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August 28, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • How Low Can You Go?: Pretty damn low, apparently.

    Despite a second-half that's seen him revert into something of a pumpkin (16.2 IP, 4.32 ERA, .302 BAA), Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly has still managed to put together one of the most auspicious beginnings to a career in recent memory. As of Wednesday evening, Donnelly had lowered his season ERA to a microscopic 1.39, and his career ERA to an equally impressive 1.73--the lowest in baseball history for a pitcher with a minimum of 100 innings. Check it out:

    Lowest Career ERA, Minimum 100 IP

    
    Pitcher                      ERA   Innings
    ------------------------------------------
    1.  Brendan Donnelly        1.73     113.1 *
    2.  Ed Walsh                1.82    2965.0
    3.  Addie Joss              1.89    2327.1
    4.  Jack Pfiester           2.02    1067.2
    5.  Joe Wood                2.03    1437.1
    6.  Three Finger Brown      2.06    3172.1
    7.  Chick Brandom           2.08     108.1
    8.  Buttons Briggs          2.08     445.1
    9.  Rube Waddell            2.13    2868.1
    10. Christy Mathewson       2.13    4780.1
    
    
    If the names listed below Donnelly are not ringing a bell, it's probably because they played before your time. And your father's time. And in some cases, your grandfather's time. In fact, apart from Donnelly, there isn't a pitcher in the top 10 who played his final season after 1920, and thus benefitted from the most run-depressive period in baseball history, the Dead Ball Era.

    Not surprisingly, when you take the threshold to 1950, the gap between Donnelly and the next closest pitcher gets even larger.

    Lowest Career ERA Since 1950, Minimum 100 IP

    
    Pitcher                      ERA   Innings
    ------------------------------------------
    1.  Brendan Donnelly        1.73     113.1 *
    2.  Bryan Harvey            2.49     387.0
    3.  Jeff Calhoun            2.51     150.2
    4.  Larry Bradford          2.51     104.0
    5.  Hoyt Wilhelm            2.52    2253.0
    6.  Mariano Rivera          2.60     579.0
    7.  Pedro Martinez          2.62    1892.0
    8.  Cy Acosta               2.65     187.0
    9.  Tom Henke               2.67     789.2
    10. Dave Smith              2.67     809.1
    
    
    Oh, did I say gap? I meant: deep, abyssal chasm.

    Despite the presence of such Hall-of-Famers and soon-to-be Hall-of-Famers as Hoyt Wilhelm and Pedro Martinez, there are actually a number pitchers on this list who are comparable to Donnelly. Bryan Harvey, after all, was also a member of the Halos before becoming an inaugural Marlin. Larry Bradford, Cy Acosta, and Jeff Calhoun were relievers who didn't get regular work until they were in their late-20s, only to prove immediately effective. And ditto Tom Henke--the only other pitcher from this shortened list to grab a World Series ring, as Donnelly did in 2002.

    In fact, of all the pitchers in the top 10 since 1950, it's Henke's career path that I can see Donnelly most closely emulating--lots of saves, and regular employment until his late-30s. Current Angels closer Troy Percival isn't getting any younger or less expensive, after all. If Anaheim allows him to leave after 2004, it would seem only natural that Donnelly would get an opportunity to become the closer (and thus a nice, tidy contract to go with it).

    And ultimately, that's what's most amusing about Brendan Donnelly. Like Chris Hammond before him, here is a reliever who was literally picked out of the scrap heap, only to turn into one of the most effective hurlers in the game. The lesson organizations learn from this? Is it that relievers are fungible, and that you should rarely pay one more than the minimum because there are likely a dozen others just like him, waiting to put up similar numbers for significantly less money? No. The lesson organizations learn is that pitchers like Chris Hammond are great, and that they should be paid millions of dollars to ply their trade.

    And you know what? I've got a feeling that that's just fine with Brendan Donnelly.

Chicago Cubs

  • Management: Let's face it, many of us were worried that Dusty Baker was not the right manager for the Chicago Cubs, a team with a young and talented pitching staff and a few bright position prospects. What this club needed, it seemed, was a manager who would treat his young arms with care, and who could patiently work his rookies into the lineup. The Cubs hired Baker, an exceedingly successful manager, granted, but one who did not have a solid reputation in either of these two critical areas.

    As feared, Baker is working his young arms like Simon Legree, waging a tight race with the Expos to have the most abused pitching staff in baseball according to PAP. (Last years winner? Baker's Giants.) Although Mark Prior have been spectacular, there is some concern surrounding erstwhile staff ace Kerry Wood. After a brilliant 130-pitch two-hit shutout on July 19, he slumped to 1-4, 7.31 in the subsequent six starts. Last night he threw seven shutout innings, but also 125 pitches. It need not be said how important Wood is to the Cubs playoff hopes.

    The rookies that Baker needed to coddle are no longer a threat: Hee Seop Choi is in Iowa, and Bobby Hill is in Nashville, both losing jobs to wily veterans: Eric Karros and Mark Grudzielanek. Likely hearing some of the criticism that he favored more experienced players, Baker has spent much of the summer hauling in more veterans: Jose Hernandez (since departed), Kenny Lofton, Doug Glanville, and, most recently, Randall Simon and Tony Womack. Simon and Aramis Ramirez are the Cubs' only position players, including those on the bench, who have not yet turned 30.

    Do you ever get the idea that Dusty is just toying with us? Its as if he wants to show how great of a manager he is by deliberately fielding mediocre players. Rumor has it that Baker has been trying to acquire Gerald Williams, Mike Lum and Chico Salmon.

  • Windy City Madness: The last time Chicago's two major league teams were in first place at the same time after September 1 was in 1906.

  • Upcoming Schedule: The Cubs are 21-16 since the All-Star break, despite having played an extremely difficult schedule. Only three of their 37 games have been against a below .500 team. Things are about the change. The reason that BP's Odds Report continues to favor the Cubs is that their remaining schedule is very soft. Here are their remaining games, beginning tomorrow:
    
    Milwaukee (3)
    St. Louis (5)
    @Milwaukee (3)
    @Montreal (San Juan) (4)
    Cincinnati (3)
    New York (3)
    @Pittsburgh (4)
    @Cincinnati (3)
    Pittsburgh (3)
    
    
    If the Cubs' four starters keep pitching regularly and well, they are the team to beat.

Detroit Tigers

  • On The Mound: The Tigers had an eleven game losing streak Aug 13-24. Here's what their starting pitchers accomplished over this stretch (including an aggregate 6.31 ERA):
    
            Starter   IP    H  ER  BB  SO  HR
    Aug 13  Maroth     5    8   6   0   1   2
    Aug 14  Roney      2    5   3   2   1   1
    Aug 15  Cornejo    7    6   2   3   2   0
    Aug 16  Ledezma    4.1  6   6   1   3   0
    Aug 17  Bonderman  5    8   4   1   1   2
    Aug 18  Robertson  8.1  8   2   0   8   1
    Aug 19  Maroth     6.1  7   3   2   5   1
    Aug 20  Cornejo    6    7   4   0   2   1
    Aug 21  Loux       5    8   4   2   1   1
    Aug 22  Bonderman  7    7   5   3   6   2
    Aug 23  Robertson  6    6   3   3   5   0
    Aug 24  Maroth     5    8   5   1   2   2
            TOTAL     67   84  47  18  37  13
    
    
    A few noteworthy things here. The starts above were the last for Matt Roney and Wil Ledezma. Their rotation slots have been filled by Nate Robertson and Shane Loux in. Robertson certainly looks like an upgrade so far; that eight inning, eight strikeout game was against the Rangers. Loux, by contrast, has an August ERA of 6.16 - but this is still better than Roney and Ledezma were doing. However, Loux left his August 27 start after two innings with a shoulder injury, which could bring Gary Knotts back from Toledo, which would almost bring the Tigers rotation full circle. The pitching staff has seen a few other changes lately, including the return of semi-flammable, high heat hurlin' relievers Franklyn German (35 walks in 33.2 IP this year) and Fernando Rodney (21 hits in 11.2 IP).

    Finally, the Jeremy Bonderman shut-down clock is ticking. His record is presently 6-17. He could split or even win both of his next two starts against Cleveland, depending on what kind of support he gets, but then come games against Kansas City (twice), Toronto, and Minnesota.

  • The Hot Corner: Eric Munson went on the DL earlier this month after fracturing his left thumb. His replacement, Danny Klassen, has been batting .250/.286/.425, at first glance not much of a drop from Munson's season numbers of .240/.312/.441 (and these closely resemble Munson's PECOTA 50th percentile projections for 2003). However, Munson slugged .559 after the All-Star Break. He stands out on this team, has improved over the year, and would appear to be one of the building blocks for the future. He was the eighth-ranked AL third baseman before his injury and his comps include Mo Vaughn, David Ortiz, and Cliff Floyd (let's hope for their bats more than their injury histories). Losing Munson and plugging in Klassen weakens the infield--already weak with Ramon Santiago and/or Shane Halter at short.

    (An aside: wouldn't Klassen look great on the Mariner bench? Ex-Diamondback? Check. Utility man, not so much of a bat? Check.)

  • Behind The Plate: Brandon Inge is playing for his job and it is paying off so far. His August batting average is 200 points higher than in the next closest month this year:
    
            AB   BA    OBP   SLG
    April   54  .148  .242  .148
    May     71  .155  .195  .380
    June    39  .128  .244  .256
    August  70  .357  .392  .571
    
    
    Since his first appearance as a Tiger two years ago, he has really only had one month even close to this--June 2002:
    
    June02  81  .259  .302  .506  
    
    
    It will be interesting to see how long Inge can sustain this level of production. The Tigers certainly can use the hits.
Related Content:  Chicago Cubs,  Detroit Tigers,  The Who,  Detroit

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