Making September Lineup Decisions

By Eriq Gardner //

The final few weeks of the MLB season are upon us. No longer can we wait on a slumping superstar to get his act together. A shortage of games means there’s simply not large enough of a sample size to comfortably project that luck will regress to the norm.

As teams in leagues fight in close categories for those extra few difference-making points, this might be the time where conventional wisdom gets flipped. A hot bat might be better in one’s lineup than a big down-on-his-fortune name.

Here are some examples:

  • Progression over Disappointment: Alex Gordon over Andre Ethier: Since the All Star Break, Gordon has been one of the top 10 batters in the majors,with a .312 average and 9 HR and 8 SB. The Royals outfielder may be finally living up to his potential, and with the team being extremely aggressive on the basepaths, Gordon suddenly looks like a sleeper 25/25 candidate for next season. For now, he’s showing decent plate discipline and production across the board to make him a prime September contributor. Meanwhile, Ethier has been terrible with just 2 HR and a .255 BA in the second half. He’s been extremely unlucky as a nice 20 BB/29 KO rate these past couple of months will testify. But there’s no time to wait on whatever mystery ailments have been keeping him back.
  • Accomplishment over Gimpiness: Edwin Encarnacion over Alex Rodriguez: The aging Yankees superstar has been bedeviled by injuries this season, and still holds tremendous game-to-game potential, but with the Bronx Bombers virtually assured of a playoff spot, don’t be surprised to see A-Rod getting extra rest time down the stretch. Even if his nagging thumb injury clears, he will likely be pulled from any lopsided games, making it very tough to count on his at-bats for the final few weeks. Besides, his full season production in 2011 (14 HR, 57 R, 53 RBIs, 4 SB, .288 BA) isn’t that much different than Encarnacion’s (15 HR, 64 R, 44 RBIs, 5 SB, .273 BA). Of late, EE has been tremendously hot, with 9 HR, 4 SB, and a .300 BA since the All Star Break. In that time, he’s been quietly the #1 rated third basemen.
  • Ambition over Laurels: Jemile Weeks over Andrew McCutchen: Since being called up in early June, Weeks has been better than advertised. He hasn’t contributed anything in the power categories, but he’s certainly hitting (.297) and has been hot to show off his wheels. In the second half, he’s stolen nearly as many bases (14) as any other player in baseball and what’s especially encouraging is that his batting eye seems to be getting better and better. He was always a patient hitter in the minors so expect him to continue getting on base and trying to make the case he’s the A’s leadoff hitter of the future. Meanwhile, McCutchen is having a very fine season, and he will no doubt go into next season as one of the top few outfielders. A player whose long-term future continues to be bright. That said, his fortunes have mirrored those of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He’s slumping of late (.227 BA since the ASB with just 5 SB) and it’s hard to figure he’ll be a solid bet for runs and RBIs in the final month. Those in need of speed in the utility spot wouldn’t be faulted for starting Weeks ahead of McCutchen these final few weeks.

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