- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Ah, September. It's a wondrous time when way too many fantasy baseball owners turn their attention to fantasy football because they couldn't overcome the performance of underachievers such as Justin Upton, Tim Lincecum and Eric Hosmer, or get past injuries to Matt Kemp, Troy Tulowitzki and Roy Halladay. However, there are plenty of fantasy baseball owners contending for league championships, and it's all going to come down to the season's final month. That's why we're here. To recommend you go running back in Round 1.
OK, seriously, thanks to indispensable Tom McKean from ESPN Stats & Information and the fine statistical providers from Elias Sports Bureau, we have information on the best and worst performers in baseball the past three Septembers. While I do not believe that hitting or pitching in September is a particular skill, certainly we can glean useful analysis from those with excellent or poor numbers, and presume the trends will continue, or not. Perhaps a few of these guys are sitting out there on free agency in your league or trades are still possible.
Hitters to watch
Troy Tulowitzki, SS, Colorado Rockies: We all know he's good, but he leads baseball in September OPS (minimum 100 plate appearances) over the past three years. A healthy portion of that came in 2010, when he mashed 15 home runs and knocked in 40, but the point is Tulo should return from a serious groin injury this week, and there's no reason to think he won't be terrific.
Carlos Beltran, OF, St. Louis Cardinals: I know a few people who sold high on Beltran in July, and they look wise since he's hit only .217 since the All-Star break. Beltran ranks seventh in September OPS since 2009, but is that more important than his troubling numbers the past two months? I'd say it isn't. Be cautious on Beltran the final month.
Ike Davis, 1B, New York Mets: The .225 season batting average is a bummer, but Davis is hitting .300 in August with four home runs. Last year Davis' season ended early, but in 2010 he batted .344 with a .978 OPS in September. I think Davis' recent play is a harbinger of more good times, and he's available in half of ESPN's standard leagues.
Desmond Jennings, OF, Tampa Bay Rays: He's only 25, so it's premature to assume Jennings will never hit for average, but the strikeouts are a problem. It's a shame, because he really could hit 20 home runs and swipe 40 bases in a season; he's on pace for 12 and 29 and he missed time. Last September, Jennings batted .160 in 106 at-bats, perhaps a sign of fatigue. I wouldn't cut Jennings, but be happy if he hits .250.
Dustin Ackley, 2B, Seattle Mariners: He hit .273 as a rookie last year, but only .219 in the final month, with 32 strikeouts in 96 at-bats. Ackley isn't hitting for average this season, either, and it's possible adding him (he's at 48 percent owned) will hurt more than help.
Ryan Raburn, 2B/OF, Detroit Tigers: Really? Meet perhaps the most well-known late-season hitter who tortures us the first half of seasons. Raburn is on the DL with a thumb injury, but he's hit three home runs and knocked in nine for the Toledo Mud Hens over the past week while on rehab. Raburn's 1.051 OPS the past three Septembers is second only to Tulo, and the Tigers figure to use him against lefty pitching soon.
Pitchers to watch
Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks: It hasn't been a banner year for the 19th starting pitcher taken in ESPN average live drafts, as he's 73rd among starters on the Player Rater. However, Kennedy not only thrived last September, but he posted a 1.55 ERA in September 2010. He's owned in nearly all leagues, but it's hardly too late for him to help teams.
Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics: I'm a big fan of his, anyway, and he's certainly looked healthy in his two starts since coming back from Tommy John surgery. Anderson's 2.25 ERA in the 2009-10 Septembers is a great sign. He's 7-1 in that span over 64 innings. He's becoming a must-own now.
Tommy Hanson, Atlanta Braves: He's been awful this August (5.74 ERA, 1.85 WHIP) and didn't pitch last September, and because I think his shoulder is a problem I wouldn't trust his past September history (2.26 ERA in 2009-10). I'd part with Hanson in a 10-teamer now.
Ricky Nolasco, Miami Marlins: The right-hander is coming off a five-hit shutout against Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals, but his September ERA from 2009-11 is a ghastly 5.26. Nolasco has been torturing fantasy owners for years, especially when it counts most. Look elsewhere.
Mark Buehrle, Marlins: Oddly enough, Nolasco's seemingly safe lefty colleague has a 5.51 ERA the past three Septembers, which I find odd since Buehrle isn't a hard-thrower and wouldn't figure to tire like one. Regardless, while I feel better about Buehrle than I do Nolasco, you've been warned.
A.J. Burnett, Pittsburgh Pirates: I hope people had moved on from him last September when his ERA was 11.91 in five starts, and it wasn't great in September 2010, either (6.14 ERA). I suggest while Burnett has been good this season, he hasn't earned anyone's late-season trust, and he's been terrible this August (5.18 ERA).