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September 13, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Late Season Observations

by Jason Collette

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Hello. Remember me? I’m fantasy baseball. I know it is September and now that college football and pro football are both underway, I am like the forgotten leftovers in the back of the fridge. With just two and a half scoring periods left, there is not much you are going to be able to do with your roster, but there have definitely been several interesting statistical stories happening over the last few weeks that may have been overlooked by most of you.  The correlation between late season success and the following season’s success is not terribly strong, but before Jose Bautista became Joey Bats, he was hitting home runs in September of ’09, and nobody noticed because they were watching football. Before Ben Zobrist had his breakout 2009, he had an excellent September in 2008 to help push the Rays into their first ever postseason berth while nobody noticed. With that in mind, did you know….

Ryan Braun has stopped running. In the second half of August, Braun was a running fool as he stole ten bases from August 13th until the end of the month. Since then, the wheels have stopped spinning as Braun has attempted just one stolen base in the month of September. He has been on first base thirteen times this month either via the single or the walk but has yet to convert a successful steal in this critical final month.

Adam Lind has run out of patience. In 2009, Lind had a nine percent walk rate and cut down on his strikeouts as he had a career year at the plate. Since then, fantasy owners have waited for that Adam Lind to return, but he very well may never do so. His walk rate last season was just over six percent, and this season it is below that. He has just three walks in his last 90 at bats and has hit .189 during that stretch. He is not exactly closing out 2011 with a fury either. In the first three months, he hit .312 with a .933 OPS, but since July 1st, Lind is hitting just .198 with a .557 OPS as his walk rate went from eight percent to four percent. He is playing right into the pitchers’ hands these days.

So is Chase Utley. From 2005 to 2010, Utley’s walk rate was anywhere from 8.2 percent to 12.8 percent, but he is currently at 8.1 percent and fading fast. He has just four walks in the past month and is hitting .214 with a .688 OPS. After walking in 11 percent of his plate appearances over the first three months of his injury-shortened 2011, he has dropped down to seven percent since July while his average has fallen 37 points and his OPS another 68 points. Do the injuries and the down season provide a 2012 draft discount, or are the days of Utley as a premier fantasy middle infielder over?

Brandon Allen has been exposed. The week after I traded Brandon Allen to Matthew Berry in AL Tout Wars for Kevin Slowey (don’t ask), he had a very hot week hitting three home runs including that prodigious blast in Yankee Stadium. Since that time, it was been a different story as pitchers quickly found Allen’s holes, and he has been unable to stop the bleeding. In the 14 games since his last home run, Allen has had ten games during which he has struck out at least twice including four hat tricks. In all, he has seven walks and 27 strikeouts in his last 53 at bats with just two extra base hits to show for it.

So has Mike Carp. Carp was a great story in August when he hit .313 with an .892 OPS, blasting six homers and driving in 25 runs for a Mariners team that seemingly scored 26 runs that month. He had some extremely good fortune in terms of BABIP luck, and one in every four of his fly balls were leaving the yard. All good things must come to an end, however, and it’s been a rough ending for him in 2011. Over the past month, he has hit just .219 with a .700 OPS while striking out in 32 percent of his plate appearances. He does have five home runs in that span, but that line looks very much like the guy he replaced: Jack Cust.

Matt Wieters is getting stronger. From 2009 to 2010, Wieters hit 20 home runs in 887 plate appearances; he has 18 this season in 496 plate appearances this year. In each of the previous two seasons, his home run to fly ball rate was a pedestrian eight percent, but that rate currently sits at 12 percent this season. Over the past month, that rate is at a strong 31 percent, and he has hit eight of his 18 home runs in his last 83 at-bats. Next March, he and Alex Avila will be the catchers people are spending $20+ on rather than Joe Mauer.

So is Peter Bourjos. Bourjos hit three home runs from April through the end of July but has hit eight since the beginning of August. That push has allowed him to become one of just 22 outfielders this season to have double-digit home run and stolen base totals. The speed is always there with him, and if he could get on base more often next season, the steals could double. However, the power growth has come more recently rather than being spread out across the entire season, and if he can continue that next season, there is an outside shot at a 20/40 season.

Jeremy Hellickson pitches to contact. You watch him pitch and see the swings and misses he piles up at times with his excellent change-up, but his strikeout rate per nine innings is under 6.0 this season. It was 6.2 in the first half but has fallen off a full strikeout to 5.2 in the second half, and in two September starts, he has just three more strikeouts than you and I do on the mound. He has a high fly ball rate, but he also has one of the highest infield flyout rates in the league (which doesn’t look too flukey). The large gap between his ERA and FIP right now raise some flags for March drafts, but 16 wins and a 1.16 WHIP since his call-up last August are nothing to turn your nose up at.

Madison Bumgarner is the exact opposite. Last season, Bumgarner’s strikeouts per nine rate was exactly 7.0, and in the first half of this season, he has bumped that up slightly to 7.6. That rate has jumped even higher in the second half, however, to an excellent 9.6 K/9 as he closes the season with a flourish. Bumgarner has 63 strikeouts in his last 56 innings with just 15 walks and has earned a decision (5-2 record) in seven of his eight starts during that stretch thanks to a 2.22 ERA since August 1. It is easy to get overlooked in San Francisco with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain on the staff, but Bumgarner is helping a lot of fantasy owners down the home stretch.

CC Sabathia is good. Did you know that Sabathia has the highest BABIP of any pitcher in baseball over the last month at .415? Normally, that kind of number would lead to horrific numbers, but the big fella is 3-1 with a 2.94 ERA (2.34 FIP) during that stretch despite a 1.49 WHIP thanks to a strikeout rate of 11.0 to go with his typically low walk rate. The trend in the national press is to start engraving Justin Verlander’s name on the Cy Young Award, but it’s a shame that Sabathia is not getting more involved in these discussions because he deserves it as much as Verlander does this season.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

Related Content:  Brandon Allen,  First Month,  Stretch Run

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Premium Article Prospectus Hit and Run... (09/12)
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