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September 25, 2003

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • Action Failed: And so it goes. Despite entering the season the as favorites in the AL West in many people's eyes, the Anaheim Angels have become just the 11th team since 1960 to finish below .500 the year after winning a World Series (they lost their 82nd game last Friday). The other underachievers? Check 'em out:
    
    Team		Champ	WPct	After	WPct
    --------------------------------------------
    Marlins         1997    .568    1998    .333
    Blue Jays	1993	.586	1994	.478
    Reds		1990	.562	1991	.457
    Dodgers		1988	.580	1989	.475
    Royals		1985	.562	1986	.469
    Cardinals	1982	.568	1983	.488
    Orioles		1966	.599	1967	.472
    Cardinals	1964	.574	1965	.497
    Dodgers		1963	.611	1964	.494
    Pirates		1960	.617	1961	.487
    
    

  • Funky Butt-Lovin': His name's been absent from virtually all discussion of the award, but Francisco Rodriguez has one of the best relievers in the American League this season, and should receive a good deal of support in the Rookie of the Year voting at the end of the month.

    The reason he's being left out of most discussions? People forget that he's a rookie. After appearing in just 5.2 regular-season innings in 2002, K-Rod went on to have one of the most prolific postseasons for a relief pitcher in recent memory, going 5-1 with an ERA of 1.93 while tallying 28 strikeouts in just 18.2 innings of work.

    Of course, it's not as if Rodriguez is all alone among AL rookies in 2003. The competition is most certainly there:

    
    NAME		       TEAM  POS   VORP
    ---------------------------------------
    Berroa_Angel		KCA   ss   36.3
    Rodriguez_Franisco	ANA   rp   25.8
    Soriano_Rafael		SEA   rp   23.5
    Matsui_Hideki		NYA   lf   21.7
    Baldelli_Rocco		TBA   cf   20.3
    Gerut_Jody		CLE   rf   18.8
    Lopez_Aquilino		TOR   rp   17.7
    Contreras_Jose		NYA   sp   17.5
    Teixeira_Mark		TEX   1b   16.3
    Carrasco_DJ		KCA   rp   15.6
    Munson_Eric		DET   3b   14.2
    Hafner_Travis		CLE   1b   11.7
    
    
    As you can see, Angel Berroa has clearly had the best rookie campaign in 2003 (in the AL, that is) according to VORP, outdistancing K-Rod by more than a win. However, the thing about VORP is, it doesn't make an adjustment for relief pitchers--a group whose innings are typically of a higher leverage than starters'. Thus, even with a conservative adjustment in place, one could easily come to the conclusion that Rodriguez has been just as valuable as Berroa this season, if not more so.

    If Rodriguez was to win the award, he'd be the sixth relief pitcher in history to take home the honor, and just the second Angel after teammate Tim Salmon. However, if word on the street can be trusted, it seems rather likely that Rodriguez will be sitting at home in mid-November, watching the vastly inferior Rocco Baldelli follow in the proud tradition of Pat Listach and take home the award.

Chicago Cubs

  • Acquisition Review: The 2003 Cubs have had more turnover in their position players than most contenders, so we thought we'd review their in-season acquisitions to see how they all turned out.

    Kenny Lofton: .321/.368/.461

    With the devastating injury to Corey Patterson, the Cubs needed to find a centerfielder in a hurry. It is hard to imagine how they could have done much better than Lofton without giving up some major league talent.

    Aramis Ramirez: .262/.321/.509

    Dusty Baker spent much of the first half of the season burying Mark Bellhorn, the incumbent third baseman, while churning through the likes of Jose Hernandez and Lenny Harris. Acquired in late July and installed as the number five hitter in the lineup, Ramirez has solidified the position while providing 15 home runs in 58 games.

    Randall Simon: .273/.319/.477

    Simon has played as well, or better, than could be expected, which is to say he has been a below average player. To damn him with faint praise, he has hit better than Eric Karros (.235/.271/.356 in the second half). Hee Seop Choi, who likely would have hit better than either Karros or Simon, was wasted by Baker all season and probably needs to get out of Chicago to save his career.

    
    		 AVG  OBP  SLG
    Tony Womack	.245 .260 .327     
    Doug Glanville  .234 .260 .298        
    Mark Prior	.243 .264 .343           
    
    
    OK, the Cubs have had Prior all season, but they might consider using him to pinch-hit whenever Womack or Glanville are due up.

    Overall, not a bad season for Jim Hendry. Many of us assumed the Cubs would get Mike Lowell back in June, but the Marlins' surprising success took Lowell off the market. Given the options, and given that the Cubs had no excess major league talent to deal, bringing in Ramirez and Lofton has given the team a huge lift.

  • I Give Up: Last night's Cubs game was certainly one of the biggest games ever started by a pitcher as bad as Shawn Estes. There have been hurlers with ERAs over 6.00 through the years, but how often are those pitchers starting games for contending teams in late September? Although there is a tendency to blame Baker for continuing to trot Estes out there, what choice did he really have? The only other viable starter on the roster is Juan Cruz, who has pitched as poorly as Estes this year. The Cubs braintrust has been the hamstrung by a paradox, possessing one of the league's best rotations yet desperately needing another starting pitcher.

    Last night we were all reminded again of why its always worthwhile to tune in to the games, just in case. Estes made Baker look like a genius by tossing a brilliant four-hit shutout, maintaining the Cubs one-game division lead with four to play. No one should have been surprised: Dusty Baker has spent the entire season, heck, several seasons, making decisions that defy analysts. Yet here he is, on the verge of another post-season.

    After the Red Sox won the 1975 American League pennant, Bill Lee famously said of manager Darrell Johnson that he kept falling out of trees and landing on his feet. The same could be said of Baker, although after 11 years its beyond time to give him his due.

Detroit Tigers

  • Ouch! That Really Hurts!: The Tigers' march to infamy (or, at least, to 4 p.m. on September 28) was summarized pretty well in Monday's edition of Prospectus Today. One factor not covered was their injury status; perhaps that has had some effect on their late-season performance.

    Dmitri Young--unquestionably the Tigers' most valuable player this year--is hampered with injuries in both legs. He is batting .224/.302/.342 in September (as opposed to his numbers as of August 31: .296/.370/.556).

    The Tigers' number two bat, Eric Munson, and his 14.1 VORP were out for the year as of August 14 with a fractured left thumb. Danny Klassen got called up and was basically replacement level. However, Klassen is now down with a strained groin. Thus, Omar Infante and his -6.3 VORP have returned to Comerica. Infante went four-for-six with two doubles on Tuesday--which raised season his OPS 30 points--to .556.

    Given the league-worst (and, actually, worst in baseball) performance of the pitching staff since the All-Star break, it's hard to say how much of an impact Young and Munson would have had on team wins. But even two wins in August and September would give the Tigers a little more breathing room this week.

    
    Month         Record  Win%
    --------------------------
    March/April     3-21  .125
    May            11-18  .379
    June            5-22  .185
    July            9-17  .346
    August          6-23  .207
    September       5-17  .227 (through Tuesday)
    --------------------------
    OVERALL       39-118  .248
    
    

  • Duty Now For The Future: Let's take a look at a few parts of the Tigers rebuilding project.

    • C: Brandon Inge. As we've noted before, the Tigers are weak up the middle. Let's check in with Inge--did his bat stay hot after his return from Triple-A? How does a September OPS of 545 sound? Cringe-worthy? Or is that just, Inge-worthy, given his career OPS of 571? The Tigers have been getting miserable production from their catchers all season, with the exception of Inge's August, so it seems likely that a change at this position is back on the table.

    • 1B: Carlos Peņa. Peņa has a higher VORP than Jeff Weaver this year. So, arguably, the Tigers came out ahead in this trade, although, all things considered, they would probably have been better off getting Ted Lilly. However, Peņa hasn't really taken a step forward with his bat--he is below his 40th percentile projection in VORP--and his fielding has regressed this year--including, for example, this three-error game against the Yankees. Where Peņa's ceiling is now is critical to the Tigers.

    • 3B: Eric Munson. Munson's performance in his rookie year is one of the few bright spots of Detroit's season. He is in the middle of the pack at his position and quite possibly would have been a few slots higher on that list and the rookie VORP list if he had stayed healthy. He might not turn into Superman in his sophomore season, but he looks like a solid building block.

  • Rotation: Look towards the bottom of this list and you'll see a lot of Detroit pitchers. At this point it's difficult to project next year's starting rotation beyond Nate Cornejo, who stands head and shoulders above the other starting pitchers with significant innings pitched. Perhaps Matt Roney's third pitch will make a difference. Perhaps some of that Marlins magic will rub off on Gary Knotts. Despite his rush to the majors and subsequent second half collapse, don't write off Jeremy Bonderman just yet. His quality starts earlier in the year--and his ability to strike out the occasional batter, a skill most Tigers pitchers lack--may bring him back into the rotation in 2004.

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