September Sleepers, April Keepers? Breakout Candidates for 2018

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The 2018 MLB season is getting closer and closer, making fantasy owners want to get any piece of information that would help them hold their team's construction leading into this season. It is wise to look through performances at the end of the 2017 season to see if players are able to turn late-season success into a strong start for 2018.

Before we look at the players in this article, one disclosure: players like Aaron Judge, Jose Ramirez, J.D. Martinez, Corey Kluber, Luis Severino, and Stephen Strasburg all had massive September statistics. Fantasy owners already know these players and, quite honestly, they were all superstars throughout the season. This article will look at six players, all outside of the top-125 of ADP, that are hoping that their strong performances at the end of the season will carry over to the 2018 season.

Here are the players that showed up strongly at the end of the 2017 season who may show up as breakout stars at the beginning of the 2018 season.

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Breakout Players To Watch

Matt Olson (1B, OAK)

Second-year player Matt Olson hit 24 home runs in just 59 games in his rookie season, slugging .651, but most of that production came in September and October. Over the last 22 games of the season, Olson clubbed 13 home runs (a total only topped by J.D. Martinez and Aaron Judge in September/October) and had a .772 slugging percentage (only topped by Martinez, Jose Ramirez, and Judge). He only hit .266 in that time span, but did show enough patience at the plate to see his OBP for this time span finish at .370. Strikeouts were an issue for Olson last season (27.2% strikeouts), but those two were down at the close of the season to 22.8%. All told, in 138 games between Triple-A Nashville and the Athletics, Olson had 47 home runs and 105 RBI, making him a hot name on draft boards.

Olson hit .305 with seven home runs in August before breaking out a bit more in September and October, where he saw a jump in fly balls to 53.6%. He saw a bit of a dip in hard hit ball rate from August to September/October (42.9% to 37.9%), but both tallies do show that he is able to hit the ball hard. His soft hit ball percentage was at a season-high in September/October (20.7%), leading to a BABIP of .178. No matter the rise in soft-hit ball rate (20.7% is not poor by an means either), he will not post a BABIP that low for a full season (his low in the minor leagues was .272 in Class-A in 2013). Considering that he paired a .259 batting average with a .238 BABIP, there is a good chance that Olson is closer to a .270 or .275 hitter in 2018.

A lack of faith in his strong close to the season is the only reason that Olson has an ADP of 126. If getting players with 40 home run potential in the 12th or 13th round is your thing (and it is pretty much everyone's thing), scoop up Olson. The only issue with Olson is that his ADP will only rise as the season gets closer.


Mitch Haniger (OF, SEA)

Seattle Mariners outfielder Mitch Haniger hit .282 with 16 home runs and 47 RBI in 96 games last season, his first real shot at big league play. Haniger hit seven of his 16 home runs in the last 28 games of the season, posting a .353 batting average and .613 slugging percentage. This performance was not without flaw though, as Haniger had a high BABIP and poor plate discipline. He walked just three times in 123 plate appearances, striking out 27 times, and had a .412 BABIP that was the sixth-highest in the league over this time span. Haniger did have a 40.2% hard hit ball rate, his best of the season, and 22nd-best in the time span, but it is unlikely that he maintains that BABIP.

While his strong hard hit ball rate from the end of the season was notable, Haniger also had good batted ball statistics both at the beginning of the season and after he returned from injury in July. His hard hit ball rate may have not been as high (35% and 34.2%), but his soft hit ball rate was at a seasonal low of 13.3% and 12.2%. He did hit too many ground balls, 46.7% in the second half and 44.6% in September/October, but he also had a 22.6% HR/FB rate at the end of the season and hit 21.7% line drives in Spetember/October, better than his 19.3% rate for the season.

Health has been the biggest issue with Haniger, but a reasonable ADP of 210 shows that he can be poached late in the draft. He dealt with an oblique injury and a concussion last season and is already dealing with a right hand injury this season. The Mariners have done a lot to help their lineup over the last few seasons and Haniger will get opportunities for run creation, even if he bats at the bottom of the lineup. He may end up being a OF3 by the end of the 2018 season.


Carlos Gonzalez (OF, FA)

Free agent outfielder Carlos Gonzalez finished the 2017 season with a .262 batting average, 14 home runs, and 57 RBI in 136 games, but a strong close to the season could make him a valuable sleeper. In the last 24 games of the season, Gonzalez hit .377 with six home runs, posting a 1.250 OPS and posting a .390 isolated power. Gonzalez also had a walk rate of 16.1% (12th best in the time span), driving in 16 runs and scoring 22 runs (tied for 5th in the time span). He also had the eighth-best hard hit ball rate (47.2%) over this time span and, while his .489 BABIP should be unsustainable, that rate is considerably better than his 31.9% rate for the season.

Overall, Gonzalez had a .637 OPS in the first half and a .921 OPS in the second half, showing that he made improvements in batted ball categories in August as well as September/October. A noticeable change in his approach was that he went to the opposite field more in the second half, hitting 16.9% of his balls to the opposite field in April and May and then posting a rate over 21% in each of the last four months.

Gonzalez has yet to be picked up by an MLB team, making him an even deeper sleeper with an ADP of 291. It will hurt that he likely will be out of Coors Field, of course, but Gonzalez showed at the end of 2017 that he has a lot left in the tank. Depending on the team that he signs with (he has been linked with the White Sox, Astros, and a reunion with Colorado), Gonzalez could have real fantasy value.


Chase Anderson (SP, MIL)

Anderson finished the 2017 season with a 12-4 record and 2.74 ERA last season, but he was particularly good during the stretch run. Anderson was 4-1 with a 2.06 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 32 strikeouts in 35 innings over six starts to close the season. This wrapped up a strong second half of the season, where Anderson was 6-2 with a 2.47 ERA and 1.06 WHIP, and a season where he struck out 8.47 batters per nine in 141 1/3 innings. Anderson saw his walk rate dip a bit to close the season (1.8 in September/October and 2.61 for the season) and also saw a jump in his ground ball rate to 44.4% from a 39.2% rate for the whole season.

Anderson was actually a bit unlucky when it comes to BABIP in his last six starts (.279 vs. .265 for the season), but his FIP was still 3.13 and his xFIP was 3.64. Even though this is not positive, Anderson overcame poor advanced stats for the season (3.58 FIP for the season) and K-BB% jumping from 10.2% in 2016 to 16.2% last season was a big reason that he was so successful. His strand rate of 80.6% was particularly high for the season, but it did drop from 92.1% in June to 82.8% in September/October. He also saw his best batted ball statistics at the end of the season, as his 22% soft hit ball rate was a season-best, as was his 29% hard-hit ball rate.

With an ADP of 164, Anderson is not an unknown, but his performance after coming back from an oblique injury shows that he can be a valuable piece of a fantasy lineup. The Brewers will rely heavily on Anderson until Jimmy Nelson returns from a torn labrum and he may have solid SP3 upside.


Mike Leake (SP, SEA)

Mariners starter Mike Leake was an unspectacular 10-13 last season for the Cardinals and Mariners, posting a 3.92 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, but a strong close to the season has him pegged as a deep sleeper. Leake was acquired by the Mariners at theĀ end of August and then went 3-1 with a 2.53 ERA for the Mariners. He struck out 27 batters in 32 innings, allowing just two walks and posting a 1.06 WHIP in five starts. While his low walk rate is expected, as he walked 1.5 per nine in 2016 and two per nine in his 26 starts with St. Louis, the strikeouts were not expected at all. Leake has never struck out more than 6.9 batters per nine in a full season and the 7.6 per nine that he struck out in his five starts with Seattle could be a good sign for 2018.

While Leake's 49.5% ground ball rate in September/October was lower than normal, Leake has induced more than 53% groundballs in three of his last four seasons and, with a cut walk rate, he will put himself in a good spot for run prevention. Leake stranded 75.1% of batters in his last five starts (relative low among the elite pitchers in this time frame), but that was better than his 70.3% strand rate for the whole 2017 season and much better than his 65.6% rate from 2016.

If Leake is able to see his strand rate get closer to his 72.9% career rate while maintaining his strikeout rate from the end of the season and his strong ground ball rate, he will likely outperform his ADP of 324 and be a capable streamer.


Daniel Mengden (SP, OAK)

Mengden has only made 21 career MLB starts, but what he was able to do in a cameo at the end of the 2017 season really makes him stand out. Mengden was 2-9 with a 6.50 ERA with the Athletics in 2016, and was only 2-4 with a 4.17 at Triple-A Nashville, but he 3-1 with a 1.54 ERA in five starts to close the season with Oakland. All told, Mendgen was 3-2 with a 3.14 ERA in seven starts (43 innings) for Oakland last season, posting a strong 1.05 WHIP. Mendgen had foot surgery before Spring Training last season and then was limited a bit by a rib injury, but his strong performance after coming back to the big leagues needs further examination.

While his ERA and WHIP look very strong, Mendgen only struck out 26 batters in 35 innings and had a less than stellar 43.8% ground ball rate in that time span. Of players with the 25 lowest ERAs in September/October, Mengden's 6.69 strikeouts per nine were the third-lowest (Ervin Santana at 5.35 and Julio Teheran at 6.68) and his ground ball rate was the sixth-worst. When you add in a .221 BABIP, Mendgen's 1.54 ERA was not supported by advanced statistics that saw his FIP at 2.93 and xFIP at 4.17. He is off of every draft board with an ADP of 411 and, may not even make the Athletics' rotation, but he is one to watch at the beginning of the season. If Mendgen can show that his performance at the end of the season was not a fluke, he could be a great pick in AL-only or deeper leagues.


More 2018 Sleepers and Breakouts

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