We’re coming down the stretch of the baseball season, with just over two weeks remaining, and as the anticipation builds, everyone wants to know who will make it to the playoffs.
Well, having players who you can count on to produce late in the season is a main indicator of September success, while conversely, having guys who have repeatedly shrunk in the heat of the pennant race predicts an early exit.
Here I have named the starting nine guys you want on your team late in the season, and also the nine guys you want to avoid.
Some rules for this list:
1. Only players from contending teams were considered, since they are the ones who are actually in the pennant race. The Angels were excluded, since they have already clinched the West.
2. Players should have a proven track record of September performance, whether good or bad. A reason for not wanting a guy down the stretch cannot be “well, he’s a rookie, so he hasn’t been through this before”.
And now here are the squads (all stats accurate as of Sept. 12).
Who you want: Joe Mauer, MIN – Mauer has been good in all months throughout his career, and September is no exception. His career .315 AVG in the big leagues hasn’t slumped much late in the season, as it does for most catchers, as he has hit at a .297 clip in his career during the season’s final month. This season, he has hit .321 with 23 RBI and 22 runs scored since the beginning of August.
Who you don’t: Jason Varitek, BOS – Varitek is not immune to the wear and tear that backstops take over the course of a long season, owning just a .232 career batting average in September. Last season he sputtered to a .225 clip after the break and has compiled only 70 RBI in his last 170 games played, including just 10 since the All-Star break this season.
Who you want: Ryan Howard, PHI – Ryan leads the majors in home runs and runs batted in since he entered the bigs in ’05, and he does his best work in the month of September. Over his career, Howard has hit .314 with 39 HR and 94 RBI in 96 September starts.
Add to that a .794 slugging percentage and 1.149 OPS, and this guy is a true September slaughterer. He started this year's final month by going .368 with six HR and 15 RBI in the first 10 games.
Who you don’t: Adam Dunn, ARI – Dunn’s production has consistently dropped off late in the year, as he has hit just .225 in September during his career. His 26 HR and 68 RBI in 170 September games are by far his lowest totals of any month. He has failed to produce runs of late this season, with just four HR and 15 RBI in his last 37 games.
Who you want: Dustin Pedroia, BOS – Pedroia, along with his .302 AVG and 22 runs in 25 September games last year, established himself as one of the main components in Boston’s championship run. He has hit .356 in the second half this year, which has jumped up to .371 since the beginning of August, and he has knocked in 30 runs in his last 35 games.
Who you don’t: David Eckstein, ARI – Not only is Eckstein playing out of position now for Arizona, but his bat won’t help them cure their woeful offense. He has just 80 RBI in the last three seasons. The entire seasons, not just September!
He hit just .154 in his first seven games as a D'back and has contributed just 35 career September RBI, to go along with a fairly modest 89 runs scored in 160 games.
Who you want: David Wright, NYM – Wright uses his late-season performance to establish himself as the Mets’ best player (over Jose Reyes, who will show up a little later).
He is a career .324 hitter in the second half, including 49 HR and 186 RBI in 260 August and September games. Last season, he hit .372 in the last two months of the season with 12 HR and 41 RBI.
Who you don’t: Bill Hall, MIL – Hall has really struggled since the All-Star break in ’07. He hit just .226 after the break last year and has hit just .225 for this entire season, which has dropped even lower, down to .203 after the break.
Hall has contributed just one HR and 10 RBI, since the beginning of August, in his apparent efforts to help the Brewers miss out on the playoffs once again.
Who you want: Jimmy Rollins, PHI – Last year’s NL MVP turned it on late by hitting .298 with 15 XBH and 18 RBI in September ‘07 to help the Phillies overcome a huge deficit to reach the playoffs.
In his career, he has hit .295 with 29 HR and 124 RBI, not to mention 162 runs scored, 54 doubles, and 22 triples, all his highest totals of any month.
Who you don’t: Jose Reyes, NYM – Reyes played no small part in last season’s Mets demise, hitting just .205 in September. This year, he has gotten off to an even worse September start, going just .182 with two XBH, zero RBI, and two runs scored in eight games.
I will say that Angel Berroa is probably still a less-desirable stretch-drive shortstop, but given that fact that pretty much anyone would rate Reyes among the game’s best at the position, his late-season struggles are more disappointing.
Who you want: Manny Ramirez, LAD – Probably the least surprising pick on this list, Manny being Manny in September means Manny just being a damn good hitter. He is a .316 career hitter in September, with 269 RBI in 330 games.
As if that wasn’t enough of an indication, Ramirez has hit an otherworldly .396 with a .488 OPB, 14 HR, and 40 RBI in 38 games as a Dodger. I guess he likes it there.
Who you don’t: Pat Burrell, PHI – Burrell is one of baseball’s streakiest hitters, but he has had a tendency to struggle in September. He is a .248 career hitter in the month, and this year is hitting just .210 with seven HR and 20 RBI in the second half, after offering up a .275, 23 HR, 57 RBI stat line in the first half.
Although it was disguised by the Phillies’ dramatic comeback last season, he struggled to a .209 average last September.
Who you want: Carlos Beltran, NYM – Along with Wright, Beltran was one of very few Mets not to go into a coma last September. He put up a .304 BA, with 14 HR and 50 RBI in the last two months of ’07 and is hitting an outstanding .329 since the beginning of August this season.
And although it's not really among the criteria for this list, I feel compelled to remember his unreal 2004 postseason with Houston, when he hit .435 with eight HR in 12 games.
Who you don’t: The Windy City Old Guys – This one came down to a tie between two of this generation’s best, who have both seen better days. On the north side, Jim Edmonds (CHC) has had several consecutive years of September struggles.
Dating back to the 2003 season, his September batting average is just .238. This year, he is hitting .233 in the second half (at least he’s consistent, he hit .232 before the break), and since the beginning of August has hit .203 with only eight RBI.
On the south side, Ken Griffey, Jr. (CWS) is one of the greatest players to ever set foot on the field. But the Griffey who trots out there now is far from the one who earned the Hall of Fame credentials.
Over the last three seasons, his batting average in the last month of the season is just .192 with only two homers and 12 RBI in 28 games. "The Kid" hasn’t made a significant September contribution since 2001, his second year in Cincinnati.
Who you want: Jermaine Dye, CWS – Dye has gone over 30 HR for the third time in four years and has a history of late-season success. Last season, he hit .298 with 16 homers after the All-Star break, and in ’06, he was even better, going .313 with 19 bombs. On the road to the ’05 World Series, Dye put up 10 HR and 27 RBI in the season’s final two months.
Who you don’t: Kosuke Fukudome, CHC – This is the one time where I do a bit against one of my rules, since Fukudome doesn’t really have a major-league track record.
However, the decline in his numbers over the course of this season is hard to ignore. Here are his batting averages by month, from April to September: .327, .293, .264, .236, .193, .133.
Not only has his batting average declined in every single month, to the point of futility, but his power numbers have progressively gotten worse. After the break, he is hitting just .221 with a measly nine extra-base hits and a putrid .317 slugging percentage.
On the Mound
Who you want: Johan Santana, NYM – Johan has long held a reputation as a second-half stopper, and the numbers back that up. He is 55-17 with a 2.75 ERA and a .210 BAA for his career in the second half.
He has won his last six-straight decisions this year, including a 4-0 mark with a 2.10 ERA since the end of July.
Who you don’t: Dan Haren, ARI – Haren is a September struggler, with just a 7-13 career record in the month. His career ERA during the months of September and August is a poor 4.44, and this year, it has been worse.
After beginning the season 11-5, he is just 3-3 with a 5.83 ERA in his last eight starts. If he doesn’t turn it around soon, the Diamondbacks will have no chance of catching the Dodgers out west.
So there you have your starting lineups of the good and the bad. If you have a lot of the successful guys on your team’s roster, you should feel confident heading into the season’s final stretch drive.
If you have a bunch of guys on the other side (err, Arizona), well...Anything can happen, right?