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March 18, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • If we could only get that "Ready to Rumble" guy to read this...: Without further ado, it is our great pleasure to introduce the spawn of big, bad projection system PECOTA and the brand new BP depth charts: THE PROJECTED AL WEST STANDINGS!
    
    Team      W-L    RS/RA
    Oakland  91-71  788/689
    Seattle  86-76  799/753
    Anaheim  83-79  748/724
    Texas    76-86  835/892
    
    

  • But they spent so much money...: Despite the $140+ million Art Moreno spent this offseason, PECOTA still only projects the Angels for a 3rd place finish, a mere six game improvement upon last year's actual record and just 3 games better than their 2003 Pythagorean record of 80-82. Nonsense, you say, this team underperformed so badly last year that a regression to the mean would mean an uptick in performance which combined with the new additions would make them the favorite to win the West, damn your silly little projection system!

    Well, what PECOTA is suggesting, and seems perfectly reasonable to those of us who thought the Angels' 2002 run had to involve at least a few pacts with the devil, is that the Angels overperformed so much that year that they're still regressing to the mean, even after their disappointing 2003 season. In fact, PECOTA projects every returning Angels starter to either hold steady or decline, usually at levels far below their 2002 performances:

    
                         Equivalent
    Player       Year  AVG  OBP  SLG Im%
    G. Anderson, 2002 .326/.358/.579
    G. Anderson, 2003 .333/.367/.568
    G. Anderson, 2004 .297/.334/.513 19%
    
    D. Eckstein, 2002 .322/.391/.430
    D. Eckstein, 2003 .280/.351/.363
    D. Eckstein, 2004 .278/.355/.379 52%
    
    D. Erstad, 2002 .305/.337/.419
    D. Erstad, 2003 .274/.331/.363
    D. Erstad, 2004 .270/.327/.389   49%
    
    T. Glaus, 2002  .271/.375/.496
    T. Glaus, 2003  .265/.362/.505
    T. Glaus, 2004  .261/.366/.514   48%
    
    A. Kennedy, 2002 .336/.370/.484
    A. Kennedy, 2003 .292/.368/.438
    A. Kennedy, 2004 .284/.348/.435  37%
    
    B. Molina, 2002 .269/.300/.355
    B. Molina, 2003 .299/.326/.474
    B. Molina, 2004 .265/.304/.393   39%
    
    T. Salmon, 2002 .309/.408/.548
    T. Salmon, 2003 .297/.397/.506
    T. Salmon, 2004 .266/.373/.462   36%
    
    
    Overall, the Angels are expected to only score 12 more runs than last year, which is negligible especially considering that the park formerly known as Edison International is projected to be a better hitter's park this year than last. The acquisition of Vladimir Guerrero will help offset the decline of the rest of the offense, but PECOTA thinks overall it will be a wash. However, don't be surprised if Troy Glaus and Garret Anderson handily beat those projections--Anderson has been very consistent and shouldn't suddenly fall off the map and Glaus' shoulder is supposedly close to healed.

    We'll look at the pitching staff in the next PTP and see if they can do better than the 19 run improvement PECOTA has pegged them for.

  • Heads up!: Spring Training could be going better for the Angels, from the 26-3 loss to the A's a couple weeks back to the fact that Aaron Sele is being considered for the rotation, but the worst news from Arizona was the injury to ace reliever Brendan Donnelly. Donnelly broke his nose March 9th while shagging balls during BP, and will likely miss the rest of spring training. This is the second time Donnelly has been hurt during batting practice in the last year. As important as it is for Donnelly to practice tracking flyballs in center, maybe it's time for teams to not let their pitchers hurt themselves imitating outfielders.

Chicago Cubs

  • Class is in Session: Once again, it's time to pull out your already dog-eared copy of Baseball Prospectus 2004, your guidebook to Jim & Dusty's World. This time let's explore the Cubs' overuse of starting pitching. If you have not already read them, you should take a moment to check out Rany Jazayerli's great articles on the history and measurement of pitcher usage.

    Pitcher use and abuse is a hot topic right now. Although Baseball Prospectus has been writing about this topic since 1998, the mainstream seems to be showing new interest. Normally MOR columnist Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News wrote an article recently criticizing Dusty Baker for his handling of both the San Francisco and Chicago pitching staffs. In each of his last five seasons, Baker's pitching staffs have ranked either first or second in the National League in the number of times starters were allowed to throw more than 120 pitches. Specifically, during the 2003 regular season, Kerry Wood threw more than 120 pitches 11 times, Mark Prior topped 120 nine times, Carlos Zambrano, surpassed 120 five times. In the postseason, Prior averaged 122 pitches per start, Wood 116 and Zambrano 103. For those of you keeping score, 120 pitches works out to equal 8000 individual pitcher abuse points, indicating a potential damage level that's eight times greater than a 110 pitch start and more than twice the damage level of a 115 pitch outing. As a team, the 2003 Cubs' cumulative PAP score out-distanced the second highest scoring team, the Montreal Expos, 629,564 to 533,538. This was more than three times the average 2003 National League Average team PAP of 207,789. In 2002 the Giants outpaced the Diamondbacks 535,175 to 499,966, the average National League average team PAP was 203,535. You could look it up, but here it is for those of you getting tired of clicking around:

    
    2003 Cubs          PAP
    Wood 		254622
    Prior 		223611
    Zambrano 	100157
    Clement 	 28727
    Estes 		 21710
    Cruz 		   737
    TOTAL		629564
    
    2003 Expos         PAP
    Vazquez 	268015
    Hernandez 	230350
    Vargas 		 25902
    Day 		 22744
    Ohka 		  9146
    Armas Jr. 	   125
    TOTAL		533538
    
    
    2002 Giants        PAP
    Hernandez 	226183
    Ortiz 		176877
    Schmidt 	 92288
    Rueter   	 33693
    Jensen 		  6134
    TOTAL		535175
    
    2003 Post-Dusty     PAP
    Hernandez        230350 (MON)
    Ortiz 	         124739 (ATL)
    Schmidt *	 108566 (SFN)
    Rueter *  	  13515 (SFN)
    Jensen *	      0
    TOTAL		 477170
    
    
    * Jason Schmidt underwent elbow surgery at the end of 2003.
    * Kirk Rueter was limited in 2003 by two trips to the DL (left shoulder).
    * Ryan Jensen spent 2003 on the DL (lower back) and in AAA.

    So, this is clearly an issue which would be worth the attention of the Cubs' front office. Sadly, it looks like they are following the fan's rallying call, "In Dusty We Trusty." Jim Hendry was quoted by a Chicago area paper recently, stating, "Statistical analysis is something to factor in. When you see a guy in the dugout day in and day out you know whether a guy can help you when it counts or not. We're probably more of the old, pure, go by our scouts, go by our coaches, go by our manager's gut feeling and try to make the right decisions. When you manage a guy and have him in your dugout all the time, you know a lot of things already, more than just pure numbers can tell you."

    OK fine.

  • Prior-itizing: There has been much hand wringing over the delay of Mark Prior's first bullpen session. On Tuesday he finally threw; both from the mound and from flat ground. He reported no discomfort after completing the 25 to 30 pitch session. The Cubs still can't say whether he'll be ready for his first scheduled start on April 8th.

    The general feeling is that, at worst, he will miss only one or two starts at the beginning of the season. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has said that Prior's Achilles is not the only concern at this point. The pitching staff wants to see him build his arm strength back up to the point where he will be able to deliver 70 to 80 pitches before they will consider starting him in an actual game. Rothschild has said that he is going to be more careful than ever in how much he works his starters in spring training, saying, "I'm probably not going to push them as hard innings-wise as I would in a lot of situations, but they will be ready." For what it's worth (see above).

  • Bullpen Update: Right-handers Juan Cruz and Todd Wellemeyer and left-hander Jimmy Anderson are competing for the two bullpen vacancies left by Mike Remlinger (shoulder) and Kent Mercker (back). Wellemeyer, a top prospect in Chicago's somewhat anemic farm system, is having a particularly good Spring pitching in relief: 6 hits, 0 runs, 10 Ks and two walks in 7.1 innings.

  • Scoreboard fodder: The 2004 Cubs lineup features five first-round draft choices: Moises Alou (2nd overall) by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1986, Derrek Lee (14th overall) by the San Diego Padres in 1993, Michael Barrett (28th overall) by the Montreal Expos in 1993, Kerry Wood (4th overall) by the Cubs in 1995 and Corey Patterson (3rd overall) by the Cubs in 1998.

Detroit Tigers

  • (What's) Left of Center: As you no doubt are aware, the Tigers have been busy upgrading their lineup at several key positions. Rondell White replaces Craig Monroe in left, Carlos Guillen cleans up Ramon Santiago's mess at short, Pudge Rodriguez is in for Brandon Inge at catcher, and Fernando Vina displaces Warren Morris at second. While you can question the wisdom of some of the contracts handed out by Kitty-Cat brass, that they've improved their offensive attack is apparent.

    In fact, only one obvious sucking hole remains: center field. Alex Sanchez is fairly entrenched--mostly by dint of his 44 steals what would've passed for leadoff chops back when Molly Ringwald had a steady paycheck. As settled as they are on Sanchez, it's worth asking whether Detroit has any better options at their disposal.

    Omar Infante and Andres Torres are both jousting for the right to back up Sanchez. Infante was a briefly ballyhooed shortstop prospect, but the Tigers apparently caught on to the fact that he'd never be an adequate regular and instead encouraged him to increase his positional flexibility. He's done that, but it's his bat that's the problem. Infante is only 22, so there's time, but there's little in his minor league dossier to recommend him: .273/.325/.345 in 1,604 at bats. In the majors, he's only logged 293 at bats, but his numbers are even worse: .249/.297/.297.

    As for Torres, his minor league numbers are better than Infante's (although he was older than Infante at almost every level): .262/.360/.355, 2,036 at bats. However, he's been worse at the highest level: .214/.264/.282, 238 at bats. Not much help there, either ... Here's what the PECOTA weighted-mean forecasts say about the trio's fortunes in 2004:

    
             VORP  MLVR
    Sanchez   3.1 -0.15
    Infante   8.5 -0.19
    Torres   -0.4 -0.19
    
    
    Infante's advantage in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) is solely attributable to the fact that PECOTA is comparing him to other shortstops and not center fielders. In Marginal Lineup Value Rate (MLVR), which uses the same baseline for all players, Sanchez comes out better, or, more accurately, not as pitifully. Given their dearth of quality center-field prospects in the high minors, Sanchez does appear to be the least damaging of their options for the position. But he'll still be a liability.

    As for the future, Chris Kahrl notes that it might be Nook Logan who one day relieves Detroit of that thing called Sanchez.

  • Pleading the Fifth: The Tigers' battle for the fifth circle in Hell's rotation has come down to Nate Robertson and Esteban Yan. At this juncture, the druthers of manager Alan Trammell appear to be Yan, with Robertson ticketed for the hinterlands of long relief.

    Yan hasn't made a start since 2000, when he logged 20 for the D-Rays with little success. The idea of letting a reliever test his mettle in the rotation is always intriguing, but is there anything that portends of success for Yan? He's a fastball-slider pitcher, and his lack of a quality changeup may shanghai his attempts at moving into the rotation. Even more damning is his utter lack of success in recent seasons. Yan had a fairly strong season in 2001, but the last two years have seen ERAs of 4.30 and 6.34, respectively.

    However, Yan's primary weakness has always been his home-run proclivities (23 allowed in 135.2 innings over the last two seasons). Comerica's fences were moved in prior to last season, but the park still suppressed homers by 12 percent last year. Considering that Yan shows reasonably good command, he might fare a little better than expected during his home starts.

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