- Brendan Roberts, Fantasy
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I once had a major league player tell me he tries harder in September.
Well, I asked him, don't you try hard in every game? "Well, yeah, I suppose, but it's easier to put in a little something extra in September."
Not a real flattering line, and it was off the record, which is why I protect his anonymity, but who said it doesn't matter as much as what he said anyway. His reasoning made sense, even if big leaguers don't always say it. First of all, several teams are involved in playoff races each September, which obviously will bring out the best in a ballplayer. But he also said there's something about seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, a break after a long, grueling season. Makes sense to me. No matter how much you love your job, it's still good to unplug now and then, and that would be a big league regular's first chance to do it for an extended period of time since the end of February.
The veteran went on, though. He added that a strong September left a much better taste in a player's proverbial mouth, giving him a much better feeling during the offseason. If he had a bad season but finished strong, he felt the problems were corrected and there was hope for next year. If he had a good season and finished strong, the momentum would carry right into next season. Finally, and most importantly to him, it seemed, that strong finishes really helped during contract (free-agent, arbitration) discussions. It definitely made a player look better in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world.
So whether it was a little extra batting practice, more video work or simply a little more workout time, some players really do flourish in September for a reason. While others understandably wear down under the weight of 130-plus games.
With that, it's time to look at the hot and cold hitters for September/October over the past three seasons. Some notes, though. First of all, always remember that talent, opportunity, hot/cold streaks and even matchups still hold a higher level of importance than the numbers below. Secondly, I'm keeping this to a minimum of 120 plate appearances from 2005-07. Thirdly, the player must have hit well to make the hot list (and vice versa for the cold); I don't care if a guy is normally a .220 hitter but is batting .270. And finally, I won't include badly injured players (such as Moises Alou and Jorge Posada, who would have made the hot list) or guys who don't have key roles on their teams (such as Craig Counsell, who would have been on the cold list).
Notes: Hmm, look at little David Eckstein, the new Diamondback. Ya know, considering how weak middle infield is right now, and if you're hurting, and the D-backs have a home slate, why not? He didn't quite make this list, but beware NL pitchers: September is one of Albert Pujols' best months. Same thing with David Ortiz, Jimmy Rollins and Hanley Ramirez. Get well soon, Todd Helton and J.D. Drew. September is one of their best months, and they should return soon. The big names on this list continue with A-Rod, who, not coincidentally, is just starting to center the ball again. Fancy seeing Wigginton, arguably the league's current hottest hitter, who usually hits well in September. Seeing Kouzmanoff here is the reason I do these lists. Now would be a good time to get him. Could things get even better for Carlos Delgado? Looking at Kotsay's numbers, it appears the Red Sox made a shrewd move in picking him up when they did.
Notes: Whoa, look at Ethier! He's currently a very hot hitter, and he's carrying some teams right now. Something tells me he busts this split. Could the gritty Barmes run out of gas again like he did in years past? What's with all the Jasons (Varitek, Giambi, Bartlett)? At least Jason Bay didn't make the list. Vernon Wells' injury problems likely render this moot. He has fresh legs this time around. It's bothersome to see Phillips here; he already is slumping mightily. Maybe he misses Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn? Note the presence of Jayson Werth (another Jayson) on this list.
Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals: I talked last week with a source I have with the Nationals, and as always, the discussion centered around Zimmerman. When he returned, it seemed pitchers tried to bust him inside, thinking his bum shoulder wouldn't allow him to get his hands on top of those pitches. But he's getting his hands through now, and balls are coming off his bat hard. He's still unowned in 38 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and it looks like he'll be a solid third base/middle-infield option over these last three-plus weeks.
Elijah Dukes, OF, Nationals: Another guy who should be owned in more standard leagues (he's currently at 23 percent league ownership). Dukes has three steals in the past week, which is a pretty good indication that his calf strain is no longer an issue. I doubt Dukes will turn into a fantasy All-Star anytime soon, but considering how much fantasy owners tend to like Mike Cameron, they ought to love this guy. Dukes has 25-25 potential in the near future.
Rocco Baldelli, OF, Rays: The guy is as fragile as porcelain, but I still have a problem with his mere six percent ownership in standard leagues. Sure, he could get hurt again, but he wouldn't be on the field for the Rays right now in the middle of a playoff chase if he wasn't well enough to contribute. Plus, the Rays seemed determined to keep him healthy. They've been starting him at DH regularly and even sitting him now and then, which is a good thing. You're not picking him up for tomorrow (in most cases), you're picking him up for the final three weeks, and there are few players in baseball with his type of five-category potential. He ought to be owned in mixed leagues.
Evan Longoria, 3B, Rays: Speaking of being pitched inside, I'm afraid that's what'll happen to Longoria when he returns, which could be as soon as this weekend. And if his fractured wrist isn't 100 percent, and I have doubts as to whether it will be, I see Longoria struggling when he returns. He'll hit the occasional homer as pitchers leave balls over the center of the plate, but I don't see many three-hit games in his near future. Temper your expectations.
Rick Ankiel, OF, Cardinals: Yet another example of a player who should have hit the disabled list when he first suffered an injury instead of trying to play through it. He has been bothered by an abdominal strain, an injury that usually requires rest to heal, for the better part of a month, and trying to play through it only prolonged the injury and frustrated his owners because of his less-than-typical performances. I don't see this as an injury that will linger into next season or become chronic, but it sounds like the Cardinals could shut him down at any time.
Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers: I'm still having trouble finding reliable information on him, but what I have read is that he's due back before the end of the season. But rumors abound that he's still not himself, which is why his timetable keeps getting moved back (from late August to what now might be late September), and there are doubts as to whether he can play every day. I'm a doubter myself. Furcal, a free agent-to-be, has motivation to show he's healthy, but I don't see him helping mixed-league squads from here on out. If you've been stashing him in your DL slot and patiently waiting, you might as well continue to do so. But if his roster spot means anything to you and you're desperate, it's safe to go ahead and drop him.
Pickups of the Week
Mixed: Shin-Soo Choo, OF, Indians: It's about time we wised up and grabbed this kid; he's owned in just 15 percent of leagues. Since August 6, he has hit .382 with 11 doubles (!), a triple and five homers. He's in the top 20 in total bases during that time.
AL-only: Kila Ka'aihue, 1B, Royals: You could do a lot worse than a guy who hit 37 homers in the minors this season and will get a chance to play regularly.
NL-only: Nate Schierholtz, OF, Giants: Two hits his first game after being called up, four hits last night, and he hit .320 in Triple-A. Maybe he's finally ready to shine.
Dustin Pedroia is not leading the major league in hitting (he's third), but when he's on, he's on. Coming into Wednesday, he had more four-plus-hit games (7) than anybody in baseball, more three-plus-hit games (21) than anybody, and was second only to Jose Reyes in two-plus-hit games (55). So, in how many games does he have just one hit? That would be 49, fewer games than he has two or more in.
Ballpark/Points League Watch
Owners in points leagues, which usually reward for doubles and triples, should be careful not to use the same favorable/unfavorable labels for ballparks as Roto leaguers do. Some of the top homer ballparks are cozy enough that they actually suppress doubles and triples. And other ballparks suppress homers but still see plenty of extra-base hits if the dimensions are spacious and the ball still travels well. For instance, according to our Ballpark Factors page, homer paradise Citizens Bank Park is toward the bottom in doubles and triples indexes, while a below-average homer park such as Fenway is near the top of the list in extra-base hits (thank you, Green Monster and Triangle).
Victor Martinez hasn't played a single game behind the plate since returning from injury. The team even started Sal Fasano there Wednesday. So far V-Mart has been starting at either DH or first base, rotating the two slots with Ryan Garko. So what will the team likely do if/when Travis Hafner returns? Probably sit Garko rather than moving V-Mart back to catcher full-time.
Tip of the Week
In keeper leagues that decide keepers midway through or toward the end of spring training next year, now is the time for non-contending owners to shove all the prospects they can on their roster before the season ends, even if it costs them a slot in the standings. Would you rather have a veteran you know will play at a mediocre level or have someone like Matt Wieters who could be named the Orioles' starting catcher next spring? Many leagues freeze moves in the offseason, and these final three weeks provide the last chance to shore up that roster.
Brendan Roberts is a contributing writer/editor for ESPN Fantasy.
Brendan Roberts discusses some hitters whose September averages are pretty far out of line with their normal averages.