- First Half Surprise: The Bullpen. I mean, we suspected it would be good, but far and away the best bullpen in baseball, and nearly three times as good as the next American League team? We saw that one coming about as well Joe Montana saw Leonard Marshall.
And if there’s better evidence to support the idea that relievers are completely and totally fungible, we’ve yet to see that as well. In 2001, Brendan Donnelly, Scot Shields, and Francisco Rodriguez were all relative unknowns, without an inning of major-league experience between them. A year-and-a-half later, though, these three pitchers are the centerpiece of the best bullpen in baseball, along with Ben Weber, who made his debut with the Angels in 2000.
NAME IP H/9 BB/9 SO/9 ERA RA+ ARP --------------------------------------------------------------- Donnelly, Brendan 48.0 5.1 2.3 10.5 0.38 890 25.2 Shields, Scot 67.3 7.2 2.8 7.4 1.74 234 16.2 Rodriguez, Francisco 48.0 5.3 3.8 8.6 3.00 167 9.2 Weber, Ben 47.3 9.1 2.1 4.9 2.66 165 10.2
Not one of these pitchers was considered to be a particularly valuable commodity in the beginning of 2002, yet each one of them has been absolutely lights out in 2003, and the main reason why the Angels are six games over .500, despite ranking in the middle of the pack in offense and having one of the worst rotations in the American League.
- First Half Disappointment: While a pretty good case can be made for the rotation as the most disappointing unit of Angels’ first half, we’d rather pick on the offense. You see, where in 2002 the Angels were fourth in the American League in runs scored and EqA, this year they’ve fallen to eighth in runs scored and seventh in EqA.
Middle Infielder PA AVG OBP SLG EqA RARP ---------------------------------------------------- Kennedy, Adam 253 .247 .319 .326 .241 1.4 Eckstein, David 340 .237 .315 .313 .235 3.7
For the uninitiated, being just 5.1 runs above replacement is not a particularly good thing, especially when it represents the production of not one, but two, of your every day players. If the Angels are serious about challenging for the Wild Card in 2003, they’re going to have to either find replacements for Eckstein and Kennedy, or hope to their lucky stars that they can start hitting again in the second half. Championship-caliber ballclubs simply do put replacement level talent out there on a daily basis at more than one position.
- Going Forward: Face it, the Anaheim Angels are a third place ballclub in the AL West. Barring a second half that rivals the Oakland Athletics’ Juggernaut of Death and Destruction™ that plowed its way through the American League in both 2001 and 2002, the Angels are essentially playing for the Wild Card from here on out.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Currently eight games out of the lead, the Angels have slight but not insignificant chance at making the playoffs. In order to make that dream a reality, however, a few things must happen between now and the end of the season–two of which were mentioned above. First, the Anaheim bullpen needs to continue to be the best in the league. As we mentioned before, it’s Brendan Donnelly & Co. that’s essentially keeping this team afloat at the All-Star break, and that can’t afford to be lost. Second, the offense needs to pick up. Jeff DaVanon has essentially been the Angels best hitter since the middle May. Any time that’s the case, you know something is wrong. Third, the rotation’s going to need to stop surrendering the long ball. As we’ve mentioned in previous PTPs, the Angels’ rotation is among the most tateriffic in all of baseball; if each pitcher in the rotation could reduce their home runs allowed in the second half, there’s a pretty good chance that the team will improve its overall record.
- First Half Comeback: Sammy Sosa, perhaps the greatest player in franchise history, has gone through a more newsworthy three months than he could have hoped for. He missed 17 games in May to a sore right big toe, which led to some ridiculous questions about the seriousness of the injury. He struggled at the plate after his May 30 return, culminating in the ballyhooed corked bat incident on June 3. Sosa eventually missed seven more games to his suspension, at which point he was hitting .290/.407./.491, with just six home runs. Similar production has represented a breakthrough for Corey Koskie, but Northsiders are accustomed to much more from their right fielder. Perhaps the 34-year-old future Hall of Famer was slipping into ordinary stardom?
Not so fast. In the 25 games since his return, he has slugged 12 home runs and raised his seasonal rates to .312/.408/..577, with a .Sosa-like .327 EQA. He is comfortably one of the best 10 players in the league, and you should expect him to keep it up in the second half.
- First Half Disappointments: The Cubs have been beset with their fair share of injuries, notably to Sosa, Hee Seop Choi, and, more recently, the season-ending torn ACL suffered by Corey Patterson. The loss of Choi was not deadly-Eric Karros has continued to defy baseball analysts by providing above average offense at first base.
Patterson’s injury, on the other hand, is devastating. Patterson is not a great player by any means, but he might be the second best offensive player on the team and he provides excellent defense. The Cubs have received below average offense from catcher, shortstop and third base, and can now add a fourth position at which they are giving away runs. Their on-hand “solutions” include Tom Goodwin and Trenidad Hubbard, and perhaps Jose Hernandez, acquired to help fill the hole at third base. The Cubs are apparently trying to groom prospect Dave Kelton, who just recently moved to left field from third base, where he was inadequate, to take over center field later this year.
Add it all up, and it isn’t obvious where the team is going to get its offense. With so many gaping holes, its hard to predict what general manager Jim Hendry is going to do. Fifteen months ago the Cubs acquired Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca from the Marlins for a package of players that included an unknown A-ball pitcher named Dontrelle Willis. Caution is understandable.
- Outlook: All that said, the Cubbies could still pull out the NL Central. The Cardinals and Astros are filled with holes too, enough so that a team could win the division with 84 wins. If Chicago’s starting pitching stays healthy, no one is going to want to play this team in October.
The team’s two all stars, Mark Prior (8-5, 3.01) and Kerry Wood (8-6, 3.19), are obviously the two biggest positives from the first half, but these two front a nice pitching staff. Carlos Zambrano (6-8, 3.58) has been unlucky, while Clement (7-7, 4.39) has strung together four fine starts in a row. The bullpen has also been excellent, despite the ineptitude of Alfonseca, who injured his knee in the spring and has yet to earn back the closer job that Dusty Baker.
- First-Half Surprise: Raise your hand if you thought Dmitri Young would be this close to Garret Anderson in value. Young leads the Tigers in almost every statistical category (apart from average–where he is 2nd–and stolen bases). He is slugging .542, over 100 points higher than anyone else on the team, and he is the top scorer on the team, with 47 of the team’s 297 runs. Yes, he’s a big fish in a small pond, but this team’s obligatory All-Star representative was a reasonable choice.
- First-Half Disappointment: The rest of the offense. No excuses here–even removing park factors doesn’t change the standings. The Tigers are only scoring 3.2 runs per game, putting them behind the Dodgers. The next-worst AL offenses, the Devil Rays and White Sox, are scoring 4.2, and the MLB-leading Red Sox are over 6.1. Detroit’s team OPS is .643, worst in the AL by .074, and a full .211 lower than Boston. This has led to an almost complete retooling of the offense; of the worst offenders, Brandon Inge, Dean Palmer, Omar Infante, Gene Kingsale, and Andres Torres are no longer starting. Meanwhile, expected run producers Bobby Higginson and Carlos Pena have both lost significant playing time to injury.
- Call to the Bullpen: A second Tigers reliever has been promoted to the rotation. Wil Ledezma got the call after Adam Bernero‘s lousy start July 2 at home against Toronto. Ledezma so far (all games in pitcher-friendly Comerica Park):
IP H R ER BB SO HR July 3 4 3 2 2 2 0 0 v. TOR (finishing Bernero's start) July 8 5 5 0 0 0 4 0 v. CWS July 13 7 6 0 0 0 2 0 v. BOS
IP H R ER BB SO HR July 6 5 5 4 3 4 1 1 at KC July 12 6.2 4 1 1 2 7 1 v. Boston
- It’s a Race: The Tigers are 6-6 in July and are still active in the AL Central race–as spoilers. They dropped three games out of four in a recent series to the division-leading Royals–although they were even in scoring, 22-22, in itself notable for this team, but followed with a three-game sweep of the still-slumping-despite-the-trades White Sox. The highlight of the Royals series was the third game, where the Tigers took advantage of a poor spot start from Brad Voyles to the tune of 6 earned runs on 8 hits in 4 innings, including home runs from Dmitri Young, Kevin Witt, and…Alex Sanchez?!
- Behind the Plate: Since getting called up, A.J. Hinch has batted a meager .200/.220/.345; “good” for a -2.9 VORP. (Note: this is 10 points less awful than Brandon Inge.) Looking ahead, the Tigers traded Adam Bernero to Colorado for catcher/outfielder Ben Petrick. Petrick was batting .259/.333/.500 in Colorado Springs, a strong hitter’s park. But Scoresheet owners—caveat emptor–before you get too excited, look at Petrick’s history:
YEAR TEAM AB EqBA EqOBP EqSLG EQA 2000 CSP 248 .264 .333 .446 .259 2000 COL 146 .299 .379 .438 .273 2001 CSP 64 .203 .320 .266 .214 2001 COL 244 .225 .316 .430 .246 2002 CSP 265 .267 .355 .492 .276 2002 COL 95 .200 .275 .411 .223