Grand Theft Roto: Don't wait for the break


Is there a better feeling than calling ahead to your favorite take-out place, putting in your order, and then waltzing in the door to pay and pick up while dozens of people wait in line just to get their order in? They look at you with a cocktail of envy and anger that I, personally, find intoxicating.

It isn't just the fact that you've saved time and hassle. It's that you thought ahead and did what anyone else could've … but didn't.

As the Boston band Jim's Big Ego put it in the song "Ahead of the Curve":

All of my friends are doing things that I was doing, when I was half their age,
and all of my peers are into stuff that I was into before it was the rage .

When it comes to making deals for guys with a track record for getting hot after the All-Star break, that's the way you have to be, because by the time most of the league takes a three-day hiatus, there's no way you're going to be able to just stroll in and "pick up" a second-half stud. You'll be waiting in line.

Casing the Joint

The All-Star break is an arbitrary time to split the season. It isn't halfway through the year -- it's usually 15-20 games after the season's true midway point -- and it's not as if it marks the time in the year when players wear down. But it is undeniable that there are ballplayers who seem to thrive after the Midsummer Classic and others who wilt like a lettuce garnish under a heat lamp.

However, do yourself a favor and look beyond last year. Just because Adam Dunn rebounded in 2007 with a .273 batting average after the break doesn't mean that's what awaits him this year. Over the past three seasons, Dunn actually has a higher batting mark before the break, as well as superior power numbers. His teammate, Bronson Arroyo, dropped his ERA from 4.84 to 3.55 after the break in 2007, but his three-year splits reveal him to be the identical pitcher during both "halves" of the season in terms of ERA, strikeouts and every other indicator. So look at the past three years at least, and make sure you see consistent results that indicate gains.

Another tip is to look for room for improvement before you buy. Jack Wilson's three-year splits reveal he's a .309 hitter after the All-Star Game compared to .248 before, and that trend has held up each of the past three years. But before you rush out and make an offer for him, realize he's batting .299 right now, which means he's already performing close to his "peak" level. Expecting a 60-point jump in the second half, as he has seen recently, just isn't realistic. However, it does suggest that buying him in NL-only leagues could result in continued success at the current level.

Finally, remember that what players have done so far does count, in that it'll determine how much you'll have to pay, or how much you can get in exchange. If you've been reading my colleagues here at the Worldwide Leader all week, you know we've been talking about the Player Rater. Use it, because when there's a disparity between where a player is rated right now, and where you believe he'll be, there is an opportunity to make deals.

Three I'm Stealing

Matt Cain, SP, Giants: Cain is the 116th-ranked pitcher by the Player Rater, one spot ahead of Chan Ho Park. That is not the neighborhood Cain's owners were expecting when they drafted him, but it's a spot he has earned with middling ERA and WHIP that drag down his current Player Rater score. But an examination of his three-year splits shows a tendency to boost his K/9 ratio and reduce walks after the break, which should help his WHIP and ERA. In fact, his post-break ERA from 2005 through 2007 is 3.28, nearly a full point below his pre-break mark in that span. I'd expect him to be a top-40 starter from here on.

Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees: There simply aren't many players who, absent injury, have hurt their owners more than Cano. I mean, where do you start? The .220 average? The one stolen base all year? The 20 RBIs despite batting in a Yankees lineup rife with high on-base-percentages? ESPN's Player Rater has him ranked 79th among second basemen, behind a bunch of guys who don't even play. I guess no average is better than bad average. But the light at the end of the Cano tunnel might not be a train. Cano's post-break batting average is .334 over the past three years, and he has hit twice as many homers in the second half than the first -- 32 to 16 -- in that period. Cano's June has been miserable, so now is the time to act.

Mark Teixeira, 1B, Braves: If the previous two players are examples of guys who have really disappointed their owners, Big Tex is an example of a guy who has mildly underperformed. The 10 homers and .270 batting average have him ranked 12th among first basemen on the Player Rater. There are some names ahead of him -- Kevin Youkilis, Jorge Cantu and Conor Jackson in particular -- whom few expect to outperform Teixeira, but it's possible there won't be any guys better than him at his position after the All-Star Game. We're talking about a guy who, over the past three years, has hit .305 and averaged 20 home runs and 65 RBIs. That's a whole season for Youkilis or Jackson. Throw in Teixeira's ensuing free agency, and I'm paying for the top-three stats he'll provide from here on out.

Three I'm Dealing

David DeJesus, OF, Royals: Beware batting average-driven players whose averages plummet after the break. DeJesus isn't suddenly going to flash power and speed in any real quantity, so when his three-year splits reveal that his batting average drops from .292 to .268 after the All-Star Game, I'm selling. Granted, he's not a guy who is owned in most mixed leagues, but in AL leagues, his .296 batting average could draw interest. If you can get a low-average batter who has some pop or speed, that's a win.

John Maine, SP, Mets: Maine's overall three-year splits do indicate some serious woes in the second half of the season -- an ERA of 4.84 against a pre-break mark of 3.01 -- but even in 2006, when Maine's first half was beaten by his second, he showed that very frightening ability to go from good to bad and vice versa. He simply hasn't proved he can be the same guy for a full season. When I see 15 earned runs in his past 27 innings, I worry that Maine may be starting his post-break slide a little early. His strong strikeout numbers and Player Rater ranking of 52nd among pitchers should guarantee strong trade value right now, even though his ratio of strikeouts to walks tells the story of someone whose control isn't where it should be.

Kelly Johnson, 2B, Braves: OK, this one isn't really about splits. Even though Johnson's second-half numbers aren't as good as his first half, this is really more a reaction to the way he has been free-falling for two weeks. He's owned in 100 percent of ESPN leagues and the Player Rater has him as the No. 9 second baseman in the game. Both of those numbers are getting worse, so I'm moving him while his stats are still better than average.

Pulling the Job

One deal this week, with plenty of names from earlier in this column.

In a head-to-head league where my starting pitching has been average at best, I sent Justin Morneau, Johnson and Trevor Hoffman packing for Teixeira, Cano and Chien-Ming Wang. I'm trusting my instincts that Wang's most recent start -- 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball -- is a sign he's coming out of his slump. Regardless, I feel like I got the two better position players from here on out and was willing to act now rather than wait.

Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.

Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball, football and golf analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.