2021 Position Preview: Rotation

Spring Training is here, which means the march to Opening Day has begun.

To prepare for the upcoming 2021 season, we’re going to begin a position preview at Crashing the Pearly Gates. We’ll break this series down into four segments: infield, outfield, rotation, and bullpen. At each position, we’ll rank the players from the best to worst, as projected by the Fangraphs depth charts WAR (Wins Above Replacement) projections, and include the possible options on the bench. Things could change in the coming weeks, whether it be player acquisitions or injuries, but a lot of the roster is likely set in stone already.

We already took a look at both the infield and outfield. Now, it’s time to pivot to a rotation that is the clear weakness on this roster. Where have we heard this before?

Andrew Heaney (3 WAR)

Heaney has the best projection of any Angels starter thanks to a long history of strong peripheral numbers (strikeouts and walks). Among starters with at least 300 innings since 2018, only 22 starters have a better strikeout-minus-walk percentage (K-BB%) than Heaney’s 19.1 K-BB%. Despite the strong whiff and walk rates, however, he’s been a league-average run preventer (101 ERA-) in that time. Home run issues (career 1.52 HR/9) and issues against righties (.779 OPS) have prevented him from matching his peripherals with sheer run prevention. Add in injury questions (he’s reached 100 innings just twice) and that adds further questions to his profile. Heaney is probably the biggest wild card on this staff, someone who not only needs to help the 2021 staff but also help his impending free-agent case following the season.

Dylan Bundy (2.3 WAR)

I’m comfortably taking Bundy over Heaney in 2021, despite the projection differences. Since major injuries early on in his career, Bundy has turned himself quite the innings-eater, trailing only 19 pitchers in innings thrown since the 2017 season. More encouraging, however, was the major improvements Bundy made in every possible way in 2020. In 11 starts, Bundy posted career-best marks in ERA (3.29), strikeouts (27 percent), walks (6.4 percent), and homers (0.69 HR/9). I’ve discussed Bundy at length, whether it was last year around this time, during the season, or following the 2020 season. I’m buying his meaningful pitch changes and annual durability and think his value could explode this season. As a 28-year-old set to hit free agency at the year’s end, Bundy is a very obvious extension candidate that the club should absolutely consider.

José Quintana (1.9 WAR)

In an underwhelming offseason that didn’t net the Angels a frontline starter, Quintana represents the best starter the club acquired. Once one of the best starters in the sport, Quintana has settled into more of a #4/mid-rotation type of starter. After missing most of the 2020 season due to a flukey off-field injury, there is some uncertainty surrounding his durability heading into 2021. This is less about Quintana’s previous durability success (fifth in innings from 2013-2019) and more about the enhanced injury risk for all pitchers this season. I wouldn’t be shocked if Quintana is a league-average starter over 170-ish innings but a 32-year-old coming off of a 10-inning performance in 2020 does provide a fair amount of risk.

Griffin Canning (1.7 WAR)

Canning is an integral part of the future for the Angels. The 24-year-old Canning has been an above-average MLB starter through 146 2/3 innings by both run prevention (95 ERA-) and peripherals (96 FIP-). Injury concerns stemming back to his college days, including an elbow scare early last year are an obvious red flag. The talent, however, is clearly there for a cost-controllable, above-average MLB starter, something the organization has sorely lacked in recent years. Canning has a legitimate four-pitch mix, headlined by baseball’s second-hardest curveball from 2020. A recent MLB.com article listed Canning as a pitcher who could break out, which would go a long way in stabilizing a troublesome Angels rotation.

Shohei Ohtani (1.3 WAR)

As much as it pains me to say this, there’s a very real chance that Ohtani has thrown his last meaningful MLB pitch. With just 79 2/3 innings and multiple arm injuries since 2017, Ohtani has simply not had the reps to develop the durability and craftsmanship to become a legitimate MLB starter. When he’s on and healthy, Ohtani brings legitimate ace-level stuff, as evidenced by his 2018 no-hit bid against Oakland. If he’s healthy and can even give the club 75-ish innings, it’d be a huge boon to the staff. He’s the biggest wild card on the staff, one that has such a wide range of outcomes that he’s impossible to peg down.

Alex Cobb (1.2 WAR)

I recently tried selling the CtPG community and myself on Cobb. To be honest, I’m still skeptical about him given the poor production and injury risk in recent years. If things click and he’s good for 150-ish innings, he could be a solid mid-rotation starter for a cheap year ($5 million). That said, the CtPG staff universally despised the trade for Cobb, as did many Angels fans expecting a move for a real frontline starter. With a long track record of poor production from declining starters on one-year deals (Matt Harvey, Trevor Cahill, Julio Teheran), Cobb could very well find himself in this same group at the end of the year.

Other options

  • Patrick Sandoval
  • Jaime Barria
  • Jose Suarez
  • Packy Naughton
  • Reid Detmers
  • Chris Rodriguez

With a 6-man rotation in the works for 2021, the club is technically one injury away from dipping into the well for young starters with spotty track records. Sandoval is an intriguing depth option, whose slider development has given him a real 3-pitch mix. With minor-league options, however, he’s an obvious candidate to start the year in Triple-A. Barria, meanwhile, is out of options and probably starts the year as a multi-inning reliever who can spot start or perhaps even open some games. Barria showed some real skills limiting hard contact in 2020, thanks to his strong command, but the lack of swing-and-miss stuff will likely hurt him in extended stretches.

With enhanced pitcher injury risk in 2021, most clubs will probably need to use 10-12 starters this season. That means guys like Suarez and Naughton will almost certainly see MLB action, which could bode trouble for the club. Detmers and Rodriguez, meanwhile, are the club’s top two pitching prospects who may see time late in the year. I’d be shocked if they were seeing real, meaningful time this year but it’s very possible that the Angels give him cups of coffee late in the year.

Overall Evaluation

Stop if you’ve heard this before but there are questions around the Angels rotation! I’m skeptical about this unit holding up over a full 162-game season, especially coming off of the whacky 60-game season in 2020. Since 2016, no group of starters has posted fewer Wins Above Replacement (28.3) than the Angels. Only six groups have posted a higher ERA (4.76). It is completely fair and justifiable to have concerns about an Angels rotation that has absolutely crushed any hope of the club making the playoffs in that span.

I wish I had a better, more positive outlook on the rotation but they’ve burned me too many times. I like Dylan Bundy a lot. I like the duo of Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning. José Quintana could be the perfect one-year value signing for the staff. But as a whole, and given the recent history and track records of all of the starters, there are too many question marks to ignore. I hope I’m wrong but this has the makings of a rotation that will prevent the club from making the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

55 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Hatcher_Is_My_Homeboy
Trusted Member
2 years ago

I feel like our PTSD from shitty pitching is causing us to undervalue Griffin Canning. If we were a non pitching starved fan base I think we would collectively be more bullish on his outlook and upside heading into 2021. All the peripherals are there and the further establishment and use of his emergingly dominate hook should see him have a stellar season. But since we are the Angels he probably wont. Or am i wrong?

steelgolf
Super Member
2 years ago

Canning has some great pitches, he just needs to pitch more efficiently. Throwing 85 pitches through the 3rd inning is his downfall. If he can cut those brutal starts out and go 7 innings then he would become highly touted pitcher.

matthiasstephan
Super Member
2 years ago
Reply to  steelgolf

I can’t see pitches per start, or how many pitches one threw per inning (on FanGraphs or BR). It would be nice to see that.

I can see that he went longer as the season progressed in 2020 (such a short season, with no real Spring Training) and the only time he didn’t go 4 full innings was error plagued. He did average 5.5 innings per start though (in 2020).

GrandpaBaseball
Legend
2 years ago

As per usual this staff though with different names is the same as any staff since 2009. Good thing Sandoval and Barria along with Pena will be on hand as I believe that they will all go over 100 innings each. This hole staff is made up of cast offs and the unwanted with the Hope that Heaney can survive for 180 innings. I have seen in the past with the ’67 Red Sox and almost any staff of the “Big Red Machine” look horrid on paper and yet come through. This staff looks better than the ’67 Red Sox staff going into the season. Yes I do believe that this group can pitch us to the playoffs and hopefully past the first round. I do believe that winning the division is possible with the offense carrying the day after Trout puts up a “Yaz” type season with Rendon, Fletcher and Walsh putting up 4 – 7 War numbers. Drugs, heavy medication or maybe just positive thinking I believe we have a good chance to make the playoffs but 3 or 4 players cannot have anything but solid seasons.

Cowboy26
Legend
2 years ago

So who’s our Jim Lonborg this year?

Eric_in_Portland
Legend
2 years ago

I misread ’67 Red Sox as ’67 Ped Sox and immediately thought of Big Pill Popper.

h27kim
Trusted Member
2 years ago

Why do we bother even thinking about Detmers and Rodriguez at all? Detmers hasn’t pitched a single professional inning, afaik. Rodriguez has been oft-injured and hasn’t been in higher minor leagues yet. Why are they even being mentioned?

h27kim
Trusted Member
2 years ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

Because prospects, especially prospects who hadn’t even seen any minor league hitters like Detmers, are just prospects. They should be considered at least a year, possibly two, away even in the most optimistic, but not desperate scenario, pending their development. Maybe they’ll be a factor in 2022, but it just seems just wrong to even mention them contributing in 2021.

Cowboy26
Legend
2 years ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

Was there much buzz about John Lackey , Brendan Donnelly or K-Rod at the beginning of the 2002 Season? I think not.

Soggy Joe showed the willingness during the Rays’ 2008 pennant run to use young minor leaguer David Price in a late inning bullpen role

I doubt he would be afraid to use Rodriguez or Detmers in a similar role if the 2021 season warrants it.

h27kim
Trusted Member
2 years ago
Reply to  Cowboy26

There was buzz about KRod, although his arrival in 2002 was admittedly earlier than expected.

Lackey plays to both sides of the story. He did perform brilliantly down the stretch in 2002, but he was fairly mediocre though with showings of the upside next few years. I would take that as another reason to believe that young arms are young arms. They may not develop as fast as we’d like, even if they are talented enough to be effective coming out bullpen unexpectedly as a “secret weapon” if the situation warrants it. They can’t be looked upon to get us to where “the situation” that may warrant their use. Don’t get me wrong: I am not dismissing them wholesale. But they won’t get us where we’d like all that soon. At best, they’ll be the icing on the cake, but we need that cake first. It will be the seasoned veterans (who are any good) that will get there. Those we don’t really have (we have some seasoned vets alright, but most of them aren’t exactly “good.”)

2002heaven
Trusted Member
2 years ago

Keep in mind that the 3 Angel’s beatwriters were all hesitant to say whether the Angels should commit to Bundy being the #1 guy in the rotation on a Sunday Angel’s Pregame show with Mark Gubicza. As was I before the start of last season. Always ask yourself what if this guy was wearing blue and white, where would he be after Kershaw, Buhler, and now Trevor Bauer and David Price……..Dylan Bundy would only be 4th at best. Thanks for ignoring pitchers for 4 straight years 😥  😫  💩 

Last edited 2 years ago by 2002heaven
Chase Kimura
Member
Member
2 years ago

I think my issue with the rotation stems from the lack of upside. I actually like Bundy, Heaney, and Canning, I think Quintana’s fine as a #4, but I just don’t see this group cracking the top 15 in MLB in WAR unless Ohtani and Canning stay healthy all year and absolutely shove. To me, it feels like their ceiling is somewhere in the dead middle of the rankings.

h27kim
Trusted Member
2 years ago
Reply to  Chase Kimura

Closest thing there is to upside is Heaney, based on track record (strong peripherals and all that). The same record also shows him prone to giving up HRs and just imploding out of blue every now and then so that he probably is what he is on the net.

Fansince1971
Legend
2 years ago

The more I look at this, once again I think this season goes as Ohtani pitches. I can remember his first start in 2020. We were all excited for Ohtani Sunday’s. I got a bunch of takeout and got everything done to not be distracted for the game. The pregame was full of buzz He was going to be the Ace with a bionic arm.

It became clear pretty quickly that we all were going to be disappointed. And it felt like the season was a downhill trajectory from there.

I think the same thing applies for 2021. If Ohtani is the Ohtani of old – hitting 98+ and with a filthy splitter, this team is a whole lot better – maybe playoff bound. If he is not that guy, they will be lucky to win 82 games.

WallyChuckChili
Legend
2 years ago
Reply to  Fansince1971

What kind of TakeOut will you be buying this year?

Hopefully from a different place this time

Fansince1971
Legend
2 years ago

Hahaha! No doubt. Never going back to that place!!

steelgolf
Super Member
2 years ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

That is good news. Working at 95 to 97 will set up the low 80s off speed stuff. What made him effective in 2018.

Fansince1971
Legend
2 years ago
Reply to  Brent Maguire

That is definitely encouraging.

AnAngelsFan
Super Member
2 years ago

“The the CtPG staff universally despised the trade for Cobb

You know what would be a fun contest? “Second-guessing the Platypus”, where members can give a hit/miss (or strike/ball, or Trout/Wells) rating to off-season moves (locking in on opening day) and then the moves get evaluated at the end of the season.

Then we have a record of who is the best internet GM.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
2 years ago
Reply to  AnAngelsFan

We ranked our favorite to least favorite transactions so we can go back and see who was right and who was wrong. Same thing we can do with out “If I was….” series.

AnAngelsFan
Super Member
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Joiner

I know. I was thinking more of a community-wide thing kind of like the pre-game picks thing that existed on another site. No biggie though, it will still be interesting just to see how well the staff does without having to stick my own neck out.

Charles Sutton
Editor
Super Member
2 years ago
Reply to  AnAngelsFan

You could always write a fan post.

WallyChuckChili
Legend
2 years ago
Reply to  AnAngelsFan

This would be great!

I think the Two Iglesias are our best acquisitions. I think our rule 5 pick Riviera and Quintana are our next best followed by Slegers and Lagares.

As a out of nowhere surprise, I also think Cobb will be ok and not the dumpster everyone sees him as.

Charles Sutton
Editor
Super Member
2 years ago
Reply to  AnAngelsFan

Since we don’t have private messaging, the only way we could probably make an omnibus post for everybody’s picks to be in the same place would be to make a draft thread where people say their piece in the comments. Then somebody could go through those comments and put together a spreadsheet similar to what Brent did in that other thread.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
2 years ago
Reply to  AnAngelsFan

Solid Idea.

I’m absolutely buried right now but I can at least make an article where people can rate their favorites.

WallyChuckChili
Legend
2 years ago
Reply to  Jeff Joiner

Just to be clear, this would be a criticism of Perry’s Picks right.

Not a 2002 we should’ve got list.

Charles Sutton
Editor
Super Member
2 years ago

What the staff did was “Rank Perry’s moves.” Of course, there is also the idea of providing one’s rationale. One of the gripes about Cobb is the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” about what the Angels might do with that same money. The team might now be too close to the luxury tax threshold to make a meaningful play for Odorizzi, for example. Fowler is kind of in the “What the Hell was that all about?” category as well.

Cowboy26
Legend
2 years ago
Reply to  Charles Sutton

I thought it was “Perry’s Rank Moves”

Last edited 2 years ago by Cowboy26
Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
2 years ago

Exactly what the staff did. Take the moves Perry actually made, slot them in the order you think belong, then give the entire off season a grade on a 1-10 scale.

No hindsight. Published prior to Opening Day.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
2 years ago

When we grabbed Quintana I was confident he would be the B side addition to the staff and I was happy. Some durability to go along with Bundy’s and allow Heaney and Canning to go through their ups and downs. A guy to slot above Bundy had to come next.

Then the Cobb trade happened. Suddenly Quintana was the A side and the entire off season looked dramatically different. And in an AL West that is definitely up for grabs, the Angels have again gotten close to the line but just won’t go over it.

Swap out the name Cobb for Tanaka or Odorizzi and this rotation looks a ton better.

steelgolf
Super Member
2 years ago

Canning has a lot of potential, he just needs to throw more strikes. Ending the third inning having already thrown 85+ pitches is not going to get it done in the MLB.

matthiasstephan
Super Member
2 years ago

Odorizzi still hasn’t signed anywhere, has he?

steelgolf
Super Member
2 years ago

Not yet, he is looking for 3 yrs at 15 million per year.

matthiasstephan
Super Member
2 years ago
Reply to  steelgolf

Is anyone remotely biting on that? Is he banking on a starter getting injured and someone really needing a fill-in? Even at that, I don’t see it likely someone commits to 3 years at this point.

steelgolf
Super Member
2 years ago

The 3 years at 15 mil per year is why he is still unsigned. Unless someone has a starter go down and gets desperate, then I think he will be seeing offers in the 2 yrs @ 8 to 11 mil per yr, with maybe a signing bonus. A lot of the teams expecting to be competitive this year are too close to the salary cap to afford him. Others who are not have bled so much money last year that they don’t want to spend. This was a weird, bad off season to be a free agent.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
2 years ago
Reply to  steelgolf

We are about $17 million from the luxury tax but only a couple million off our highest payroll ever.

On one hand we are in a very competitive division and have a ton of money coming off the books at the end of the year. Of course, a lot of that money is due to four members of the rotation becoming free agents.

Pretty easy for me to spend Arte’s money, but he’s going to be in the market for pitching next year anyway. Might as well help now and eliminate a hole for next year.

matthiasstephan
Super Member
2 years ago
Reply to  steelgolf

If we can get him on a 2 year deal in the 11-12M per range, with built in incentives for playing (to absorb the risk of injury), that would be phenomenal.

nishiogawakun
Super Member
2 years ago

Interesting skuttlebutt on the interwebs seems to indicate that we’ve “been in it the whole time” but still can’t seal the deal. Others are speculating it’s an issues with our more than likely soon to be departing pitching coach. In all honesty, I want to have more pitchers than we need at all times, but I am curious about the logistics of who would go to the pen on this list. I assume it would be Cobb? Tbh, I’m sure we lose an arm in the first month to injuries so it won’t be a real problem for long. sigh.

Eric_in_Portland
Legend
2 years ago
Reply to  nishiogawakun

that seemed to be a pointless Heyman comment today, that the Angels and Phillies are in on Odorizzi, “Others, too” makes it silly.

Phillies are among new teams to check in on Jake Odorizzi as just said on

@MLBNetwork

They’ve already had a very good winter and this would be a big boost to their rotation. The Angels have been in all along. Others, too.

Jeff Joiner
Editor
Legend
2 years ago

Adding Odorizzi would be very nice for this club. Considering most teams will need 10 starters to get through a year and we have the benefit of listing Ohtani as a DH on the roster.

Odorizzi, Bundy, Quintana might not strike fear into people as a top 3 but they are usually durable and can be counted on to not embarrass themselves. Outside of the occasional match up against a Cole or the Dodgers, I think we’d be in most of the games those three pitch.

Heaney and Canning are less predictable but both offer some upside. Cobb is the back end guy and likely gets skipped when Ohtani makes a start.

This would set up Barria as the long reliever, Pena can go more than 1 inning, and Guerra and Slegers are middle relief depth options. This could help keep the real bullpen studs fresh throughout the year.

2002heaven
Trusted Member
2 years ago

neither has marcus semien…….therz stilla chanz 🤗 

Senator_John_Blutarsky
Legend

You may ask “how was the 2021 Angels pitching staff constructed?”

If you don’t succeed at first, try pitching. — Jack Harshman

Fansince1971
Legend
2 years ago

I read this and then saw ‘no comments’. I think that is the most appropriate statement.

Last edited 2 years ago by Fansince1971
nishiogawakun
Super Member
2 years ago
Reply to  Fansince1971

LOL