The Angels bullpen was absolute trash last season. It was tied for the most blown saves with 14, had the 8th-least numer of holds, and had the 6th-most inherited runners scored. It was an obvious weakness that caused some agonizing losses, so much so that Perry remade the bullpen almost entirely.
Gone are Robles and Bedrosian. Buttrey was sent down, Noé was traded (and resigned to a MiLB deal), and Hoby Milner was jettisoned. Only Mike Mayers is left from 2020 (at least until Félix Peña is healthy) and thus, the Angels now possess a newly remade bullpen. How much of an improvement can we expect?
Perry was quite busy bringing in new bullpen arms, even getting three right before the season starts. Here is a little about them.
The closer Iglesias was traded to the Angels in a salary dump, but he has been one of the best closers in baseball the last few years. Since 2016, he has had an ERA+ of 156, a 1.116 WHIP, and a .176 batting average-against with 2 outs and RISP.
In contrast, Robles had a batting average-against of .500 in those situations last year, and even in 2019 it was .222. Iglesias has a much better track record, which is rare for a reliever, and he has not pitched bad seasons yet. This record was compiled while pitching at Cincinnati, which is not known for its friendliness towards pitchers.
C-Rod will be making his MLB debut this year after making the team despite his limited experience in the minors. His stuff is certainly there, as we saw this spring, but as someone who never pitched beyond A+ ball, this jump is certainly unorthodox. We will watch his career with great interest.
Alex has been a decent reliever in his career, putting up 6.1 Baseball Reference WAR in his 7 seasons thus far, with none in the negative. He was signed on a one-year deal after pitching for the Brewers and Rangers. The one concern is that he struggles against righties, and with the new rules about batters faced, he will have to face them on occasion.
While he did not have the best spring, he shouldn’t be worse than league average. Alex should also benefit greatly from not being overworked; he had an MLB high 83 appearances in 2019! He still only gave up 8 home runs that year. Not bad. For context, that is 11 more games than Buttrey had pitched in 2019, with the same amount of home runs.
Junior has had an up-and-down career and ended up signing here as a MiLB free agent after time with Arizona, Milwaukee, and Chicago(AL). His FIP has never been good, and he has given up quite a lot of home runs in his career, but since 2019, he has improved in these areas, while being worth 1.9 Baseball Reference WAR due to his high inning usage.
His spring has not been ideal, pitching to a 9 ERA, but Perry and Maddon believe in him, as they added him to the 40 man, and he will be on the team. With a good defense and his home run rate dropping the last 3 seasons, there is some hope here.
Tony Watson has been one of the Giants best middle relievers the last 3 seasons. With less than a home run per 9 innings and an impressive WHIP that was under 1 last year, he looks to be a solid guy who gets to pitch in the AL for the first time in his career.
Angel Stadium is not quite like the Bay Area stadiums in terms of suppressing home runs allowed, so do not expect the same level of success. Still, he has had an ERA+ over 100 since 2012 and has exactly 1 wild pitch since 2016. He should be solid at the very least, even if he is 36 in a couple of months.
Steve has been around the block a few times or perhaps twelve, as the 34-year old has bounced around a few times. He was picked up on the 29th, same as Tony, mostly due to desperation. Steve did not have the best 2020, with an ERA over 5 and a WHIP of 1.50. He is a bounce back candidate for sure. The experience he brings could be useful, or it could be a mistake.
Slegers was acquired from the Rays this offseason and has been practically perfect this spring. While he has had very little MLB experience (20 total regular season games), he did shut down the Astros in the playoffs, which is a win in my book.
As a pitcher with options, he adds flexibility as well as being the tallest pitcher in MLB at 6’10. Not that he is a hard thrower, but that that frame makes it so he doesn’t need to. Also, he is from Long Beach. He got the last bullpen spot as Joe Maddon confirmed it.
James was excellent for Miami last year, with an ERA of 1.23, a FIP of 3.19, and just 1 home run in 24 games. So what is the issue that Miami would get rid of him? Well, he has only played in 9 games in 2019 and 2018 combined with his only full season in 2017 being slightly below average.
Still, as someone acquired just for cash and had a year like that in a COVID season, it is worth it for sure. Although, being a 2017 Astro, I am a little bit suspicious of him. So are the Angels as he will be in Arizona for the alternate site to start the year.
While the bullpen is almost all new, there are some holdovers. Some may make the team, some may never see the mound at Angel Stadium again.
Mike was surprisingly good last season. With a 2.10 ERA, he was certainly a highlight in that trash heap. His spring was a bit bad at the start, but he has had 5 scoreless outings in a row to end it. As the only guy left guaranteed to make the bullpen from 2020, Maddon may use him more often due to familiarity.
As he was new to the Angels last year after a miserable time in St. Louis, he doesn’t exactly have a long track record. Who knows, maybe he is just a late bloomer.
Félix Peña will start the season on the injured list, but should be back by mid April. That won’t be soon enough as he has been a long inning savior for the last 3 seasons. Not only was he one of the bright spots last year, but he was part of the Skaggs no hitter in 2019.
With an average of over 90 innings per 162 games, he is the go to guy when a starter messes up, which is bound to happen this season. Worth 2.2 Baseball Reference WAR the last 3 seasons, safe to say he deserves to be in the pen. That he can spot start is a nice bonus.
So is it better?
Projections on the Angels bullpen is at 2.6 Fangraphs WAR. That is expected to be the 15th best bullpen in the majors. Which is lower than the 12th place they finished last year at. Huh.
Last year the Angels had 1.9 Fangraphs WAR in a 60 game season. So what gives? Why does the bullpen project worse than last year’s? And why does last year’s sound like it was actually good?
First of all, Fangraphs uses FIP for value, which makes little sense to use in comparison since the Angels defense is a factor in this. Ignoring the defense makes sense when trying to figure out who has the best stuff, but as a determination of how good a bullpen has been at keeping leads, not so much.
Second, the biggest issue of the team was blowing saves, and having a reliable closer is an improvement. If the Angels cut the number of blown saves in half last year, they would have been in the playoffs.
Third, the predictions are rather conservative for everyone. In 2019, 18 relivers had at least 1.5 Fangraphs WAR, but it only projected 5 for this season. The many projections for 0 WAR players will likely not be that. Positively or negatively, a flat 0 is rather rare, especially with this many innings.
Fourth, the margins are rather close. It is only 0.3 WAR that separates 15th from 10th in terms of bullpens, and that is a third of what Noé Ramirez did in 2019. With so many options, the hot hand will be ridden and those who underperform will be kicked out. A situation that wasn’t like last year.
5th, Fangraphs says the bullpen is improved. They rank the Angels 15th, but said it got better. Sure, it is appealing to authority, but, hey it helps.
This bullpen is filled with older players and literal rookies. 3 of the 8 are 35 or older, C-Rod is making his MLB debut, even Slegers has only 20 games of regular season experience. Hell, Mike Mayers’ great season last year was only 10 games. Iglesias may be an improvement for closer, but that requires getting to him.
Also, despite my hating it, FIP is used to determine long term success. It exists for a reason and they do not like this bullpen too much. After all, balls in play do have to find the outfield, where the defense is underwhelming at best. These aren’t all groundball pitchers after all.
Lastly, besides Iglesias, these are basically all dumpster diving. Rays didn’t want Slegers anymore, Hoyt was gotten for cash, waiver grabbing and last minute signings due to their team not wanting them does not exactly bring confidence.
It is all guesswork. Will the new players do better? You would hope so. I doubt this team will lead MLB in blown saves, which somehow made it the 12th-best bullpen anyway despite that serious deadweight.
No matter how this ends up, Perry has overhauled the bullpen. He addressed the issue and did not rely on internal growth. Bullpens are fickle, as even spending money doesn’t equal success, just look at the Rockies. Sometimes, you just have to go with your gut, and my gut says this bullpen is better.
How about you? Leave your thoughts below about the new bullpen.