Grand Theft Roto: Second-half pitching targets
Anything worth doing is worth doing twice ... or at least in two parts.
Seven days ago, I identified a few hitters who have shown a three-year trend for cranking up their production after the Midsummer Classic. Call 'em late bloomers, second-half studs, or postbreak bashers. It's up to you.
But there is no doubt what you call their starting-pitcher counterparts. In honor of the unparalleled glory that is Johan Santana after the All-Star Game -- 32-3 with a 1.78 ERA over the past three years -- we will call all starters whose numbers move from "meh" to "hubba hubba" in the second half, "Johan-a-bees".
We all know that we trade for a player based on the stats he is likely to provide, not for what he's done up until now. Nowhere is this more true than with starting pitchers who can have their overall numbers absolutely besotted by a couple awful outings. A starter who was unfortunate enough to begin the season with two wretched outings, something like a total of eight innings with 12 earned runs, would need 19 straight innings of shutout ball just to get his ERA back to 4.00.
Luckily, you don't inherit what a player has done when you trade for him, which is why getting Kevin Millwood for nearly nothing makes some sense. With a 6-7 record and a 6.16 ERA at the All-Star break, Millwood has caused a great deal of intestinal distress to his owners.
But, as the kids say, peep this: Looking at Millwood's three-year splits, his paltry prebreak stats, 17-17 with a 4.38 ERA, become tantalizing once he hits mid-July. We're talking about a 17-12 record with a 3.31 ERA. his batting-average against (BAA) drops 37 points in the second half. The Rangers' erstwhile ace pitched well Wednesday night in a loss to the A's, a portent of things to come. I Mill-would make a deal for him in any AL league, and some mixed formats. But then again, I'm also the type of guy who makes lame puns of players' names.
Derek Lowe is having a solid season as he reached the break at 8-8, a record belied by his stingy 3.02 ERA. In short, he's been a good pitcher in mixed leagues and a decent No. 2 starter in NL-only leagues. But Lowe is a legitimate "Johan-a-be" when you look at the past three years, including his final, abysmal season with Boston. Lowe's 19-22 record and 4.39 prebreak ERA won't impress anyone. But when he turns in a 23-13 mark with a 3.87 ERA in the second half, raising his strikeout rate by almost one per nine innings, everyone takes notice. He'll never be a dominant strikeout artist, but for wins, ERA and WHIP, he's a guy having a good year that could get even better.
There may be no more unlikely "Johan-a-be" than Milwaukee's Jeff Suppan, who cruised into the All-Star break with an even record, 8-8, and a 5.00 ERA. Not surprisingly, he's owned in less than a quarter of ESPN leagues. But even the in leagues in which he is still rostered, it likely will take very little to get him. In actuality, Suppan's 2007 isn't that out of line with his three-year splits, revealing a 23-17 record and a 4.41 ERA before the break. But who wouldn't like to have "second-half Suppan," with a 21-9 record and a 3.41 ERA since 2004? The numbers show a lower home run rate and a slightly elevated strikeout rate. Seriously, a bag of balls will get Suppan on your team and if the Brew Crew keeps slugging, that could get you another nine wins with nice ratios.
What about the "Johan-a-be's" evil twin, though? Pitchers who make the All-Star team, or at least get close, and lift your team in the first half, only to drop you on your Assenmacher in the second half.
Brad Penny is easily the poster boy for this of trend. He was the NL's starter in the 2006 All-Star Game and easily could've been again this year, as he was 10-1 with a 2.39 ERA. Of course, no one can keep up those kinds of numbers unless they're named Johan, Pedro, Sandy, Cy or Old Hoss. But Penny's three-year history shows he's prone to these kinds of immortal starts followed by all-too-mortal finishes.
Penny is 23-14 before the break the past three seasons with a 3.17 ERA, but he slides dramatically to 9-14 with a 5.01 ERA after the halfway point. Even more disturbing is the way his home run rate skyrockets after the break -- nearly doubling. Penny is pitching too well to believe he'll totally tank, but there's plenty of reason to believe you've stretched your Penny as far as it will go.
The AL version of Penny would be the recently re-signed Mark Buehrle, who reached the All-Star break with a 6-4 record and a 3.03 ERA. Granted, he hasn't struck out many batters, but hey, he's Mark Buehrle. Just as we never expect K's from Buehrle, we can't expect him to keep up his current numbers. His three-year splits reveal a stellar 28-11 record and a 3.52 ERA in the first half, and a cringe-worthy 16-20 record and 4.51 ERA in the second half with a home run rate that swells like a Baldwin brother on his 40th birthday.
So you should trade Buehrle and Penny straight up for Suppan, Lowe and Millwood, right?
Erm & no.
Don't dump a guy who has been your best starter so far just because he has a history of wearing down like the clutch on a '78 Nova in San Francisco. But if someone's willing to give you full value for what they've done to date, you take it. Likewise, if you can score someone on the verge of turning things up for pocket change, that's the move you make every time.
Only one deal to report this week and not a pure GTR by any means. In a 10-team, NL 5x5 league, I had Ryan Freel coming off the DL and a 14-steal lead over my nearest pursuer in the category, I knew I could move Kelly Johnson to open up a slot for Freel and improve my catching.
So I approached an owner who had catcher-eligible Ryan Doumit on his bench, his .306 batting average and seven homers, as of Thursday morning, going utterly unused. After some larger haggling, I made the simple offer of Johnson for Doumit and it got done.
Like I said, getting a catcher with batting average and power for a second baseman who has a nice mix of pop and speed isn't a Grand Theft Roto. But a larger look reveals why the other guy shouldn't have made the deal. My team is in first place by 12 points and my trading partner is in third. This deal closed one of my team's few holes. No way Kelly Johnson closes the gap for him, and since this isn't a money league where an owner might shoot for second because of the prize money, it makes no sense to deal with the guy you're trying to catch unless you're hosing him.
Did he hose me?
If so, he'll get his GTR button in the mail.
Until next week, don't just win your league. Johan-a-be it.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball and football analyst for TalentedMrRoto.com and ESPN.com, as well as a regular contributor to the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He can be reached at GrandTheftRoto@TalentedMrRoto.com
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