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Fantasy: A Dozen Late Surgers You Might Have Missed

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Sandy Alcantara (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Small samples can sometimes be deceiving. Other times they can be predictive.

For example, a pair of rookies shined in the final two months of the 2018 season to set the stage for steady fantasy production in 2019.

• Mets second baseman Jeff McNeil hit .335 after Aug. 1 in 2018 to rank eighth in the majors. He followed up with a terrific all-around 2019 season in which he challenged for a National League batting title (.318) and finished top 10 in doubles (38) and on-base percentage (.384). He also chipped in 23 home runs, 75 RBIs and 83 runs.

• Yankees first baseman Luke Voit smashed 14 home runs after Aug. 1 in 2018 to rank sixth in the majors. He followed with a big first half in 2019, hitting .280 with 17 homers, 50 RBIs and 53 runs, before a sports hernia limited him in the second half. Still, he ranked 10th in the American League with a .378 OBP.

Fantasy players who bought in to McNeil and Voit in 2018 were rewarded in 2019. To identify players you want to target for 2020 based on late surges this season—in this case, after the trade deadline—let's examine August and September performance to find standouts.

Players are split into four groups: starting pitchers, hitters, speed sources and closers.

For strikeouts, ERA, WHIP and batting average, I also included a +/- indicator to show how many units above/below average the player was compared with what an average major leaguer would have produced in the same number of innings or at-bats.

Starting Pitchers

These inexperienced starters finished strong and have desirable pitch characteristics that could be harbingers of better days ahead.

1. Sandy Alcantara, RHP, Marlins
Aug and Sept (11 GS): 2 W, 62 SO (–12), 2.78 ERA (+14) and 1.05 WHIP (+22)

The 24-year-old Alcantara ranked 12th among starters in ERA and 10th in WHIP in the final two months. The secrets to the rookie's second-half success were improved control (3.2 walks per nine innings) and an improved chase rate out of the zone (70th percentile). Alcantara imparts such spin on his pitches that he is difficult for batters to square up, thus he can probably thrive with a slightly below-average strikeout rate.

2. Dinelson Lamet, RHP, Padres
Aug and Sept (9 GS): 3 W, 75 SO (+25), 3.60 ERA (+5) and 1.20 WHIP (+7)

Lamet generated a 14 percent swinging-strike rate in the final two months that ranked him just outside the top 10 among starters. If his improvement against lefthanded batters is real, then he could be ready to take a huge step forward in 2020, which would be impressive for the 27-year-old who missed all of 2018 after having Tommy John surgery.

3. Max Fried, LHP, Braves
Aug and Sept (11 G, 10 GS): 6 W, 65 SO (+9), 3.65 ERA (+6) and 1.18 WHIP (+9)

Fried's 17 wins nearly led the National League—and his six victories in the final two months were more than all but eight pitchers—so he is already appreciated in fantasy circles. What might not be appreciated is the elite spin rate on his curveball, which lives in the same range as Gerrit Cole, Charlie Morton and Justin Verlander. To take the next step, the 25-year-old Fried must improve is his effectiveness against righthanded batters, who hit .281 and slugged .435 against him this season.

Hitters

These players can contribute to winning fantasy teams thanks to the impact they make in multiple categories combined with multi-positional eligibility.

1. Tommy Edman, 3B/2B, Cardinals
Aug and Sept (53 G): .329 (+15), 7 HR, 9 SB, 41 R, 22 RBI

Edman hit in spring training. He hit at Triple-A. Then he hit in St. Louis, especially in the final two months, when he ranked top 10 in the majors in batting average and runs and top 20 in stolen bases. Edman spent the majority of his time batting first or second for the Cardinals while starting games at third base, second base and right field. In other words, there's a lot to like about the 24-year-old switch-hitter.

2. J.D. Davis, OF/3B, Mets
Aug and Sept (50 G): .321 (+11), 12 HR, 2 SB, 31 R, 28 RBI

The 26-year-old Davis began the season as a platoon third baseman and ended it as the Mets' regular left fielder. His .321 average ranked 12th in the majors in the final two months, while he also contributed in every category but stolen bases. Davis' Statcast batted-ball data suggests that he was not merely lucky—his expected average and slugging for the season were .308 and .534, both a tad higher than his actual marks.

3. Ian Happ, OF/3B, Cubs
Aug and Sept (53 G): .276 (+3), 11 HR, 2 SB, 22 R, 29 RBI

Pay attention to the Cubs' offseason moves. If they shake things up and create regular playing time for Happ—most likely in the outfield—he could make a worthwhile target based on his power. The 25-year-old switch-hitter ranked 25th in the Statcast metric "barrels," which is a good indicator of players' raw power.

Speed Sources

These players are recommended if they nail down everyday jobs while batting near the top of the order. Just make sure you have power elsewhere in your lineup.

1. Victor Reyes, OF, Tigers
Aug and Sept (50 G): .325 AVG (+15), 3 HR, 8 SB, 19 R, 21 RBI

Reyes spent the first half in Triple-A and claimed a starting role in Detroit in the second. The 2017 major league Rule 5 pick wound up being one of the most productive hitters on a 114-loss Tigers team. Reyes' .325 average ranked ninth in the majors over the final two months, while his eight steals were supported by a sprint speed that ranked in the 90th percentile.

2. Garrett Hampson, UT, Rockies
Aug and Sept (43 G): .291 AVG (+5), 6 HR, 10 SB, 19 R, 14 RBI

Hampson has been one of the fastest players in the majors each of the past two seasons. He also has finished strong in both seasons. However, Hampson's start to 2019—he hit .194/.224/.269 to earn a one-month demotion to Triple-A—can't be ignored. His batted ball data doesn't inspire confidence either, but the fact remains that speedy players who are eligible in the middle infield and outfield can have outsized fantasy value.

3. Jon Berti, UT, Marlins
Aug and Sept (50 G): .282 (+5), 4 HR, 16 SB, 39 R, 20 RBI

Only noted speedsters Jonathan Villar and Mallex Smith stole more bases than Berti in the final two months. The 29-year-old minor league journeyman became fantasy relevant in the second half after he locked down a regular role batting leadoff while playing shortstop and center field. Both Berti's success rate (85 percent) and sprint speed (13th best) suggest that his stolen base potential is real.

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Closers

Job security for closers is more volatile than ever, and these three relievers all benefited from another reliever tumbling down the depth chart.

1. Liam Hendriks, RHP, Athletics
Aug and Sept (25 G): 16 SV, 45 SO (+19), 2.10 ERA (+7) and 0.70 WHIP (+16)

Only Archie Bradley recorded more saves than the 30-year-old Australian in the final two months, while Hendriks' 22 percent swinging-strike rate also ranked second among relievers in that span. His slider was especially deadly.

2. Emilio Pagan, RHP, Rays
Aug And Sept (24 G): 12 SV, 36 SO (+10), 2.77 ERA (+5) and 0.69 WHIP (+17)

Pagan shined in the final two months, ranking among the best relievers in the majors in terms of chase rate out of the zone (first), WHIP (fourth) and saves (eighth). He emerged as the go-to closer in a deep Rays bullpen that saw Jose Alvarado and Diego Castillo get the first crack at saves, and he also survived a late charge from trade pickup Nick Anderson.

3. Brandon Workman, RHP, Red Sox
Aug and Sept (24 G): 11 SV, 38 SO (+14), 1.50 ERA (+8) and 1.04 WHIP (+7)

The 31-year-old breezed past presumed closers Ryan Brasier and Matt Barnes on the way to a 16-save season, 11 of them in the final two months, ranking him ninth in the majors. Workman developed one of the most ferocious cutters in baseball to go with his high-spin curveball.

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