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July 31, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • Fame Audit: Perhaps the funniest and most sharply written site on the Internet--save Baseball Prospectus, of course--FameTracker.com's The Fame Audit is in a class by itself. The premise? Each week, the Fame Audit staff takes a celebrity who we (generally) know and (mostly) love, and puts his/her status through a rigorous and highly subjective evaluation, looking to determine whether or not that person is as famous as he/she deserves to be. Granted, it isn't exactly the most original idea in the world, but thanks to the Fame Audit staff's ability to be absolutely scathing in their assessments, it does make for some pretty entertaining copy.

    Which brings us to Troy Glaus--one-time Star of the Future, but current disappointment. Is the Angel third baseman more famous than he deserves to be? Let's take a look.

    In 2000, Troy Glaus was far and away the best third baseman in the American League. At just the tender age of 23, he exhibited fantastic patience (112 BB, .404 OBP), prodigious power (47 HR, .604 SLG), and even flashed an underrated glove (33 Errors, +10 FRAA). The sky was the limit for this former college shortstop, and many analysts predicted that he would challenge Alex Rodriguez for this generation's title of Best Player In The Game.

    And yet, while A-Rod has progressed to heights that many people thought were unachievable, Glaus' development has remained stagnant. Check it out:

    
    Year  Age   AB  2B  HR   BB   SO   AVG   OBP   SLG
    --------------------------------------------------
    2000   23  563  37  47  112  163  .284  .404  .604
    2001   24  588  38  41  107  158  .250  .367  .531
    2002   25  569  24  30   88  144  .250  .352  .453 
    2003   26  319  17  16   46   73  .248  .343  .464
    
    Granted, he's not a bad ballplayer--or even a league-average one--but whether you're looking at his OBP, batting average, or rate of extra-base hits, these are not positive trends.

    So what's the deal with Glaus? Why does it seem like he's regressing? Well, not surprisingly, at least some of this lack of deveopment can be tied back to his control of the strike zone:

    
    Year	 BB%	SO%
    -------------------
    2000	 17%	25%
    2001	 16%	24%
    2002	 13%	22%
    2003	 12%	20%
    
    
    While he's making more contact than he was as a 23-year-old, he's also walking less. For whatever reason, the big jump seems to have occured after the 2001 campaign, and it's equally reflected in the precipitous decline we saw in his slugging percentage (.531 in 2001, .453 in 2002) as well as Isolated Power (.281 in 2001, .203 in 2002).

    So what about his fame? Does Troy Glaus get more credit than he deserves, thanks to one great performance early on in his career? Is he the baseball equivalent of Edward Norton? Given that the season isn't over with yet, we'll take a pass on rating Big Troy and say that he still has room to turn it around. But watch him closely, people. If that walk rate keeps declining, we might very well be seeing Glaus in Death to Smoochy in the off-season.

Chicago Cubs

  • Contending: One of the most difficult things for a general manager is determining, come mid-July, whether his team is in a position to contend for the playoffs or if he ought to begin working on next year's squad. If you are Billy Beane or Theo Epstein this past week, overseeing very good teams whose October plans are by no means assured, you are looking for impact players that help your club win over the next two or, hopefully, three months. If you are Dave Littlefield, the general manager of the Pirates, you can safely look ahead. For other general managers, the decision is less clear.

    The Chicago Cubs sit at 53-53, sporting the 11th best record in the National League, yet they remain on the fringes of the playoff picture. The Cubs are 4.5 games behind Houston in the NL Central (in third place), and six games back of the Phillies for the wild card (behind six other teams). Although it seems close, with all of the contenders ahead of them the odds of the Cubs actually making the playoffs can't be more than, what, 10%? Less? If they can play .600 baseball the rest of the way they will finish 87-75, which still will likely not be enough.

    To his credit, Jim Hendry has improved his team's odds without mortgaging much of its future. He had the advantage of having several gaping holes. Kenny Lofton and Aramis Ramirez are not star players, but they are huge upgrades on the likes of Lenny Harris and Tom Goodwin, and they came at very little cost. The acquisition of Doug Glanville seems pointless at first glance, but he has been hot lately (.392/.393/.485 in July) and could be a decent platoon partner for Lofton and add much needed depth to the team.

  • Rookie: Dusty Baker seems to have lost patience with rookie first sacker Hee Seop Choi, who has lost the entire first base job to veteran Eric Karros. Although Karros has exceeded most analysts' expectations and Choi has been a disappointment, both judgments have been overstated:
    
               BA   OBP    SP   EQA
    Karros   .325  .386  .506  .305
    Choi     .233  .365  .459  .287
    
    
    Choi plays better defense and is the more likely to improve on his numbers (which are actually right at the league average for a first baseman) in the second half than is Karros. Nonetheless, Jim Hendry recently told the Chicago Sun-Times: "Hee Seop is smart enough to know that if you are in a pennant race and Karros is playing better than him, [Karros] is going to play."

    Upcoming Schedule: The Cubs' schedule the next five weeks are pretty brutal. After finishing up a series with the Giants on Thursday, the Cubs have the following squads on their dance card (all three games series unless noted) through early September:

    • Arizona
    • At San Diego
    • At Los Angeles
    • Houston (4)
    • Los Angeles
    • At Houston
    • At Arizona
    • At St. Louis
    • Milwaukee
    • St. Louis (5)

    They are going to have to play their rears off to remain standing on September 1, when the Cardinals come to town for five contests. If they can somehow remain in the race, their final 23 games are against non-contenders, mainly the bottom feeders of the NL Central.

Detroit Tigers

  • Post-All-Star Blues: The Tigers have gone 3-8 since the All-Star break, losing three series and splitting two games with the Indians. Over these eleven games, the starters have given up an average of 4.64 runs per start--including these brutal three games July 20-22:
    
              Opp  IP   H   R  ER BB K  HR   
    Ledezma   CWS  3.2  12  7  7  0  1  3  
    Bonderman BOS  2.0  8   7  7  1  0  1 
    Maroth    BOS  5.2  10  7  7  4  3  3
    
    
    Jeremy Bonderman rebounded with a one-run, eight-inning start against the Royals, and Nate Cornejo pitched six lights-out innings against the White Sox on July 19 before falling apart in the 7th, but the young arms of the Tigers may be tiring. It should be noted that Trammell and pitching coach Bob Cluck have been responsible with their young charges--Cornejo, Bonderman, Matt Roney, and Wil Ledezma are averaging under 90 pitches per start, and it's not all due to early exits.

    Detroit has scored four runs a game over this same period. This is better than their season average of 3.3 runs, but still leaves them last in the American League by a significant margin--the next two most anemic offenses are Cleveland (4.28 runs/game) and Tampa Bay (4.36). There are a few bright spots here. Bobby Higginson returned from the disabled list and went six-for-12 with two doubles against the Royals. Alex Sanchez is batting .357/.386/.476 since the All-Star break. Eric Munson's OPS dipped in July, but he homered twice against the White Sox and once against Boston. And Dmitri Young continues to slug along, with another three home runs and slugging .568 over the last two weeks.

  • Bullpen Shakeup: The Tigers bullpen hasn't been doing the rotation any favors this year. They have been the second worst in the American League--beating only Boston--in preventing inherited runners from scoring. This week the team pulled the plug on Fernando Rodney (WHIP 2.63, ERA 10.13) and Not-Quite-Back-To-All-Star-Territory Steve Avery (WHIP 1.63, ERA 5.63):
    
                     IP   H   ER  BB  K  HR
    Rodney  July 17  0.0  1   0   1   0  0
                 19  1.0  1   1   1   1  0
                 21  2.0  1   1   2   2  0
                 25  0.1  4   2   0   0  0
    Avery   July 20  2.1  4   2   1   1  2
    
    This opened up roster spots for lefty Eric Eckenstahler (presumably replacing Avery) and Triple Play favorite Shane Loux.

    Jamie Walker and recent callup Chris Mears have been effective short relievers for the Tigers this year. With the addition of Eckenstahler (2.66 ERA, 8.4 K/9, 6.2 H/9 in 40.2 IP at Toledo) and Loux (3.02 ERA in 128 IP), as well as the recent return of Danny Patterson, the Tigers should be able to go to the pen with more confidence in August and September.

  • Prospects: Lefty Nate Robertson is having a great year with the Mud Hens. Among their starters, he is second in ERA (3.40) after Loux with a significantly higher K/9 rate (5.5 vs. 4.1), first in innings pitched (135) and tied for first in starts (20) with Loux. This K/9 rate in particular is an improvement over his AA campaign last year. Robertson was part of the Mark Redman trade with Florida (along with Gary Knotts and fellow prospect Rob Henkel. Henkel is also putting together a nice year for the Erie Sea Wolves (AA). He's 8-2 after twelve starts, with a 3.41 ERA, 2.8 K/BB ratio, and 8.5 K/9.

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