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June 20, 2006

Prospectus Game of the Week

San Diego Padres @ Anaheim Angels, 6/18/06

by Derek Jacques

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Welcome to a very special Father's Day edition of Game of the Week. We've got MLB.tv fired up to bring us the action out in Anaheim where the Angels are taking on the San Diego Padres in big, huge, dramatic, interleague action. The Padres come into today's game a single game out of first place in the NL West. Of course, the way things stand in the West division, that isn't as impressive as it sounds-the Pads are tied with the Diamondbacks at one game behind the Dodgers, and only one game ahead of the Rockies and Giants, who are tied for last in the division. Everybody in the NL West is playing pretty close to their third order records, so there's no dark horse pick to suddenly take the division by storm. This is baseball's parity division, 2006 edition.

The Angels, on the other hand, are in last place, six games out of first place in the AL West, and six games under .500. The team has made the postseason three out of the last four years, but now stands in the awkward position of trying to decide if it's time to fish or cut bait. All season long, prospects who seem to be the future of this franchise have gotten call-ups to fill in or back up when the big club's veterans have faltered. Already, guys like Howie Kendrick (#5 on our top prospects list) Kendry Morales (#26 on our list) and Erick Aybar (#50) have gotten time on the major league roster. Only Morales has seen significant playing time in The Show, but the question lingering over the Angels' season has been when do you give up, deal the veterans, and put things in the prospects' hands?

All of this has a particular bearing on today's matchup, which you may recall was advertised in the previous edition of Game of the Week as featuring Jered Weaver against Chan Ho Park. Well, at game time Park's warming up in the visiting bullpen at the Big A, while Weaver's not even in the state of California. Instead, he's in Utah after being demoted on Friday.

How did Weaver earn his demotion? It certainly wasn't his pitching-Jered Weaver had won all four of his major league starts, posting an ERA of 1.37 in four quality starts. His 13.1 VORP was the fourth-highest of any of the team's pitchers and eleventh-best among all rookie pitchers. It's not as if the Angels don't need starting pitching, either-the Halos are ninth in the league in SNLVAR, and tenth in the league in RA+.

Nonetheless, rather than working on his Rookie of the Year award acceptance speech, Weaver is a Salt Lake Bee today, thanks to Bartolo Colon's recovery from shoulder troubles, and the Mike Scioscia Leave No Veteran Behind Act of 2002, which requires that spots on the major league roster be given out on basis of seniority, only. Ironically, the prime beneficiary of the LNVBA is Jered's brother, Jeff Weaver, whose performance has been consistently below replacement level.

On that cheery note, let's see some lineups:

San Diego                            Los Angeles of Anaheim
                     EqA     WARP                         EqA     WARP
Eric Young, LF       .254     0.0    Chone Figgins, CF    .254     1.3
Mike Cameron, CF     .258     2.2    Adam Kennedy, 2B     .238     1.1
Brian Giles, RF      .285     2.5    Vlad Guerrero, RF    .292     2.3
Mike Piazza, DH      .272     0.8    Garrett Anderson, LF .255     1.4
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B  .274     2.2    Tim Salmon, DH       .291     0.9
Josh Bard, C         .332     1.7    Dallas McPherson, 3B .257     0.4
Khalil Greene, SS    .251     1.2    Kendry Morales, 1B   .235     0.4
Vinny Castilla, 3B   .203     0.3    Mike Napoli, C       .314     1.3
Josh Barfield        .244     0.7    Maicer Izturis, SS   .264     0.0

Starting Pitcher     RA+    SNLVAR   SO/9  VORP  BABIP
Chan Ho Park         1.02     1.6    6.67  11.2   .290
Bartolo Colon        0.54    -0.2    5.79  -4.7   .385

For the Angels, Darin Erstad's day-to-day with an ankle injury, and Orlando Cabrera is taking a day off in the midst of a 47 consecutive game on-base stretch. For the Padres, Dave Roberts is injured, having hit an unpadded section of the left field wall in Saturday's game, a play that saw Dallas McPherson come around for an inside-the-park home run. Eric Young starts in Roberts' place in both the field and the lineup. Putting Mike Piazza at DH in an AL park allows Josh Bard to get into the lineup, valuable both because he's got a good bat and because it gets one more left-handed hitter out there against Colon-the Pads are starting six right-handed bats. The Angels manage to pack six lefty bats into the lineup, but only one of those, Maicer Izturis, comes with an OBP over .327. These are two of the weak offensive sisters in their leagues. The Padres have the Cubs to keep them out of the league basement in runs scored, and the Angels have to give thanks to the Royals and Devil Rays for the same purpose.

Colon takes the mound after roughly two months on the disabled list, and he both ended last season and started this season ineffective due to injury. In between, he threw 14 spectacular innings during the World Baseball Classic, the second-most innings thrown by any pitcher in the tourney. I don't know that there's any correlation, much less causation. Colon's a big guy, with an interesting idea of what constitutes proper conditioning, so it's not exactly shocking if he breaks down.

Meanwhile, Park is still pitching under a contract that will go down as one of the classic blunders of free agency, with lessons almost as clear as "never get involved in a land war in Asia," and "never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line": never think a free agent pitcher will pitch as well in your bandbox as he did in Dodger Stadium, and never pay a guy like he's one of the best pitchers in baseball, just because he's the best pitcher on the market that offseason. After the Texas Rangers very painfully learned those lessons, and after Park spent years being horribly ineffective, or injured, or both, he's back to being a league-average innings guy with the Padres, which is probably about where he should be at this point in his career.

Getting to the game, Bartolo Colon's first pitch is a fastball, taken for strike one. I'm no Will Carroll when it comes to pitching mechanics, but I see Colon's delivery, and my right shoulder starts to ache in sympathy. It's just a violent, maximum-effort delivery, which sometimes leaves Colon's bulk corkscrewing around his stiff left landing leg.

The MLB.tv feed gives us the home team announcers, who make a game effort of minimizing Colon's girth--a lot of "he's looking thinner, isn't he," and "if you see him in the weight room, you'd be surprised by how athletic and nimble he is" comments. Colon doesn't look as huge as he did during the WBC, but he still doesn't look like someone who's going for the salad in the postgame buffet.

Young eventually grounds to second on a slider. Against Mike Cameron, Colon tries to get the fastball down in the zone, and misses, getting behind 2-0. The fastball's in the low 90s, and the next one is low, but right over the plate, and Cameron blasts it out over the center field wall, giving the Pads a 1-0 lead.

Incidentally, because it's Father's Day, every home run hit in one of today's games nets a $20,000 donation by MLB to fight prostate cancer. Before you say anything, yes, a guy named Colon takes the mound on prostate cancer awareness day. You got a problem with that?

On a 1-0 count, Brian Giles lashes a Colon fastball into the rightfield corner for a double. At 92 or so miles an hour, Colon simply can't catch that much of the plate and get away with it-unless he's throwing to Mike Piazza. On an 0-1 count, Colon throws his low-90's cheese straight down the pike against the future Hall-of-Famer, and Piazza can't catch up. Colon goes on to strike Piazza out looking with a fastball on the corner. Colon gets ahead of Adrian Gonzalez, dialing the heat up to 94 now. Gonzalez, too, is caught looking at the fastball, and Colon escapes the first.

Now the Padres take the field. It's pretty hard to find a greater contrast in pitchers than there is between Colon and Park. They're both righthanded, but that's where the similarities end. Physically, about two and a half Chan Hos could fit inside your average Bartolo Colon. Where Colon's windup is violent and raw--he looks much more like a thrower than a pitcher--Park's delivery is extremely elaborate and stylized, in the way of many Asian pitchers.

At this moment in time, however, Park's stuff is pretty similar to Colon's-low 90's fastball, sharp little slider. Park's results against the Angels' leadoff man, Chone Figgins, are the same as Colon's first batter, a groundout to second. After battling a bit, Adam Kennedy bloops a ball to left that falls in front of Young. Young bobbles an attempt to barehand the ball, which helps Kennedy get to second base.

Kennedy's in scoring position for Vladimir Guerrero. For most people, Guerrero's numbers this year (.307/.347/.525) would be a great accomplishment, but for Vladi, the slugging percentage would be his lowest since 1997, and the on base percentage would be his lowest since the nine-game cup of coffee he had in 1996. Continuing his June slump, Guerrero flies out to Cameron. With two outs, Park quickly gets ahead of Garret Anderson, 0-2. Anderson's the source of the announcer's random stat of the day, which is that the leftfielder has 108 interleague RBI. Does anyone really care about what kind of hurt Anderson puts on the National League, as separated from his overall accomplishments?

On 1-2, Park gets some good news and some bad news. The good news is that he got Anderson way out in front of the breaking ball; the bad news is that Park put the off-speed pitch down and inside, so Anderson was able to hook the ball down the rightfield line, narrowly missing a home run. That's a double. Tim Salmon didn't play at all in 2005, and was largely considered finished with his career, but he's up next. He's mostly limited to DH at this point, but he's provided the Halos the second-best OBP (.381) on their roster, and is a pretty good candidate for the Comeback Player of the Year award. Salmon singles on his first pitch, bringing Anderson around, and giving the Angels a 2-1 lead.

Park is able to retire Dallas McPherson to end the inning, and for the next two frames, the pitchers cruise. Park retires eleven batters in a row, while it only takes Colon 16 total pitches to set down the side in the second and third innings. This makes sense, because when you have an overweight pitcher coming off of a long layoff, you wouldn't want to make him work hard, test his endurance or anything. Nosirreebob.

In the fourth inning, Colon has two outs, and has retired ten straight, when he runs into some trouble in the form of Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez, Park, and Chris Young came to the Pads from the Rangers, which should make Texas Kevin Towers' favorite trading partner. In two deals, the above trio went to San Diego in return for Adam Eaton, Akinori Otsuka, and Phil Nevin. In Texas, Otsuka's the only one of those three contributing to the ballclub, Eaton having gotten injured, and Nevin having been flipped for spare part Jerry Hairston Jr.

Down in the count to Colon 1-2, Gonzalez smokes an inside 95 MPH fastball, launching it over the fence in right-center field. Tie game. Next up is Josh Bard, the switch-hitting catcher the Padres acquired from the Red Sox when they flipped Doug Mirabelli back to Boston. Bard hammers a similar pitch the opposite way for a double.

This brings up Khalil Greene, who grounds one deep into the hole at short. Izturis, filling in for Orlando Cabrera, dives to get to the ball at the edge of the outfield grass, where the ball bounces off the heel of his glove. Welcome to yet another episode of Fun With Errors and Unearned Runs. If the ball gets through the infield, Bard likely scores. If Izturis fields the ball cleanly, from his knees on the outfield grass, it's unlikely he gets Greene at first. But since the ball made contact with his glove, and he didn't field it, Izturis gets an error. When Vinny Castilla singles to score Bard, the run is unearned, as is Greene's run when Josh Barfield singles to give the Pads a 4-2 lead. Castilla gets caught on the basepaths after Greene scores, mercifully ending the inning for Colon.

In the bottom of the fifth, Park stumbles, bringing the Angels within striking range. With one out, catcher Mike Napoli singles, and Izturis works a walk against Park. Figgins (or "Figgy," as announcer Rex Hudler insists on calling him) works a full count of his own before singling Napoli home. But just when things start to get exciting, Adam Kennedy grounds the first pitch he sees to short, a perfect double-play ball for Greene.

Since MLB.tv was kind of choppy in the fifth inning, for the sixth, I opt to try MLB Advanced Media's new golden child, MLB.tv Mosaic. Mosaic purports to present you six mini-screens of baseball at once, giving the user the ability to toggle seamlessly between audio feeds or larger screens of the game. It's pretty cool, in theory. When I log in to Mosaic, the Angels and Padres are the only games active on their particular screen-all the other matchups having concluded already. Selecting my game pulls up a screen with a larger image than the regular MLB.tv, and a nifty live box score on the side. The video is good, but the audio is glitchy, with a strange echo effect. What's worse is that it's out of sync--as I realize when I hear the crack of the bat and the announcer call a single, well before seeing Josh Bard single with one out. Another out-of-sync single later, Colon's in a jam, which he escapes by striking out Vinny Castilla on three pitches, then inducing Josh Barfield to ground out to Dallas McPherson.

After a short commercial break, the video comes back on, with the announcers telling us that, as another Father's Day prostate cancer awareness thing, the seventh inning stretch is being held in the sixth inning today, because one in six men will at some point have prostate cancer. It's a little off-topic, since stretching has little to do with prostate cancer.

When the game resumes, Mosaic decides to act up, and the game video becomes a slide show. Fortunately, the bottom of the sixth is uneventful--the heart of the Angels' order grounds out, strikes out, and flies out--and we quickly switch back to the regular feed.

Colon comes into the seventh having thrown about 80 pitches. He faces the top of the Padres lineup, with J.C. Romero warming up in case Colon falters. For the fourth straight time, Colon retires Young easily, but Cameron fights his way to a walk. Brian Giles battles a bit before tomahawking one to Guerrero in right, bringing Piazza up again. Colon falls behind, but then gains the upper hand by exploiting Piazza's lack of bat speed; to protect against the fastball, Piazza is starting his swing earlier and earlier. Colon realizes this and starts feeding Piazza a few off-speed pitches, which Piazza is barely able to foul off. All of this sets up Piazza's whiff on an 89 mph two-seam fastball.

After seven innings and 102 pitches, Colon's day is over. His team trails 4-2, and he surrendered nine hits and two home runs, but he didn't look too bad. The announcing team breathlessly reminds us that this is a quality start for Colon. I'm not sure whether that's more an indictment of the quality start statistic or of the earned run rule.

In the bottom of the seventh, with two outs, Park runs out of gas. He issues a walk to Mike Napoli, and Napoli then grinds a little salt into the wound by going for and getting his second stolen base of the season. With Napoli on second, Park walks Izturis, the number nine hitter. At that point, Bruce Bochy has seen enough, and Scott Linebrink is on his way in from the bullpen. Linebrink has quietly done some very solid work in San Diego, and he retires Figgins to end the threat.

San Diego and (Los Angeles of) Anaheim both feature good bullpens, among the top five in their respective leagues. In the top of the eighth, the superiority of the Angels' bullpen isn't evident, as they send their very worst pitcher, Romero (VORP -9.2 in 22 IP), to the mound in a one-run game. Romero strikes out his first batter, fellow lefty Adrian Gonzalez, on a wicked slider, but then allows back-to-back singles to Bard and Greene. Bard's is his third hit of the afternoon, an infield single in a situation where Kennedy cut off Izturis on a grounder up the middle. After Greene's hit, Brendan Donnelly is summoned from the bullpen, and he immediately gives up a huge two-run double to Castilla, adding a couple more runs to Romero's tab.

With the score 6-3, Linebrink skates through the bottom of the eighth. In the ninth inning, Scioscia calls on swingman Kevin Gregg to hold the Padres in check, but Gregg isn't up to the task, either. With Giles on first base and one out, Piazza finally connects with authority, belting a shot to center field just past the outstretched glove of Chone Figgins for a run-scoring double. The lead is now 7-3, San Diego.

With a four-run lead, and therefore no save opportunity for Pads' closer Trevor Hoffman, Jon Adkins comes into the game. Adkins is 28, and his Stars and Scrubs chart has the look of a sunset, with PECOTA thinking Adkins has about a 20% chance to stick around as a fringe player, 10% to be a regular again. Salmon promptly smacks a ground-rule double into the leftfield corner, so Adkins is gone as quickly as he arrived. It's still not a save situation, however, so it's still not Hoffman. With Dallas McPherson up, lefty Alan Embree gets the call.

Embree's a mystery. He's had three good years in his career--1997 with the Braves, 1999 with the Giants, and 2002 with the Padres and Red Sox--and just as many truly awful seasons, where he looked like he didn't belong in the league. Pretty quickly after he comes into the game, we're reminded why folks keep on giving Embree chance after chance--the man cooks with gas. Embree strikes out McPherson on four pitches. Kendry Morales fouls off as many high 90s fastballs as Embree can throw to him--it takes Morales eight pitches to strike out. Embree's fastball goes as high as 96 during Napoli's at bat, which ends in a pop-up to end the game.

So that's it for this week's edition of the Game of the Week. For our next outing, we're looking at this weekend's World Series rematch, the Astros and the White Sox. Friday's game, currently scheduled to feature undefeated White Sox starter Jose Contreras looks promising, but Houston's rotation is in flux with the Rocket's re-entry to the major league roster. We'll try to get you the best matchup, so keep your eyes peeled to the Newsletter for details. As always, you can mail your questions, suggestions or requests to Game of the Week by using the link below.

Derek Jacques is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Derek by clicking here or click here to see Derek's other articles.

Derek Jacques is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Derek's other articles. You can contact Derek by clicking here

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