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.