Ah September! The temperatures start to drop, the kids go back to school, TV shows (usually) begin to return with new seasons and episodes and baseball starts to round third base onto its way home. This year, however, as we hit September, we’re actually just rounding second base on our way to third, since we still have about 40% of the regular season left to go. During this stretch run, it’s important to stay on top of things and not lose sight of the end. And being here with RotoFanatic, we’ve got you covered right up until you cross that finish line. You also have another advantage: Football. This is the time when other teams in your league may switch focus towards their fantasy football teams, especially if they’re out of contention. Therefore, there will be less activity in your fantasy baseball leagues with more access to free agents on a hot streak.

Now, onto the main event. Grab some KFC, because we’re all going streaking! Stats down below are from the time period of Wednesday September 2 – Tuesday September 8

Feelin’ Hot Hot Hot

Ronald Acuña Jr.

5 of 19, 3 HR, 5 RBI, 3 K, 6 BB (1 IBB), 2 SB

Coming back from a minor injury, Ronald Acuña reminded everyone why he was drafted first overall in many leagues: the kid can pretty much do everything when it comes to baseball. Blessed with supreme power and blazing speed, he possesses a unique combination of talents that can give fantasy owners everything needed in multiple categories to help win you your leagues. Coming back on September 4, while playing in both games of a double header, Acuña homered a total of three times. What’s been important for him too, as he continues to ascend back into his elite status, is his ability to take pitches and walk to get on base. He began the year with a 17:3 K/BB ratio in July, but has since gone 17:18 and proven his worth.

I realize that the above is an abundance of data, but what I’m trying to show is that, for the most part, he’s seeing the ball better than before, he’s being patient at the plate (career high walk rate) and thus his expected production is rising at an incredible rate. He’s closer to being back to his old self, and any doubters of his elite production should feel a lot better knowing that one of the game’s best players is living up to expectations.

Outlook: Acuña can obviously be counted on to lead your fantasy team. He provides everything that you’ll need down the stretch run. As the Braves and their loaded lineup finish up the season, they play favorable road matchups (@ Nationals, @ Orioles and @ Mets) while also playing at home to the Marlins and Red Sox to finish the year. One last thing to consider. Acuña this year is seeing fewer pitches in the strike zone as pitchers are trying to pitch around him. They know what he’s capable of and are trying avoid catastrophe. He’s also seeing fewer fastballs and more pitches with movement.

Both the American League East and National League East are home to some of the best pitchers on baseball. Time may not be on his side this year, as he’s only now, midway through the season, making adjustments. Had this happened over a 162 game season, he would be making said adjustments in the month of May and would subsequently have four months of elite production ready to roll. My advice is this: don’t let his struggles from July and early August sway you. Acuña’s overall final numbers will not look elite. What you need to do is remember next year that he has adjusted to seeing fewer pitches that he likes, he’s grown in his ability to be patient and he’s capitalizing when needed on pitches he wants to mash. Remember the talent, the smarts and the potential.

Marcell Ozuna

9 of 26, 2 HR, 7 RBI

To say that Ozuna has made the most of this shortened season would be an understatement. He’s helped the Braves elevate themselves to the top of the National League East, and kept them competitive (especially as of late) during a time where the Braves’ rotation wasn’t at the level that was expected of them. Overall, he’s been chasing fewer pitches and making less contact on those pitches. As a result, while his Ground Ball Rate has gone down, his Barrel Rate has also gone up as well as his Launch Angle.

Since August 18, which was when he had his 100th plate appearance within the above data, Ozuna has owned a 14:8 K:BB ratio. It’s not coincidental that his xWOBA and production have gone up since that point. Finally, he just recently won the title of being the National League’s Player of the Week.

Outlook: For years, Ozuna has possessed the talent to be producing that this level, but hasn’t necessarily lived up to these lofty expectations. As a player who some think may have peaked during his All-Star season of 2017, his projections show that he is already outproducing some of those numbers in this shortened season. All of the metrics point towards him, over a 162 season, eclipsing those career high stats. That said, with only a few weeks left, it’s pretty safe to say that Ozuna will finish the season with a high level of production and should be started with confidence. During this contract year for him, it’ll be interesting to see if he remains a member of the Atlanta Braves in 2021.

Victor Reyes

11 of 27, 2 HR, 6 RBI

There’s a lot of red there, which means that the player in question is doing something right. In the case of Victor Reyes, that means the following, which was summed perfectly on Twitter last week:

In fact, everything about him is trending upwards here. His Launch Angle is substantially up from 9.2 to 11.8 degrees, his batting average against Breaking Balls is significantly better at .279 (vs .194 in 2019), and his xBA is in line to show that he’s hitting right around where he should, which is healthily above .300 on the season. He’s been one of the go-to players for the Tigers as they try to make it to the expanded playoffs of 2020.

Outlook: While Reyes is a feel-good story for the feel-good Tigers, there comes some trepidation before anointing him the next elite hitter. Reyes has a worrisome walk rate of 4.3% that shows some immaturity and a lack of patience.

With a corresponding increased Chase Rate of 43.8% on the season, there is a bit of a worry that pitchers could adjust to Reyes’ approach at the plate and pitch around him. That’s why I’m holding off for now on leveling him up too much, until he can prove to me that he can lay off the pitches outside the strike zone and wait for those that are hittable. That said, he has leveled up to become a better hitter in 2020 and should be treated as a pretty reliable source of batting average with above average power. Still, in my opinion, he has a ways to go to grow.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Austin Meadows

2 of 23, 12 K, 3 BB

Wow, how the tables have turned on Meadows, who shot out of a cannon in 2019. After 27 games in 2019, he found himself batting .340 with nine home runs and 24 runs batted in alongside four stolen bases. This season is the polar opposite as he’s batting .202 with only three home runs and nine runs batted in and one stolen base. The difference? He’s striking out at an all-time high rate (minor leagues included). What’s worse is that, despite a small uptick in pitches outside of the strike zone, he’s swinging and missing on pitches inside the strike zone, which is somewhat concerning.

And here’s the difference: looking at the corresponding zones below, in between 2019 (top) and 2020 (bottom) are the percent of pitches seen within and outside the strike zone. There isn’t much of a difference here in how he’s being attacked at the plate.

Outlook: Unfortunately for him, it looks like Meadows might struggle all season. One thing that people forget is that Meadows was one of the many that have missed time due to the Coronavirus. Back in mid July, he felt some of the symptoms and thus, wouldn’t be ready for Opening Day. As others who have missed time, he is struggling to get back to his winning ways. Look at Scott Kingery, for example, who has been struggling since the start of the season to the tune of cutting his batting average in half from last season!

Getting back to Meadows though, he goes from being a perennial MVP candidate last year to possibly riding the bench late in the season in 2020, and there’s really nothing else you can do about it. It’s hard to imagine that he turns everything around by season’s end, but if he does, you can slot him in there and hope he’s back to his old self. As someone who made consistent contact throughout his minor league career with a low strikeout rate, patience is the one thing you’ll need to maintain until he figures this thing out and gets back to full health.

Cody Bellinger

3 of 19, 3 BB, 3 SB

Full disclosure, I liked Cody Bellinger a lot coming into the season. He mashed last year, he ran last year, he was elite last year, and I bought in. Case in point, in my own personal points league, with a $300 budget, I bid $100 on him, and lost out. I needed a first baseman, organized my keepers accordingly and bid 40% of my remaining budget on him and still lost out. Ultimately I wound up with Matt Olson and have received arguably better results. That being said, I know I wasn’t alone in my belief that Bellinger would be one of the league’s bets players in 2020, and, well….he hasn’t.

But the problem stems farther back beyond just a shortened 2020 season. In the following graphs, I want you to look specifically at the right side where his 2019 and 2020 stats have been. After flying out of the gate over the first two months of the season last year, Bellinger became a slightly above average hitter the rest of the way. What happened was that pitchers started to pitch around him and he would chase them. He tweaked his mechanics, swing and approach last year to try and fix this, but ultimately nothing really mattered.

Outlook: I’m not exactly sure what to make of Cody Bellinger going forward, but I do know that once he figures this out, he will be elevated even higher within the realms of baseball. It’s promising that he only struck out once within the timeframe of this past week, which could be a sign of an increased patience. And while you may argue to me that one week is a small sample….so is a 60 game season. Even still, it’s not all doom and gloom.

It can take awhile to fully change one’s mentality, especially where in-game video scouting for adjustments aren’t there like they once were, due to the new norm. In redraft leagues, you have to believe in his underlying talent and play him daily. In dynasty formats, you may be able to buy low on some impatient owners. He’s a young player with massive potential that needs to adjust. Give him time, and the talent will take over.

Whit Merrifield

4 of 31, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 1 K

We started the fantasy baseball season at RotoFanatic by offering potential bust picks for the 2020 season, and one name particularly stands out. No, it’s not my glorious (ha!) pick of Mike Soroka, but rather the very first pick on the page by Matt Williams. There are some very compelling reasons why Whit would be a bust this year. Let’s fast forward to earlier this season. Whit Merrifield is batting over .300, is stealing bases at a rate not seen in years, and is producing with both power and contact. People were taking victory laps after two weeks of games played. In fact, as of games played on August 15, the Royals were 9-12, Merrifield was batting .305, and everyone was turning around and running backwards on the race track of victory. Then reality hit. The Royals have since gone 5-13, Merrifield has seen his batting average drop almost 70 points, and now those owners are as quiet as ever.

As Matt pointed out, his ability to hit the offspeed pitches has been deteriorating over the past few seasons. This season as a whole, he finds himself batting .143 against them and is progressively seeing more of them as pitchers adjust.

Outlook: What really stood out to me last season was not just Merrifield’s lack of running, but his admittance that he stopped because his team was losing and he wanted to preserve his body. While I can respect one wanting to focus on other parts of the game to improve, this still struck me the wrong way, as speed was one of his strengths, and he stopped using it to save up for the future. I wonder if in a lost, shortened season, he will stop running in 2020 altogether. With one of the worst records in all of baseball, will Merrifield give up and save up for the future yet again? Either way, he needs to figure out how to hit and/or lay off pitches outside of the zone or else his current career low strikeout rate will find its way back to the ways of his past.

With an improved Launch Angle and Barrel Rate over last season, he may yet be able to come back from this and help you to finish the season. With multiple series against the Tigers as well as other series against the Pirates and Cardinals, there’s a chance that he turns this slump around and finishes off strong. Let’s just hope that he hasn’t given up already and will do what needs to be done to help his team win some baseball games.