- Shawn Peters
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I hate waiting in lines. Despise it.
Back in January, I took my daughter out of school for two days around MLK Day just so I could take the family to Disney World at a time when there wouldn't be a quadrillion people monorailing their way to see Mickey.
I'll wake up at five in the morning so I can be the first one off the tee, ensuring I won't have to wait for the foursome in front of me to finish plumb-bobbing their two-foot putts.
In fact, the reason this column goes live on Sunday afternoon is so I know it'll be first in line when you get to work Monday morning and start procrastinating.
But impatience can also be a virtue when it comes to trading for players you believe are going to put up big numbers in the second half of the season. After all, once they start performing, everyone is going to want them, and you'll have to stand in line.
I hate that.
Casing the joint
When most people speak of a second-half stud, they're referring to players with a history of starting slow and finishing fast. Obviously, these are ideal targets to identify because there's a good chance they're riding a bench somewhere in your league, but could be start-worthy after the All-Star break. But I believe that any player who has an established pattern of excellence after the break is also a second-half player and so a history of being mediocre or worse early in the season isn't a true prerequisite. There are players out there who have had seasons where they slump in April and May and then had other seasons where they come out of the gate hotter than Megan Fox hand-washing cars for charity. (Note to self: million dollar idea for charity.) But what their seasons always have in common is second-half production.
As far as identifying either type of guy I've described, you have to look at more than 2008 because one year is not a pattern. It's a snapshot. Looking at full career splits is equally dangerous because maybe their post-break mojo has tailed off in recent years. I tend to use three-year splits, but I don't just look at those raw stats and assume it equals a pattern. I look at the individual seasons to make sure at least two of the years reflect the improvement. I'll also gravitate toward a three-year streak of strong second halves, regardless of what the first half held.
The opposite technique works, as well. If a player's three-year splits show a fade, you need to dig deeper to make sure it is a recurring event. If it is, you've just found someone who you can sell. Do this analysis now and make your offers as soon as possible to avoid the long lines that will form in July.
Three I'm stealing
Freddy Sanchez, 2B, Pirates: The longer you wait to raise your batting average, the harder it will be to do so. Sanchez's .309 batting average as of Friday is only a little better than his career mark of .302, and so it would be easy to think he's been as good as he's going to be. However, Freddy is ready to go higher, considering his three-year post-break average is almost 40 points better than his first-half average. Sanchez has bettered his first-half average by at least 13 points in the second half of both 2007 and 2008, and in 2006, he batted .329 after the break, which was him "slowing down" from .358. While he may not offer the recommended daily allowance of power or speed, Freddy Sanchez will be an affordable, reliable hit machine in the months to come.
Aubrey Huff, 1B, Orioles: Other than his impressive RBI pace, Huff has not been above average for his position yet this year. Perfect, because he is a certified second-half monster. Huff has hit 36 second-half homers in the past three years compared to 32 in the first half, and he's done it in 170 fewer at-bats. Huff's slugging percentage has risen in each of the past three years once the All-Star game has passed, and in the past two years, it has gone up by at least 50 points. Grab him now and get a .290 average, 20 more homers and at least 60 RBIs the rest of the way.
Bronson Arroyo, SP, Reds: In shallow leagues, you can likely get Arroyo for nothing thanks to his 5.00 ERA. But in deeper mixed leagues and NL-only formats, this is a pitcher who's built to offer solid stats the rest of the way. The three-year splits are startling, as he has gone 19-22 with a 4.53 ERA with opponents batting .281 against him before the break and 19-14 with a 3.50 ERA and a .252 BAA after the break. The batting average against has gone down in each of the past three years, and Arroyo hasn't had a second-half ERA above 3.55 in that span. I don't know how many wins the Reds will post, but with Arroyo on pace for 20 wins so far, I don't think there's much downside.
Three I'm dealing
Jhonny Peralta, SS, Indians: Peralta is still owned in more than two-thirds of ESPN leagues, which means there are plenty of owners who still think his vaunted power from the shortstop position is going to return. I'm not buying. In fact, I'm selling. In the past three years, Peralta has hit a homer once every 25 at-bats in the first half of the season, and that rate slows to one dinger every 42 at-bats after the break. This year, he's on a one-homer-per-100-at-bats pace. Yes, he's 27 this year, and we know he's capable of better. However, the next time he gets a little hot, leverage it as a way to move on because Peralta hasn't hit double-digit homers in the second half since 2005.
John Lackey, SP, Angels: Is Lackey a buy-low candidate? Not to my thinking. Sure, in 2007, Lackey appeared to be pretty much the same Cy-Young-quality guy in both halves. But even in that stellar season, the overall numbers hide the fact that for three years running, Lackey's second-half BAA has gone up by at least 40 points. Now we have a season where Lackey missed spring training, has returned with mixed results, and recently has given up 14 earned runs in his past 19.1 innings. Between the rough start and the track record, I'm selling him to anyone who thinks he's an ace the rest of the way.
Mark Buehrle, SP, White Sox: Let's face it. Buehrle doesn't strike out a lot of batters, so his value to you comes in the form of a good ERA and WHIP, and some wins along the way. The issue here is that you have to go back to 2004 to find a year where it's even debatable whether his second half was as good as his first half. Looking at three-year splits, Buehrle's ERA swells from 3.59 to 4.88 after the break, and opposing batters have hit .309 in the second half during that span. When you factor in the fact the White Sox seem determined to have a season that finally gets Ozzie Guillen fired, I think you know what to do with Buehrle.
Pulling the job
No deals for me this week, as I spent several days in the wilds of Maine, hitting a small white sphere around the hills and valleys. But in my absence, Samantha "East Philly" Layton made a couple of monster deals that reshaped her team in the S.T.E.A.L.
First, she sent Roy Halladay, Yadier Molina and the injured Joey Votto to "Don Vito Corle-owning This League," aka Taylor Gould. In return, she scored Mark Teixeira, Jon Lester, and a pair of players she then waived in John Buck and Koji Uehara. But she wasn't even close to done. Less than 24 hours later, Philly dealt Matt Kemp, Jeff Francoeur and Francisco Cordero to Alex Byrnes, owner of team Laura Linney (don't ask, because he will tell). In exchange, she got Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Church.
I like the first deal more than the second, as Jon Lester seems to have turned things around, and Big Tex is a bad, bad man. But the decision to punt saves and deal Kemp is hard to endorse unless Miggy can single-handedly give Philly three or more points that Kemp would've provided.
Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.
6hTristan H. Cockcroft