front of fantasy giant D-Lee, Pie is a sweet-tasting source of RBI, runs and steals. Fearless Forecast: .276 BA, 12 HR, 64 RBI, 76 R, 19 SB.
.318 BA, 6 HR, 29 RBI, 31 R, 2 SB, 36:15 K:BB
The forgotten commodity in two of the most colossal trades this decade – the Nomar Garciaparra Cubs/Red Sox swap in '04 and the lopsided Austin Kearns/Felipe Lopez Reds/Nationals con job in '06 – Harris can no longer be considered a worthless throw-in. Ranked ahead of Draft Day phenoms Rafael Furcal and Robinson Cano at MI in Y! formats, Harris has bedeviled opposing pitchers in June hitting a searing .349 with 3 HR, 15 RBI, and 10 R. With B.J. Upton nursing a quadriceps injury, Harris has thrived in the two-spot smacking six multi-hit games in his past seven. Ex-Nationals and current New York Mets GM Omar Minaya once exalted Harris, claiming he was a .280 BA, 20 HR, 80 RBI threat annually. Because he makes consistent contact and is a superb line-drive hitter (28.4 LD%), Minaya's words were long-sighted. When Upton returns this weekend, Harris will move back down to the bottom third of the lineup, but with Delmon Young heating up, his RBI numbers will continue to surprise. Fearless Forecast: .293 BA, 16 HR, 77 RBI, 80 R, 7 SB.
.322 BA, 2 HR, 8 RBI, 7 R, 9:4 K:BB
Boasting the longest name in Major League history, the mere mention of Saltalamacchia causes prepubescent spellers and the Braves team seamstress to break out in profuse sweats. Eligible at C/1B, the Sultan of Sodium is not your conventional Morton's table salt. A rare switch-hitting catcher, Salty has a smooth, naturally-lofting swing from either side of the plate, which will lead him to eventually smack 20-25 homers yearly. Seeing more playing time of late – he's started six games since June 2 – Salty will don the mask and the oversized glove semi-regularly over the next few weeks with Brian McCann nursing a tender ankle and Scott Thorman sinking (.204 BA since May1). The Braves plan to use Salty as their primary DH in Minnesota and Cleveland this week; great for daily leaguers wanting an immediate return. With 350 at-bats: .300 BA, 11 HR, 50 RBI, 45 R.
3 W, 55.2 IP, 2.91 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 28:14 K:BB
Who does Bannister think he is? Bret Saberhagen? It is an odd-numbered year, ya know. Very quietly, the former Mets top prospect has been one June's premiere starters, winning three straight decisions with a 0.41 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and a dynamite 14:2 K:BB split. Hampered by a hamstring injury for much of 2006, Bannister's sinister command (5.21 BB/9) made him expendable to the Mets. Healthy and no longer under the New York media microscope, the 26-year-old has blossomed in the Great Plains, cutting his BB/9 totals by 56 percent (2.26 BB/9 in '07). With a pedestrian 89-90 mph fastball, he'll never tally a K/9 over 5.00, but when his effective mid-80s cutter and filthy curveball attract umpire yells he's difficult to hit. Ride the hot hand. Fearless Forecast: 11 W, 3.68 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 75 K.
W, 14 IP, 5.14 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 15:0 K:BB
I'm sure a few inebriated sots out there have already bungled Sonnanstine's name with the Martina Navratilova of golf, Annika Sorenstam. The D-Rays minor league pitcher of the year in '06 electrocuted the Marlins on June 10, whiffing 10 with zero walks and two earned in seven sparkling innings. Another James Shields in disguise, Sonnanstine, like Shields, throws a sneaky changeup that perplexes hitters when mixed with his high-80s fastball. The 24-year-old control freak (15:0 K:BB) has the craftiness and proven minor-league track record (Triple-A Durham: 71 IP, 2.66 ERA, 1.02 WHP, 66:13 K:BB) to be a trustworthy source of ERA, WHIP and strikeouts as a No. 5 fantasy starter in the D-Rays young, budding rotation.
.264 BA, 3 HR, 23 RBI, 36 R, 7 SB, 40:26 K:BB
Mired in a 31-for-141 slumber (.219 BA), Giles should prance around Petco in a pair of Rafael Nadal pastel colored capris. Giles scorched in April, slapping a .327 BA with 2 HR, 14 RBI, 16 R and 4 SB. Although his BA has plummeted precipitously since, his LD% is up 2.2%, his BB% stands at a solid 9.8% and his K% has fallen off by nearly three percentage points from last year. So what gives? Chock it up as an unfortunate, unlucky slump. All-around, Giles' peripherals look strong and a return to a .280-.290 BA seems probable. Dealt recently in Y! Plus leagues for Ken Griffey Jr., Craig Monroe and Chris Duncan in solo trades, now's a great time to purchase him at a wholesale price. Fearless Forecast: .284 BA, 10 HR, 64 RBI, 95 R, 20 SB.
.272 BA, HR, 34 RBI, 18 R, SB, 24:16 K:BB
Nomar is the personification of being trapped at a Celine Dion/Barbra Streisand three-hour twin bill with all exit points padlocked. The promotion of James Loney from Triple-A Las Vegas instantly transforms Nomar from an everyday to a semi-regular player. In order to keep the cursed Nomar from an inevitable clash with a wild javelina forcing him to the DL, Grady Little will sit the six-time All-Star 2-3 times per week to keep him fresh. Just 7-for-his-past-37, Nomar has not homered since April and has seen a sharp 14 percent increase in GB% and a 12 percent decline in FB%. Package him and squeeze whatever remaining trade value he has left to a misguided No-mah sympathizer. Fearless Forecast: .285 BA, 10 HR, 77 RBI, 60 R.
.278 BA, 16 HR, 47 RBI, 37 R, 43:19 K:BB
Feasting on NL pitchers instead of solving crimes like his teenage brothers Frank and Joe Hardy, J.J. has had little gumption at the plate in June – maybe he knocked up Nancy Drew. Hopefully you heeded my advice on the early May SportsStream update and sold high on Hardy. Although he does lay good wood on the ball consistently, scouts have expressed concerns that his swing is erratic at times and that he's more of a doubles hitter than a perennial 30 home run master blaster. Hardy's sky-high 47.4 FB% and lowly 16.9 LD% suggests that his BA will probably level off somewhere in the .260s. Hardy is notoriously prone to long, enduring droughts and his 5-for-38 June swoon may only be the beginning of a Death Valley dry spell. Recently swapped for fantasy giants Miguel Tejada, Justin Verlander and Jason Bay in Y! Plus leagues, owners are still overpaying for his gaudy 9 HR, 29 RBI May. Profit now, before a trade for Garrett Atkins looks attractive. Fearless Forecast: .267 BA, 29 HR, 101 RBI, 90 R.
W, 3 SV, 26.1 IP, 3.42 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 17:4 K:BB
Favorite Draft Day sleeper of early 90s funk-centric rap pioneers "Digital Underground," Hennessey has repeatedly failed to get busy in a Burger King bathroom as the Giants stopper. Since being named the Giants' closer on June 1, Hennessey has yielded 3 ER and registered a loss. However, his two-strikeout door slam against the Blue Jays on June 12 points to his true potential. This season, he's done a terrific job of cutting down on walks (1.37 BB/9) and inducing more grounders (48.8 GB%). Hennessey boasts a warehouse of weapons indicative of a quality closer: a nasty slider, 90-mph heater with natural sinking action and a deceptive change. If Hennessey were to falter, Tyler Walker is someone to stash in NL-only leagues. Walker, who saved 23 games for the Giants in '05, is rehabbing at Triple-A Fresno after having Tommy John surgery 11 months ago and has been gunned in the low-90s consistently.
.130 BA, 0 HR, 0 RBI, 1 R, 9:1 K:BB
Ok, so the ChiSox marquee prospect has been no "Fields of Dreams," but if you trust him, the stats will come. Announced on Tuesday, greasy-locked Joe Crede will be out for a minimum of three months after docs operated on his lower back to repair two herniated disks. Fields, who has tallied a meager three hits in his first 23 at-bats with nine punchouts, will man the hot corner for the foreseeable future. The 24-year-old generates marvelous bat speed and is a deadly mixture of power and speed (13 HR, 17 SB in 294 Charlotte at-bats in '07), which in time will make him a yearly 20-20 threat. His overaggressive swing and general butterflies are the main culprits behind his snail start, but be patient. Once he gets 50 at-bats under his belt, his lumber will begin to sizzle. Fearless Forecast: .260 BA, 12 HR, 60 RBI, 60 R, 14 SB.
TRUE OR FALSE?
We've all seen these seemingly ambiguous statements on exams and quizzes since elementary school, now the classic test teaser gets a fantasy makeover. Each week, I'll tackle pressing diamond topics with a direct, succinct answer. Please, keep your eyes on your own paper.
No. 1 overall pick David Price will reach Tampa sometime this year. – John, Millbrae, CA
Answer: False. The Price could be right in Tampa come September, but expect Andrew Friedman to cover the Vanderbilt standout in plastic bubble wrap. His portfolio could make any fantasy owner drool: late life 90-95 mph fastball, biting slider that grades 70 on the 20-80 scale, and a puzzling plus change. The 21-year-old southpaw had an eye-popping 13.1 K/9 at Vandy this year, but because he has already tallied 132 IP, Tampa will probably shut him down early in preparation for a rotation spot audition next spring. If his dominating command carries over, it's possible he could total Dontrelle Willis 2002 numbers in his first big league season.
2. Richie "I'm Too" Sexson will start producing numbers sweeter than hot chocolate before the All-Star break. – Jimmy, Derry, NH
Answer: True. Try sweeter than Beyonce and Shakira's jelly-filled "Beautiful Liar" video. I know millions of you frustrated Sexson owners have suffered bouts of insomnia over his less-than-inspiring .194 BA, but the Seattle Sasquatch is about to shake his furry badonkadonk. Through June 13 of '06, Sexson was in familiar territory. He had a .204 BA with 6 HR and 33 RBI, but managed to hit .306 the rest of the way. Expect him to have another miraculous turnaround. Sexson's BB% has improved and once the rust spots are buffed out he'll begin to rake killer power numbers. I'm still confident he'll eclipse 30 homers and 105 RBI for the third straight season.
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?
Noise: For those that might have missed last week's Big Board, Funston axed any future feedback comments that link his likeness to Eddie Munster. Funston, being a man who supports creative integrity, encouraged all of his loyal ridiculers to "come up with something new." Dunc's Matt Chico association is a fair attempt at lassoing the doppelganger, but I've got a better one. Funston is the byproduct of a Richard Milhouse Nixon/Count Chocula late-night hookup. Talk about one exaggerated widow's peak …
Matt Stairs is from New Brunswick, not Newfoundland. I know those East Coast Canadians don't make it easy for you guys considering St. John, New Brunswick is extremely easy to confuse with St. John's, Newfoundland. Including your Randy Wolf BABIP mistake, that is two errors in the past three weeks, but no worries, you're still better than Chone Figgans. Keep bringin' us the noise.
– Joel, Guelph, Ontario
Noise: Evidently, my mistake-laden influences have overtaken your brain's region of rational decision making – you misspelled Figgins. Yes, former Colorado Rockies stud Larry Walker, Rick Moranis, the entire cast of the "Kids in the Hall" and late night Skin-a-Max starlet Shannon Tweed must have been deeply offended by my geographic goof. Maybe Avril Lavigne will be inspired to write an anger-filled song entitled "Nimrod Noise" honoring my misfire.
Evans, you're ridiculous. You declared Matt Stairs a "moderate buy?" It would be more entertaining to watch this guy eat Twinkies than play baseball. Here's some "noise" for you: Kenny Lofton's stat line: .258 BA, 4 HR, 14 RBI, 32 R, 16 SB. If you really need an old man for your team, the Chicago native beats out your New Brunswick buddy, eh Evans?
– Nate, New York, NY
Noise: Your side-by-side assessment of Stairs/Lofton is like comparing Danny DeVito to Naomi Campbell – in matching bikinis. Let me clarify, Stairs is a moderate power buy. The guy runs like a runaway keg of Molson and is comparable to "Willie Mays Hays" Lofton in age only. With two homers and three RBI since my write-up, my perceptions of the Canadian Ewok have proved somewhat prophetic. Eh, Nate?
Brad, as a biased Wheeler owner, I care to disagree with your assessment that he will lose his closer job soon. Lidge suffered Pujols Traumatic Stress Disorder and never recovered. His fragile psyche does great in the 8th inning. When Wheeler has entered in closing situations, he's done fine. His two most recent blowups were in non-save situations. Closing is a mentality and Phil Garner is smart enough to know Lidge can't handle it anymore.
– Patrick, West New York, NJ
Noise: When Lidge yielded a game-tying homer to the ever-powerful Mark Kotsay on Tuesday, visions of Pujols probably did dance in his head. However, Garner won't pull the plug on his grand experiment just yet, nor should he. Kotsay's HR was the first ER Lidge has allowed since May 17. Wheeler has been far from spectacular in the role and doesn't have the stuff that Lidge does to be a dominant closer. People will continue to be despondent toward Lidge, but his 36:6 K:BB mark in 25.1 IP leading up to last night's debacle convinced me he is a revived player.
Brad, you and your band of caped crusaders are better than television. This includes your avid responders as much as it includes the people paid to confuse them with absurd declarations. Twice in "Bringin' the Noise" last week, people blamed you for their decision to follower your advice. Why does anyone think that you or Funston or Behrens or the only guy balder than you (Buser) knows any more than us? I doubt any of you were hired because some bigwig at Yahoo! was impressed by the results of your last three fantasy teams. You boys can write, for the most part, and had the guts to apply for a job that pays to do exactly what millions of us do during our work-day – dish about fantasy sports. Each and every one of your entries should come with a disclaimer: "These articles are strictly for your amusement and are merely something to read while waiting for your 9-to-5 to end, the baby to stop crying, or that girl to finally call you. Heeding any of this advice will be detrimental to the health of your all-important fantasy squad. Thanks for reading, pal." Thank you, sir, for the rapid repartee – the only reliable portion of your column.
– Brian, New Paltz, NY
Noise: Brian, you could probably also add to your disclaimer, "waiting for Baseball Tonight to be tolerable and informative again, Elijah Dukes to admit he robbed the cradle and Nutrisystems to approach Lou Piniella to be their next spokesperson." Remember, Yahoo! didn't hire me for my witty comebacks or expansive sports knowledge; they brought me onboard because of my dapper on-air wardrobe – camo-colored Hawaiian shirts excluded. Eat your heart out Stephen "Apricot-colored suit" Smith …