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April 24, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • Star Performer: Clutch run producer Garret Anderson. Anderson, who's drawn all of 25 unintentional walks in his last 750 plate-appearances, continues to keep his batting average up high enough to compensate for his lack of plate discipline. Currently second in the league in hits, Anderson has learned to make his living off the two-bagger, and is on pace to break Earl Webb's 72-year-old record for doubles in a season. Yeah, we know, it's April...but if there's one guy in the majors who could seriously challenge the record, it's Anderson. We'll keep you posted.

    Honorable Mention: Brad Fullmer (.417/.478/.617). Yes, he's technically been more productive than Anderson (.388/.424/.624) up to this point, but the difference in playing time closes the gap between the two players, and then some.

  • Disastrous Performer: Aside from Nick Bierbrodt of the Devil Rays, there hasn't been a worse starter in the American League this season than 2002's Game Seven hero, John Lackey. Of course, with only 24.1 innings under his belt, that statement comes with a relatively large grain of salt--but an 8.51 ERA is an 8.51 ERA.

    Honorable Mention: K-Rod. Yes, it's only 11 innings. Yes, it was only one appearance where he got shelled. But after a September like he had, it's important to remind everyone that even the most talented individuals in the world are still mortal. Well, mostly.

  • Finance/Economics: Just five months after their first World Series championship in franchise history, the Walt Disney Co. has agreed to sell the Anaheim Angels to Phoenix businessman Arturo Moreno for $180 million, making Moreno the first Latino owner in baseball history. Moreno, according to Forbes, is worth an estimated $940 million.

    Needless to say, this $180 million figure is pretty much a bargain for Moreno, as Disney paid $147 million for the team back in 1998, and contributed a sizeable amount of cash to overhaul the stadium and add lots of beautiful fountains. As Doug Pappas notes in his weblog, "Even if one arbitrarily assigns two-thirds of the greater Los Angeles market to the Dodgers and one-third to the Angels, Anaheim's share would be roughly the size of metropolitan Dallas or Detroit....That should be worth more than a $33 million profit on the sale."

  • Streaks: As of this writing, the Angels have allowed at least six runs in each of their last seven games. Their record during that span? Try 2-5. I guess pitching and defense matters a little bit in this game, after all.

Chicago Cubs

  • Star Performer: It is already obvious that Mark Prior is one of the best pitchers in the NL, and will be in the Cy Young race if he can avoid injury. He is often compared with fellow USC Trojan Tom Seaver, but Roger Clemens is also a good comp. Clemens had arm problems his first two partial seasons (1984 and 1985) but was an excellent hurler whenever he took the hill. In 1986, still just 23, he won his first 14 decisions. This is where Prior is right now.

    The major reason for optimism on the North Side this spring was the potential of the young pitchers, and they have been everything the Cubs could have hoped for thus far. The team leads the majors in ERA (2.90), and is averaging more than a strikeout per inning as a staff. Fifth starter Shawn Estes has been roughed up a bit, but will probably get several more chances as long as everyone else is pitching so well.

  • Lineup Changes: Many analysts wondered whether Dusty Baker was the right fit for this young team, and there were quite a few nods of "I told you so" when Bobby Hill was demoted in March and Hee Seop Choi sat out the second and third games of the season, one against a right-handed pitcher. It's hard to fault Dusty about anything thus far. Hill is hitting .210 in Iowa, and Mark Grudzielanek is at .347/.380/.467 as Baker's leadoff hitter. Baker talks like he wants Hill to earn the job, but Hill obviously has not done so.

    Baker has also given Choi 14 of the first 19 starts, even as he slumped in his first few outings, and has been rewarded with Gold Glove-caliber defense and .261/.459/.587 with the stick. Baker has been spotting Eric Karros against pitchers that he has hit well, or when he has felt that Choi needed a breather. Since Karros has been hitting like, well, Eric Karros, Choi is going to be a fixture at first base. Choi's defense is drawing raves from the local media, who had to witness Fred McGriff's act for the prior year-and-a-half. By the way, the only rookie in NL history to walk 100 times: Jim Gilliam for the 1953 Dodgers. Choi has 15 in 14 games.

  • Trade Rumor: Mark Bellhorn has been hanging onto his job by his fingernails all spring, with proven veteran (Lenny Harris) and Friend of Dusty ( Ramon Martinez) available at a moment's notice. The Cubs tried to acquire Joe Randa this off-season, and apparently could have had Shea Hillenbrand had they been willing to part with Juan Cruz.

    Baker stuck with Bellhorn even as he started 1-26. He has gotten hot lately, and is walking a ton, but there seems to be a feeling in management that he would be better suited as a super utility player.

Detroit Tigers

  • Streaks: Detroit opened the season 0-9, getting outscored 54-14. How bad was this performance? It projected to a Pythagorean record of 13-149. The Tigers finally got a win over the White Sox on April 12, but then dropped the next eight and were outscored 44-24 along the way. This left them at 1-17 through Tuesday night, on pace for a 138-loss season. Even the 1988 Orioles managed to finish their 54-107 campaign; of course, a lot of that was due to production from the firm of Ripken, Murray and Lynn. Meanwhile the Tigers have...

  • Disastrous Performance: ...the most anemic offense in the American League. They are scoring just over two runs a game. To put this in perspective, they are being outscored by the next-worst offenses (Indians, Rangers, Twins) at a clip of approximately 1.5 runs per game. The Tigers have bottom-of-the-league production at multiple positions. The most notable are at left field (Dmitri Young, .115/.148/.135) and designated hitter (Dean Palmer, .103/.217/.103). Other sub-Mendoza line contributors include catcher Brandon Inge (.122/.163/.122), shortstop Omar Infante (.136/.191/.227), and third baseman Eric Munson (.175/.250/.375). First-year manager and Tiger hero Alan Trammell has some work ahead of him. He and GM Dave Dombrowski do deserve some early kudos for replacing Damion Easley with Ramon Santiago at second and Shane Halter with Infante at short.

    Their pitching is better. The Tigers are in the worst third of the league in runs allowed, around five and a half per game. This is, however, a run a game better than Toronto, and about 1.5 runs better than Texas and Tampa Bay. Some of the indicators are promising--through his first four starts Mike Maroth had a K/BB ratio of 3.5, and in his first three Gary Knotts was at 2.2. Four of the five starters have allowed 1.35 to 1.6 baserunners an inning. The ringer? Rookie Jeremy Bonderman--who had never pitched above A-ball before this season--who had yielded 2.35 per inning after his first three starts. Steve Sparks may find himself in the rotation before long, biding time and throwing knuckleballs while the Tigers settle on an above-legal-drinking-age-this-time prospect to try next. (Seth Greisinger seems possible, Andy VanHekken, Shane Loux perhaps less so, but the best the magic eight-ball can do is "unclear--try again later.")

  • Star Performer: This month, having an OPS of 700 or above qualifies you as a star on the Detroit Tigers. Center field pickup Gene Kingsale gets the nod over right fielder (and, as of this writing, your predicted 2003 Tiger All-Star) Bobby Higginson due to being the sole Tiger hitter to exceed his BP projected stat line (if just) and for fielding a more difficult position.

  • Upcoming Schedule: The Tigers face the A's and Mariners this week. They scored a few runs against the A's in the opener but may well do worse than two runs a game over these six games. The real test of their offensive mettle will be what they can manage in the subsequent 12 games against Baltimore and league-worst-pitching Tampa Bay. If their pitching is steady, and if they can get a few runs on the board, they could win five or six of these games. Unfortunately, then it's the A's and Mariners at home. Wish 'em luck, folks--your 2003 Detroit Tigers could use some.

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