No part of the Angels received a bigger overhaul than the pitching staff. Although Billy Eppler didn’t snag one of the big free agent fish, he has quietly created what should be a pretty durable group.
There’s no sugar coating last year on the mound, it was horrible. The Angels were 25th in ERA and even worse in most advanced stats. Not only did the team not have a single complete game from a starter, the misnomer “quality start” was pretty much non-existent. So a makeover was in order, from coaching to players.
The highest upside arm the Angels will add to their 2020 rotation is Shohei Ohtani. He showed ace type ability in his first foray into MLB but missed all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. His 80 grade fastball and 70 grade splitter won’t be on the hill until mid May, but Showtime Sundays should again give the Angels a good chance to win.
Most projection systems predict Ohtani will deliver about 100 innings of 3.75 ERA/3.85 FIP. That would be about 15% better than the average MLB pitcher and generate about 2 WAR.
Expected to slot behind Ohtani in the rotation is free agent signing Julio Teheran. In the modern game, Julio is the definition of “workhorse,” always getting in 30 starts and usually tallying 180 innings or more. His bottom line results have always been better than his metrics would suggest, but he’s also moving into a league with a designated hitter for the first time.
As usual, the projection systems peg Julio to live down to his metrics rather than continue to stay ahead of them. He’s projected to deliver 179 innings with an ERA around 5. But year after year is FIP and xFIP indicate the same yet year after year he’s a 3.8-4.4 ERA guy.
Speaking of workhorses, Eppler brought in another in Dylan Bundy. He’s also averaged 30 starts per year over the last three years but in his case he’s moving from the bandboxes of the AL East to the more pitcher friendly confines of the AL West. And he’ll actually have a good defense behind him.
The prediction models peg him for another 2 WAR over 175ish innings and a low 4 ERA. Interestingly enough, they all peg him to maintain the 1.6 HR/9 rate he had last year, which seems odd. If that number drops, and getting away from Camden, NY, and Boston can’t possibly hurt, his numbers across the board will improve as well. This wasn’t a sexy pickup, but I can see some upside.
Perhaps the Angels best bet of a breakout performance is Griffin Canning. The OC native and UCLA product could be a budding homegrown star and there’s hope that the tutelage of new pitching coach Mickey Callaway can make that happen.
Last year Griffin got his first taste of big league action. Over 90 innings he generated over a strikeout per inning but only induced ground balls at a 37% clip. He still contributed 1.3 WAR in that small sample while getting a feel for MLB competition.
The projection systems peg him to add another 40 innings or so, getting to the 135 range, keeping his ERA about 4.25 and contributing another 1.5 WAR. This would be a nice progression for a young player and the Angels could benefit from any further development he makes.
Andrew Heaney is now the grizzled veteran of the group. He’s been with the Angels the longest but hasn’t been on the mound with any consistency. Last year was another lost year for Andrew as injuries limited him to 95 innings. Coming off his career highs of 180 innings and 2.8 WAR, it is impossible to label 2019 as anything but a disappointment.
If he can stay healthy, he has a legitimate case to be slotted higher in the rotation. But, given the lack of track record I place him 5th.
I don’t know how the projection systems come up with numbers for guys like Andrew but I think everyone would be thrilled if he hits the 165 innings of 4 ERA projections and contributes another 2.8 WAR season. If the Angels are going to make some noise, a year like that from Andrew would really help.
Swingman Matt Andriese likely gets a rotation spot while Ohtani rehabs then becomes a long reliever/flex starter option. He was brought over from the Diamondbacks in a trade and has worked primarily out of the bullpen the last two years. As a result, the prediction models generally peg him for 60 innings pitched with ZIPS setting the high mark at 86 predicted innings.
Waiting in the wings, or Salt Lake City, will be a group of youngsters with both promise and some MLB experience.
Patrick Sandoval picked up 9 starts last year and competed well. He had trouble with the long ball but looks close to MLB ready.
Jose Suarez was viewed as our most MLB ready arm last year and got off to a tough start at the big league level. Former pitching coach Doug White might have over coached the youngster and there’s hope just turned 22 year old will continue to develop.
Jaime Barria also took a major step back in 2019. A pretty impressive 2018 in which the rookie threw 128 innings of 3.41 ERA baseball isn’t so far in the rear view mirror to write him off, though.
Also in the mix is Felix Pena, who is battling back from a torn ACL. Pena is 29 years old and has bounced between the rotation and bullpen for most of his career.
Dillon Peters and his flowing hair are currently slated for AAA depth. But, considering he started 12 games for the Angels last year, this shows how much the depth chart has changed.
Perhaps the most coaching intriguing hire was Mickey Callaway. While in Cleveland, Mickey took Corey Kluber from good to great. Danny Salazar from meh to good. And let’s pretend we didn’t hand him Mike Clevinger to mold. If he can get the pitchers to keep the ball in the yard a little more often, and feed a Rendon/Simba/Fletcher infield, we could see a nice rotation emerge.
Overall, the starting pitching this year seems to be more of the solid rather than spectacular mold. But that might just be enough.
I recently tallied up the innings and runs allowed totals of Angels pitchers in 2019 who are either off the roster or now projected for AAA. 409 runs allowed in only 579 innings. Eppler appears to have cut that down substantially, to the tune of about 150 total runs.
The club clearly looks for the rotation to keep the team in games while the offense scores enough runs to hand the bullpen a lead or close game. Workhorses like Teheran and Bundy should give the bullpen some much needed rest and improve the late inning performances as a result. A more rested Buttrey holds plenty of leads for Robles to close and the middle relief guys see less action.
All in all, Ohtani is the only “must see” name on the list. But fans shouldn’t have a sense of dread any night of the week, either. A middle of the road rotation will still give the Angels a shot to win on plenty of nights as the Angels project for a well above average offense. And with just a little magic from Mickey Callaway, this could be the best rotation the Angels have had since 2015, maybe even 2014.
Photo credit: Rex Fregosi