What is it about the season's final month?
Yes, proponents of "sample size" arguments will point out that most anything can happen in a month's time. It's true that fluky things can happen in a mere 30 days -- Ricky Nolasco is the No. 7 player overall on our Player Rater past-30 split -- but the fact remains that some players, for whatever reason, have a puzzling track record of success (or failure) in the regular season's final month.
Perhaps it's the lure of the playoff race, the cooling temperatures or simply players beating up on competition that has mentally "turned the page" to next year. But in examining the historical statistics -- beginning with the past three seasons (2010-12), for these purposes -- I found that several players have an inexplicably extreme career September/October split.
Let's start with the players available in a larger percentage of ESPN leagues who have favorable September histories, then conclude with players owned in a larger percentage (or in many cases 100 percent) who have troubling final months.
B.J. Upton, OF, Atlanta Braves: He's in the midst of a miserable year, ranked the No. 283 hitter on our Player Rater. To put into perspective the weight of his .200 batting average, consider that he's on pace for 471 plate appearances; only 33 players in history have registered a lower average in a season with at least that many PAs. But if you're an Upton owner -- all in-49.5-percent-of-ESPN-leagues of you -- there's hope:
• Career September/October: .264/.344/.465, .809 OPS, .352 wOBA
• Overall career: .250/.331/.412, .743 OPS, .327 wOBA
Another way to put it is that Upton has managed at least a .732 OPS and .322 wOBA in every September since 2006, but he did so in only seven of 25 months (10-game minimum) the remainder of the year from 2009-13. Why Upton has a track record of late-season success -- and let's add that he's a lifetime .267/.324/.554 hitter in 25 postseason games, so it's clearly a time-of-year thing -- is unclear, but sure enough, he's 8-for-17 with two doubles and one home run in his past four games, offering further encouragement. The Braves might be toning things down with a 15-game lead and magic number of 10 in the division, resting regulars, but in Upton's case they have every reason to trot him out there and get him straightened out before October. He's fighting for a playoff role.
Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle Mariners: So far, so bad. Smoak is 2-for-10 through three September games, and is riding a .109 slump (6-for-55) with zero home runs in his past 17 contests. That said, his final-month track record is difficult to ignore, especially in comparison to his earlier-year performance:
• Career September/October: .321/.395/.520, .910 OPS, .398 wOBA
• Overall career: .229/.316/.383, .699 OPS, .309 wOBA
Smoak has batted .300 or better in every one of his three Septembers in the majors, but has never batted higher than .289 in any other month of his career. Being that he once again appears part of the Mariners' future plans -- he has set personal bests in terms of slugging percentage (.406), OPS (.753) and wOBA (.335) -- he should continue to get the bulk of the at-bats at first base; he has started 100 of the team's 138 games overall and 30 of their past 31 there. Here's another reason he's worth a look in the 88.7 percent of ESPN leagues in which he's available: He's a significantly better hitter against right-handers than left-handers, and his Mariners face a projected seven right-handed starters in eight games through Sept. 11, then from that date forward face opponents who have a combined four lefty starters out of 25.
Marco Scutaro, 2B/SS, San Francisco Giants: Back issues have dogged Scutaro for much of the year, so that he sports a .296 batting average today should be regarded somewhat remarkable. Even in his advancing years, he has proved one of the most adept in the majors at handling the bat.
• Career September/October: .298/.353/.433, .786 OPS, .343 wOBA
• Overall career: .277/.341/.389, .730 OPS, .324 wOBA
Consider that Scutaro's .298 September batting average is 18 points higher than in any other month, and in the past two Septembers he has batted .387 with 21 RBIs (2011) and .402 with 24 RBIs (2012). And if you're entertaining the argument that, "Oh, but his team isn't going anywhere," remember that his 2011 came during the Boston Red Sox's epic, 7-20 September collapse. Scutaro, owned in only 69.3 percent of ESPN leagues, is that safe, prop-up-your-lineup's-back-end hitter, especially so in September.
Matt Wieters, C, Baltimore Orioles: He's owned in all but 1.7 percent of ESPN leagues, so this isn't a straight, "go-pick-him-up" example, but Wieters' fantasy owners might not truly appreciate his history of September dominance:
• Career September/October: .293/.365/.495, .860 OPS, .368 wOBA
• Overall career: .255/.320/.420, .740 OPS, .322 wOBA
In no other month does Wieters have as good as his September 10.4 percent walk rate, and two of his best single-month home run outputs have come in September (seven in 2011 and six in 2012). A noted second-half performer, Wieters has eight home runs and 22 RBIs since the All-Star break, first and fourth among catchers during that span, and he's already 5-for-12 with a homer in three games this month. Just as he was last year, when he batted .296/.389/.541 with six homers as a middle-of-the-order hitter for the contending Orioles, he's critical to the team's playoff hopes this season.
Nate McLouth, OF, Baltimore Orioles: He's also integral to the Orioles' playoff hopes, but his fantasy owners -- those in 94.0 percent of ESPN leagues -- might have doubts about his playing time after the team acquired Michael Morse on Aug. 30. Here are some facts that should allay your concerns:
• Career September/October: .288/.380/.498, .878 OPS, .379 wOBA
• Overall career: .251/.336/.420, .756 OPS, .331 wOBA
In fact, McLouth has managed at least a .355 on-base percentage and .420 slugging percentage in every one of his six Septembers in the majors, yet has achieved those only 10 and 11 times in the 34 other months of his career (10-game minimum). He has been an outstanding find for the Orioles, who grabbed him off the scrap heap in June 2012, posting .269/.340/.421 numbers and averages of 16 home runs and 37 stolen bases per 162 games played for the team since then, and he's sure to get all the starts in left field against right-handed pitching going forward. As for those games against lefties that Morse might start, remember McLouth's importance as a late-inning defensive replacement; as there are more right-handed pitchers in baseball, there should be plenty of times McLouth comes on mid-game and sneaks in a stray at-bat or two.
Nick Hundley, C, San Diego Padres: His could be the sneakiest track-record-to-know of them all, as Hundley is available in all but 0.2 percent of ESPN leagues, and practically no one knows these following facts:
• Career September/October: .294/.336/.485, .821 OPS, .354 wOBA
• Overall career: .239/.299/.392, .691 OPS, .302 wOBA
First, a caveat: Hundley's September success has been the result of smaller sample sizes, as he had 90, 78, 43 and 78 plate appearances in that month from 2008-11 before missing the final month of 2012 with a knee injury. Still, it's difficult to overlook the fact that he has slugged at least .500 in each of his past three healthy Septembers, or that he's a .304/.344/.500 hitter with three home runs and 10 RBIs in his past 16 contests. Fantasy owners in 12-plus-team, two-catcher leagues could do a lot worse for a No. 2 backstop, especially because Hundley is playing for a role in 2014.
Mark Trumbo, 1B, Los Angeles Angels: He hit home runs in three consecutive games Aug. 17-19, but since then, Trumbo has fallen into a dreadful funk, batting .167 (8-for-48) with only two doubles, no home runs and 17 strikeouts. Late-season slides are nothing new for Trumbo, whom we constantly hail a midseason sell-high candidate:
• Career September/October: .207/.227/.352, .580 OPS, .252 wOBA
• Overall career: .251/.299/.469, .769 OPS, .329 wOBA
Most distressingly, Trumbo sports 31.3 percent strikeout and 2.0 percent walk rates in his career from Sept. 1 forward, and those numbers have shown a precipitous decline from July to August to September during his three full years in the bigs. He has managed at least an .800 OPS in eight of 15 months the rest of the year; he had .703 and .554 numbers in 2011 and 2012. Trumbo also has one other obstacle in his path: His Angels don't sport as potent an offense as they once did, their 79 runs the past three weeks ranking 16th in the majors (they ranked seventh in runs before the All-Star break). That means slightly less runs/RBI appeal before even getting to his track record of rising strikeout and declining power rates.
Justin Morneau, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates: There's no reason for Pirates fans, or fantasy owners for that matter, to hail the Morneau trade as a coup; it's puzzling that anyone would use the phrase "considerable upgrade" (and many have). He's valuable depth for the team at low cost, sure, but the Pirates picked the absolute worst time of the year during which to acquire his services:
• Career September/October: .252/.332/.400, .732 OPS, .317 wOBA
• Overall career: .278/.347/.485, .832 OPS, .354 wOBA
Now, a couple of points: Morneau represents the most valuable cross-league hitter FAAB target for NL-only owners all year, and I even placed a losing $82 bid on him in Tout Wars this past weekend (several owners had mountain piles of FAAB remaining); he could also be rejuvenated by fresh circumstances in the heat of a pennant race. He's also going to play, as the primary reason people used the word "upgrade" is they don't respect previous platoon mate Garrett Jones as much as they should.
That said, Morneau's September track record is ominous. He hasn't had an OPS greater than .696 in September since 2006; he also has averaged one home run per 36.4 at-bats in the month, compared to one per 20.2 at-bats the rest of the year. Plus, if you know anything about PNC Park's dimensions, you're aware that it's one of the few venues that represent a negligible bump for a left-handed slugger like Morneau. He goes from a ballpark with a 23-foot wall and 328- and 367-foot distances in right and right-center to one with a 25-foot wall and 320- and 375-foot distances in those spots.
Brian McCann, C, Atlanta Braves: He has enjoyed about the best season one could've asked of a catcher who missed the first 30 team games of the year recovering from shoulder surgery; McCann ranks 11th among catchers on our Player Rater. But as is the case with many catchers, the lengthy summer can take its toll.
• Career September/October: .259/.329/.410, .739 OPS, .321 wOBA
• Overall career: .278/.350/.476, .826 OPS, .355 wOBA
McCann once enjoyed productive Septembers -- he batted .304/.347/.663 with eight home runs and 27 RBIs in the final month of 2006 -- but in the past three years has turned in OPS beneath .650 in each. He's batting .226/.261/.345 in his past 22 games and with his Braves a lock to make the postseason, there's every reason to give their 29-year-old catcher and heart-of-the-order hitter additional rest in September. After all, they have important playoff roster decisions to make, and they could use a longer look at backup candidates Gerald Laird and Evan Gattis.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves: He has been one of the most under-the-radar breakthrough stories, ranking eighth among first basemen, 29th among hitters and 44th overall on our Player Rater to date, but the unfortunate reality is that his September history hints at an unhappy ending:
• Career September/October: .216/.296/.383, .679 OPS, .293 wOBA
• Overall career: .280/.353/.459, .812 OPS, .352 wOBA
Now, putting excessive stock in those numbers might be unfair, as they come from effectively a two-season sample and during his great 2013 he has batted 37 points higher than he did in his previous two-and-change. That said, Freeman's strikeout rate in September is 23.7 percent, quite a bit higher than his 20.6 percent mark the remainder of the year, and perhaps most important, he plays for a team sure to be resting its regulars. The Braves could give Joey Terdoslavich some time at first base in the coming weeks, or more likely, they'll recall Ernesto Mejia -- he's on the 40-man roster, after all -- to be Freeman's occasional fill-in.
• Career September/October: .214/.346/.391, .737 OPS, .326 wOBA
• Overall career: .239/.367/.496, .863 OPS, .370 wOBA
To be clear, that's a tongue-in-cheek statement, but there's certainly something to Dunn's history of late-season swoons. Also consider this: He's a lifetime .223/.352/.451 hitter (.803 OPS) with a .348 wOBA in the month of August, that representing easily his second-least productive month of the year. Dunn is a historically streaky player who could fall prey to a substantial slump at any moment; he's a .130 hitter with two home runs but 24 K's in 54 at-bats in his past 14 games. If there's any argument to be made in his defense, it's this: His White Sox play 15 of their final 25 games at U.S. Cellular Field, plus four more at Baltimore's Camden Yards, so at least he'll have the ballparks playing in his favor.
September 2010-12 leaders
These players lead in each of the primary Rotisserie categories from Sept. 1 forward the past three seasons combined (2010-12):
Batting average (minimum 150 PAs): Marco Scutaro .364, Ryan Raburn .356, Victor Martinez .344, Adrian Beltre .344, Chris Nelson .344, Miguel Cabrera .343, Jamey Carroll .339, Salvador Perez .339, Lance Berkman .335, Ryan Braun .332.
Home runs: Adrian Beltre 28, Miguel Cabrera 22, B.J. Upton 22, Curtis Granderson 21, Prince Fielder 20, Matt Kemp 20, Mike Napoli 20, Ryan Braun 19, Giancarlo Stanton 19, Evan Longoria 18, Michael Morse 18.
RBIs: Miguel Cabrera 70, Ryan Braun 65, Robinson Cano 64, Curtis Granderson 64, Adrian Beltre 63, Torii Hunter 61, Hunter Pence 60, Evan Longoria 59, Ryan Howard 58, Billy Butler 57, Albert Pujols 57, Delmon Young 57.
Stolen bases: Coco Crisp 31, Michael Bourn 27, Juan Pierre 25, Ichiro Suzuki 24, Everth Cabrera 21, B.J. Upton 20, Shane Victorino 20, Brett Gardner 19, Rajai Davis 18, Ben Revere 18.
Runs scored: Miguel Cabrera 64, B.J. Upton 62, Ian Kinsler 61, Austin Jackson 60, Marco Scutaro 60, Adrian Beltre 56, Aaron Hill 56, Robinson Cano 54, Matt Kemp 54, Ryan Braun 53.
TOP 150 HITTERS
Note: Tristan H. Cockcroft's top 150 hitters are ranked for their expected performance from this point forward, not for statistics that have already been accrued. For position-specific rankings, see the "Pos Rnk" column; these rankings can also be seen split up by position.