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May 22, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • Down on the Farm: While previous PTPs have looked solely at the Angels' major-league squad, this week we'll take a look at five minor-leaguers who have distinguished themselves through the first two months of the 2003 campaign. Here they are, in no particular order:

    • Bobby Jenks: Perhaps the most controversial inclusion to BP's 2003 Top 40 Prospects List, Jenks continues to do the two things that he does best: (1) ring up strike three; and (2) issue ball four. The owner of a respectable 3.52 ERA at Double-A Arkansas this season--not to mention a K rate of better than 10.5/9 IP--the main problem with Jenks is his horrific walk rate, which is currently 7.4/9 IP. At 22, he still has room to mature, but until that walk rate comes down it's doubtful that he'll be able to make the jump to the major-leagues with any level of success.

    • Chone Figgins: OK, so at 25, Figgins isn't exactly a prospect. Nevertheless, he's hitting well at Triple-A Salt Lake, especially for a middle infielder (.317/.399/.504). In 140 plate appearances this year, Figgins has already picked up nine triples (So that's where the .504 SLG comes from!) and 12 stolen bases, while being caught only once. Keep in mind though that Salt Lake is a generous hitter's park, which lessens the impact of Figgins' numbers.

    • Nathan Haynes: A former first-round pick by the Oakland Athletics, Haynes is a quick outfielder who is gradually attaining a better command of the strike zone. Currently hitting .328/.413/.496 for Double-A Arkansas, Haynes' strengths as an offensive player fit right in with the Anaheim ideal. In 150 plate appearances in 2003, Haynes has already totaled five triples, while managing to nab 14 stolen bases in 15 attempts. Listed at only 5'9" and 170 lbs., Haynes is something like a scrappier version of Darin Erstad, if that's even possible.

    • Oscar Salazar: Like Figgins, Oscar Salazar is a middle infielder who has, in the past, handled the bat significantly better than he's handled the glove. A combined batting line of .338/.404/.539 between Double- and Triple-A this season seems to confirm that, especially when contrasted against his 10 errors in 43 defensive starts.

    • Kevin Gregg: Less-heralded than Jenks, but probably more ready to contribute to the Big Club, Gregg has been solid this season (47.1 IP, 3.23 ERA, 42 K, 17 BB, 1 HR allowed)--striking out nearly eight batters per nine innings, while walking just a tad above three. The 24-year-old's true test will come when he's promoted past Double-A; in 2002, Gregg surrendered seven homers in just 58.2 IP with Triple-A Sacramento, causing his ERA to shoot up into the 7.50s.

  • Schedule: The Angels took four of six against the Yankees and Red Sox last week, and now head into back-to-back series with the Orioles and Devil Rays. At 6.5 games out of first place, the Angels desperately need to go on a run in order to keep themselves in the hunt. At this time last year, the Angels were 26-17, and 2.5 games out of first place behind the Mariners. Unlike last season, however, both the A's and Mariners are playing well this year, and are unlikely to give up much ground to the defending World Champs over the next few weeks.

  • Star Performer: Brendan Donnelly, 0.00. What else can you say?

Chicago Cubs

  • Manager: On May 8, manager Dusty Baker openly challenged his starting pitchers to go deeper into games. This got quite a bit of play, coming on the heels of the arm injuries suffered by Florida starters A.J. Burnett and Josh Beckett. To be fair, Baker's specific point seemed reasonable, as a look at the rest of the quote reveals: "A number of times we have had to take a lot of guys out after 6 1/3 because their pitch count was so high. I'd like to see us minimize our pitches some." In fact, Kerry Wood had been pulled after six innings in three of his previous four starts, all solid outings, because his pitch counts had crept up too high.

    Unfortunately, in Wood's next start, the very day after Baker's comments hit the papers, the skipper had him throw 141 pitches against the Cardinals. The Cubs were locked in a 1-1 game after six innings, with Wood throwing great for 112 pitches. Wood got through the seventh frame facing just four batters, but it took him 29 more throws, including two epic 11-pitch at-bats by Woody Williams and Fernando Vina. Baker likely was counting on Wood getting through the inning a bit easier, since he had no one warming up.

    After throwing just 90 pitches last night, Wood is now averaging 112 pitches per start, the highest in the major leagues by about three pitches. Baker likely believes that the pitchers he faced 25 years ago were regularly throwing more pitches, and he wants his guys to step up. Deliberately or not, Baker is gambling that Kerry Wood, a great pitcher four years removed from Tommy John surgery, can handle a Big Unit-sized workload. Cubs fans can only cross their fingers.

  • Injury: On May 10, Sammy Sosa hit the disabled list with a sore right big toe. The digit had been bothering him all year, and he finally had the nail removed so that it could heal. It doesn't take much to get some critics to pile on Sosa, so there was some grumbling about the severity of the injury, which was a bit ridiculous. Sosa had missed 24 games in the previous six years, and apparently was in agony much of the early season. After the nail was removed one observer said it looked like "raw meat."

    If that wasn't bad enough, when the Cubs won their first five games without Sosa, the local airwaves were replete with voices who thought the club would be better off without him. What do these people want? Can't we all just agree that he is the best player the Cubs have ever had? Does anyone actually blame Sosa that the Tribune Company hasn't put a team around him?

    No one is saying how long Sosa will be out. As of Tuesday, he couldn't put his shoe on, which would, for one thing, violate a rule. The Cubs are still in first place, but they could use their superstar, and fast.

  • Prospects: After playing himself out of a starting job in spring training, Bobby Hill started poorly for Iowa, but has been hitting better recently. Still, a .253/.331/.355 clip (an MiEqA of .219) is not going to get him recalled any time soon, especially since the Cubs are getting adequate production from Mark Grudzielanek.

    A more interesting story could be Dave Kelton, who is hitting .331 as Iowa's third baseman (MiEqA of .275), after tearing up the Southern League last year. Kelton's defense has always been suspect, but the Cubs have been very unhappy with Mark Bellhorn at third base. Trade rumors have been swirling for months in Chicago, but the Cubs may want to take a look at Kelton instead.

Detroit Tigers

  • Streaks: Two weeks ago, the Tigers were on a four-game winning streak, including a three-game sweep of Baltimore. Unfortunately they lost their next three series with Tampa Bay, Oakland and Seattle, going 2-7, and dropped two more games to Cleveland this week. Their current record is 9-34, although their adjusted Pythagorean projection is 12-31...which would still leave them with the worst record in the majors and on track for 118 losses.

  • Lineup Changes: Hitting continues to be the weak link for this team. Here's the lineup from Tuesday's game, with each man's Value Over Replacement Player:
    
    CF Eugene Kingsale  -1.5
    2B Ramon Santiago   -2.5 
    RF Bobby Higginson  +4.7 
    LF Dmitri Young     +3.7 
    1B Carlos Pena      -0.9 
    3B Eric Munson      +1.6 
    DH Kevin Witt       +1.7 
    SS Shane Halter     -1.8 
    C  Matt Walbeck     -9.3 
    
    

    (Yes, this VORP for Pena is after his three-homer game against Cleveland.)

    The Tigers have the dubious honor of being the only AL team to consistently field a team with a collective negative VORP. What's listed above is actually their best possible lineup. Not appearing in this lineup: Omar Infante (not fielding well and slugging 80 points lower than Halter); Dean Palmer (eight plate appearances by Kevin Witt isn't much of a sample size, but this is a case of addition by subtraction, Palmer was batting .140/.235/.163 before his injury); Brandon Inge (batting .141/.214/.212); Craig Monroe (OPS down 150 points since leaving Baltimore and facing the AL West); and Andres Torres.

    The bus from Toledo to Detroit has been running regularly this year. Perhaps A.J. Hinch will spend some time in a Tiger uniform. He did have some success as a Royal last year, but he's batting a lousy .255/.282/.378 in Toledo. Still, while Hinch's translated stats may not look like much, Walbeck and Inge are the worst-hitting catchers in baseball.

    Meanwhile the Tigers are seventh in the AL with a 4.68 ERA (on pace with the Royals and a full run better than the Rangers), and ninth in opponent OPS (773) in a tight clump with the Orioles (767), Red Sox and Royals (769), Angels (770), and White Sox (774). They are, however, dead last in strikeouts.

  • Empty Ballpark: Here's AL average home game attendance and winning percentage.
    
    Team        Attendance   Win%
    Angels      37,190      .500
    Yankees     36,730      .636
    Mariners    35,921      .651
    Red Sox     31,977      .614
    Rangers     26,604      .442
    Orioles     26,287      .442
    Athletics   23,347      .605
    Twins       21,649      .581
    Royals      21,304      .571
    Blue Jays   19,852      .511
    Indians     19,579      .349
    White Sox   16,781      .455
    Tigers      15,337      .214
    Devil Rays  12,238      .419
    
    

    There may be many ways to occupy yourself on a visit to Comerica Park, but Where's Waldo? certainly isn't one of them. Only devoted fans will shell out 20 bucks on a regular basis to watch the home team go to near-certain defeat.

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