Anaheim Angels

  • Star Performer: Much like Dirk Diggler in the closing scene of Boogie Nights, the Anaheim Angels’ bullpen has been a bright, shining star this season. First in the AL in Adjusted Runs Prevented–and third in the majors, overall–the Anaheim relief squadron is essentially the only thing keeping the team afloat at this point, save Garret Anderson‘s continuing quest to make statheads taste their own bile.

    Unlike the cross-town Dodgers, however–the team that leads the planet in ARP–the Angels bullpen has mainly succeeded thanks to the dominance of two pitchers rather than six. And who might those two pitchers be? Troy Percival and Francisco Rodriguez, perhaps? Well, not exactly. Instead, it is Brendan Donnelly and Scot Shields who have combined to be perhaps the most dangerous one-two punch in the American League this season, allowing just four earned runs in 46 IP. Check it out:

    2003          IP    H   ER   BB   SO    OPS   BIPR   GB/FB
    Donnelly    17.0    5    0    7   15   .305   .116    0.50
    Shields     29.0   24    4    8   24   .613   .291    1.50

    And yet, while there’s no denying the fact that both pitchers have been wildly successful up to this point, it is apparent that their success has been achieved in two relatively divergent ways.

    Donnelly, for instance, has relied greatly on his team’s fielding prowess–a fact that is indicated by his insanely low BIPR, or batting average allowed on balls in play. Where an average pitcher might allow a .280 BIPR, Donnelly is pushing the limits of reality this season by allowing a BIPR of only .116. (Just think about that for a minute.) Shields, on the other hand, has received much more normal support from his fielders, as his .291 BIPR is slightly above the major-league average.

    Similarly, where Donnelly has failed to induce many ground balls–something that’s consistent with last year’s performance–Shields allows a chopper, a dribbler, and a swinging bunt for every out recorded in the air.

    Not bad for a couple of guys who didn’t make it to the majors before the age of 25, wouldn’t you say?

  • Injury: Frankly, not too many teams would suffer a significant drop-off in production if they lost Darin Erstad for two to three weeks. Despite early indications that he would develop into a hitter with good speed, patience, and doubles power, Erstad has seemingly turned himself into a defensive specialist over the past few years, earning a number of Gold Gloves, but posting only one season in which he slugged above .400.

    Nevertheless, the Angels appear to be just one of those teams. Check out how “well” Erstad’s replacement duo has done–a combination of Eric Owens and Jeff DaVanon, who we’ll call “Eric DaVanon.”

    Eric DaVanon
    78  8 17  2  0  0  11  6 11  8  4 .218 .274 .244 .518

    Strikingly Tejadaesque, wouldn’t you say?

    Luckily, reports suggest that Erstad is progressing fine, and should be back in the lineup on schedule. For the Angels, it won’t be a moment too soon. That 700 OPS of his never looked so good.

Chicago Cubs

  • Lineup: The biggest lineup concern continues to be at third base, where
    Mark Bellhorn has not been able to get it going. Bellhorn provides two valuable skills–power and patience-which theoretically can trump a low batting average. Unfortunately, thus far he is showing no power at all (five extra base hits in 28 games) and is hitting just .214. Although I am sure this is making Jeff Bower giddy, Dusty Baker is less amused.

    Ramon Martinez is starting to see more action at third base (and elsewhere) and Baker has let it be known that Bellhorn is on a short rope. Expect to hear a lot of rumors about a trade for a third baseman if the Cubs hang in the race.

  • Injury: Antonio Alfonseca, last season’s “proven closer,” was activated on Sunday, having recovered from a strained right hamstring suffered in spring training. During his absence the Cubs were forced to rely on
    Joe Borowski; the same Joe Borowski who, now that you mention it, dramatically out-pitched Pulpo last year and has been lights-out so far in ’03. For now, Baker is going to continue to use Borowski in the ninth inning, and Alfonseca is in the mix with Kyle Farnsworth,
    Mark Guthrie, and
    Mike Remlinger for the set-up jobs. Baker also says that Alfonseca will likely get the closer job back once he is pitching regularly and well.

    One of the many ridiculous things about the “closer” is the notion that it is an actual position, like “shortstop.” There is local media speculation that the Cubs could make a trade, now that they have two “closers.” Rather than treating this turn of events as a positive, in that the Cubs bullpen just got deeper and stronger, it instead invites all sorts of speculation about how Baker can use the two of them. The most common suggestion is that the Cubs would trade Alfonseca to the Red Sox for
    Shea Hillenbrand, since the Red Sox do not have a “closer.” This likely would not be met with much enthusiasm in Boston, but Baker ought to be able to find plenty of things for his relievers to do in the mean time.

  • Star Performer: Eric Karros (what, you were expecting someone else?) is now raking the ball to the tune of .333/.444/.489, which has earned him all of the at-bats against lefties. It’s hard to argue with the results, although
    Hee Seop Choi–despite a .261 batting average–is still outhitting Karros (261/.446/.609). Choi’s also a better defensive player, and Karros will be hitting .250 soon enough. Given that the Cubs plan to be in the pennant race all summer, Baker might not be keen on giving Choi the full-time job unless Karros fails. It’s difficult to argue with anything Dusty has done thus far, but it would nice to see what Choi could do against lefties (1-6 thus far).

Detroit Tigers

  • Streaks: The Tigers stood at 3-20 in late April at the end of their road series with the AL West. But stop the presses! They’re on a four-game winning streak! Here’s how they have done against the AL East:
    Home vs. Baltimore: 0-3, 9 runs scored, 22 runs against
    Home vs. Tampa Bay: 1-2, 13 runs scored, 13 runs against
    At Baltimore: 3-0, 22 runs scored, 11 runs against

    Manager Alan Trammell must have circled and highlighted this road trip on his calendar–the last series won by the Tigers was against Baltimore in August 2002.

    Over the last five games, the team as a whole has batted .313/.378/.562 with one home run from Bobby Higginson, and two each from Craig Monroe, Carlos Pena, Brandon Inge, and Dmitri Young; this compares favorably with the team year-to-date stats of .202/.273/.291. Higginson is hitting 11-for-20 over this stretch and Young is 9-for-19.

  • Amazing Game: On May 6, Dmitri Young started the game against the Orioles as the most underperforming Tiger. But in this game he went 5-5 with two home runs and two triples. Higginson walked in the ninth and Young’s second triple in the next at-bat scored him. Dean Palmer and then Monroe were unable to score Young from third base but Higginson’s run proved the margin of victory. Interesting side note: If Young had stopped at second base he would have hit for the cycle.
  • Lineup Changes: There’s been some shuffling in the outfield. Craig Monroe was called up from Triple-A on April 18 and has been playing regularly in left field and batting .286. This pushed Dmitri Young to DH and Dean Palmer and his year-to-date stats of .125/.225/.154 to the bench. Meanwhile, while Sir Eugene Kingsale was being knighted in Aruba, the Tigers started taking a look at Andres Torres in center field. Torres was batting .350/.422/.450 for the Mud Hens, but he is 10-for-36 with no extra-base hits for the Tigers.
  • Pitching Notes: Quick, which Tiger starter is winless with a 5.40 ERA?
    Pitcher A: 26 K, 7 BB in 48.3 IP, WHIP 1.117
    Pitcher B: 7 K, 11 BB in 34.7 IP, WHIP 1.327

    Pitcher A is Mike Maroth: 0-7 in 8 starts, 5.40 ERA. Pitcher B is Nate Cornejo: 2-2 in six starts, 2.60 ERA

    Cornejo has a better GB/FB ratio (Maroth: 1.25; Cornejo: 1.35) and has marginally better H/9 and HR/9 ratios. But one can only expect his poor walk and strikeout rates will catch up with him.

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