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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 19-25

In the words of Billie Joe Armstrong, wake me up when September ends.  I'm in the worst part of the year for any fantasy owner  -- eliminated from head-to-head league playoffs and not close to first place in my 5x5 leagues.  Now I'm just playing out the string, putting in time, rotating my daily lineups in a futile hope that it'll be nothing but five-hit games and no-hitters for my players over an entire 10-day span and I'll somehow roar into first place Rocktober-style.

If you have somewhat more realistic dreams of a fantasy championship, try some of these roster adds or drops on for size...

* Ells Bells.  Players with Jacoby Ellsbury's speed simply don't post a .143 BABIP for weeks at a time, yet that's what the Yankee outfielder has laid on his fantasy owners' doorstep in the month of September (heading into Thursday's play) like a dog that happily brings home a dead squirrel.   As you might expect, that tiny BABIP has led Ellsbury to post an ugly .141/.164/.250 line with one homer, five runs, three RBI and two steals over 67 September plate appearances, putting a sour end to an otherwise fine first season in New York.

There seems little doubt that the sprained ankle Ellsbury suffered in late August is still bothering him, and had the Yankees not been playing for their postseason lives, I've gotta believe Ellsbury would've gone to the DL to fully recover.  Instead he's trying to tough it out, and without power nor the ability to beat out grounders, he's only hurting both the Yankees' lineup and your fantasy roster.  If you've got Ellsbury on your roster for a head-to-head league final this week, get rid of him entirely --- his ankle isn't getting any better playing virtually every day, so there's little chance he suddenly returns to form. 

* Extranori-ary.  I threw Nori Aoki under the advanced metric bus back in June and it was the right move at the time, as he continued to struggle (especially in terms of fantasy value) until the end of August.  Then, suddenly, he exploded.  He was already having a nice September before his absurd 11-for-13 stretch over his last three games; in classic powerless Aoki fashion, nine of those hits were singles and the other two were doubles, but still, am I seriously nitpicking 11-for-13?  Come on, Mark!

Now hitting a cool .423/.492/.519 in 59 September PA, Aoki has suddenly put himself very much in the conversation as a last-minute secret weapon for your fantasy pennant race.  If you have an outfielder who, say, plays for the Yankees and is nursing a bum ankle, now might be the time to cut this hypothetical person and pick up Aoki.  He's not giving you much aside from average (zero homers, six RBI, four runs) but at this time of year, you have to ride the hot hand. 

Aoki's September BABIP is a whopping .468, and while that's clearly not going to last, he's also been walking (10.2% BB rate) more often than he's been striking out (8.5% K rate) this month.  His early-season swoon was partly related to the fact that Aoki was uncharacteristically swinging and missing more than he was taking free passes, but he's been getting back in form since --- his walk rate has topped his strikeout rate in every month since May.  A productive Aoki is a valuable fantasy asset, and if you're willing to risk trusting the Royals' hot-or-cold offense for a couple of weeks, Aoki is a decent bet to help your average and run totals.

* Peave Of Destruction.  The Giants traded for Jake Peavy to replace Matt Cain in their rotation, but instead Peavy seems to literally be becoming Cain.  I dunno if this is a Cage/Travolta Face/Off situation or what, but Peavy has taken Cain's mantle as the guy who puts up ace-level numbers while outperforming rather middling advanced metrics.  In 10 starts as a Giant, Peavy has a 2.16 ERA, despite a 6.89 K/9 that explains much higher ERA predictors like a 3.71 SIERA and 3.76 xFIP.  He's not getting any major BABIP or strand rate help, and his batted-ball rates are about the same as they were for his 2014 Boston starts, so I can't figure out...

...oh, wait a second.  I have some breaking news.  Turns out it's a lot easier for a pitcher to keep baseballs inside AT&T Park than it is at Fenway, as Peavy has a 2.7% home run rate with the Giants, compared to his 12.2% homer rate with the Red Sox.  While this could change depending on clinching situations or not, Peavy's final two regular season starts will be at Dodger Stadium (another pitcher-friendly locale) and then at home against the Padres, a gimme if there ever was one.  Peavy is somewhat surprisingly still available in 35% of Yahoo fantasy leagues, so by this point, why fight the Cain wave?  Pick up Peavy and enjoy the benefits.

* Middle Of Nowhere.  I end this week's column with not really a warning about Will Middlebrooks, since I imagine any fantasy manager with a brain jumped ship on him ages ago.  I just wanted to point out Middlebrooks' incredible wRC+ for the month of September --- it's 2.  That's right, two.  2.0.  As in, one less than three, one more than one.  That is what Middlebrooks produced over his first 51 September PA.  Sadly, he got two hits on Thursday night, so our fun can't continue.  He's probably all the way up in the double digit wRC+ by now, laughing it up.

You wonder how much patience the Red Sox have left for Middlebrooks given that they're still waiting for him just to stay healthy, let alone have a breakout season.  If Boston does cut bait, I'd keep an eye on Middlebrooks' next destination to see if he has any post-hype prospect sleeper potential.  He's absolutely the proverbial 25th player you draft on your 25-player roster next spring, yet maybe a change of scenery is all that's needed to turn the lightbulb on for this guy.  In the meantime....a 2 RC+!  Great scott!  I mean, like, I could probably have do that in 51 Major League plate appearances, and I was once cut from a house league baseball team.




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