Experienced fantasy owners know all too well the dangers of reading too much into small sample sizes. More information is almost always better, and it’s easy to fall into the traps of setting arbitrary endpoints and letting them skew your valuation of a player. The difficulty in separating signal from noise is even greater when you’re looking solely at September performance, thanks to roster expansion and other vagaries inherent to the home stretch.
All that said, players who surged in September can still turn savvy owners a profit the following season. Today, we’ll look at four players whose late-season performances suggest they may be undervalued in 2017 drafts.
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September Surgers From 2016
Kevin Kiermaier, OF, Tampa Bay Rays (ADP: 185)
Kiermaier is primarily known for his ridiculous defense in center field, but he’s also been a slightly above-average hitter in his career. Before a hand injury derailed things, he was pacing toward a 20/20 season in 2016. Plus, he nearly doubled his walk rate. Kiermaier also finished strong, hitting .296/.384/.490 with five home runs and eight steals in the final month.
The Rays don’t have many other options for top of the order hitters, so Kiermaier should bat first or second regularly and score a decent amount of runs. If he can bring his average back up into the .260 range, there’s more than enough category juice here for him to outperform his modest price tag.
Jung Ho Kang, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates (ADP: 249)
The gruesome knee injury that cut Kang’s rookie season short also took a chunk out of his second year in the majors. When he was on the field, though, he produced. Kang hit 21 homers in just 370 plate appearances and added nearly four percentage points to his walk rate while holding his strikeout rate steady. In September, Kang hit .289/.427/.602 with seven homers and 36 R+RBI in just 26 games.
So why is he languishing until the late rounds in most drafts? Unfortunately, it’s not just because he lost his shortstop eligibility. Kang’s issues off the field – drunk driving and accusations of sexual assault – have rightly given owners pause. He was sentenced to eight months in prison for his DUI in South Korea, though the sentence is suspended for two years and he’ll avoid serving any time if he doesn’t violate the conditions laid out by the court. However, assuming Kang can turn over a new leaf in his personal life, he represents big-time profit potential in fantasy leagues this season.
Brandon Drury, 2B/3B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks (ADP: 253)
Drury captured some attention from fantasy owners with a hot start to the year, but inconsistent playing time and a midseason swoon led many to abandon ship. If you had him on your roster in September, though, he may well have won you a championship. Drury hit .357/.417/.633, swatting six homers and totaling 41 R+RBI in the final month. Granted, he owes some of that success to an unsustainable .420 BABIP, but he was still tearing the cover off the ball judging by his batted ball data.
With Jean Segura traded to Seattle, Drury appears to be the favorite to start at second base for Arizona this season. He’s not eligible there yet except in Yahoo leagues, but can be plugged in at two other positions until he gains 2B.
James Paxton, SP, Seattle Mariners (ADP: 180)
Paxton had shown flashes in the first few seasons of his career, but a combination of poor health and a middling walk rate held him back. Last season, he added nearly three miles per hour to his fastball and posted a 4.88 K/BB in 121 innings. He was particularly dominant in September, striking out 35 batters and walking only four in 29 innings.
There are some valid concerns with Paxton. He only pitched 121 innings last season, and that was a career high. The injury history can’t be ignored. And while he missed a ton of bats as the year wore on, hitters made a lot of high-quality contact when they did connect. Still, lefties who throw in the high 90s don’t grow on trees. At his current price, Paxton is worth betting on.