A wise person once said that insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results.
If you’ve watched the Angels over the past half-decade, you’ve probably caught on to the analogy. For the fifth straight season, which feels more like the 50th straight season, Angels pitchers have failed to get the team to that next level. Other than their league-average 2017 season, Angels pitching has been well-below average during that span. This chart below documents the Angels year-to-year struggles based on ERA minus (100 is average, 110 is 10 percent worse than average, etc.) and FIP (Field Independent Pitching) minus.
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By both ERA minus and FIP minus, the Angels have been well-below average. Basically, Angels pitchers have been bad in terms of preventing runs, missing bats, not walking batters, and keeping the ball in the yard. Since 2016, Angels pitchers have the 12th-worst ERA minus in baseball. Of the 11 teams behind them, just one team (2016 Mets) have made the playoffs even once in that span.
This likely isn’t news to any of you. You’re Angels fans reading an article on an Angels blog. Angels pitchers have been bad! The question is: how do the Angels go about breaking this trend and putting a competent staff on the field? Let’s first dive into the rotation.
The rotation options beyond 2020
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There aren’t a whole lot of viable long-term options for the Angels, let alone short-term options. After Bundy, Heaney, and Canning, there is essentially a giant bag of mixed results, uncertainty, etc. Given that Bundy and Heaney both hit free agency after next season, this entire depth chart has even more potential long-term risk. Beyond those top three starters, you can squint and hope that guys like Ohtani, Sandoval, Suarez, or Barria can figure it out in terms of performance (or in Ohtani’s case, his health). For what it’s worth, Barria is showing some promise based on sheer run prevention this season. As a whole, however, this isn’t a group that inspires a ton of confidence.
The two pitchers near the bottom, Detmers and Rodriguez, are both exciting prospects who could find their way to Anaheim next year. Detmers was the club’s first-round pick in this year’s draft. With a college track record of durability and strikeouts, he’s a safe bet to settle in as an innings-eating #4 starter, possibly making an impact in the 2021 season. Listing Rodriguez here is probably wishful thinking on my part, as he threw a whopping 9 1/3 innings from 2018-2019 due to a series of injuries and hasn’t made it above High-A ball. Rodriguez, however, is apparently healthy now and, if he can manage to stay on the field, has the ingredients to become an impact starting pitcher. Naughton was recently acquired in the Brian Goodwin trade and may settle in as a decent #5 starter if things break right.
As a whole, however, this group is not very inspiring and they’ll almost certainly have to explore the free agent and trade market.
Starting pitchers the Angels could acquire
- Free Agents this offseason: Trevor Bauer, James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray, Corey Kluber, Jose Quintana, Jake Arrieta, Kevin Gausman, Adam Wainwright
- Trade targets: Lance Lynn, Carlos Carrasco, Zac Gallen, German Marquez, Matthew Boyd, Eduardo Rodriguez, Pablo Lopez
If the Angels plan to compete in 2021, they’ll almost certainly have to add significant pitching talent via free agency or trades. The upcoming offseason will be a fascinating one, given the ongoing pandemic, economic collapse, and expiring CBA contract following the 2021 season. Much like everything else in the year 2020, there will likely be some very unusual activity in the MLB offseason.
The free-agent list is pretty straightforward, listed objectively with players who will be free agents in a few months. Bauer is the clear-cut top choice as a 29-year-old who ranks in the top 10 in both fWAR (1.9) and ERA (1.74). Bauer is on the record of saying he’ll only sign one-year deals so his free-agent case(s) should be fascinating. Beyond Bauer, there are some reliably solid innings-eaters in Tanaka and Stroman and high-risk, high-reward starters in Kluber and Paxton. The Angels are a good bet to sign one, if not multiple, pitchers from this free-agent class.
The trade targets are more subjective and are based more on my perceived view of pitchers who could become available (or the Angels splurge to acquire). Lynn is a good pitcher on a bad team but the inter-division trade could make this an unlikely trade. Cleveland is hellbent on trading starters with less club control, making Carrasco a potential frontline starting pitcher on the trade market. Gallen and Marquez are probably pipedreams given their age, club control, and production but may hit the market due to team performance. The latter three seem like more reasonable options but won’t bring quite as much upside compared to the other arms.
Based on recent pitching performances and the Angels current depth chart, you can bet that the Angels will be exploring the open market and end up with some of these names.
The bullpen options beyond 2020
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The bullpen has more-or-less come undone in the 2020 season. The top two arms heading into the season, Hansel Robles and Ty Buttrey, have been disasters. Keynan Middleton, who has long been seen as a potential late-inning arm, pitched so poorly that he found himself sent to the alternate site. The rest of the group-sans Mike Mayers and Félix Peña hasn’t pitched well enough to keep the cumulative ERA below 5. Mayers has been a fantastic addition, running the fifth-best fWAR (0.8) among relievers thanks to a strong 2.33 ERA and 29:4 strikeout:walk ratio. With club control through 2023 and a newly-added cutter that has sparked this performance, Mayers will likely stick around.
While there will likely be some turnover with the group, everybody outside of Robles is under contract beyond this season. As is the nature with relievers, their volatility, and general turnover, however, it’s tough to project who will actually stick around. Buttrey has all-but-forgotten how to strike batters out this season. Ramirez and Bedrosian are fine albeit unexciting options. Middleton and Anderson are both young enough with big-time stuff but have dealt with injuries and inconsistencies. Gerardo Reyes, acquired in the Jason Castro trade, has a big fastball and swing-and-miss stuff and could be a viable option. Hector Yan, while currently a starter, will most likely end up in the pen with a funky delivery and big fastball.
Relievers the Angels could acquire
- Free Agents this offseason: Liam Hendriks, Blake Treinen, Alex Colome, Shane Greene, Joakim Soria, Yusmeiro Petit, Kirby Yates Andrew Miller
- Trade targets: Josh Hader, Edwin Diaz, Brad Hand, Josh Staumont
There are certainly going to be options available on the market for the Angels. Liam Hendriks has been baseball’s best reliever since 2019 by both fWAR (4.9) and ERA (1.57). Kirby Yates, who underwent season-ending surgery to remove bone chips in his elbow, represents another potentially strong option (second in fWAR since 2019). Even secondary options like Treinen, Colome, Greene, etc. would represent potential late-innings arms for the Angels.
If the Angels explore the trade market, they’ll find just as many enticing arms. Josh Hader has been a hot name on the trade market but his price was apparently “bananas”, according to a recent report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, and for good reason. Edwin Diaz, who has been an enigma in New York (albeit very good this year), garnered trade interest at the recent deadline. In the same vein as Carlos Carrasco, Brad Hand could be moved as a reliever with a club option for 2021. Josh Staumont throws really hard, whiffs a lot of hitters, and allows a lot of walks.
Again, these are just a list of many possible pitchers that could find their way to the Angels. Ultimately, which relievers will end up in Anaheim will depend on who is the general manager of the club. Billy Eppler has been incredibly risk-averse when it comes to signing free agent relievers, his biggest contract being the one-year $8.5 million deal for Cody Allen. Nothing in Eppler’s track record suggests he’d be willing to splurge for a big reliever. But, if Eppler stays around or a new GM is brought in, there’s a good chance the club will have a sense of urgency to fix a bullpen that hasn’t been reliable this season.
The Angels have not had a strong pitching staff in quite some time. Since their strong 2014 performance (98 ERA-), not coincidentally their last playoff appearance, Angels pitchers have been poor. A variety of factors were at play, whether it was veterans exiting their primes (Jered Weaver and C.J Wilson), young starters failing to stay healthy (Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, and Tyler Skaggs), or poor player acquisitions (Trevor Cahill, Matt Harvey, Cody Allen). Add in a player development program that has ultimately struggled to produced MLB pitching talent and you’ve had a poor track record of putting quality pitchers on the field.
As far as evaluating the current and future Angels pitchers, it’s hard to feel overly optimistic at this current moment. Other than Bundy, Heaney, and Canning, there don’t appear to be many certain starters heading into 2021. Barria has pitched quite well this year, Ohtani should return in 2021, and Detmers projects as a strong MLB starter but none of them are surefire things. There may be even more uncertainty in a bullpen that features no true shutdown arms at the MLB level or high-impact relievers in the upper minors.
For the Angels to get back into contention, they’ll need an organizational shift in terms of acquiring and developing talent. They can at least address the former option by adding talent through free agency or trade and trying to extend someone like Bundy. The latter option, developing talent, will take more time to truly address. Just like much of the past half-decade, there isn’t much certainty surrounding the Angels moving forward. What is certain, however, is things need to change quickly to take advantage of this current Trout/Rendon window.
Great article Brent! I was thinking of writing up a similarly styled fan post but you beat me to the punch. Here’s a condensed version (still pretty long). I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I think we need to look at pitching staff design through a different lens. The specialist/matchup style we see today works (with the right personnel) but it’s not the only way to get 27 outs.
It’s proven difficult to acquire top of the rotation arms and elite relievers but it’s not so difficult to get mid/bottom rotation starters. I think there’s a way to take advantage of that market while also building the farm and finding our “Ace” be it starter or reliever.
Major league starters (even mid/bottom guys) typically have two or three usable pitches to navigate through a lineup. Struggles often begin when batters get familiar with offerings (multiple times through a lineup) so it’s not uncommon to limit the number of times a starter goes through the order. What I think we should do is tandem starts (not a new idea I know) as opposed to the typical starter to BP method we see today. If a starter knows he’s only going 3ish innings he should be comfortable using his full arsenal at full effort instead of saving things for later innings.
Hypothetical: Which group gets you through 7 innings with < 4 runs allowed more consistently?
A) Canning & Barria
Lets say we add a couple of affordable arms ie. sign Robbie Ray on a 1yr deal and trade for Matt Boyd (another 1yr pitcher). We’d have 9 SPs, Bundy/Heaney/Canning/Barria/Ray/Boyd/Andriese/Ohtani/Pena, all capable of getting 10-20 outs regularly. That leaves us 6 roster spots for 3 out stoppers, optimally to get out of any pinch created by the SP group.
Are there also ‘bounce back’ candidates out there worth taking a flyer on (or is that a later discussion). I was thinking of Keone Kela – who has been injured but previously was a good back end reliever. Might it be worth seeing what it would take to bring him into camp?
I don’t get why Canning is a solid part of the rotation. I don’t think he’s earned the automatic over Barria. Canning has sucked . Sure he shows flash of great pitches from time to time but dude serves up the shittiest pitches too. He’s maybe 5t starter right now.
Caning has been serviceable, enough so to make him an SP4 type pitcher I’d say. He keeps us in games for the most part.
If we signed an SP like Bauer (or Stroman, Gausman, etc), then Canning fills the SP4 role, which I am okay with. I think he has some potential to be better than he is.
Every year we play guys too much because we’re waiting on potential and they cost us loss after loss. You can’t win the division in April but we definitely lose it.
Here’s the list of everyone that has potential to be better :
No offense but everyone I hear “potential” and seeing that rarely anyone has reached or exceeded in the last decade I go nuts. I Also have potential to become a millionaire.
No matter how you look at it, you start with a new front office
I really hope they hire an analytical mind from LA, TB, SF. We need someone who will develop the farm and be able to find diamonds in the rough like those organizations do, since we won’t have that much money to spend moving forward.
So just theoretically (and a strong dose of wishful/magical thinking) what happens to our situation if Albert hangs it up? Opens up a lot of salary cap space. Here’s hoping.
My friend, no chance it happens. It’d free up 24mil AAV of LT space, but it’s just not happening. No one will willingly walk away from that money.
Brent, another great piece taking some time to get the charts.
The good news is the pitching can’t get any worse right? Ok maybe it can. I do believe Arte needs to approve going over cap it winning is in the immediate future and hold on to the fan base.Doesn’t matter whom you and l want to join the staff, just do something smart. Boyd and Ray, Stroman are good priced possibles.. Bauer will be costly although he is the best out there. Bullpens having always been iffy to put more than one season of being great together. But this team has done it before as everyone can come up with the great names we’ve had in the past with many name overlapping. Money wise just look at what happened to the Rockies paying big dollars to a failed attempt to put a bullpen that works together, it was a bust, although the stadium didn’t help much. The one thing that l do know that having a pen of cast offs doesn’t work. Watch for butters to return next season, and maybe Robles too. Money is tight and one year over cap may have to happen along with signing Simba, just had to add that.
While I am all for signing a guy like Baur (honestly, I like the idea of paying hima ton of money for one year at a time a lot more than paying him 7 years of a lot a little less) I think Bundy has shown he is going to be at least a useful rotation piece and the FO should try to extend him this off season.
He’s the “solid bet”. Sign a #1, bonus. Ohtani comes back strong, bonus. Do both and you have a pretty solid top three. Heaney/Canning/Barria provide some solid innings too. Sign Bundy and a couple of those things don’t work out, you are still not at total zero for the rotation.
Honestly, if they could sign a couple arms like Descalfini and Jose Quintana, if healthy, just to add some quality innings, extend Bundy, and sign a closer I’d be content…. they also need to draft a pitcher with their first pick…. then content. I’m not so sure Baur is gonna be an ace every year and every other FA arm is iffy too.
As much as I’d like Bauer, I suspect Arte won’t pay the money to sign him.
I am fully on board with extending Bundy. If we wait until free agency, he’ll cost a lot more. It’s a gamble (in that we are gambling this year is not a fluke), but he’ll likely accept less now, knowing that this might be his only great year.
I am thinking perhaps a 4/60 type deal, if offered now, should be sufficient. If he’s healthy next year and pitches like he does this year (and is allowed to become a free agent), he could be worth a Wheeler-type contract instead.
I just worry that guys like DeSclafani and Quintana won’t move the bar that much higher IF they’re the only acquisitions. I’d like to see Bauer or a similar frontline arm added and one backend piece (like those aforementioned guys).
Acquiring an impact reliever will almost certainly have to happen as well as you mentioned. With guys like Hendriks, Hader, Diaz potentially being available, there’s a good chance to add a truly dominant late-innings arm.
ohtani needs to be treated like an expendable 5 piece to a rotation. can’t go into a season relying on him.
My ideal scenario would be to sign Stroman and bring back Richards (he’s 32 and Trout’s best friend so maybe a decent AAV 2 year deal).
That would give us Stroman, Bundy, Richards, Heaney, Canning. Barria is swing starter/long reliever in this scenario and Detmers is allowed to actually develop before coming up to replace an inevitable injury. Nobody should count on Ohtani pitching at this point. If he does, great, we have depth/trade pieces.
As far as bullpen, Mayers looks to be a steal. Not sure what’s going on with Buttrey this year. Noe is Noe and Cam is Cam. Even considering normal bullpen volatility I think we know what we have in them.
Of the Buttrey/Robles/Anderson/Middleton pile I think at least one will bounce back to relevance, two if we are lucky. That will make the hole out there a little shallower, I also agree that Barria (and Pena) can be be swing men with some good innings out of the pen. We need at least two more solid arms out of there though, be it young kids or FA signings.
Part of me wonders if it wouldn’t be wise to sign a proven professional closer. I generally don’t think they are worth the money, but our pen is full of million dollar arms with hardly any killer instinct and a good “leader” may be just what that pen needs.
I think we see how volatile bullpens are every year. Given how many needs we have .. I’d probably avoid signing a closer, and instead, just try to collect a bunch of “intriguing” arms and hope enough of them pan out. A key aspect to this is making sure they sign guys with options, so they can be rotated back and forth depending on how things pan out.
I mean, just look at how Andriese is pitching – he was pretty terrible for awhile, then they tinker with his pitch repertoie, and now he looks rather good. Just hard to predict…
I completely spaced on Andriese in my post. He’s looked good as of late.
Throwing out the names my post boils down to this: as much as I’d love an Ace we need multiple guys who give the Angels a legitimate chance to win each night. Stroman/Richards or some similar combo do that twice each trip through the rotation, Bauer does it once.
If it ends up being Stroman/Richards or Stroman/Gausman, I’d be cool with that too.
That said, assuming the cost is similar, what I would have, say, Bauer/Barria or Stroman/Richads? (I list Barria because I am considering who the 2nd SP signing would displace from the rotation). I think I’d still prefer Bauer/Barria, in that come playoff time (..if we ever quality), there is a huge advantage to having a shutdown ace at the top.
In the playoffs, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with a Bauer, Bundy, Heaney, and one of Canning/Barria (or Ohtani, by some miracle) than I probably would with Bundy, Stroman, Heaney, Richards. And if this ridiculous 3 game series stays, then a Bauer/Bundy 1-2 punch would be really huge for us.
We’re not the Oakland A’s!
We’re the Anaheim Angels of Anaheim ( We’ve never been a DIY channel with deteriorating houses or Jesse James with a old car ) we don’t fix broken toys and as long as AM owns the team probably never will either.
I’m with you. At least one guy bounces back out of those three. I’m not a big fan of paying big money to bullpen arms but we definitely need 1-2 more reliable guys back there.
Meyers and Pena for higher leverage spots, Cam and Noe for lower leverage spots, and a bounce back from one of those three above is a decent start.
Richards slipped my mind when I wrote this up and I think he’d be a great guy to target as a secondary option in addition to another big arm.
This trade was doable for us and as usual BE being who he is ( inept )
didnt pull the trigger. Bye!!! 😡
Bringing back Richards would be solid especially if the price is right. I’ve mentioned that before. I wouldn’t mind seeing a buy low option on Kluber. Try a 2 yr deal on both GRich and Kluber since they are both health concerns but vet presence for the team. Time to give up on Ohtani as a pitcher and get him in the OF, I thought 1B, but Walsh may be taking that now. Let him swing full time in a position and if he must pitch, set him up as a closer. Reminds me of Huston Street in college. Don’t give up on Robles, Buttery and few other relievers that were supposed to be solid yet. This year’s been an anomaly for make and a trainwreck for many die to the silly nature of this season. Give them a real season without 4 months off and then evaluate.
But a updated front office and med staff is a must. No more skeleton crew to save money. Just a few thoughts I’ve had during this lame duck covid season.
every year we look at the top pitcher/s available and every year they sign elsewhere. Bauer will get a contract similar to Cole. Maybe it’ll be a one year deal but it’ll be over $30mil for 2021. Are we going to sign him? No chance.
I don’t mean to be a wet blanket but I think February and March 2021 will see us hoping for the best from Ivan Nova and Wade LeBlanc.
If Billy comes back with only Ohtani being back as an improvement, we are doomed
Ivan Nova and Wade LeBlanc? Yeeeesh.
Why does Nova/LeBlanc sound so perfect?
Stroman is the one I want. And this year has proven that a good closer is vital for the team. Those blown saves are what torpedoed this season, not the starters.
I agree and I (slightly) disagree. No doubt it was the relief pitching that sunk the team. As Rev points out, win 6 of the 13 blown save games and the Halos are securely in a playoff spot. So relief is critical.
The slightly disagree is because relief pitcher success is by far the most difficult thing to predict with pitching. There are exceptions like Mariano Rivera but those only prove the rule. Relievers can be effective one season and quickly become unreliable the next.
It is for this reason that I, on balance, would make the major investment in starting pitching as opposed to relief pitching. But that takes nothing away from how much the bullpen should shoulder blame for this season’s fail.
I also like Stroman.
I don’t blame Bauer either, I wouldn’t want to tie myself to any team for more than a year for fear they might turn into the Angels.
Great post. No matter what, our depth won’t be great, but I think if we are able to actually sign someone like Bauer, this rotation isn’t too bad.
Bauer fits in nicely as SP1, and if Bundy can continue to pitch like this or close to it, he’s a great SP2.
Heaney’s health is always a bit of a wild card, but he’s certainly good enough to be SP3.
Canning and Barria would round out the rotation. They aren’t exciting, but they are very capable as “innings eaters” who should provide innings and fairly decent performances (enough to keep us in games).
The rest are wild cards. Ohtani – ace-like potential, but obviously we can’t count on anything for now until we see him back on the mound and pitching well. Sandoval, Suarez, Naughton, etc .. should provide us with serviceable depth in AAA. Maybe Suarez will rebound, maybe Sandoval will improve, etc.
But long story short – I think if we enter the season with a projected rotation of Bauer, Bundy, Heaney, Canning, and Barria, that should be enough for us to be competitive in terms of SP.
That’s where I stand. Adding someone with Bauer’s caliber to the rotation makes the team a heck of a lot more interesting. Bauer-Bundy-Heaney-Canning-Barria/Sandoval/Ohtani/Suarez would be a strong group.
Yeah man, I agree. It’s amazing what adding one player like Bauer could do to our rotation, as it effectively pushes everyone down “a spot.”
Right now (this year), at this point, we are effectively running Bundy, Heaney, Canning, Barria, and Teheran. Replacing Tehearn with Bauer, and pushing everyone else down, makes a pretty big difference.
As for the bullpen, while we have seen some bad regression from Robles and, to a lesser degree, Buttrey, I’m pretty stoked to see how Mayers and Pena have pitched, as well as the recent improvements by Andriese.
Bullpens will always be volatile, but I think the key thing is to have a # of “talented” arms and hope some of them hit their stride and become reliable options.
The team’s inability to field starting pitching and acquire actual talent is concerning. Would need to see a big philosophy switch from the F.O. to address the problem. Trading for Hand and Boyd and signing guys like Trevor Rosenthal, Greene and Alex Wood/Gausman would be ideal but I hold my breath and prepare for Matt Harvey’s return.
Can’t wait for the 2021 Cahill/Harvey reunion
What kind of philosophical changes would you make so that we acquire talented starting MLB pitchers?
I’m with you on trading for Boyd, or Fulmer, or both from the Tigers. I think it can be done as they will get arb expensive at a time the rest of the Tigers’ roster isn’t ready for the investment.
What makes you think Arte would?
Arte would ( maybe be open to a half season mercenary deal like Mark Texeira or Craig Kimbrel was ) no way he’ll go for a expensive long term deal for a pitcher.