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March 24, 2005

Prospectus Triple Play

Angels, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers

by Andrew Baharlias

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

  • Who's on First (and DH): The Angels may be planning to use Juan Rivera and Jeff DaVanon as a platoon for the DH slot. With Darin Erstad hanging on to first base by way of his Gold Glove and reputation for being a team leader, one wonders what will become of Casey Kotchman. PECOTA projected the following for these four players in 2005:

    
    Player   Age      AB      Avg     OBP     SLG     EqA    VORP
    Erstad   31      445     .270    .318    .381    .252    4.0
    Rivera   26      379     .279    .331    .434    .270    13.5
    DaVanon  31      277     .262    .316    .406    .285    16.7
    Kotchman 22      410     .274    .350    .421    .276    19.5
    
    
    Based on these projections, and 2004 League Averages at DH and 1B, one would think that it'd make more sense to make Erstad the back-up to Kotchman, instead of the planned vice-versa--or even demoting Kotchman to Triple-A. DaVanon and Rivera should make a fine platoon at DH and will likely be in line with, or slightly exceed, the 2004 league average at DH. PECOTA at-bat projections on Rivera are based on a much larger role than the righty in a platoon (and reserve outfielder), thus you might want to rely on his three-year splits over PECOTA for this analysis. DaVanon's PECOTA, on the other hand, is more applicable because last year all but 22 of his at-bats were against righties, and in his career, he's only had 71 at-bats against a left-handed pitcher. Take a look at the three-year splits for this potential DH combination and then 2004 league Averages for DH and 1B:
    
    3yr Tot        AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
    Rivera vs LHP  216  26   62   15    0   10   14   19  .287  .332  .495  .827
    DaVanon vs RHP 574  88  160   26    5   18   78   95  .279  .360  .436  .796
    
    League Average  Avg     OBP     SLG     OPS
    DH 2004        .263    .344    .445    .789
    1B-AL-2004     .266    .346    .450    .796
    
    
    The real drop-off for the Angels is at first base, where Erstad isn't projected to come even close to 2004's league average. In a perfect PECOTA world, Kotchman would be the starter over Erstad and Erstad would be sent packing. Unfortunately for the Angels, there's the money factor to consider: with two years still left on Erstad's horrific four-year, $32 million contract, the team is unlikely to find a taker for him. It'll be up to Mike Scioscia, Bill Stoneman and company to bite the bullet, come to terms with the team's sunk cost, and drop Erstad into a secondary role. Until then, he'll continue to be a minus for the team.

  • I Don't Know is on Third: With Dallas McPherson likely out for Opening Day and potentially beyond with a herniated disc in his back, the third-base job will either go to Robb Quinlan or Chone Figgins. While last month's Prospectus Triple Play showed that the drop-off from Troy Glaus to McPherson could very well be nil--and save tons of dough--we'll now take a look at how PECOTA thinks Quinlan and Figgins will compare with McPherson:
    Player     Age      AB      EqA     VORP
    McPhers     24      335     .292    22.3
    Quinlan     28      268     .256    5.8
    Figgins     27      499     .261    14.6
    
    It appears that no matter what, you're likely to get a serious drop-off one way or the other. While the Angels seem to be leaning toward Quinlan, who is off to a pretty terrible start, it can't be much worse than Figgins, who's also not finding much success this spring. The Angels might have pulled the wool over their eyes thinking that Quinlan could be able to repeat his .344/.401/.525, 19.6 VORP and .321 EqA over 160 at-bats last year. But with Adam Kennedy still on the shelf recovering from blowing out his MCL and ACL, the choice will have to be Quinlan at third so Figgins can move to second until McPherson and Kennedy are ready to return.

  • Jered Weaver Has Left The Building: It has been widely reported that Jered Weaver has refused to sign with the Angels and will re-enter the amateur draft in June. While the Angels still have until the end of May to sign their first-round draft pick of 2004, it is believed that GM Bill Stoneman has permanently withdrawn the Angels final offer of $5.25 million spread over five years and will no longer negotiate with Weaver or his agent, Scott Boras.

    No one knows for sure the impact that Weaver would have had in the major leagues or when he'd have arrived (although Boras claimed he's major league ready by 2006 at the latest). But if he turned out to be even half the pitcher he was projected to be, the Angels could have been looking at a 2006 rotation of Bartolo Colon, Kelvim Escobar, Jarrod Washburn, John Lackey or Jake Woods and Weaver. No matter how you cut that deck, it's a fairly solid starting five. One could argue this negative event between Boras and the Angels will present problems for the Angels when Washburn becomes a free agent at the end of 2005. But looking at Washburn's declining performance, flimsy strikeout rates and injury concerns, who really cares?

Chicago Cubs

  • Who's Closing Now?: The Cubs experienced yet another pitching setback when Joe Borowski suffered a non-displaced fracture to his right ulna after being hit by a line drive during Monday's exhibition game against Kansas City. This is a crushing blow to Borowski, who looked to be regaining his role as the Cubs closer and is likely to miss six weeks or more. During his absence, closing duties will either be assumed by LaTroy Hawkins or non-roster invitee Chad Fox.

    Fox is an interesting fellow. With a career K/9 ratio of 10.4 and HR/9 ratio of .79 he clearly has the ability to blow batters away and be an effective reliever; however, he gives up an obscene amount of walks (120 career BB over 216.3 IP) and comes with major injury baggage, such that he's considered a project wherever he goes. Fox is also 34, with two Tommy John surgeries behind him. If he can keep the walks down and his arm attached he might work out while Borowski heals--but it's a crapshoot.

    Hawkins, on the other hand, has blossomed into an effective reliever since Minnesota kicked him out of the rotation in 2000. His figures of .971, 1.086 and 1.049 walks plus hits allowed per inning the last three years show that he can keep men off base. Chicago did sign him to be the 8th inning bridge guy: The club believes he's more suited to that position, as he blew some critical games down the stretch for the Cubs last year which may have played a role in them missing the playoffs. Ryan Dempster was also being considered earlier in the spring, but with injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, unless Dempster just can't get anyone out, he's likely a lock to be a starting pitcher rather than the closer. That Dusty Baker's choosing the erratic and often horrible Dempster over 2004 rotation saver Glendon Rusch--headed to the pen--shows how far out of hand managers' obsession with LOOGYs has become.

    It's worth asking why the Cubs aren't considering Michael Wuertz for the closer position while Borowski is out, or at least for a high-leverage late-inning role. Last year in Triple-A-Iowa, Wuertz had an exceptional year as their closer, putting up the following line:

    Age  Team    G       IP     EqHR9   EqBB9   EqK9    VORP    EqERA   WHIP
    25   Iowa   37      44.2    .9      3.2     9.4     12.1    3.00    1.007
    

  • Who's Starting Now?: Greg Maddux and Carlos Zambrano for sure. Wood may be ready for the season's opening week. Prior has had inflammation of the elbow and the Cubs are hoping that he'll be ready to go on April 12, the first time they anticipate needing a fifth starter.

    The candidates for the fifth starter spot are: Dempster, Sergio Mitre and Rusch. On Tuesday, Dempster pitched 1.1 innings and gave up six earned runs on eight hits, plus two walks. Thus far this spring, he's not getting anybody out, yet the Cubs seem committed to letting him implode in the rotation.

    We've already discussed Rusch, so let's look at Mitre, also a better-looking starter candidate than Dempster. PECOTA gives him the nod:

    Age     Name      G       GS      EQERA   EQH9    EQBB9   EQSO9   PERA    VORP
    24      Mitre     20      20      4.43    9.4     2.8     6.1     4.55    15.2
    28      Dempster  19      13      4.71    8.9     3.6     6.4     4.75    8.8
    

  • A Final Note On Burnitz: When the Cubs decided on signing Jeromy Burnitz to replace Sammy Sosa, it was nearly a given that there would be a drop-off in production. However, the Cubs might have been looking at Burnitz's career splits in Wrigley and other NL Central stadiums when they chose him as the new right-fielder:
                G    AB    R    H    2B   3B   HR   BB   K   AVG   OBP  SLG  OPS
    Wrigley     47   180   35   46   11    0   14   27   49  .256 .357 .550  .907
    Busch       36   124   20   31    8    0    4   21   35  .250 .361 .411  .772
    Minute Maid 20    71   16   23    5    0    6   15   19  .324 .455 .648  1.102
    Miller      81   298   52   66   13    2   16   36   79  .221 .312 .440  .751
    PNC         17    62   11   11    2    0    3    8   16  .177 .271 .355  .626
    Gr American  6    23    8    9    2    0    5    2    2  .391 .462 1.130 1.592
    CAREER TOT 1423  4792  798 1219  255  27  275  660  1193 .254 .351 .491  .842
    
    Burnitz has only had 4% of his career at-bats at Wrigley, not a large enough sample on which to make any predictions. Still, teams often overreact to such trends, and Burnitz has done reasonably well in those ABs. With a home-run rate of one per 12.8 ABs, the Cubs could expect him to hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 HRs in Wrigley if he repeated his 540 AB from 2004. Cast out of Coors, however, expecting any kind of repeat is iffy.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Positional battles: The Brewers announced over the weekend that lefty swinger Russ Branyan will likely start the season in a platoon with righty Wes Helms. While Brewers manager Ned Yost supposedly doesn't like platoons, considering the numbers on Helms, it's hard to argue against benching him against righties:

    3yr Tot AB   R    H    2B   3B   HR   BB   SO   AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS
    vs. LHP 212  22   58   15    1    8   31   52  .274 .365 .467 .832
    vs. RHP 748  78  189   35    0   25   47  196  .253 .307 .400 .707
    
    Expect Branyan, who outhit Helms in 2004, to get the lion's share of at-bats, with Helms occasionally spelling Lyle Overbay at first when Overbay either needs a rest or potentially falls into a slump.

    At second there isn't much of a fight, even though Junior Spivey has been out for most of spring training. Spivey has been bothered by a sore shoulder and is due back in the lineup by the end of the week. In his absence, prospect Rickie Weeks has performed decently, but not well enough to prompt the Brewers to rush him up to a starting role. While it remains to be seen how long Spivey can hold his job against this promising 22-year-old rookie, at least there appears little reason to panic if Spivey is actually injured more than Milwaukee is leading on.

    At shortstop, J.J. Hardy and Bill Hall will likely fight it out until Opening Day. The edge right now goes to the incumbent Hall, who's hitting well this spring; he'd essentially be keeping the spot warm for Hardy, whenever the Brewers commit to giving Hardy the job for good. Hardy had shoulder surgery on his non-throwing arm and missed most of 2004, but the Brewers are confident he'll be 100% this year. Hardy's slow start at the plate thus far might push his timetable backward just a tad.

  • Dark Horse Santana: Many sources have noted Exec VP/GM Doug Melvin's propensity for scouring the waiver wire for ex-Rangers to rehab. Danny Kolb, Doug Davis and Luis Vizcaino come to mind as clear examples of this habit. This year his sights are set on former Texas prospect Julio Santana. A PECOTA projection is unavailable, as Santana hasn't pitched an inning of major league ball since 2002, when he put up the following line for the Tigers:
    Age   Team       ERA    G      IP   H   R  ER   HR    BB   SO
    29     Det      2.84   38    57.0  49  19  19    8    28   38
    
    The Tigers released him after his season was abruptly ended by a partial tear to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He signed with the Phillies and spent part of 2003 with Scranton (Triple-A) before replacing Kaz Sasaki as the Yomiuri Giants closer. His 2003 combined season is equally unremarkable:
    Age   Team       ERA    G      IP   H   R  ER   HR    BB   SO
    30   SCR (AAA)  3.64   19    29.2  29  12  12    0    12   26
    30   YOM (JPN)  4.94   25    27.2  35  15  15    3     6   21
    30   TOT        4.24   44    57.1  64  27  27    3    18   47
    
    Santana was again hurt in 2004. But in what was likely an injury rehab stint in the Japanese minor leagues, he may have found unprecedented command, considering his career 4.28 BB/9. Pitching 33 innings, he recorded a 1.89 ERA while only walking two batters.

    In the Dominican Winter League this past fall, he was again lights out, posting a 0.96 ERA, 29 Ks, and no walks in 18.2 IP, sparking the interest of Melvin, who was GM of the Rangers when Santana broke in with them. BP's Clay Davenport ran some quick equivalents on Santana's Dominican League stats and concluded--albeit totaling a small sample --that his performance was definitely above major-league caliber.

    The Brewers signed Santana this off-season to a minor league contract. In spring training thus far he has put up some interesting numbers:

    Age   Team       ERA    G      IP   H   R  ER   HR    BB   SO
    32     Mil      5.68    6     6.1   7   5   4    0     1   10
    
    The high ERA and hits allowed are largely due to one early performance on 3/12/05, when Santana gave up four runs on three hits and one walk--otherwise he's fared well. Combine that with his Dominican League performance and once-upon-a-time pedigree and he starts to look like a good, low-risk venture.

Andrew Baharlias was Staff Counsel to the New York Yankees between 1997 and 2002. He can be reached at andrewbaharlias@comcast.net.

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Prospectus Triple Play... (03/23)
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