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June 5, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • I'm Looking Through You: At first glance, the Anaheim Angels of 2003 do not appear to be a terribly different team than they were a year ago. Where last year's team finished second in the league in ERA, the current staff ranks fifth. Where the 2002 Angels ran mostly a Run & Shoot offense that centered around putting the ball in play, this year's Angels have followed suit. And where last year's team bunted and stole bases like they were going out of style, this year's Angels have continued the trend.
    
                Pitching                 Hitting
    
    Year    K/9  BB/9  HR/9    AVG   OBP   SLG   SB/G   SB%
    -------------------------------------------------------
    2002    6.1   3.1   1.0   .282  .341  .433   0.73   70%
    2003    5.9   3.1   1.2   .285  .349  .442   0.98   69%
    
    
    And yet, something is different. Where last season the Anaheim Angels were playing .600 baseball and fighting for sole possession of first place, this year's team is struggling to stay above .500, and is currently 9.5 games behind the division-leading Mariners. Have they just been victims of bad luck? Or did Joe Sheehan finally get ahold of the Rally Monkey and pass him off to some of his childhood cronies?

    The answer, as far as I can tell, lies in the Angels' team defense. Where in 2002 the Halos were the best team in baseball at converting batted-balls into outs, this year's team is far less adept--currently ranking 17th in the majors, overall. Talk about falling off the table.

    But why?

  • Injury: ...How about the prolonged absence of center fielder Darin Erstad?

    Erstad, after all, has been gone since the end of April with a strained hamstring. Reports originally said that he'd be back in the lineup within two weeks' time, but after a number of setbacks, two weeks has now turned into more than a month.

    It all makes sense, though, once you consider that the Anaheim is--for the second year in a row--last in the American League in GB/FB ratio, at 0.96-to-one. As a team that relies so heavily on the ability of its outfield defense to catch fly balls, the Angels are in a position to be hurt more than almost any other team in the league by the absence of a plus defender.

    Of course, this is not to say that Erstad's return will mean a return to the top of the Defensive Efficiency charts for the Angels. Sixteen spots, after all, is a boatload. However, don't be surprised if you see the Angels cut their current ranking in half by the end of the year. For as much flak as we give Erstad for hitting like a girl, he's a legitimately good defender, and an asset to a team like the Angels.

Chicago Cubs

  • Prospect: A fortnight ago, we reported that third baseman Dave Kelton was mashing the ball in Iowa and might get a shot to fill the Cubs' hole at the hot corner. Um, scratch that. Kelton is still mashing the ball, but he is now a left fielder, apparently at his own request, a la Chipper Jones. He had made 11 errors for Iowa in the first six weeks of the season, and the belief that he was hurting the team was weighing heavily on him. He ought to know, but this undoubtedly significantly delays his arrival at Wrigley Field, as Moises Alou is signed through 2004. Assuming the transition to fly chasing goes smoothly, Kelton is now looking at a 2005 arrival in the lineup although he could certainly stick next year in a reserve role.

  • Third Base: Mark Bellhorn hit 27 home runs with 76 walks last year without apparently impressing anyone in Chicago, but his .221 with no power act has the Cubs trolling for a replacement. Lenny Harris has played 20 games over there and has, somewhat predictably, hit even worse than Bellhorn. The trade rumors involving Shea Hillenbrand and Mike Lowell have constituted the longest running drama in Chicago since Chris Kahrl's pursuit of the perfect tequila bar. Hillenbrand is off the board, and the most prevalent Lowell rumor calls for the Cubs to trade Bobby Hilland Juan Cruz. The Cubs remain reluctant to part with Cruz (who was just demoted to Iowa), and the Marlins aren't quite read to part with Lowell, who is having a great year. Since the Marlins don't have any semblance of a clue, the Cubs should not hold their breath.

    Adrian Beltre could apparently be had for lesser prospects, although other than a perverse fascination with seeing how long the decline can continue, its difficult to see the point. Dusty Baker has also openly discussed the idea of bringing Matt Williams aboard. Dusty managed Williams back in the Paleozoic Era, and calls Williams one of his favorite players. Williams has been designated for assignment, and will be a free agent if not traded by June 11. Unless they can pry Lowell free before then, Williams will likely get the call.

  • Cork: Sammy Sosa's explanation for his corked bat, that it was a batting practice bat that he had never used in a game before, harkens back memories of Graig Nettles, whose broken bat in a game in 1974 caused a bunch of superballs to come flying out. Nettles explained that a fan had given him the bat and that it was the very first time he had ever used it. Amos Otis and Norm Cash both admitted after their careers that they were regular bat tamperers, although neither were ever caught.

    Before Sammy Sosa, the last major league player caught with cork in his bat was Wilton Guerrero in 1997, which is compelling evidence that it doesn't actually help. The last real hitter caught was Albert Belle in 1994. With Belle, everyone pretty much assumed he was a cheating louse, and this incident will always be part of his legacy. Everyone loves Sosa, so it's difficult to predict how this will play out.

Detroit Tigers

  • Streaks: Over the last two weeks, the Tigers have gone 7-5, improving their record from 9-35 to 16-40. They won a road series against the sputtering White Sox and have taken two from the Padres so far this week. It also took the Yankees 17 innings (and Steve Sparks' arm falling off at the end of 7.2 relief innings) to win the May 30-June 1 series in Comerica.

    However, the first game of the Yankees series was more typical of your 2003 Tigers. This was Jose "El Suque" Contreras's first start of the year and the Tigers laid out the welcome mat, producing two hits, six strikeouts, and no runs in seven innings. This start lowered Contreras's ERA to a Jeff Weaveresque 5.40 and his opponents' batting average to .203. In a cruel twist of fate, Contreras's start pushed ex-Tiger Weaver into the bullpen.

  • Noteworthy Prospects: Shane Loux has an ERA of 1.96 after 10 starts (and 69 innings pitched) for Toledo. This is picking up where he left off; he had a strong second half last year. He has lasted six or more innings in seven of his starts, and note the three-hit, complete game shutout of the Ottawa Lynx (Orioles) on May 28. Loux gave up 14 runs in three starts for the Tigers last September, but may earn another cup of coffee if he keeps up this pace.
    
              IP   H  R  ER BB SO
    April 8   5    2  0  0  3  5
    April 14  6    4  3  0  1  2
    April 19  6.2  8  1  1  0  2
    April 26  6    2  0  0  3  1
    May 2     4.1  8  5  5  2  4
    May 7     7    8  3  3  1  1
    May 12    8    7  1  1  0  3
    May 17*   5    3  1  1  1  1
    May 23    5    5  3  3  2  3
    May 28    9    3  0  0  2  1
    June 2    7    5  2  1  0  5
    *in relief
    
    

  • Amazing Game:
    
    Sunday, June 1
    
    New York Yankees at Detroit Tigers
    
    FINAL    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 R  H  E  
    YANKEES  0 1 3 0 3 1 0 0 0 0  0  0  0  0  0  0  2  10 14 3  
    TIGERS   0 1 0 0 5 0 2 0 0 0  0  0  0  0  0  0  1  9  14 2
    
    W: Wells (7-2)   L: Sparks (0-2)   S: Acevedo (6)
    
    
    Fans probably started turning off the game in the middle of the fifth inning. Tigers down 7-1 to the Yankees, Roger Clemens on the mound, Tigers scoring an average of three runs a game..."Game over!" However, the Tigers closed to 7-6 in the bottom of the 5th by virtue of a Gene Kingsale home run, consecutive errors by Derek Jeter and Alfonso Soriano, three other base hits, a walk and a wild pitch. After the sixth inning it was bullpen versus bullpen--Matt Roney, Jamie Walker, and Chris Spurling kept it close and took the game into extra innings.

    Skip ahead to the 10th. Franklyn German starts off the inning with two walks and is pulled. Steve Avery gets one out but walks another batter and is yanked. The bases are loaded who's left in the bullpen? Steve Sparks, who just pitched 3 2/3 innings in relief on Friday. Sparks gets the next two outs and ends up in a pitching duel with David Wells...until the 17th inning, when he gives up two solo homers to Soriano and Jorge Posada. Too bad about the loss, but a hell of a game.

  • Star Performer: Dmitri Young had a horrible April, but his May OPS was almost 500 points higher. He has five home runs in his last eight games. He hit for extra bases in eight of the Tigers' eleven May wins. He leads the Tigers in almost every statistical category (Bobby Higginson edges him in on-base percentage).
    
            AVG   OBP   SLG    OPS
    April  .182  .250  .312   .562
    May    .355  .417  .636  1.052
    June   .308  .400  .923  1.323
    
    
    Eric Munson and Higginson deserve some kind of honorable mention role for being basically league-average at their positions; pretty good compared to their teammates.

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