Welcome to September. Well, almost. Anyway, September baseball can be incredibly fun. After more than 120 games, teams finally see a finish line and know exactly what needs to be done to get in to the playoffs. If you remember the final day (and really week) of the 2011 season, you know just how thrilling and captivating this stuff can be.
But here’s the problem — not every team is in a race. Ironically, when the extra Wild Card team was put in, one of the goals was create a more lively playoff chase in September. But for the second year in a row, the five playoff teams in each league (especially the National League) seem pretty set, even if the Wild Card and Division winners are up in the air. Even more noteworthy? In the last year of the one-team Wild Card system, we got two of the most exciting playoff races we’ll ever see. I digress.
But with actual races going on, more than half of the teams in the league are not a part of a playoff chase. Throw in teams having as many 40 guys on the roster, bad teams wanting to see as many young guys as possible, and teams/players possibly being rather uninterested at the end of a lost season, and there’s plenty of boring baseball to watch in the season’s final month.
From a fantasy point of view, there are plenty of potential pitfalls for owners to consider when setting their lineups.
1. Starting Pitchers
Let’s say you have a good pitcher going on your fantasy team. Maybe not a star, but a good arm. Like most good pitchers, he’s a little vulnerable early and the opposing offense makes him work through the first few innings. Maybe he’s got an early line like this:
- 3 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 2 K.
Now, that’s a pretty ugly line. But if you’re dealing with a good pitcher, would it really surprise you to see him finish the game with a line like this:
- 7 IP, 6 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K.
I see starts like that all the time. Good pitchers have a rough time getting comfortable but are good enough to keep things from getting disastrous early. So, they’re left in the game and a few innings later, the start looks well above average, or even really good.
For the first five months of the year, these starts are pretty common. Managers have about seven or eight guys in the bullpen, but probably only one or two long relievers. If either of those guys are tired, an early hook can tie the manager’s hands for a few games. In the National League, they may be in a spot where they let the guy bat for himself, because they don’t want to burn a pinch hitter for later in the game.
In September, none of those concerns are really in play. Managers have plenty of relief pitchers and pinch hitters at their disposal. That makes things trickier.
Now, you may argue that it’s actually an advantage. After all, if a pitcher is struggling, don’t you want him out of the game as quickly as possible? If this is a Dixon’s Picks guy, I’d say yes, it’s probably good. If this is some guy who’s got a 50/50 (or so) ownership rate, I’d say it’s probably good. If it’s a good pitcher or even a star, then I’d say that more often than not, they’ll turn a rough start into a decent outing and you like the managers having to stick with them.
In a year like this one, it’s even worse. If you have at least one team in a playoff race, teams will try to play games as normal as possible, at least while the outcome is still in doubt. Either they’re in contention, or trying to play a contender straight up to preserve the integrity of the playoff race. But again, there aren’t likely to be many games this September that figure to have serious playoff implications. So, don’t be surprised to see even more teams take full advantage of the roster expansion, which will lead to shorter outings from pitchers who struggle early, especially in National League games.
2. Injured Players
Imagine you’re the Angels right now. You’re actually closer to the worst record in the league than the second Wild Card spot. You’re not going to the playoffs this year. You look at your team and you see Mike Trout, you’re 22-year-old superstar nursing an injured hamstring. You also see an abundance of young outfielders looking to show what they can do. Is there any real reason to rush Trout back to the field? Same question with the Rockies and Carlos Gonzalez, Blue Jays and Jose Bautista, the Mets with David Wright, or Matt Cain and the Giants.
Heck, if the Tigers don’t get seriously pushed and Miguel Cabrera continues to be banged up, wouldn’t you think that Jim Leyland will be cautious with his playing time? The difference between one or two wins probably won’t be that important in the regular season. The same can not be said in the playoffs.
For various reasons, these teams aren’t playing meaningful games. Still, these players are a big part of their plans beyond the 2013 regular season. There is absolutely no reason to rush them back to the field. Even if they do play, look for the teams to give extra days off to these guys, or pull them earlier than normal. Again, there’s really no reason not to.
Obviously, that throws a wrench into fantasy plans. Everyone listed was at least a star coming into this season, even if they’ve struggled. What does all of that mean?
Well, let’s say that you have Miguel Cabrera. All year, you’ve skipped over third basemen when looking at the waiver wire because, well, you have Miguel Cabrera. Now, you have to at least give that position a look. In the event that the Tigers go over-cautious with their star, you need to have a backup plan.
3. Uninterested Teams and Players
When the year started, I saw plenty of publications predicting pretty big seasons from these teams: Los Angeles Angels, San Francisco Giants, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals. You could even throw the Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Phillies in this list. Guess what? As the season comes closer to ending, this list of teams will only grow.
I don’t want to throw any players under the bus and say that they’re just playing for paychecks at this point, but they can’t exactly have their hearts and heads completely into the games right now. They thought they’d be in a playoff race right now. As things stand, the only way you’ll see players from these teams in October is if you happen to play the same golf courses on a routine basis.
While I don’t want to say that they won’t be trying, don’t be surprised if players on these teams (or any non-contender, regardless of preseason expectations) go about things a little different. Maybe the hitters will be a little less selective with pitches, knowing walks prolong games. Maybe the pitchers will challenge the plate more, again knowing that walks prolong games. Really, nobody wants to watch to last place teams play a 4-hour game, do you really think players on those teams want to play in them?
Again, you also have to consider the above issue here. Even if the guys aren’t hurt, managers may want to showcase the younger call-ups and give the vets some rest.
It’s still baseball, but mindsets change late in the year as games become less meaningful. As a result, the impact the players on these teams make on your fantasy teams will be impacted.