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September 8, 2004

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers

by Baseball Prospectus

Anaheim Angels

  • He's Baaack...: The Angels just made one of the better pickups for the postseason, and they didn't have to give up anyone. One of their best hitters is back from an injury, and it couldn't happen at a better time.

    Although likely limited to DH duties for the rest of the season, Troy Glaus could be a key factor down the stretch. They'll need every bit of help they can get, with the A's making yet another strong second-half drive this season to take a 1.5-game lead in the AL West (Boston's unconscious play has yielded a four-game lead for the Sox in the wild-card race, a huge mountain to climb over the season's last three-and-a-half weeks).

    Despite being out for most of the season and accumulating only 153 plate appearances, according to BP's 2004 VORP by team for position players report, Glaus already ranks with all but the best of the Angels' hitters. After the amazing Vladimir Guerrero at 67.1 VORP and Jose Guillen at 40.1, most of the other useful players are bunched between 20 and 30 VORP, and Glaus is at 19.9--a huge total given his skimpy playing time.

    The man ceding playing time to Glaus--as much for a season-ending injury as Glaus' return--is Tim Salmon, the DH for a big chunk of the year. Let's compare the two:

    
    Player   PA  AVG  OBP  SLG  MLVr  VORPr  MLV  VORP
    Salmon  206 .253 .306 .323 -.205 -.027  -9.7  -1.3
    Glaus   153 .291 .379 .672  .445  .567  15.7  19.9
    

    Just what the doctor ordered. Replacing Salmon with Glaus is as good as any late-season pickup you're likely to see. Glaus could add a wins for the Angels down the stretch, on top of the couple he's already given them. In a race likely to go down to the wire, one game could make all the difference.

  • Dallas Does Salt Lake City: Dallas McPherson seems to be following in Glaus' footsteps. He's mashed 40 home runs this season, fulfilling much of the promise the Angels have seen in him, while slugging close to .700 over the course of an entire season.
    
    Lvl G   AB  R H  TB 2B 3B HR RBI BB K  SB CS DP AVG  OBP  SLG
    AA  68 262 53 84 173 17 6 20  69 34 74  6 5  2 .321 .404 .660
    AAA 67 259 54 81 176 19 8 20  57 23 95  6 3  5 .313 .370 .680
    
    

    Yeah, we'd call that a prospect. Note the strong similarities, with a slight degradation in strikeout-to-walk ratio, at Triple-A. This year's PECOTA weighted mean major league projection for McPherson was .224/.302/.376; it will be interesting to see next year's, along with his comparables.

    There are two potential caveats with McPherson. Although he reportedly works hard at it, his defense at third base has been questioned in the past. His grasp of the strike zone has slid as he's moved up this season; that's not unusual for a young slugger, but it's something to watch.

    McPherson may be at third base next year, or at first base, or he might get time DHing. He'll rake wherever he plays, but his value would be much higher at third. A lot of McPherson's immediate future will depend on whether Glaus is back, and to a lesser extent on where the Angels play Chone Figgins and Robb Quinlan. One thing is certain: If McPherson keeps hitting like this, he'll play somewhere, and soon.

Chicago Cubs

  • Where Are the Wins?: The holes are patched. So why aren't they winning?

    Lineup's producing.
    Starting rotation is deep.
    Bullpen's a little iffy, but they've survived this far.
    Needed a shortstop. Got Nomar.

    All the pieces seem to be in place. So why aren't the Cubs winning?

    The Cubs have overachieved in the past; now they're underachieving. Their runs scored and runs allowed would suggest a record about four games better than where they are. They're fortunate the Astros are behind their projection as well, albeit not by much. The Dodgers and (especially) the Giants and Padres are overachieving as well. The Cubs have been the best team by these components to date, but that doesn't matter if you don't win the games.

    That said, this divergence bodes well for the Cubs down the stretch. They'll need to keep Mark Prior, Kerry Wood and Sammy Sosa healthy and productive and execute on the field to make it happen.

  • A Grieve-ous Situation: In light of the uncertain health of Todd Hollandsworth, the Cubs made a nice little pickup of a bat for the stretch run. Ben Grieve is a useful bat and fourth outfielder--although as outfielders go, he's a DH.

    Grieve produced a .261/.364/.415 line for the Brewers--not far from his PECOTA weighted-mean projection of .258/.371/.459--in 289 at-bats. His power seems to keep deteriorating. That said, he remains a useful bat off the bench, especially if Hollandsworth can't answer the bell. At this point, anything is preferable to relying on Tom Goodwin.

  • Shuffling the Staff for the postseason?: As the Cubs make their push for the playoffs, they'll have to make some decisions in light of the bullpen's struggles. "Farnsworth" may well become a verb the way things are going, and LaTroy Hawkins can't carry the pen by himself. He's been useful as expected, but no man is an island. Here's a look at the team's six most active starters this year. Which of these six could be most useful in the pen?
    
    NAME               IP   H/9 BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 BABIP   ERA    RA PK_RA RA+     RP   VORP
    Carlos Zambrano  176.3  7.2  3.6  8.2  0.6 0.273  2.86  3.27  3.30 142   27.8   49.7
    Greg Maddux      175.0  9.2  1.4  6.2  1.3 0.297  3.70  3.96  4.00 117   14.0   35.9
    Matt Clement     170.0  7.6  3.6  9.5  1.1 0.283  3.44  3.71  3.74 126   18.4   39.6
    Kerry Wood       106.3  7.4  3.4  9.6  1.2 0.289  3.30  3.47  3.51 134   14.3   27.6
    Glendon Rusch    105.3  9.0  2.2  6.0  0.8 0.293  3.76  4.02  4.06 116    7.7   20.7
    Mark Prior        81.3  9.1  4.5 10.6  1.4 0.343  4.76  4.76  4.81  98   -0.8    9.4
    
    

    One curious note: Mark Prior's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is considerably higher than the rest of the team, suggesting bad luck may be a factor in his ineffectiveness. Those 4.5 walks per 9 innings don't help either. Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement have been solid all season. Greg Maddux has made improvements during the season to become nearly as valuable. Now Kerry Wood is back, and should be another big boost to the rotation.

    Given the depth the Cubs have and the lack of use for a deep staff in the postseason, perhaps they can take a page out of Jack McKeon's book and use a couple starters in relief roles. Prior has had obvious struggles this season; although his control is an issue, perhaps the bullpen would be a good place to make use of his talents while he works things out. Glendon Rusch has been much more useful than Shawn Estes was last year, and can be a lefty swingman if necessary. Maddux could also be an interesting mix-and-match guy as well.

    Assuming, of course, they make it that far.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Not Russ-ty: Just as we'd hoped, Russ Branyan is getting a shot at third base with the Brew Crew, and the results have been about as expected. So far, Branyan's line is .232/.302/.547, including an August line of .273/.347/.621 once he started playing more regularly.

    Remember, Branyan's PECOTA weighted-mean projection is .234/.340/.479 and his 90th-percentile is .277/.384/.620. That's a lot of upside, and certainly seems worth the risk. Worst case, he's still better than Wes Helms.

    Meanwhile, more than half of Branyan's plate appearances have been three true outcome results--home run, walk or strikeout. Who says they need air conditioning in Miller Park?

    This is another quality move by Doug Melvin, low-cost and low-risk. Wes Helms certainly isn't the future. Let's enjoy the ride and see what Branyan can do.

  • The Haves and the Have-Nots?: For the first time in a long time, the Brewers have been fun to watch, with help on the way from a bevy of prospects. They've also been a team of extremes in 2004. Three players have been very valuable to the Brewers. Two pitchers...
    
    NAME          IP   H/9 BB/9 SO/9 HR/9 BABIP   ERA    RA PK_RA RA+     RP   VORP
    Ben Sheets  193.0  7.6  1.2  9.9  1.0 0.290  2.94  3.45  3.38 139   28.6   50.5
    Doug Davis  174.3  8.6  3.4  7.2  0.7 0.304  3.61  3.92  3.85 122   16.9   36.4
    
    

    And one hitter...

    
    NAME          PA   AVG  OBP  SLG  SB CS   MLVr  PMLVr  VORPr    MLV   PMLV   VORP
    Lyle Overbay  567 .310 .392 .487   2  1  0.220  0.187  0.344   29.1   24.8   45.5
    
    

    Nobody else on the team sports a VORP above 20. Pretty much any position beyond this list ought to be fair game for competition, especially considering the wealth of prospects coming along.

    So who's going to challenge for roster space? Ben Hendrickson has been touted as a solid add-in to next year's rotation. But he's been hit hard thus far at the major league level.

    
    TEAM  LG   G  GS    IP  H   R  ER  BB  SO  HR  BABIP  ERA  VORP
    MIL   NL   7   6  30.7  39  24 23  13  19   5  .347  6.75  -4.2
    IND  AAA  21  21 125.0 114  32 28  26  93   6        2.02
    
    

    Those Triple-A numbers are solid across the board. The main concern Hendrickson will have at the major league level will be keeping the ball down--a homer every six innings won't get it done. If he can turn that trick, the unlucky .347 BABIP should take care of itself.

    A late pickup this season was Andy Pratt, acquired for the aforementioned Ben Grieve. Pratt held a lot of promise coming in to this season, having been effective at Triple-A-Richmond with 161 strikeouts in 156 innings pitched and a 3.40 ERA. But after being acquired by the Cubs for underappreciated live arm Juan Cruz, Pratt self-destructed. A groin injury caused serious control problems, and Pratt struggled in brief stints in Double-A, Triple-A and the majors. If he can overcome injuries and harness his control, his track record does bode well for a rebound.

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