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August 19, 2005

Prospectus Notebook

LAA, PHI, PIT

by Baseball Prospectus

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Angels' starter Kelvim Escobar is close to returning from his third DL stint of the season. After trying unsuccessfully to play through bone chips in his elbow, he went under the knife on June 29 and is scheduled to begin a rehab assignment next week. Assuming all goes well in Rancho Cucamonga (one wonders if he's taking the train there, and if he is, is he stopping in Azusa along the way?), he should be ready to return to the majors as the calendar changes to September.

But how will the Angels use him? To take his place in the rotation, the Angels brought up Ervin Santana from Double-A, who ranked #38 on the 2004 Top 50 Prospects list but fell off the list this year due to a injury-plagued 2004 campaign. He started this year strong, posting a 2.31 ERA and a 32/15 strikeout-to-walk ratio at Arkansas before being called up. After a rocky debut against the Indians, he shut out the White Sox in his second start before heading to Triple-A, only to be recalled when Escobar returned to the DL. Since then he has filled in ably, posting a 4.71 ERA and giving the Angels seven quality starts, including five in his last six appearances. Overall this year, he has a VORP of 7.0 and while no one has declared him royalty, he's been a nice addition to the back of the Angels' rotation.

In fact, he's been one of the best "sixth starters" in the majors. Looking at the six pitchers who've made the most starts on each team, ranked by SNLVA, Santana's 0.3 is the best mark in baseball for a sixth starter. In fact, only three other sixes have a positive SNLVA: Kyle Davies (another good rookie pitching story), Anthony Reyes of the Cardinals (who has made only one start), and Florida's Scott Olsen. Santana's season is one reason the Angels have the second-best top six in the AL. They rank seventh in baseball, behind six teams whose staffs have gotten a lot more press:

HOU: (Clemens, Oswalt, Pettitte, Backe, Astacio, Rodriguez): 11.4 SNLVA
FLA: (Willis, Burnett, Beckett, Moehler, Vargas, Olsen): 9.7
ATL: (Smoltz, Hudson, Ramirez, Sosa, Hampton, Davies): 9.2
WAS: (Patterson, Hernandez, Loaiza, Armas, Ohka, Drese): 8.6
STL: (Carpenter, Mulder, Marquis, Morris, Suppan, Reyes): 8.1
OAK: (Harden, Zito, Blanton, Haren, Saarloos, Glynn): 7.9
LAA: (Colon, Washburn, Lackey, Byrd, Escobar, Santana): 7.7

Because of what Santana has done, the Angels are considering putting Escobar in the bullpen when he's ready to rejoin the team. The Halos' bullpen woes are worthy of another column, but putting Escobar out there, and keeping Santana in the rotation, could be what the Angels need to do to hold off the A's and capture their second straight AL West title.

--Christian Ruzich

Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies have been in Win Now mode for most of the century. For the last couple of years this effort has depended on contributions from mostly older players. In 2005, rather accidentally at times, the team has gotten clutch contributions from much younger talent.

  • Robinson Tejeda was brought up to the major league squad in May, when veteran Tim Worrell was put on the disabled list with a debilitating panic disorder. His 5.27 ERA in 13 2/3 innings as a reliever was nothing to write home about, but since joining the rotation he's been "Jessica Simpson washing the General Lee" hot. As a starter he has a 2.12 ERA in 59 1/3 innings, with 8.04 K/9, and 6.1 H/9. It should be noted that the walk rate of 5.0 BB/9 is too high, but the real key is a hard-to-believe home-run rate of just 0.3 HR/9, especially given Citizen's Bank Park (HR Index of 123% in 2004, 113% so far this year). His numbers in just those 59 1/3 innings of work are good enough to make him the second most valuable starter on the 2005 Phillies according to SNLVAR.

    The big question is whether his 2005 numbers are to be believed. He had a filthy run at the beginning of the year in Scranton (Triple-A): 2.54 RA in 28 1/3 innings. 8.9 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 6.7 H/9. The only problem is that that was the first time Tejeda had ever had a good stint above A ball. In 2004 in Double-A Reading he threw 150 1/3 innings of 5.57 RA ball. The strikeout rate was strong but everything else wasn't.

    Gary Gillette at ESPN.com credits his newfound success to "improvement in his slider and change-up combined with...improved velocity." Having never seen him pitch in the minor leagues we can't comment. We'll simply note that he's having a great run, at a critical moment for the Phillies, but that if he were to collapse--let a few more long balls fly out of the park, give up a lot more hits, lose some velocity as he tires (he's had a long year that began in winter ball)--well, if all of that were to occur we wouldn't be terribly surprised.

  • Ryan Howard didn't impress at the beginning of the year when he was called up for some part-time duty. In May he hit .214/.267/.393 in 28 ABs. The team sent him down and he looked great in Triple-A: .371/.467/.690 in 210 at bats with 16 homers and 19 doubles in 78 hits. That's an extra-base hit rate of 44.8% and a home run rate of one every 16.1 at bats. Yowza!

    Howard was called back up to the majors at the beginning of July to cover for the ailing Jim Thome, and he sure hasn't disappointed. Since July 1 Howard has hit a strong .290/.363/.486 with seven HRs (1 every 19.71 ABs) and six doubles in 40 hits (XBH rate of 32.5%). Is Howard a fluke or can he really perform this well in the majors going foward?

    PECOTA was convinced that Howard was the real deal when projections were run this past winter. On the basis of a few huge minor-league seasons, Nate Silver's statistical monster churned out a .260/.338/.509 Weighted Mean line for the hefty slugger. Howard's been a little better with the batting average, and not quite as strong in the slugging department, but we're not too worried.

    Howard's hitting is so good that intrepid reporters have taken to asking Phillies manager Charlie Manuel whether he might prefer Howard to Thome as the starting first baseman in 2006. It's might be a little soon for that type of thinking, but it is safe to say that Howard's hitting will be crucial for any run the Phillies make at a playoff berth.

  • From all of Baseball Prospectus: Congratulations Phanatic!

--Tom Gorman

Pittsburgh Pirates: Fallen on hard times, have ya, pal? Pirates fan, you say? Oh, I got it. You got all excited back in June, back when they were at .500. Then the five game losing streaks started getting to you. Or maybe it was the lefty not realizing that a laundry cart is harder than his foot. If not that, then maybe it was watching the magical mullet of Craig Wilson follow up his breakout season with a season where he just plain broke his fingers?

What I say to you is you got to keep your chin up. So what if Jack Wilson's appendix was the part of him that knew how to hit? So what if the guy they got for Matt Lawton first forgot his knee brace, then forgot his knee altogether?

You want me to give you a reason to keep rooting for this team? You want me to give you one reason not to count the days 'til football begins again? Heck, I'll give you four:

  • Chris Duffy--Yeah, so he's not going to hit .357 over a whole season. The last time you figured that someone was going to do that, Rob Mackowiak wound up hitting .162 in July. And he can't keep Francoeuring his way in the leadoff spot--if he keeps up this crap where he walks once every 33 at bats, he's not going to stick for very long. But Duffy's covering ground out in center, and he's shown enough in the last month to think that at least, the Bucs aren't putting Mackowiak back in center any time soon.

  • Ryan Doumit--It doesn't look too impressive, a 744 OPS. Except that you consider he's a catcher, and a switch hitter, and that he went through--you guessed it--a horrible July slump that looked like a car crash (.120/.229/.268). There's still time for this kid to avoid Craig Wilson's fate, where they didn't play him because he was a catcher on the roster, and then they gave up on him behind the plate.

  • Brad Eldred--I got two words for you: isolated power. No, that doesn't mean the kid likes to keep to himself, it means that when he puts the bat on the ball, the ball goes a long way. He's got 19 hits in the Show, and ten of them he didn't stop at first base. He strikes out too much (23 in 71 PA), but when he comes to the plate, the light towers get scared.

  • Zach Duke--Look, I know what you're thinking. That other kid, Burnett, he looked good through nine starts, too. Then he didn't look so good, and then he was looking at a scalpel to the elbow. But you just got to convince yourself that things are going to be better this time. You've gotta think that after Burnett and John Van Benschoten, and all those other guys, McLendon and Spin Williams are going to treat this kid like those penguins treated their egg in that movie.

And I'm not even bringing up Dave Williams looking like a halfway decent pitcher. He's tied for 29th in the league with a 2.9 SNLVAR (don't break your head thinking about it, it just means that if you put the run support he's gotten aside, Williams is about as valuable as Brian Moehler or Jason Marquis). I'm not even talking about Jason Bay being fourth in the league in EqA (.325, ahead of Carlos Delgado and Brian Giles). I'm not talking about Nate McLouth, who just came up from Indianapolis, or Ian Snell, who just went down. This is a lot to get excited about!

Still not convinced that you have something to keep rooting for? All right, let me introduce you to my friend, over here. He's a Kansas City Royals fanů

--Derek Jacques

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