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July 3, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • Take That, Gravity! Despite repeated attempts from the Regression To The Mean Police to bring Jeff DaVanon back down to earth, the switch-hitting outfielder has done nothing but hit since filling in for Darin Erstad back in early May.

    Currently ripping the competition to the tune of .343/.382/.586 with nine stolen bases, DaVanon personifies the much-maligned 'Angel Approach' to the plate--see it, hit it--that has been discussed in various stathead circles across the Web. Of his 48 hits so far this season, 34 of them--or 71%--have been singles, while only 6% of his plate-appearances have resulted in walks. The only aspect of his performance that's been out of the ordinary for Angels is his high strikeout rate--25 in 150 PAs--which puts him on pace for nearly 100 Ks over a full season's worth of play.

    Here at BP there's a tendency to put down scrubs who are having the 150 at-bats of their life. Whether it's Bo Hart batting .500 or Willie Bloomquist slugging .700, sometimes we take it as our duty to rebut the mainstream media when the attention gets too frenzied over three good weeks at the plate. No, DaVanon won't continue to be a world-beater for the rest of the season, but he is for the time being. And you know what? I think that's awesome.

  • Gettin' It Together: Well, it's about time. After what can only be described as a truly horrific first "three" months of the season ("three" because March isn't so much a month as it is a day in the world of MLB), Angels starter John Lackey seems to have rediscovered the ability that earned him a start in Game Seven of last year's World Series against the Giants.
    
    Month     IP  H  R ER HR BB  K   ERA  WHIP  BAA
    -----------------------------------------------
    March    5.0  8  5  5  2  2  2  9.00  2.00 .364   
    April   26.1 37 23 22  5 17 19  7.52  2.05 .333   
    May     36.0 42 22 19  5  4 30  4.75  1.28 .284   
    June    29.2 30 13 13  4  7 23  3.94  1.25 .259   
    July     9.0  4  0  0  0  0  8  0.00  0.44 .129 
    
    

    So what's been the difference? From the looks of it, walks, mainly. Where in April Lackey was walking nearly as many men as he struck out, since then he's been outstanding, posting a K rate of 7.45 per nine innings against a BB rate of 1.34 per nine innings--among the best figures in all of baseball. Going forward, look for Lackey pitch more like he did in June than he did in March and April.

  • Where Credit Is Due: When left to our own devices, statheads will often rant about the importance of plate discipline. We can't help it. Like Rush Limbaugh having a conniption over the supposed liberal bias in the American media, it's just something that we need to do in order to survive. Sure, it might not be the most healthy thing in the world, but hey, neither is the McRib.

    Nevertheless, sometimes we're reminded that the occasional hitter can succeed while walking as often as Eddie Murphy makes a funny movie.

    Enter Garret Anderson. For much of his career, Garret Anderson has been a favorite target for the sabermetrically inclined. Just look at those age 24 and 25 seasons: no discipline, little power, and nearly as many CS as SB. That's a player who should see his value plummet once his batting average drops below .260. What a better person to pile on in order to prove the importance of the base on balls?

    Only that decline in batting average never came for Anderson. In fact, within a few years, he had upped is home runs into the 30s and his doubles into the 40s. Soon his on-base percentage was remaining the same and his slugging percentage was shooting through the roof.

    Now, does this mean that Anderson was a viable MVP candidate in any of those years, as Joe Morgan would have you believe? Well, no. But that doesn't mean he wasn't valuable. He just didn't personify the type of approach that we at BP feel makes the most sense (as Joe Sheehan likes to say, the "take and rake" philosophy), or is most likely to lead to success.

    But what was most likely to happen--Anderson crashing down to earth--didn't. And I think it's time to accept that. Garrett Anderson is a damn fine baseball player, and someone who should remind us that the future is never predetermined, even for those with the data to back it up.

Chicago Cubs

  • Crown Jewels: According to the PAP system, the Cubs pitchers have been more abused than any other pitching staff in the major leagues. (PAP considers several factors, including the pitchers age, recent performance, and number of pitches thrown.) In fact, it is not really close (through Tuesday):
    
    Team        PAP      PAP/Start
    Chi Cubs    273185   3332
    Montreal    166526   2006
    St. Louis   152973   1866
    Baltimore   148073   1828
    NY Yankees  146872   1770
    

    For the Cubs, the abuse is concentrated in Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, the crown jewels of their organization, who have among the "highest" scores in the major leagues. In fact, thanks to a couple of big pitch count outings, Prior is now neck-and-neck with Wood in the coveted race to see which major league hurler can throw the most pitches per start (through Tuesday):

    
    Kerry Wood      17   1905   112.1
    Mark Prior      17   1904   112.0
    Jason Schmidt   16   1777   111.1
    Woody Williams  17   1876   110.4
    Joel Piniero    16   1742   108.9
    

    Prior had pulled ahead last week, but Wood came up with a clutch 126-pitch effort on Sunday to retake the lead. As long as these guys keep pitching well, and their arms stay attached to their torsos, this race could come down to the wire. With the fifth best ERA in the major leagues, Dusty Baker is likely to keep managing the way he has been. The rest of us can only cross our fingers.

  • Offense: It appears that the Cubs waffled on acquiring Mike Lowell long enough so that he is now off the market. It first appeared that the club had put this story behind them when they dealt Mark Bellhorn to the Rockies for Jose Hernandez on June 20. Since Baker has shown no particular affinity for giving Hernandez the job at the hot corner either, the trade really was just a way to get rid of Bellhorn, who hit 27 home runs and drew 76 walks last year, but was on a very short leash all season in Wrigley. If it is true that the Cubs could have had Lowell for Bobby Hill, who the Cubs don't seem to want, and Juan Cruz, who is just as likely to blow out his arm as he is to ever win 15 games, they might live to regret it.

    Because the offense (12th in the league in runs) is not very good. They have gotten terrible production out of third base or catcher (where Damian Miller is hitting .222/307/.360), and only Sammy Sosa and Corey Patterson can be said to be having the kinds of seasons you want a division contender to be filled with.

  • Upcoming Schedule: In the last Cubs' Triple Play, we suggested that the team could make some headway with a relatively soft stretch of games ahead. The Northsiders were not paying attention, however, as they ran off a grisly 4-9 stretch since our suggestion. Six of those games were against their crosstown rivals, who we thought might be a soft touch, but who won four of the six contests. The White Sox have vaulted back in to pseudo-contention, thanks partially to their friendly neighbors.

    After today's finale in Philadelphia, the Cubs come home for ten games against the Cardinals, the suddenly interesting Marlins, and the Braves, leading into the All Star break. The Cubs are currently in a three-way tie for first place, so it need not be said how important every series is from now on.

Detroit Tigers

  • It's Not The Rotation: The Tigers started off the month of July with two consecutive wins over the Blue Jays. These were their first back-to-back wins--and first series win--in just under a month (June 3 and 4 against the Padres). This also followed a 0-9 stretch against the Rockies, Red Sox, and Diamondbacks.

    The starting pitching is not the problem. Here are the nine consecutive losses (and note that the Matt Roney starts were his first two MLB starts).

    
    Date     SP         Opp   IP   H   ER  HR  BB  K   Result   
    June 21  Roney      COL   3.2  4    2   0   3   1  L  9 - 6
         22  Bernero    COL   6    6    5   0   2   5  L  5 - 3
         23  Bonderman  BOS   6    8    2   0   0   2  L  3 - 1
         24  Cornejo    BOS   4    10   6   0   3   0  L 10 - 1
         25  Maroth     BOS   7    7    2   1   2   4  L 11 - 2
         26  Roney      BOS   3.2  7    5   1   3   2  L  6 - 4
         27  Bernero    ARI   6.1  6    4   0   4   2  L  8 - 3
         28  Bonderman  ARI   6    7    3   0   0   5  L  7 - 0
         29  Cornejo    ARI   6.1  7    2   0   2   2  L  5 - 3
    Total                              31                64  23 
    

    Nate Cornejo still can't throw a strikeout to save his life, and his ERA has, indeed, caught up with him, but it's a shame to see that pitching line from June 29 go squandered. There's blame to go around here--in these nine games, the Tigers bullpen gave up more runs than the Tigers offense scored.

    Fortunately in the Toronto series the Tigers were able to capitalize on two good starts:

    
    Date     SP         IP   H   ER  HR  BB  K   Result   
    June 30  Maroth     7    8   2   0   1   4   W 6 - 2    
    July 1   Roney      7    1   0   0   2   4   W 5 - 0
         2   Bernero    3.1  7   5   2   0   0   L 8 - 2    
    

  • Front Office Comment: Could Eric Munson end up behind the plate? The Detroit Free Press reported the following quote from Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski "Because of a lack of production at the position, the thought of trying Eric [Munson] as a catcher has come up occasionally in our meetings [...]"

    This is an intriguing option since, as the Freep article points out, Munson was a college catcher at USC. A quick statistical comparison shows that Munson would be a substantial improvement (offensively) over this year's Tigers catchers:

    
    Player     OBP  SLG  OPS
    Munson     309  418  727
    Hinch      194  353  547
    Walbeck    143  200  343
    Inge       225  275  500
    

    However, the quote continued, "But it's not something to think about right now. We'll sit down in the winter and look at all of our options."

  • Lineup Changes: Warren Morris has stuck at second base, batting .325/.440/.765 in June. This puts him squarely in the middle of AL second basemen in VORP. He essentially replaces demoted, light-hitting shortstop Omar Infante in the lineup, and Infante's trip to Toledo cleared roster space for Carlos Peņa.
Related Content:  Chicago Cubs,  Detroit Tigers,  Cubs,  The Who,  Detroit

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