September call-up day is one of the most exciting days of the year for fantasy players and baseball fans. You get to see what your team brings up and get to get a sneak peek at who might be in the regular lineup the following season year.
While this is all true, I should not have to tell you that September call-ups cannot be relied upon. Yes, you may have stashed a hitter away, waiting for the moment you could insert them into your lineup, but what are you getting? There is a litany of factors that could impact a call-ups playing time – whether the team they are on is in contention or not; whether or not they actually have a spot in the lineup or rotation to even play the, the preferences of the manager, and the fact that it is the September call-up period. There are simply more players to divide playing time amongst.
Even if your September call-up is to play full-time you have to keep in mind that this is probably about 105 at-bats or 4 to 5 starts tops. A lot can happen over such a teeny sample size, none of which should be taken all that seriously with the exception of seeing how their underlying skills tend to translate to the Majors when looking at them as prospective targets for the following season.
If I am going to target a call-up as a free agent, probably a good way to go is – a preference for contact hitters over power hitters as they are more likely to quickly adjust, though power hitters with strikeout rates are prone to streakiness. For pitchers, I try to avoid the softer tossers as they take longer to acclimate and with a month to go, you do not have the time to be patient if you are in contention. Instead, I prefer power pitchers, even if they do not have great secondary stuff, though I do prefer ones with some modicum of command. I call this my Jeff Weaver rule (good fastball/slider, no weapon against lefties when he jumped to the Majors from AA, but threw strikes). He was able to pitch well upon promotion, but hitters caught up to him as scouting reports went around/batters see them a second time. Well, given a month remaining, that correction may not occur until 2010.
The September call-up period is also particularly interesting with respect to keeper leagues. I am interested to see how others handle their minor league qualification rules for the following season and feel free them below in the comments section.
I have a few styles that I have played under. In one league we use a September first cutoff. Any player called up beforehand must be kept on the active roster (the 23-man list for AL only leagues for example) in next year's auction. Anyone called up afterwards, can be kept on the minor league list and therefore gains another year to be first-year contracted players. The other league uses MLB's rookie status rules (129 at-bats and 50 innings pitched). When either of those thresholds is crossed, they determine whether a player may be kept on the active or minor league roster.
I am torn between the two options and it is a question of preferences. The first option typically results in fewer players being able to be kept under minor league status. Plenty of players, however, do still end up benefitting from that rule and getting an extra year of contract eligibility (Jacob Ellsbury of recent note to my joy). Still, perhaps even more players would get to keep their minor league status if you use the minor league eligibility thresholds as your criteria. The second option, would have a greater impact on inflation, especially if a fair to high percentage of these players be kept on minor league rosters were going to receive opening day jobs, as not only would they be kept at $0 dollars, but they are not even taking up a spot on the active roster whereas using a more restrictive rule your league mates might have those players at very cheap price compared to their projected price, at least you did not have to worry about them bidding against as much because they had the roster spot filled. So it's a case of getting one's cake and eating it too.