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June 19, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • I Think I'm Gonna Hurl: While there are a number of differences between the 2002 and 2003 versions of the Anaheim Angels, the greatest disparity comes in the performance of their respective pitching staffs. Where in 2002 the Angels fielded one of the best rotations in all of baseball--a group that finished third in the league in Support-Neutral Value Added (SNVA)--this year's staff has done nothing but struggle, and is currently fourth from the bottom in SNVA, just a notch ahead of the Tigers.

    What's interesting about this collapse, however, is the way that it's managed to occur on all fronts. From decreased strikeout rates to increased walk rates to hits-allowed numbers reminiscent of The Glendon Rusch Experience, the Anaheim rotation seems to have found a way to get worse at everything--even the stuff it can't control. Check it out:

    
    2002 Rotation              IP  H/9  BB/9  SO/9  HR/9    ERA     RA
    ------------------------------------------------------------------
    Jarrod Washburn         206.0  8.0   2.6   6.1   0.8   3.15   3.28
    Ramon Ortiz             217.3  7.8   2.8   6.7   1.6   3.77   4.02
    Kevin Appier            188.3  9.1   3.1   6.3   1.0   3.92   4.25
    John Lackey             108.3  9.4   2.7   5.7   0.8   3.66   4.32
    Aaron Sele              160.0 10.7   2.8   4.6   1.1   4.89   5.18
    
    
    2003 Rotation             IP   H/9  BB/9  SO/9  HR/9    ERA     RA
    ------------------------------------------------------------------
    Jarrod Washburn         97.3   8.3   2.3   4.5   1.3   3.61   3.70
    Ramon Ortiz             83.0  10.5   2.6   4.4   1.9   5.10   6.18
    Kevin Appier            66.0   8.9   4.0   5.0   1.4   5.05   5.05
    John Lackey             85.7  11.2   2.8   7.1   1.6   5.78   6.20
    Aaron Sele              33.7  11.5   3.7   4.3   1.9   7.22   7.75
    
    

    Tateriffic, no? Where in 2002 the Angels were among the least homered-upon teams in the American League, in 2003 they're among the most. This, of course, an extreme negative, especially when one takes into account the fact that the Angels are allowing an increased number of baserunners from a year ago.

    And where are those baserunners coming from? In large part, from the increased number of hits allowed.

    Now I know what you're thinking. This is the part of the PTP where I'm supposed to go on my rant on how defense has been historically underrated by performance analysts, and how the Angels' low Defensive Efficiency rating is, in reality, the culprit for their high ERAs.

    Except that's not the case. Or it at least doesn't appear to be on the surface. The Angels are, after all, fifth in the AL in Defensive Efficiency--just a few spots down from where they finished in 2002. They're also second in the American League in Zone Rating, down one spot from where they were a year ago.

    So what's the deal? If the defense is peforming just fine, then why have Anaheim starters given up so many frickin' hits? The answer, I believe, lies in a further breakdown of their fielding-independent statistics. Check out the BIPR and DER figures for the Angels pitching staff, divided into starters and relievers:

    
    Starter         BIPR    Reliever        BIPR
    --------------------    --------------------
    Lackey          .336    Percival        .188    
    Sele            .302    K-Rod           .212
    Ortiz           .295    Donnelly        .236
    Appier          .245    Weber           .269
    Washburn        .241    Shields         .289
                            Schoeneweis     .329
                            Callaway        .344
    
    DER             .717    DER             .734
    

    As I suspected, Anaheim starters have received noticably worse support from its defense than Anaheim relievers, thus skewing the overall result. In all likelihood this is due to the rotation's severe penchant for fly balls, and thus their reliance on an Erstadless outfield defense, which are more likely to turn into extra-base hits than balls hit on the ground.

    Of course, none of this is to say that -.020 of Defensive Efficiency is the sole cause for the Anaheim rotation's poor showing. However, it is to say that defense and pitching are inextricably linked--and when one end goes down the tubes, so does the other.

Chicago Cubs

  • Third Base: For the time being, Mark Bellhorn is getting most of the time at third base, since Lenny Harris has flunked the opportunity that he really did not deserve in the first place. Harris is down to .170/.247/.227, which seems to have pushed even Dusty Baker over the brink. Bellhorn is still not hitting (.209, .341, .317), and Baker seems to have forgotten that he hit 27 HRs and drew 76 walks last season. If Bellhorn is replaced, which seems inevitable at this point, he will not have received the chance he deserved to keep his job.

    Meanwhile, erstwhile third base prospect Dave Kelton is no longer a third baseman, while second base prospect Bobby Hill has been getting time at the hot corner. Kelton was shifted to left field in Iowa, and within a few days found himself in Chicago, summoned when Hee Seop Choi was injured. Eight at bats (two hits) later, Kelton was back in AAA. There was a lot of speculation that Kelton was being brought up to DH, since his recall coincided with a road trip to Baltimore and Toronto, but Dusty Baker chose to DH Moises Alou instead.

    Meanwhile, Hill was moved to third base for a few games and then recalled on Monday. Like Kelton, he was apparently just brought up to pinch hit, although he was not hitting particularly well in AAA, and is not the type of player Baker pinch hits with. He did get the call Monday night, and promptly struck out.

  • Pitching: The Cubs continue to lead the NL Central, for which they can thank their pitching. Their ERA of 3.57 is second in the circuit to the Dodgers (2,87) and well ahead of third place Philadelphia (3.83). The strength of the staff has been their top three starting pitchers--Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano. Prior has taken his rightful place among the elite of the league (8-2, 2.71), Wood has been less consistent (6-5, 3.06), but has been positively brilliant in half his starts. Last night's 108-pitch three-hitter was just the latest example. Zambrano, the least heralded of the three, has also had the worst luck, as his eight-inning, four-hit no decision on Tuesday exemplifies. His numbers (5-6, 3.11) are close to Wood's, and is his Support Neutral W-L record.

    The bullpen has also been top notch. Joe Borowski has continued to pitch well in his new, supposedly stressful role. Kyle Farnsworth, Antonio Alfonseca, Mike Remlinger-all have pitched well. Baker deserves credit for the job he has done with this group.

  • Upcoming Schedule: After finishing up a 10-game road trip today in Cincinnati, the Cubs play six at home against the White Sox and Brewers and then head to the South Side to play their big "rivals" for three more. With Sammy Sosa back last night, and Choi returning sometime next week, the Cubs could make some headway. The division race is likely going to go into late September, but an occasional 7-3 stretch could keep them in the driver's seat

Detroit Tigers

  • Lineup Changes: Why mess with success? When you've got Alan Trammell and Lance Parrish in the lineup, and a rotation anchored by Jack Morris and Dan Petry... Oh, wait, that's the 1984 Tigers. This year's model looks a little different, and injuries and lackluster performance have resulted in many shifts over the last two weeks.

    • Catcher: The Toledo-Detroit bus stopped by Comerica Park on June 17. A.J. Hinch got off and Brandon Inge took his place for the return trip. Inge did have time for a commanding 0-for-3, two strikeout performance against the Indians before catching the Mud Hen Express. It was easy to see this one coming--Inge has been at the bottom of the AL catcher VORP column all season with offensive production worthy of Brad Ausmus:
      
              BA   OBP  SLG  OPS
      April  .148 .242 .148 .390   
      May    .155 .195 .380 .575   
      June   .128 .244 .256 .501    
      
      
      Hinch has been adequate in Toledo (.261/.317/.436) and adequate would be a big step forward for the Tigers at this position.

    • First Base: Carlos Pena went on the DL retroactive to June 2 with a hamstring injury and his ETA is not clear. In his absence the tigers have been playing Shane Halter and feared power hitter Kevin Witt at first. This is a net minus:
      
               OPS
      Pena    .819 (May)
      Halter  .635 (June)
      Witt    .738 (June)
      
      
    • Second Base: Warren Morris was called up to get another LH bat in the lineup after Pena went on the DL. Morris went seven-for-10 in two starts against the Rockies on June 14 and 15, hitting a triple off Jason Jennings and a home run off Scott Elarton. His June OPS is .913, well ahead of Ramon Santiago's .584, and second on the team after the sizzling...

    • Third Base: ...Dmitri Young, hitting .341/.442/.747 in June. Young has been playing a lot of third base while Eric Munson recovers from a groin strain.

    • Outfield: Another important Tigers story in June is the state of Bobby Higginson's left hamstring. After batting .314/.413/.431 in May, his injury has limited him to 44 AB and .145/.196/.146 in June. For a team batting .221, and a team with - by a 30 run margin--the fewest runs scored in baseball, Higginson's injury is a serious blow.

    • Rotation: Matt Roney has bumped Gary Knotts into the bullpen. A quick comparison of the two pitchers makes this seem reasonable.
      
              ERA   WHIP   BAA
      Knotts  4.65  1.45  .256
      Roney   3.00  1.14  .205
      
      
      But was Knotts really the right candidate? Unlike Mike Maroth, Jeremy Bonderman, and Adam Bernero, at least Knotts has an ERA under 5.00. Let's look a little closer at that last one:
      
               IP    H   BB  K   WHIP   SLG  GB/FB  ERA 
      Knotts   71.2  71  33  35  1.45  .391  1.05   4.65
      Bernero  84.0  85  33  47  1.40  .450  1.01   5.68 
      
      
      Looks like this call comes down to strikeouts. In a side note, this move does put three former first round picks in the rotation--Bonderman, Cornejo, and now Roney.

  • Interleague Play: After their encouraging series against the Yankees, the Tigers started interleague play with two victories against the Padres. Unfortunately, they lost the next eight games in a row, including sweeps by the Giants and Dodgers. Their current record is 17-50, although they are playing 21-win ball. They had a chance to pick up one game from the Giants on June 8 when they knocked Damian Moss out with 6 earned runs in 3 innings. Unfortunately, Ramon Santiago and Dmitri Young made back-to-back errors in the 8th inning, followed by two costly doubles off of Franklyn German which put the Giants ahead for good, 7-6.

  • Draft: For the third time in the last four years, the Tigers drafted a pitcher in the first round. Kyle Sleeth (Wake Forest ) had a 31-6, 3.47 ERA senior year. Sleeth is a 6'5" right-handed pitcher with a mid-90s fastball. For his sake let's hope he avoids injury and has a career trajectory more like former Tigers first round pick Jeff Weaver (1998) than Seth Greisinger (1996), Matt Anderson (1997), or Matt Wheatland (2000).

    The Tigers also drafted high school pitchers in the second and fourth rounds after misplacing the team copy of Moneyball. In the third round, however, they managed to find a position player to draft, Anthony Giarratano, a junior shortstop from Tulane.

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