Ah, September. It's the time when fantasy titles are won or lost, the time when nightly box score scanning turns into hourly box score scanning if you are fortunate enough to still be in contention. The league trade deadline has passed, so all you can do is set lineups, scour the waiver wire in hopes of adding a true difference maker (good luck with that) and relax (good luck with that).
I've never fully subscribed to the "second half player" theory, that there are certain players who can be relied upon to perform at a higher level during the latter portion of the season. And the "September player" theory is even harder to buy into since the sample size is small. But I wouldn't dismiss the idea entirely, as some players might simply need more time to meet expectations. So, I figured that a fun, and possibly even educational, exercise would be to look at some of the top offensive producers from last September with the goal of determining their chances of enjoying a similar level of success this September.
Justin Bour has been sidelined since early-July due to an ankle sprain, but the Marlins are hopeful that their first baseman can return to action within the next week. This season has certainly been a frustrating one for Bour and his fantasy owners, but perhaps he can close out 2016 on a high note. Keep in mind that the 28-year-old launched nine home runs to go along with 25 RBI last September. Bour could provide a power boost to the patient owners who stashed him on their DL, and he might even reside on the waiver wire in some shallower mixed formats.
Christian Yelich is quietly putting together a stellar season in his age-24 campaign, hitting .307 with 18 homers, 83 RBI and 70 runs scored through 129 games while using his trademark elite batting eye to register a .383 OBP. The Marlins left fielder was tied for 5th in the Majors in runs scored last September (22) and ranked in the top-9 in Hits (36), so it would not be surprising to see him finish the year in impressive fashion.
Eventually, the 37-year-old Adrian Beltre will show signs of decline. But it hasn't happened yet, and at this point it remains to be seen if it will ever happen. With a full month still to play, the Rangers third baseman has already posted his highest home run and RBI totals since 2013, and if last September is any indication (.327 AVG, 29 RBI), his bat is unlikely to cool off down the stretch. As for 2017, I'll continue to shy away from him in drafts because he will eventually show signs of decline. At least I think so.
Starlin Castro has been decent but far from exceptional in his first season with the Yankees. The 19 homers are nice, but outside of the power, he hasn't been much of a fantasy factor (.267 AVG, 4 SB). This is a guy who was once a strong contributor in both the batting average and stolen base departments, so the one-dimensional nature of his current fantasy value is concerning. And this is why I'm not putting too much stock into last season's red-hot September during which he batted .426 with five homers and 20 RBI. Castro is an acceptable starting MI in mixed leagues, and that's about it.
Ender Inciarte is fresh off a month of August that included a .371 batting average, 26 runs scored and two steals. After getting on base at a mediocre .294 clip in the first half, the Braves centerfielder sports a lofty .424 OBP since the All-Star break. Inciarte swiped eight bags (tied for 2nd in the Majors) while batting .317 last September with the Diamondbacks. Aside from the elite speedsters, a player's stolen base production is difficult to predict. But if Inciarte can increase his activity on the basepaths while maintaining his OBP improvement, owners who stuck with the 25-year-old through the rough times will be handsomely rewarded.
With 43 days standing between today and the end of the MLB regular season, we have officially entered the stretch run. And while my main focus this time of the year is and has always been positioning my squads to contend for a league title, I also tend to do some reflecting. What makes fantasy baseball different from other fantasy sports is the length of the season, particularly the number of games. Although every roster decision might seem like a big deal at the time, it represents only a tiny fraction of the number of roster decisions that will need to be made over the course of the entire season. The season is so long that by late-June, let alone late-August, most owners will have a tough time remembering their opening day starting lineup. Most owners will also have a tough time naming the April statistical leaders, even though April is the month when owners make the highest number of ill-advised decisions based on a small sample size.
This article is all about remembering April. More specifically, this article is about remembering some of the top April performers in the five standard rotisserie categories (using Hits instead of AVG), and you might be surprised. I was surprised.
Josh Harrison: 30 Hits (Led Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts)
Harrison enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2014 but wasn't nearly as productive last year. After batting .333 with 15 RBI in April, Harrison seemed well on his way towards proving that 2015 was the fluke. But he's collected only 33 RBI since while seeing his batting average drop by 60 points. Harrison is a useful fantasy contributor, but I don't envision the 2014 All-Star making a return trip to the Midsummer Classic anytime soon.
Colby Rasmus: 7 HR (Led Mark Trumbo, David Ortiz, Kris Bryant, Nelson Cruz)
Rasmus exceeded expectations last year, launching a single-season high 25 homers. This year? Not so much. Even before landing on the DL earlier this month, the vast majority of his fantasy owners likely benched him or dropped him, as he's managed only five homers while batting .195 since the beginning of May. Well, it was fun while it lasted. The impending free agent will probably have to settle for another one-year deal this winter.
Neil Walker: 19 RBI (Led Edwin Encarnacion, Jay Bruce, Miguel Cabrera, Mike Napoli, Nelson Cruz, Kris Bryant)
Walker did his best Daniel Murphy 2015 postseason impersonation in April. Four months later, the Mets are surely wishing they still had Murphy manning second base. But that's only because Murphy is a legitimate MVP candidate. Walker's production has declined since his red-hot April, but he has still put together a fine season, one that will almost certainly end with a new single-season high in home runs.
Curtis Granderson: 17 Runs (Led Wil Myers, Corey Seager, Paul Goldschmidt, Jean Segura)
There was a time when I actually felt good about my $15 Tout Wars investment. There was a time when Granderson was actually on pace to exceed last season's 98 runs scored. But a significantly lower OBP combined with an inconsistent Mets lineup has resulted in only 56 runs for Grandy through 113 games. The 20 homers are nice, but that's about it.
Billy Burns: 7 Stolen Bases (Led Billy Hamilton, Jonathan Villar, Jean Segura)
Burns was supposed to be a quality source of batting average and a reliable source of speed this season. And the former A's outfielder did bat .278 to go along with the seven swipes in April. That was a long, long time ago. After being shipped to Kansas City at the trade deadline, the struggling outfielder has appeared in only a handful of games for his new club, going 1-for-8.
At this point, next April cannot come soon enough for Billy Burns.
By now, you probably already know that I'm a believer in aggressive FAAB spending early in the season. Yes, a premium must be paid for potential difference makers who have the luxury of several months to make a meaningful contribution to your fantasy squad. When it comes to non-mixed leagues, however, a more conservative approach is common in anticipation of the MLB trade deadline, when a number of high-end players from the AL can be traded to the NL, and vice versa. You may want to have enough FAAB dollars remaining to win at least one of these players. Still, if you're in a NL-only league, for example, there's no guarantee that this frugal strategy will pay off. Maybe all of the big names switching leagues will be heading to the AL, and there are few things more depressing in fantasy baseball than overpaying for mediocre waiver wire options simply because you have a wad of unspent FAAB. So, while I do practice more restraint in my non-mixed leagues, I'm not one of those owners who sticks to $0 or $1 bids during the first half of the season. There's simply too much downside involved in that strategy.
Anyway, with the trade deadline now in the books, let's take a look at the top players who switched leagues and instantly became must-have waiver wire targets. Note that I already discussed Aroldis Chapman, Melvin Upton Jr. and Eduardo Nunez in last week's column.
Drew Pomeranz - After a rocky start to his big league career while with the Rockies, Pomeranz is finally living up to his former top prospect status. The 27-year-old southpaw strung together two straight highly successful seasons with the A's from 2014-2015, splitting time between the starting rotation and the bullpen, and he was dominant during his time in the Padres rotation this season. But since his trade to the Red Sox, Pomeranz has alternated poor starts with strong outings. Aside from the inconsistency, another cause for concern is that he's already allowed five home runs through his first four starts for Boston, this compared to eight homers allowed in 17 starts with the Padres. While Pomeranz is likely to show improvement going forward, AL-only owners who were counting on continued ace-level production despite the unfavorable change of scenery might have been asking for too much.
Matt Moore - Speaking of former top prospects, Moore has quietly rebounded well from a dreadful 2015 campaign, sporting a decent 4.04 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 7.7 K/9 rate through 22 starts this season. Moving from the last place Rays and the AL East to the first place Giants and the NL West can only be considered a good thing. Moore began his Giants career on a mostly positive note, tossing six innings of two-run ball while striking out seven, though the six walks are a bit alarming. Regardless, new owners of Moore in NL-only leagues can safely activate him and not worry about that starting slot for the remainder of the season. And in a non-mixed league, there's value in that.
Rich Hill - I remember owning Hill back in 2007, viewing him as an emerging ace who would be deserving of an early-round selection for years to come. Not quite. In fact, 2007 happens to be the only season in which Hill has logged at least 100 innings, as a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness have derailed him. But a late-career resurgence, first as a reliever and then as a starter, has once again placed him on the fantasy map. In 14 starts for the A's this season, the veteran lefty went 9-3 with a 2.25 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 90 strikeouts in 76 innings. But injuries have been an issue yet again, and his Dodgers debut is on hold as he deals with a blister on his throwing hand. Those who spent big bucks on Hill in NL-only leagues simply need to be patient.
Josh Reddick - Although Reddick's 32-homer campaign in 2012 can now be safely called an anomaly, the former A's right fielder has been a useful fantasy asset in recent years, when healthy. And he was healthy last year, finishing the season with 20 homers and 77 RBI. He's been mostly healthy this year, though the stat line isn't as strong.
The new Dodger is indeed a useful fantasy asset, but a true difference maker? Not exactly.
So go ahead, save all of your FAAB dollars for the trade deadline. But don't complain when the grand prize is Josh Reddick.
Although I've always been a very active fantasy owner when it comes to the waiver wire, I've never been a frequent trader. Maybe it's because I give the players who I draft too long of a leash in hopes my loyalty will eventually be rewarded, even if the numbers tell me otherwise. Maybe it's because selling them at a discount relative to their draft day price is kind of like admitting I made a mistake drafting them and it's time to move on. My Tout Wars Mixed Auction league tenure typically included one or two swaps per season at most, and many of those trades were smaller scale deals, not involving double-digit dollar players. But this season, I'm trying something different.
No longer am I emotionally attached to my original roster, perhaps with the exception of Jose Altuve, who is just fun to watch and an easy guy to root for. This season, if there's a trade opportunity that can help my team, I'll work to get the deal done rather than worrying about how I'd feel if the disappointing player who I believed in all of a sudden turned his season around while residing on another owner's roster. With a little more than two weeks to go before the Tout Wars trade deadline, I've made a total of five trades. So, in retrospect, how did I do? What have I learned?
April 25: Traded Colby Rasmus to Scott Pianowski for Mike Moustakas
As it turned out, the time spent negotiating this trade was a wasted. Moustakas would give me only eight games before suffering a season-ending torn ACL. Rasmus would cool off considerably after his hot start to the year, and he has yet to rediscover his April form.
May 16: Traded Pedro Alvarez to Derek Van Riper for Brandon Moss
I was a big believer in Alvarez heading into the season, viewing him as an underrated source of power who could legitimately surpass the 30-home run mark playing his home games in hitter-friendly Camden Yards. But on June 1, Alvarez owned a .194 batting average with a grand total of three homers and 11 RBI. My patience was gone, so I swapped him for Moss, another cheap power bat but one who was actually producing. Moss immediately sparked my offense but just recently returned from the DL after missing roughly a month due to an ankle sprain. Alvarez has launched 15 homers since the beginning of June, raising his batting average to .258 in the process. Moss' overall stat line is a little better, so this was certainly a worthwhile trade for me. Still, it's nice to see that Alvarez has salvaged what was looking like a lost season.
May 29: Traded Jose Abreu, Danny Salazar and Kevin Jepsen to Tim Heaney for Edwin Encarnacion, Todd Frazier and Aaron Sanchez
This is the big one, but keep in mind that while this trade now looks lopsided in my favor, at the time, it really wasn't. Who would have predicted that in mid-August, Abreu would be on pace to finish the season with only 20 home runs and a good but far from elite 87 RBI? As for Encarnacion, I actually had him ranked lower than Abreu on draft day and only asked for him in the deal because I didn't like the idea owning both White Sox corner infielders, as the original trade on the table was Salazar for Frazier. But the biggest surprise of all is Sanchez, who opened the year as Toronto's fifth starter but has emerged as their ace.
June 27: Traded Aaron Nola, Jay Bruce and $50 FAAB to Al Melchior for Justin Verlander and Matt Kemp
Perfect timing. Nola, after a brilliant first two months of the season, began to fall apart in mid-June. But even at the time of this trade, I was confident that he would right the ship. I just considered Verlander a safer option going forward. Seven weeks later, Nola is still struggling while Verlander has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his first eight outings as a member of my squad.
The one regret I have is choosing to include Bruce in this deal rather than Justin Upton. For some reason, I thought that Bruce was an ideal sell-high player while the best part of Upton's season was yet to come. So, instead of cutting bait, I hung onto my $30 auction investment, and this is exactly the kind of decision that has gotten me into trouble in the past. Call it the reluctance to let go, and while I have made some improvement in this area, there's still work to be done.
August 11: Traded Francisco Rodriguez and $5 FAAB to Scott Pianowski for Khris Davis
To be determined, as Davis doesn't officially join my team until Monday. But with four closers on my roster and with few points to gain or lose in saves, this was pretty close to a no-brainer for me. And a quick glance at the category standings reveals that it makes a lot of sense for Scott, too.
Who knows if my increased willingness to trade will help me become a Tout champion this season. But one thing is for sure. It adds more excitement to the managing experience.
And it makes for good article material.
Unless you play in a fantasy league where the trade deadline coincides with the actual MLB trade deadline, you're probably better off waiting until next week before making any significant swaps. As we all know, most real-life trades carry fantasy implications, either for the players directly involved in the exchange or for other players who could be indirectly affected. So, rushing to make a trade now, just days before we will learn about potential value changes, is not a very smart idea.
As the unfortunate owner of Hector Rondon in one league, thanks to the Aroldis Chapman trade, I'm now left with only two closers. And since one of those closers, Jim Johnson, will more than likely be dealt to a team that will use him as a middle reliever, I'm getting ready to trade for a second saves source, and a good one. I've already contacted the Mark Melancon owner, who is enjoying a comfortable lead in the saves category. But before parting with a valuable asset in order to secure Melancon's services, I need to wait a few more days. With Melancon also reportedly on the trade block, I must make sure that he will be closing next week. In all likelihood, he will still be handling the ninth inning, whether it be for the Pirates or for some other team. Still, I need to be 100 percent certain.
On that note, let's take a fantasy-angled look at the notable trades that were made over the past week.
Aroldis Chapman to the Cubs
As mentioned above, this is terrible news for Hector Rondon owners, who now lose a high-end stopper in exchange for absolutely nothing. Chapman's status as arguably the top closer in baseball remains the same while former Yankees closer Andrew Miller becomes the new Yankees closer. Outside of shallow mixed leagues, there's little chance that Miller ever made it to the waiver wire. Even without the saves, the lanky lefty was posting dominant enough numbers to warrant a place on most mixed league rosters. His owners now receive a top-tier closer for free.
Melvin Upton Jr. to the Blue Jays
When I took a chance on Upton Jr. in the 34th round of my NFBC Draft Champions draft back in February, I didn't quite know what to expect. But as my eighth outfielder, the elder Upton would not need to do much to earn his price tag. Well, he's looking a lot like the player who went by the name of B.J. and played for the Rays, hitting for power and swiping bags at a steady rate. On the surface, moving from San Diego to Toronto might seem like a good thing due to the superior supporting cast. But playing time could become an issue and the artificial turf factor might result in fewer stolen base attempts. I'm not too happy about this, but seriously, asking for anything more from Melvin this season would be greedy.
Eduardo Nunez to the Giants
Who saw this coming? And no, I'm not talking about the trade. A career-long part-time player, Nunez is in the midst of a career year this season, batting .296 with 12 homers, 47 RBI and 49 runs scored through 92 games while ranking 4th in the Majors in steals (27). He will initially serve as the starting third baseman for the Giants, though with Matt Duffy due to come off the DL soon, Nunez may shift to another position. The good news is that he can play several other positions, so he should continue to see regular at-bats as long as he continues to stuff the stat sheet.
Andrew Cashner to the Marlins
Since posting a 2.55 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in a 19-start 2014 campaign, Cashner has been a disappointment, barely worth a roster spot even in a deep mixed league. And this season has been no exception. But he's been pitching very well of late, registering a 2.55 ERA and 0.79 WHIP over his last three starts with 23 strikeouts across 17 2/3 innings. Maybe playing for a team in postseason contention will inspire him to be more consistent. Or maybe not. At this point, I'm not overly optimistic.
Editor's Note: Since Zach's diary entry, Melancon was indeed traded to the Washington Nationals where he'll close, pushing Jonathan Papelbon to set-up. Rumor has it Zach is trying to get the jump on another closer since the Papelbon owner, as well as Cody Allen's owner are now also in the market for more saves.