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May 1, 2012

Fantasy Beat

September Surges, April Struggles

by Jason Collette

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One of the most common fallacies in fantasy baseball is that hot Septembers are precursors to players performing well the following season. Ben Zobrist hit .321/.42/.732 in September of 2008 after doing nothing the previous five months before breaking out in 2009. Jose Bautista had OPS’s of 868, 691, 735, 606, and 503 before hitting 10 home runs in September, putting up a 944 OPS, and then breaking out in 2010. In 2010, Troy Tulowitzki had his coming out party in September, hitting 15 of his 27 home runs over the final month and parlaying it into a monster 2011 season.

While those are three very strong cases for the September theory, they are just three cases. After all, Vernon Well hit .298/.387/.587 in September of 2010 and followed that up with a .218/.248/.412 line over the 2011 season. Let’s take a look at how some of the September 2011 studs are doing in 2012, starting with the unusual Brent Morel.

Morel had a crazy September, hitting just .224 in the month, but 12 of his 19 hits went for extra bases and eight of them were home runs. He also walked 15 times while striking out 18, displaying some interesting three true outcome skills.  He had 13 extra base hits from May through August and did not have an OPS higher than 686 before the big September, leading some to think he was the next in line for the September success stories. Yeah… about that.  Morel is currently hitting .178/.221/.205 this season and has just two extra base hits, four walks, and 26 strikeouts heading into play on Sunday. The good news is that he was hitting .103 two weeks ago, so his average is on the way up, but he is not hitting for any power at all. All told, if you have him on your fantasy team, he is killing you. It is particularly painful to own him in AL LABR, as I do, because we cannot reserve players that we drafted; it is either play him or cut him.

A look at his swing data does not paint a pretty picture. He is seeing more pitches in the strike zone, seeing many more first pitch strikes, but is making less contact within the zone and even less out of it (data via statcorner.com):

YEAR

ZONE%

1stSTR%

ZONE_SW%

ZONE_S&M%

OOZ_SW%

OOZ_S&M%

2011

44%

50%

65%

11%

33%

24%

2012

48%

59%

61%

15%

38%

55%

The three true outcome skills Morel flashed last September have become two skills – hit a single or strikeout.

Jeff Francouer surprised everyone last season and ended the year hitting .329/.345/.600 in his final 87 plate appearances. That came with five home runs while he drove in 18 and scored 13 times. So far in 2012, the clock has struck midnight on this pumpkin; Frenchy is hitting .229/.273/.301 despite making more contact than he did last season and maintaining his six percent walk rate. The 62 point drop in his BABIP certainly does not help, but the rates tell a different story:

YEAR

ZONE%

1stSTR%

ZONE_SW%

ZONE_S&M%

OOZ_SW%

OOZ_S&M%

2011

40%

45%

74%

16%

42%

25%

2012

40%

52%

73%

14%

42%

19%

Francouer is doing exactly what he did last season and is even missing fewer of the out-of-zone pitches he can’t lay off of, but the results just aren’t there. I have more faith in him rebounding than I do Morel.

James Loney surprised many by closing the season with a .348/.400/.587 line that included 15 runs scored, 17 driven in, and three home runs. Finally, maybe, Loney was ready to be rosterable again, especially at a time when the National League talent pool at first base was so thin. Sadly, so far it is the same old Loney; he is hitting .227/.311/.348 out of the gate. The only good news is that he has an 11 percent walk rate, but a .250 BABIP is just one of a few issues with him.

YEAR

ZONE%

1stSTR%

ZONE_SW%

ZONE_S&M%

OOZ _SW%

OOZ_S&M%

2011

36%

35%

72%

5%

32%

20%

2012

34%

30%

71%

11%

33%

20%

Loney is swinging and missing within the zone twice as often as he did last season despite seeing fewer first pitch strikes.

Chris Parmelee quietly hit .355/.443/.592 in September as the Twins limped to the finish line last season. That performance included seven extra base hits, 12 walks, and 13 strikeouts in just 88 plate appearances.  To date in 2012, Parmelee is hitting .260/.315/.380, which is not an atrocious line but not great either. More worrisome is that the 14 percent walk rate in 2011 has given way to a six percent rate this season, while his 15 percent strikeout rate has spiked to 24 percent.  His walk-to-strikeout rate went from 0.92 in September to 0.23 in April.

YEAR

ZONE%

1stSTR%

ZONE_SW%

ZONE_S&M%

OOZ_SW%

OOZ_S&M%

2011

44%

50%

74%

13%

26%

18%

2012

33%

35%

72%

16%

34%

29%

Parmelee is chasing far too many pitches out of the zone and not even making contact with them. As a result, pitchers are not even tempted to throw him strikes. Until that ends, I don’t expect much to change.

One guy who is doing well is Carlos Pena. He closed last season hitting .224/.416/.552 with 13 extra base hits, 22 walks, and 27 strikeouts despite striking out 40 percent of the time. This month, he is hitting .266/.376/.468, which gives him a combined April and September line of .247/.396/.507 with a 20 percent walk rate and a 37 percent walk rate.

YEAR

ZONE%

1stSTR%

ZONE_SW%

ZONE_S&M%

OOZ_SW%

OOZ_S&M%

2011

36%

38%

73%

20%

28%

46%

2012

37%

44%

62%

28%

27%

35%

Pena, so far, is swinging at fewer pitches but has also made less contact pitches in the zone. He has chased the same amount of pitches out of the zone but is making much more contact on those pitches. For the record, his grand slam on opening day was one such pitch.

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

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