September is an important month, even if you're out of the race. In keeper league's it's especially important to pay attention, but even in regular leagues, a wealth of information can be gathered in preparation for next year.
Many starting pitchers presage a breakout season with a brilliant September the previous year. Darryl Kile, Andy Ashby and Paul Byrd are just a few of the guys who seemingly came out of nowhere to have big years, but had showed plenty of signs of a breakout the previous September. Javier Vazquez, Wade Miller, Joe Mays showed similar promise last September. While a great September is no guarantee of a monster follow-up, it will allow you to refine the search for quality, late-round pitching in next year's draft. Being able to spend your high picks (or the vast majority of your team salary) on established hitters while assembling a inexpensive quality pitching staff is a huge advantage over more commonly applied strategies.
September is a pretty good time to pick up closers if you're in a keeper league, or simply to find next year's gems if not. Many quality relievers get their closing jobs in September auditions. Mike Williams, Dave Veres, Jason Isringhausen and Keith Foulke were anointed their team's closer in the spring following a fine final month of the previous year. Kyle Farnsworth and Buddy Groom had very good Septembers last year and have been valuable additions in both ERA and ratio this year for their owners. Groom has chipped in 11 saves this season and should challenge Willis Roberts for the full-time closer's job next season. In 5x5 leagues where strikeouts are a category, Farnsworth has been as valuable as many starters. Esteban Yan was the best of Tampa Bay's relievers last fall and this year he's gotten the lion's share of the save opportunities. How he pitches for the next month might determine if he continues to get those opportunities next season.
Another group of players to watch are the prospect call-ups. In keeper leagues, a hot call-up can often be used to trade for a more established player in the offseason or before the next year's draft. Everyone fantasizes about discovering the next Barry Bonds or Randy Johnson, but the fact is that players of that quality are extremely rare. However, you can use the lure of that potential to add some additional quality to your roster.
Even in non-keeper leagues, following the call-ups can be valuable information for next year. Guys like Shane Spencer and Timo Perez went for far more than they will ever be worth in the drafts following their much heralded September introductions. People have a hard time letting go of something they feel might be a bargain, often to the point where it's no longer a bargain. Players who show such awesome potential in just a month, especially if they've never shown that kind of potential in the minors, have a tendency to disappoint with their follow-up. Play up what they did in their brief stint and let someone else pay the price of perceived potential.
This Week in Sandbox
Just as it was Glendon Rusch's time last week, this week spelled the end of the Dustin Hermanson experiment. After an exceptional July where he pitched aggressively, Hermanson returned to the nibbling ways that made him a mediocre starter for much of the past 2 years. Mike Matheny has been his catcher throughout the good times and bad, so the issue is definitely with Hermanson. As I've said before, in a mixed league with this few teams, there's no sense in keeping a mediocre pitcher on the staff. Which is why I also dropped AJ Burnett.
Burnett has about as much talent as any pitcher in baseball. But he just doesn't seem to have a great deal of focus right now on what he's doing on the field. One inning he will make hitters look silly; the next, endanger the lives of everyone within 100 feet of the plate. Should he decide to maximize his potential, he'll be one of the most dominating pitchers in the NL. Until then, he'll just be inconsistent and frustrating.
To replace those two, I selected Houston's rookie lefty Carlos Hernandez and outfielder Pat Burrell. Burrell I picked up mostly for just one series against the Mets. Before this week, Burrell had a history of clobbering even the best Mets' pitching. At least he did until this week. He hit a paltry .100 in the series with 6 strikeouts in the just-concluded series. ...Jumanji! really doesn't need any more outfielders or first basemen (the positions at which Burrell qualifies), so sometime in the next week, he'll be exchanged for another free agent, most likely a pitcher.
I have a pitcher or two in mind but I'm reluctant to reveal who because several of my fellow owners are reading my columns (hey, they're experts for a reason) and I don't want them poaching my picks. How do I know they're reading me? Well, one of them asked for equal time on this website. They all have an open invitation to post their thoughts and I hope they accept it.
Back to the game... Hernandez was intriguing because he is a hard throwing lefty who's getting his first look around the league. For whatever reason, those kind of pitchers seem to do better than expected initially. It looked like a worthwhile risk that his AA numbers this season in the hitter friendly Texas League - 12-3, 3.69 ERA, 139 IP, 115 hits, 69 walks, 167 Ks - would translate well to the majors for at least a few weeks.
By the way, one pitcher I neglected to add to my list of stretch run picks was Steve Trachsel. I guess I let my bias against slow-working pitchers - is there anyone who takes longer between pitches than Trachsel? - get the best of me, but he has been superb since his demotion in May. He hasn't gotten much run support, which is why I'm reluctant to jump on the bandwagon in this league, but anyone in standard roto leagues will benefit from his startlingly good ERA, ratio and strikeout numbers down the stretch: 97.2 IP, 3.59 ERA, 1.096 ratio and 91 Ks! He still gives up roughly a homer per start, but with decent run support, he could be a real difference maker in the final month.
Starting P Relief P Hitters FP
Rank Team FP G FP/G FP G FP/G FP G FP/G Total
1 ...Jumanji! 2186 129 16.9 914 113 8.1 4233 1283 3.3 7333
2 SF Mock Woodmen 1968 136 14.5 915 114 8.0 4426 1291 3.4 7309
3 BaseballHQ Bombers 2356 141 16.7 923 121 7.6 3851 1291 3.0 7130
4 Sandbox Sports 2010 135 14.9 976 117 8.3 3723 1287 2.9 6709
5 Fantasy Baseball HQ 2142 133 16.1 1066 126 8.5 3441 1292 2.7 6649
6 Dr. Stats Juggernauts 2389 137 17.4 872 108 8.1 3169 1236 2.6 6430
7 Desert Dwelling Scalawags 2035 162 12.6 620 116 5.3 3749 1294 2.9 6404
8 The Write Stuff 2073 126 16.5 828 112 7.4 3470 1230 2.8 6371
9 WSS Hurlers 2228 140 15.9 622 117 5.3 3364 1226 2.7 6214
10 Press Room Pundits 1834 133 13.8 719 123 5.8 3426 1297 2.6 5979