Raise your hand if you believe that hot Septembers are pre-cursors to breakout seasons the following season.
Raise your hand if you believe in the boogeyman.
Raise your hand if you thought Jim Johnson would lead baseball in saves.
All three of those statements are nearly equal in likelihood. Every season, someone will point to a breakout player who had a hot September as evidence that causation equals correlation. In 2008, Ben Zobrist had a hot September before his breakout season in 2009. The next season, Jose Bautista quietly got hot before blowing up in 2010 while Troy Tulowitzki's amazing September in 2010 precluded his oustanding 2011. Two of the hottest hitters in baseball last September were Brent Morel and James Loney.
As Giorgio Tsoukalos would say - aliens.
When looking at the hottest hitters this September, there are some no-brainers as well as a few surprises. Nobody is killing the ball more than Adrian Beltre these days as he is trying to keep the Rangers up in the American League West. Heading into Sunday, he had a .337/.371/.739 slash line for the month with 11 home runs, 18 runs driven in and 18 runs scored. A hot-hitting Beltre is nothing new as the guy is a flat out stud. Only he and Miguel Cabrera have slugged at least .550 each of the past three seasons. The hottest bat in the National League belongs to Chase Headley of the Padres. Headley has hit .316/.407/.612 this month with eight home runs, 20 runs scored, and 29 runs driven in. Headley now has 112 runs driven in on the season along with 60 extra-base hits while playing in the toughest hitters' park in baseball.
The next hottest hitter in the National League is the kid. While Mike Trout continues to demand attention in the AL MVP race, Bryce Harper has hit .330/.395/.631 this month with 25 runs scored, six home runs, and walking eight percent of the time. Amazingly, his teammate Adam LaRoche has nearly matched him at he is hitting .320/.387/.650 in the final month. LaRoche is well known for hot halves and cold halves, but he has been rather consistent this season in (surprise!) his final year before what could be a free agent year for him if the Nationals do not exercise his $10M team option.
Two surprises in September would be Chris Davis and Justin Smoak; two names that were at the bottom of the draft pool this past March. Davis has hit .326/.406/.618 while striking out only 28% of the time while Smoak has hit .329/.410/.589 with a 1:1 strikeout to walk ratio and has hit five of his 19 home runs this month. Talent, and flaws, have always been there with both so it is nice to see both produce down the stretch if not Davis who has brought 30 very cheap home runs and 81 runs driven in on the season. The caveat with Davis is that his walk and strikeout rates in 2012 are nearly identical to 2011 but his HR/FB rate has skyrocketed from 10% last season to 24% this season. He is country strong, but can he continue to hit one out of every four flyballs out of the park next season? After watching him hit his 10th home run off the month to the furthest reaches of Tropicana Field on Tuesday night, I have a tough time betting against that.
In looking at the monthly leaderboards, the typical names are up high, but there is some downlist noise as well. Carlos Santana is once again having a hot September hitting .298/.388/.531 after disappointing us for most of the season. The Brewers did not make the postseason, but it wasn't from a lack of effort from Norichika Aoki who hit .295/.362/.536 in September scoring 21 times, driving in 18 runs, and stealing seven bases as he auditions for the leadoff role next season. Lastly, Brandon Belt raked at a .316/.365/.532 clip to finally get the kind of playing time we have all been hoping he would see for quite some time now.
On the pitching side of the ledger, we see many familiar names. Cliff Lee was amazing in September while the Phillies hung onto very slim playoff hopes and Yu Darvish quietly dominated the opposition. You may be surprised to learn that Darvish has more starts with at least 10 strikeouts than any other pitcher in baseball. In these final weeks, Darvish has struck out 39 while walking seven and allowing just one home run. Marco Estrada, covered last week, has nearly matched him walking one less while allowing one more home run while also striking out 39.
After disappointing many following his trade from Miami, Anibal Sanchez has a 2.43 ERA in recent weeks while reverting back to his high strikeout/low walk form. Homer Bailey, fresh off his no-hitter, is having another hot month and has flashed a 8.5 K/9IP, 1.8 BB/9IP, and a 51% groundball rate in his last six starts. Mike Minor has had issues with the longball this season, but has won four of his five decisions this month while striking out 8.1 K/9IP and allowing just one home run and 13 hits in 31 innings. Nate Eovaldi is winless in September, but he has given up just one home run through five starts with a 3.5 K/BB ratio.
Craig Kimbrel (surprise) leads all relievers with 25 strikeouts in 12.2 innings, but Wade Davis is right behind him as he has struck out 23 batters in 13 innings. Davis' role in 2013 is undefined, but his contract is low enough to allow him to remain in relief for the Rays, or move into the rotation for another team. The Rays have no upper level bats of note, so in order to fix the offense that kept them out of the postseason, they will have to trade pitching this offseason. Also, are you ready to be sucked back in to the Joba Chamberlain hype train? He has punched out 16 while walking just two hitters in 12 innings in recent weeks.
September success is fun to watch, but its accuracy in predicting breakouts the following season is as accurate as Punxsutawney Phil is in predicting the weather. Do not use these September numbers as gospel but do use it to make notes for guys to watch in spring training or something to talk up in trade talks as you try to move or even acquire these players.