At The Motley Fool, we poke plenty of fun at Wall Street analysts and their endless cycle of upgrades, downgrades, and "initiating coverage at neutral." So you might think we'd be the last people to give virtual ink to such "news." And we would be -- if that were all we were doing.

But in "This Just In," we don't simply tell you what the analysts said. We'll also show you whether they know what they're talking about. To help, we've enlisted Motley Fool CAPS, our tool for rating stocks and analysts alike. With CAPS, we'll be tracking the long-term performance of Wall Street's best and brightest -- and its worst and sorriest, too.

And speaking of the best ...
Three days before it releases its Q3 numbers, shares of Salesforce.com (NYSE:CRM) are surging this morning in the wake of an upgrade from Piper Jaffray. Calling the stock "a core holding in the enterprise application space," Piper argues that while "core operating metrics" may fluctuate in the near term, this company's improving cash production prowess makes it attractive in the long term.

Does Piper know what it's talking about? Past performance may not guarantee future success, but I personally feel more comfortable taking advice from someone with a strong track record. So let's take a stroll through CAPS Land and see what kind of tunes Piper has been playing so far.

Let's go to the tape
Reviewing Piper's CAPS profile, I'm at first inclined to ignore the firm's recommendation. Piper scores a 70.77 CAPS rating, which, while not bad, isn't really the sort of record investors should be paying good money for. Heck, seeing as Piper scores a mere 44% for accuracy, perhaps it should be paying us to take its more-often-wrong-than-right advice. Here's a small sampling of the times we've seen Piper blow it:

Company

Piper Said:

CAPS Says (Out of 5):

Piper's Pick
Lagging S&P by:

OfficeMax  (NYSE:OMX)

Outperform

*

46 points

ViroPharma  (NASDAQ:VPHM)

Outperform

****

45 points

LeapFrog  (NYSE:LF)

Outperform

*

33 points

So, how does Piper transform a generally losing record into a performance that places it in the top 30% of investors? By -- every so often -- making a truly brilliant call. For example:

Company

Piper Said:

CAPS Says:

Piper's Pick
Beating S&P by:

First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR)

Outperform

**

545 points

JA Solar (NASDAQ:JASO)

Outperform

***

174 points

Crocs (NASDAQ:CROX)

Outperform

**

149 points

Foolish takeaway
Will Salesforce prove to be one of those exceptional recommendations that serve to salvage Piper's reputation on Wall Street? As a matter of fact, it just might be. While most investors -- most sane investors, at least -- will take one glance at Salesforce's 1,163 P/E ratio and shake their heads in disgust, those who can see past the income statement to the cash flow statement may see an emerging growth engine here.

Mind you, I'm not saying Salesforce's trailing price-to-free cash flow ratio of 60 is cheap, exactly. Rather, it's -- how do I put this? -- less obscenely overpriced than first meets the eye.

With most analysts agreeing that this firm will grow its profits at 43% per year over the next half-decade, I can see Salesforce growing into its valuation in time. Can you? Then drop by CAPS and tell us why.

Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any company named above. You can find him on CAPS, publicly pontificating under the handle TMFDitty, where he's currently ranked No. 793 out of more than 73,000 players. The Fool has a disclosure policy.