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March 4, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • Youth Movement: Spring training is here and that must mean one thing: top prospects lists.

    When grading the Angels' system, the lists all say pretty much the same things:

    1) The farm system is pretty good.

    2) (Albeit indirectly) The system was apparently so good that scouting director Donny Rowland lost his job last August.

    While a rift between GM Bill Stoneman and Rowland may have been the reason that Rowland is now with the White Sox, Rowland's last three drafts produced five players in Baseball Prospectus' Top 50:

    14 1B- L Casey Kotchman
    18 C-R Jeff Mathis
    19 3B-L Dallas McPherson
    38 RHP Ervin Santana
    45 RHP Bobby Jenks

    • Casey Kotchman: Nobody doubts that Kotchman is going to rake if he can actually get through an entire season. Kotchman's biggest problem is his Geoff Jenkins-like knack for freak injuries. As mentioned in BP's Top 50 Roundtable, a line of .350/.441/.524 is excellent, no matter where those stats are accumulated. Kotchman is still one to two years away, but could be the heir to the first base throne recently given (albeit mistakenly) to Darin Erstad.

    • Jeff Mathis: In the world of minor league catching, Mathis gets somewhat lost in the shuffle for best catching prospect not named Mauer. Look for Mathis to be in the starting lineup by Opening Day 2005, if not some time this season.

    • Dallas McPherson: Many think that McPherson's future in the outfield, but he deserves at least a shot to stick at third base. His defense is less than stellar, but McPherson could be a major asset offensive asset at a position lacking big producers. If he hits like he did at Double-A Arkansas (.314/.426/.569), the Angels might do well to check on Troy Glaus's trade value in an effort to get some starting pitching, particularly with Glaus being a free agent after this season and the partially torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder still a question mark.

    • Ervin Santana: Formerly known as Johan Santana, his stock just took a hit when he was shut down for the rest of spring training with an inflamed shoulder. This is following a season in which he was shut down in August due to the same shoulder concerns. Santana possesses two plus pitches (high-90s fastball and good slider) and is working on a change-up. Combined with an iffy big-league rotation, if Santana can overcome his shoulder woes he should become a cog in the Angels rotation in a year or two.

    • Bobby Jenks: Jenks has an overpowering fastball and a curveball that is considered one of the best in the minors. With his gaudy strikeout rates (103 Ks in 83 innings in Double-A last year), Jenks could be become the successor to Troy Percival. One key factor that could keep Jenks from getting to the next level is his inability to limit his walks: Even after a sizeable improvement, his walk rate still stood at an ugly 6.1 per 9 IP in '03. Jenks also needs to shake his off-field troubles and capitalize on the many chances that the Angels have given him.

Chicago Cubs

  • Breaking the Cycle: If you have already received your shiny new copy of Baseball Prospectus 2004, turn now to the Cubs chapter. There are numerous points worth examining there, but let's focus briefly on the Cubs' improved performance in addressing their deficiencies during a post-post-season season.

    • Post-Post-Season Deficiencies: This is a mixed bag. In general the Cubs addressed their self-diagnosed weaknesses pretty well. However, they have something approaching an institutional split personality when it comes to reexamining issues. For example, Jim Hendry clearly accomplished his off-season goal of adding another left-handed reliever to complement Mike Remlinger when he signed Kent Mercker. The crazy thing is, he has admitted to the press that if Remlinger isn't ready to pitch by Opening Day he won't bother trying to pick up another lefty. Why? He would be left with only one left-hander, which is the same situation he was originally trying to avoid. It's like the Chewbacca Defense. It doesn't make any sense.

      Similar strange thought patterns infect Hendry's offensive decisions. Joe Sheehan predicted that the 2004 offense could miss the 700-run mark. The team scored 724 runs in 2003, and the numbers for the starting outfielders hint at the probability of a similar outcome for 2004.

      
      Year  Player    AB   MLVr EqBA EqOBP EqSLG EqMLVR VORP Wins  EqA
      2002  Alou      484  .056 .285  .345  .441  .023   9.9  0.9  .265
      2003  Alou      565  .154 .285  .360  .477  .100  25.8  2.4  .278
      2002  Patterson 592 -.086 .266  .293  .417 -.122   3.7  0.4  .238
      2003  Patterson 329  .195 .302  .332  .524  .138  25.8  2.4  .278
      2002  Sosa      556  .393 .296  .404  .616  .375  69.5  6.4  .325
      2003  Sosa      517  .280 .283  .362  .567  .227  42.1  3.9  .297
      
      

      Although Corey Patterson's PECOTA card shows a slight upward trend for 2004, Moises Alou and Sammy Sosa both appear to be heading for the shady side of the slope. Hendry's off-season effort to attack the team's offensive deficiencies started out well, as evidenced by the trade for Derrek Lee last November (though one wonders what would have happened had the Cubs simply left Hee Seop Choi alone and let him play first base on a regular basis). But Hendry rapidly contracted amnesia and signed a couple of league-average stop-gaps rather than go after needed offensive help. Why? It could be Chewbacca again, we may never know.

    • K is for Contract: The Cubbies recently negotiated two important contracts. There's not much point in bringing it up again, since Chris Kahrl has beaten PTP to the punch. You probably read this on Tuesday in Transaction Analysis.

    • The Horses are Approaching the Starting Gate (Imagine, if you can, the idiosyncratic voice of Trevor Denman): The team announced the order of their rotation as: (1) Kerry Wood, (2) Greg Maddux, (3) Mark Prior, (4) Matt Clement, and (5) Carlos Zambrano.

    • Final Jeopardy: The answer is, "Dusty Baker didn't say this."

      1) What is, "We got a Rodan over there at first base (that's Rodan, adversary of Godzilla), I have been knowing him since he was a kid. I know his mom, dad, uncle, grandparents. I'm amazed every time I get up beside him how big he is.'' (commenting on Derrek Lee)?

      2) What is, "If you have a girlfriend and another one comes along, should you put your girlfriend down because the next girl is just as pretty? That ain't right." (explaining his plan to stick with Grudzielanek at second base)?

      3) What is, "It's like McCarthyism or something. They are looking to see who looks like a Communist. I'll probably get in trouble for that, but that's how I equate it. 'Well, you lose weight, he gained weight.' I don't know. I hate steroids. I knew Lyle Alzado.'' (commenting on allegations of steroid use by MLB players)?

      4) What is, "It's just like fishing. You're going striped bass fishing. You've got birds on top and you follow the birds. Where the birds are, the bait fish are below that. Below the bait fish are the striped bass. That's what you want to do. That's how you want to do your lineup. That way they can't escape. That's how I try to make my lineup out so the opposition can't pitch around this guy or that guy and that guy and can't escape. You try to get them in the crossfire." (commenting on his lineup strategy)?

      5) What is, "My wife told me to be quiet.'' (not commenting at all)?

      6) What is, "We've got a great group of guys. We're just going to take it one day at a time." (commenting on the Cubs' chances in the NL Central)?

      Look for the answer in the next installment of Chicago Cubs Prospectus Triple Play.

Detroit Tigers

  • Pondering Bonderman: Tiger fans last season clung to anything resembling a vague and fleeting simulacrum of hope for the future. Vague and fleeting simulacrum of hope for the future, thy name is Jeremy Bonderman. Bonderman, part of the haul the Tigers received for parting with Jeff Weaver in the three-way deal with the A's and Yankees in August of '02, kinda sorta held his own last season despite being a 20-year-old rookie. This year, Nate Silver's PECOTA projection system expects 141 innings and a 4.67 ERA from Bonderman this season, which would constitute a notable improvement over his 2003 numbers. That's good.

    What's also promising is a few of the comparables you'll find on Bonderman's PECOTA card. Among his 20 most similar pitchers, you'll find near- and quasi-luminaries like Catfish Hunter, Denny McClain, Bret Saberhagen, Alex Fernandez, Dan Petry, Vern Law and Larry Dierker.

    At Bonderman's age, anything can happen in terms of career path, but at least he has some highly promising comparables to point to.

  • In Closing: Detroit will likely break camp with Fernando Rodney as closer. Closers as a species are most often deployed improperly these days, but at the very least the Tigers could use some stability in the role: Last season, no reliever logged more than five saves (Franklyn German and Chris Mears both had five) and five others tallied three saves.

    So might Rodney bring some consistency to the late innings this season? In 29.2 innings last season at the highest level, he did strike out 33, but he also walked 17 and surrendered 35 hits. PECOTA projects 52.7 innings, 4.46 ERA, 48 strikeouts and 26 walks for Rodney in '04. Those certainly aren't "elite reliever" numbers, but Rodney's minor league credentials may portend a brighter future. He'll turn 27 before Opening Day, so his upside is limited in that sense; however, there is a strong record of performance. In a season and change at the Triple-A level, Rodney tossed 63 innings, fanned an impressive 83, walked 22 and gave up only a single homer. Although his control leaves a bit to be desired, he has command and the ability to dominate and does a fine job of keeping the ball in the park. As we've demonstrated before, low homer rates may be an overlooked indicator of future success.

    While Rodney probably will never be a statistical scion of Willie Hernandez, there's reason to believe he may one day be a highly effective major league reliever. And there's also reason to believe he'll best that PECOTA forecast in 2004.

  • Hope for Higgy?: Informal readings of the Tiger-fan tea leaves reveal that many are banking on a strong comeback for Bobby Higginson. Eh, maybe not. PECOTA tabs him for an underwhelming .258/.335/.396 season--no great shakes for a corner defender, even after adjusting for the pitcher's park that is Comerica. At age 33 and in the midst of a three-year decline, Higgy's not giving us much reason to doubt his grim forecast.

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