Anaheim Angels

  • Sweet Relief: OK, so who’s been the Angels’ best reliever this season? That’s easy: Brendan Donnelly. Whether you’re measuring his performance by Earned Run Average or Adjusted Runs Prevented (ARP), it’s clear that Donnelly has been the most effective hurler out of the Angels bullpen, as well as the entire league, for all of 2003.

    But who’s been the Angels’ best reliever since June? Would you believe it’s been someone other than Donnelly? Would you believe it’s been Francisco Rodriguez–the same Francisco Rodriguez who, on June 1st, sported an ERA of 4.85? Well, it’s true; check it out…

    Brendan Donnelly
             G    IP   H  R  ER  HR  BB  SO   ERA  WHIP   BAA
    June    12  14.2  10  1   1   0   3  21  0.61  0.89  .189   
    July    11  12.0   9  2   2   0   3  12  1.50  1.00  .205   
    August   4   5.0   6  3   3   1   1   4  5.40  1.40  .316
    Francisco Rodriguez
             G    IP   H  R  ER  HR  BB  SO   ERA  WHIP   BAA
    June    10  15.2   4  2   2   1   4  16  1.15  0.51  .082
    July    10  16.1  11  4   4   4   6  17  2.20  1.04  .200
    August   4   7.1   3  1   0   0   1   8  0.00  0.55  .125

    While it appears that Donnelly has been tiring as the year has worn on, K-Rod has only gotten stronger. Since June 16th, Rodriguez has allowed a Gagnesque four runs in 33 innings of work, while posting a K rate of nearly 10/9 IP and a BB rate of less than two. Granted, he’s been a little homer-happy at times (five HR allowed in 39.1 IP since June 16th), but at least some of that is offset by the fact that four of those five long balls were of the solo vareity.

  • Down on the Farm: It’s been a while since we took a look at the Angels’ minor-league system. Here are four farm hands who’ve been under our watch this season…

    • Bobby Jenks, RHP: While his off-the-field exploits have been well-documented, Jenks has actually taken a step forward on the field in 2003. Where last season Jenks walked nearly as many batters as he struck out–and boy, he did he strike out a lot of batters–this season Jenks has managed to get his triple-digit fastball under control. With that being said, TINSTAAPP still applies: Jenks has battled elbow tendinitis this season, and missed nearly two months, total. His K rate has remained high, though, even after being promoted to Double-A Arkansas (11.17/9 IP in 62 IP).

    • Ervin Santana, RHP: After absolutely dominating Class-A Rancho Cucamonga (2.53 ERA, 130 SO, 36 BB in 124.2 IP), Santana has struggled a bit since being promoted to Double-A Arkansas (4.98 ERA, 18 SO, 8 BB in 21.2 IP). This doesn’t change his time-table for the major-leagues, mind you, but it is worth noting. We’ll keep an eye out.

    • Nick Gorneault, OF: Left out of Baseball America‘s Top 30 Prospects last season, Gorneault has hit well since coming to the Angels’ organization in 2001. He began the year as a 22-year-old in Class A Rancho Cucamonga, but has since been promoted to Double-A Arkansas, where he’s hit .391/.404/.587. Obviously, the lack of plate discipline is a problem, but he’s a college hitter who’s been successful at every level. Continued playing time at Double-A Arkansas will give us a better picture of his future.

    • Alberto Callaspo, 2B: A good little ballplayer, with room to grow. Currently hitting .332/.379/.441 at Class-A Cedar Rapids, Callapso is someone to keep your eye on. More walks (35) than strikeouts (25) and more extra-base hits (41) than walks is a good thing.

Chicago Cubs

  • Poor Performance: Through Sunday, the Cubs’ starting pitchers were rated as the tenth best group in the major leagues, according to Michael Wolverton’s Support Neutral metrics. Since this appears to be the club’s strength, and since the team is in the thick of the playoff race, it might seem surprising that the team doesn’t measure higher. Let’s take a look at the team’s five starters, using their traditional statistics, plus VORP, which compares their value (in runs) to a replacement level pitcher (stats do not include Wednesday’s game):
                  Starts    W-L    ERA   VORP
    Mark Prior        21   10-5   2.76   37.9
    Kerry Wood        24   11-9   3.40   35.0
    Carlos Zambrano   24   11-8   3.07   34.0
    Matt Clement      23   9-10   4.08   20.1
    Shawn Estes       23    7-9   5.53  -13.2

    The top three of the Cubs rotation are among the best in baseball, a fact masked somewhat by a mediocre offensive team. Zambrano, in particular, is starting to gather some measure of attention away from his more famous teammates due to his tremendous performance since the All Star break (5-0, 1.43 in five starts). Clement has had a solid year as the number four starter.

    However, Shawn Estes, owner of the worst ERA in the National League among qualifiers, is dragging the staff down. He is comfortably among the worst 10 starters in the major leagues, and is the only such hurler pitching for a contender. Were he in the Tiger rotation, he would be their worst pitcher. Put another way, he completely negates one of the Cubs front-line pitchers: were you to combine Estes’ performance with that of the Mark Prior, you would have two below average hurlers. He has also been a tease all year, mixing in a solid outing once in a while when it appears his job is in jeopardy. He posted an 8.38 ERA in four July starts, but followed up with two decent August outings. Yesterday, he pitched poorly again. Overall, he has been wretched.

    If the Cubs get to the postseason, this isn’t going to matter; in fact, Estes should be left off the roster. However, in the next six weeks the Northsiders are going to need every win they can muster and ought to seriously consider an upgrade.

    What we have here is a paradox: although the Cubs rotation, in aggregate, has been very good, there is no team in baseball that could have been helped more at the deadline, or in fact right now, by the acquisition of a starting pitcher.

  • Upcoming Schedule: In the last PTP, we cautioned Cubs fans about their brutal schedule through early September. So far, so good. Playing mostly fellow contenders in the past fortnight, the Cubs have rung up nine wins in 13 games, to pull within 1.5 games of the Astros for the division and 3.5 of the Marlins for the wild card. The schedule does not get any easier, starting with the finale against the Astros on Thursday, then hosting the Dodgers, heading out on the road to play Houston, Arizona and Los Angeles, before heading back home to face the Brewers and the Cardinals. The latter series, five games over September 1-4, ought to grab a fair bit of attention.

Detroit Tigers

  • The Downward Spiral: The Tigers have had a rough schedule since the All-Star break, facing a number of playoff teams. However, their starting pitching, which had been league-average before the break, has been lousy since. In particular note the ERA spikes for Wil Ledezma and Matt Roney, who basically were moved into the rotation at the break. Also note the declining strikeout to walk ratio for Jeremy Bonderman.
                     H/9         BB/9       K/9        K/BB        ERA
    Pitcher       Pre  Post   Pre  Post  Pre  Post  Pre  Post   Pre   Post
    Bonderman     9.9  10.4   2.7  5.2   6.8  4.1   2.5  0.8    4.88  6.29
    Cornejo      11.2  11.9   2.6  3.0   1.7  3.3   0.6  1.1    4.44  6.26
    Ledezma       8.0  16.1   2.8  6.2   5.7  5.2   2.1  0.8    3.12  9.47
    Maroth        9.5  11.4   2.2  2.8   4.2  2.8   1.9  1.0    4.89  5.85
    Roney         7.0  12.9   4.1  5.6   4.8  3.4   1.2  0.6    3.34  9.86

    At least recent bullpen additions Danny Patterson and Eric Eckenstahler have sub-2.00 ERAs.

    The bats have picked up slightly. The team was hitting .228/.290/.353 before the break and .257/.310/.407 since. In particular, Bobby Higginson seems to be on the rebound from his various injuries.

    Improved OPS  Pre-ASB   Post
    Higginson     .661     .913
    Munson        .724     .877
    Witt          .721     .861
    Sanchez       .665     .737
    Peña          .741     .808
    Monroe        .693     .754
    Young         .899     .800
    Morris        .772     .596
    Halter        .635     .388
    Santiago      .583     .557

    Talk about slumping: Dmitri Young is batting .185/.233/.259 in August. As for those last three, the Tigers have had poor offensive production from their middle infield all year. Omar Infante didn’t stick and Ramon Santiago hasn’t had a good year either:

    Month   OPS
    April  .601
    May    .585
    June   .588
    July   .596
    August .493

    Addressing the middle infield situation must surely must be high on on Dombrowski’s to-do list for the offseason, particularly if the team is sticking with Alex Sanchez in center and if Brandon Inge–who has been on a .421/.450/.579 tear while A.J. Hinch is on the DL–can find his way above the Mendoza line for more than five games in a row. One possibility for the middle infield situation might be Rayner Bautista, shortstop for the AA club in Erie, hitting .294/.328/.457. Bautista’s comps include Frank White…but also Johnnie LeMaster.

  • Weird Game: On August 7 the Tigers beat the A’s, and Jeremy Bonderman got the victory over Barry Zito.
               IP   H  R  ER BB K  HR
    Bonderman  5.0  3  2  1  6  3  1
    Zito       8.0  6  3  0  1  3  1

    Not every day you see an eight inning, zero earned run start wind up in the L column. Now for the rest of the story. Jose Guillen had a solo homer in the third inning. Eric Munson errored in the top of the fourth that scored Erubiel Durazo to make it 2-0, A’s. Munson was vindicated later in the inning though… Miguel Tejada‘s two-out error in the bottom of the fourth put Craig Monroe on base. Zito then walked Carlos Pena and gave up the home run to Munson; 3-2, Tigers, and that was the final score. This homer also helped Munson in his rookie HR race with Mark Teixeira. (The “slumping” Zito–who has had rough starts against the Devil Rays, and more recently the Yankees and Red Sox, but who otherwise has been the victim of poor run support–actually lowered his ERA from 3.30 to 3.14 in this game.)

  • First-Round Pick: On Sunday, the Tigers signed their first-round pick and the third pick overall, Kyle Sleeth. Given the Tigers’ experience with Bonderman this year–who, despite flashes of brilliance, including a seven-inning, four-hit, one earned run game against the Rangers on August 12, has had a rough year–let’s hope Sleeth’s gaudy college numbers (3.47 ERA, 2.7 K/BB ratio) don’t lead the team to rush him to the majors. Shane Loux may be struggling in his second trip to the bigs but the team has other options. In Toledo (Triple-A), they have lefty Nate Robertson (3.14 ERA), as well as Gary Knotts and Seth Greisinger, both of whom have started for the big club. In Erie, they have lefty Rob Henkel and Jeff Farnsworth (3.21 ERA, 3.5 K/BB ratio).
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