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February 24, 2005

Prospectus Triple Play

Anaheim Angels, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers

by Ben Murphy

Anaheim Angels

  • Taking on New Roles: With Troy Percival off to Detroit, the Angels will reshuffle their bullpen. Most notably, Francisco Rodriguez moves from being a dynamic, high-leverage reliever to the closer. Rodriguez was labeled a yellow light in Will Carroll's Team Health Report, so hopefully he can avoid injury. The Angels are likely to lose some of his utility, but probably won't suffer, as the bullpen is stocked with underappreciated pitchers like Scot Shields, Kevin Gregg, Brendan Donnelly, and the newly acquired Esteban Yan. Yan has traveled around a bit the past five years, but he's been relatively effective. In 87 innings last year, he showed an impressive avoidance of the long ball (0.7 HR/9) and moderate power (7.2 SO/9). Here's how these guys all stack up, according to PECOTA projected stats for 2005:
    
    Player     Age    IP   EqERA  EqH9  EqBB9  EqSO9  EqHR9   VORP
    Donnelly    33  49.1    3.25   7.5    3.0    8.1    1.0   15.8
    Gregg       27  91.2    4.29   8.8    2.9    6.7    1.1   16.2
    Shields     29  95.2    3.61   8.9    2.9    7.0    0.8   25.0
    Yan         30  64.2    4.30   9.8    2.9    6.2    1.1   12.4
    
    All of these guys are between 27 and 33, generally considered peak years. Both Shields and Gregg project to throw more than 90 innings, toward the high end of modern usage patterns. Shields has shown he can handle it, throwing more than 100 innings last year and nearly 150 in 2003. Gregg hasn't been around very long, but did post almost 90 innings last year. Donnelly, Gregg and Shields all show moderate power numbers (EqSO9 near 7.0 or 8.0), and all four guys show reasonable control (EqBB9 around 3.0).

    The lineup will see a few new faces this time around, partly through development within the system and partly through free-agent signings. This will be the first full year for Dallas McPherson at the hot corner, a player full of promise. The other notable youngster, Casey Kotchman, is an injury risk because of his recurring wrist injury, and has the inside track on the starting designated hitter job. Even if Kotchman is not the starting DH, he is the backup to first baseman Darin Erstad, who has injury concerns of his own, and has missed almost 150 games the last two years.

    McPherson's full-time promotion means the Angels could afford to let Troy Glaus go, and he signed with the Diamondbacks. Here is how PECOTA thinks the two will compare this year:

    
    Player      Age   AB  EqBA  EqOBP  EqSLG
    Glaus       28   345  .276   .384   .568
    McPherson   24   324  .274   .355   .508
    
    Both players have a relatively low forecast for at-bats--Glaus from injury risk and McPherson because he is just becoming a regular. Even though he's four years younger, McPherson is similar to Glaus in some respects. Although Glaus seems to have a better forecast for this year, McPherson should surpass him soon, in addition to being much cheaper.

    The Angels will shift at two key defensive positions, swapping out David Eckstein for Orlando Cabrera at shortstop and adding center fielder Steve Finley. As mentioned in this space before, Cabrera is a slight defensive downgrade compared to Eckstein, but he should supply about five more runs at the plate. Finley is entering his age-40 season, but he's been worth over five wins a year the last three seasons (as measured by WARP3). Finley replaces Jose Guillen after the latter was traded to the Washington Nationals for Juan Rivera and Maicer Izturis. Chris Kahrl did an excellent job covering this move, and highlights Rivera's utility role well. Rivera can cover at any outfield position for a fraction of Guillen's price. Along with Chone Figgins as the ultimate utility infielder, the Angels are on their way to a very flexible bench.

    The Angels are also looking ahead to the arrival of Jeff Mathis behind the plate. Once compared to Joe Mauer and Victor Martinez, Mathis struggled last year after McPherson and Kotchman were promoted, but he's shown enough promise to earn a mention in the discussion of this year's best catching prospects. As soon as he is ready, he should get a chance to play.

Chicago Cubs

  • Outfield Switch-a-roo: With Sammy Sosa moving to Baltimore in exchange for Jerry Hairston, Mike Fontenot and Dave Crouthers, the outfield has undergone a transformation. The club signed Jeromy Burnitz for $5 million to man right field this year, but there are still questions about left field after Moises Alou's move to San Francisco. Corey Patterson is expected to play center, as he tries to continue his promising development:
    
    Year    WARP3   Change
    2000    -0.1     ---
    2001     0.2     0.3
    2002     1.4     1.2
    2003     3.1     1.7
    2004     5.3     2.2
    
    In left field, Todd Hollandsworth is competing against Hairston, Jason Dubois, Jose Macias and Dave Kelton. To help break down the race, we'll see if PECOTA has any insight into their 2005 seasons:
    
    Player         Bats Age   AB   EqBA   EqOBP   EqSLG  EqMLVR
    Hollandsworth   L    32  178   .266    .336    .449    .003
    Hairston        R    29  298   .276    .352    .383   -.048  (forecast as 2B)
    Dubois          R    26  212   .262    .342    .485    .055  (forecast as RF)
    Macias          B    33  129   .239    .276    .365   -.235  (forecast as 3B)
    Kelton          R    25  202   .247    .308    .432   -.084  (forecast as RF)
    
    PECOTA doesn't see any of these players getting regular at-bats because none of them have been established regulars in recent years. Hairston was a regular for Baltimore in 2001 and 2002, which is why his forecast has so many more at-bats. Hairston has obvious value to the team as a utility man, as he can fit into the infield or outfield, but lacks the power expected of a corner outfielder. Overall, left field seems to be a battle between Hollandsworth and Dubois, with a slight edge to Hollandsworth in immediate value (EqMLVR is an adjusted form of MLVr) even though Dubois is six years younger. Dubois seems to be a better long-term option, but a platoon between Dubois and Hollandsworth seems sensible for this year.

  • Rebuilding the Pen: The Cubs also made a trade that affects their bullpen, sending Kyle Farnsworth to the Detroit Tigers for Roberto Novoa, Scott Moore and Bo Flowers. Farnsworth made $1.4 million last year, so it could be seen as a type of salary dump by the Cubs, who didn't seem to get much value in return. Chris Kahrl's got this covered in the upcoming Central division off-season Transaction Analysis, but expect her to explain how Novoa might be as valuable as Farnsworth in the near future, and what some scouts like about Moore. Farnsworth's history is interesting; his ERAs have fluctuated from over 4.50 in bad years and at or below 3.30 in good years. The same is true of his WARP3 numbers, going (year by year since 1999) 2.1, 0.6, 4.3, -1.2, 2.5, 1.7. He's always had gas (notice his consistent power, as shown by his translated strikeout rate), but can't seem to maintain his control (BB/9 oscillate with the ERA and WARP3 numbers). If the trend continues, the Tigers should keep him this year, sell it as a great rebound, and then deal him.

    The Cubs were hoping to sign free agent Robb Nen, but he decided to retire after two years of arm problems, so the Cubs are left looking for bullpen help. Ryan Dempster seems to be the front runner to be annointed "closer," with LaTroy Hawkins, Mike Remlinger, Sergio Mitre, and Joe Borowski around to help. To get a better idea of how things might end up shaking out between the trade and the existing talent, let's see if PECOTA has any insight:

    
    Player      Age    IP  EqERA  EqH9 EqBB9 EqSO9  EqHR9  VORP
    Farnsworth  29   61.2   4.40   8.1   3.6   8.5    0.9   8.2 (traded to DET)
    Novoa       25   49.0   4.83   9.8   2.5   5.4    1.3   5.8 (acquired from DET)
    Dempster    28   83.2   4.71   8.9   3.6   6.4    0.9   8.8
    Hawkins     32   75.0   3.57   8.6   1.8   6.7    1.0  17.2
    Remlinger   39   32.1   4.30   8.2   3.7   7.4    0.9   5.4
    Mitre       24  113.1   4.43   9.4   2.8   6.1    0.8  15.2
    Borowski    34   38.0   4.76   9.2   3.4   6.1    1.1   4.3
    
    Hawkins seems to have the best stuff, posting the lowest expected equivalent ERA, the best control (EqBB9) and the highest projected VORP. Mitre is an interesting case, four full years younger than any other regular (Novoa has yet to truly break through to the majors), and already projected to pitch over 100 innings. Examining his past, it's odd that PECOTA pegged him for so many innings; although he was a starter in the minors, his talent level seems to place him as a reliever in the majors, where he has yet to demonstrate comparable durability. The rest of the group is relatively homogenous, showing moderate usage, except for Remlinger and Borowski, both projected to pitch fewer than 40 innings.

  • Dusty Roulette: Recently in the Cubs' Team Health Report, Will Carroll highlighted Nomar Garciaparra, Kerry Wood and Carlos Zambrano as injury risks. Garciaparra's chronic wrist problems seem likely to affect his playing time, as he missed half of last season and most of 2001. When Garciaparra can stay on the field, he's been worth about ten wins a year (measured in WARP3), dating back to 1997. Zambrano and Wood are injury risks because of their high usage--the Cubs as a whole have been in the top five league-wide in Pitcher Abuse Points the last few years. Last year, Zambrano and Wood racked up the STRESS and PAP points. These two are likely to break down soon, so the team has to hope they don't have concurrent injuries. With a staff that's likely to be the best in the league when healthy, they can probably afford an injury to a front-line starter more than any other team, but encouraging the injury through excessive usage is a bit shortsighted.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Signing Up: Since our last look, Ben Sheets agreed to a $6 million deal for the upcoming season. The team also signed Ricky Bottalico for one year at $800,000, garnering some attention as one of the better pitching pickups of the offseason. Bottalico has consistently shown moderate power and was worth a few wins the past several years (using WARP3). Although he spent his best years in Philadelphia in the mid-nineties, Bottalico is still worth having in the pen.

    Brady Clark agreed to a $1,150,000, one-year deal, cementing his place as the starting center fielder, replacing the departed Scott Podsednik. Clark has improved the past few years, posting EqAs of .264 and .276 as the Brewers' primary utility outfielder. He won a starting job in right field late last year after the team traded Ben Grieve, and his .280/.385/.397 line shows good on-base skills, if very little power.

    The Brewers chose to let Craig Counsell go, and he eventually signed with Arizona. They retained Chris Saenz, signing him to a minor-league deal along with Rigo Beltran, Jeff Cirillo and Tommy Phelps.

    Sheets is a known commodity, which is a good thing in his case--continual improvement has helped him ascend to the upper echelon of the National League. Doug Davis is sure to make the rotation as well, after finding the control that had escaped him previously. He made 34 starts and threw over 200 innings of 3.39 ERA ball. The rest of the rotation is basically an open question at this point. Some of the pitchers that figure to make the rotation include Victor Santos, Chris Capuano, Jose Capellan, and Ben Hendrickson. Figuring the likely rotation is always easier with the help of PECOTA, we'll look at their projections:

    
    Player      Age    IP  EqERA   EqH9   EqBB9  EqSO9   EqHR9   VORP
    Santos      28  120.1   5.25    9.8     3.0    5.8     1.1    6.3
    Capuano     26  121.1   4.53    8.6     3.2    6.7     1.0   14.7
    Capellan    24   89.0   4.93    9.2     3.4    6.6     1.1    8.9
    Hendrickson 24  109.1   4.63    9.4     3.0    5.6     0.9   12.8
    
    None of these guys are forecasted to pitch an entire season's worth of starts because of their history, but Capuano seems to have the most promise. He's got the lowest hit rate and the highest strikeout rate, which helps explain why he has the highest forecasted VORP. Both Capellan and Hendrickson have two years to catch up to Capuano's pace. Santos is two years older and last year was his first full season as a starter, so his projection is conservatively optimistic.

    The Brewers have a few injury concerns. Sheets seems to be doing well, and should be expected to perform. Prospect J.J. Hardy has had multiple shoulder injuries, similar to Richie Sexson (is there something in the water in Milwaukee?). Additionally, Damian Miller has some injury concerns because he's entering his age-35 season, but he's averaged over five wins a year (according to WARP3) the last five seasons.

    If anything has Brewers fans excited about the upcoming season, it's the young talent set to infiltrate Milwaukee. Prospects like Hardy, Rickie Weeks, and Prince Fielder give fans reason to hold out hope for the team's future. Hardy missed most of 2004 after having surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. His defense is reportedly up to major league standards, but his offense is trailing. He could make the team coming out of spring training, and has the chance to be the starting shortstop. Meanwhile, Fielder stumbled some in Double-A Huntsville, so expecting him to be ready for Milwaukee by the end of the season is probably unreasonable. He should start the year at Triple-A, after his .276/.367/.481 line in Huntsville last year. Although he could reach the majors by the end of the year, he should be ready to compete for a spot on the major league team by 2006. Weeks is the prize of the group, posting a .260/.358/.409 in a full year at Huntsville in 2004. His PECOTA card last year forecasted him to be worth a couple wins by 2006, with a favorable outlook into the future.

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