It’s no secret that the Angels have had intentions to contend over the previous half-decade with an underwhelming pitching staff that has consistently fell short. In each of the last three seasons, LAA starters have ranked 27th (’17), 18th (’18), and last (’19) in Fangraphs’ WAR. I will save you the specific stats to preserve your feelings but here’s a warning: they aren’t much better.
Before a closer look, have fun engaging in the following brief exercise designed to frustrate you.
After limping to the 2019 finish line with just one pitcher to eclipse the 100-inning mark, the Angels wisely acquired durability tanks Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran, who have combined to average 347 innings across 62 starts in each of the last three seasons. However, after placing runner-up in the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes and passing on a bevy of capable mid-tier options in Kyle Gibson, Madison Bumgarner, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu — whom Steamer project for 3.0, 2.5, 2.3, and 2.9 fWAR, respectively — it’s yet to be determined if they’ve assembled enough quality options that can last the season.
Similar to previous seasons, the club has assembled a high quantity of arms — Shohei Ohtani notwithstanding, the Angels sport Andrew Heaney, Bundy, Teheran, Griffin Canning (now IL-destined), Matt Andriese, Patrick Sandoval, Jose Suarez, and Jaime Barria among starter competition — but has yet to parlay such a strategy into results due to near-chronic malaise to ineffectiveness, pitchers’ ligaments, and arguably poor pitching strategy. Mickey Callaway’s bold new pitching strategy of “just throw strikes” should improve the mindset for younger hitters, but a more significant change is needed for a team whose best additions are historically back-end starters.
It’s true that Angels starters have combined for a 2.80 ERA, and one is allowed to get excited. But remember that traditional statistics simply don’t offer the predictive power that fans ascertain from them: BtBS found that average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage from spring training had a less than 5% predictive power in correlating to the identical regular season statistic.
Allow me to frame the importance in this way: the ten teams that made the playoffs last year received an average of 10.8 fWAR from their top 3 starters. Likewise, the division winners received 11.1 fWAR from such a group, while the second WC had 6.6 fWAR. While an overly simplistic high-level analysis, such an approach underscores that a team should:
- assemble gobs of talent in starters and if not they should…
- have more mid-tier starters to redistribute talent among all games, as opposed to just the first three starters or
- forego pitching and do other things extremely well (a la the Brewers bullpen or the Twins’ vaunted lineup)
Based on the approach Eppler took this winter, it’s clear the Angels are gearing towards the third bullet point, with a stacked lineup to outmash opponents. But, even the Twins averaged 3.8 fWAR from their top three starters.
A Bundy breakout is certainly plausible, as our very own Brent Maguire wrote, but with only ~20 Ohtani starts, it’s hard to reasonably imagine where else the Angels can pair innings with above-average production to match the output of 2019’s division winners.
trigger warning— Alex Chamberlain (@DolphHauldhagen) February 10, 2020
The Angels are going to need veterans and underlings alike to break out to have a fighting shot this season. One thing is for sure: they could sure use Ross Stripling right now.