For the first time in eleven years, the Angels starting rotation won’t include Jered Weaver or C.J. Wilson. There are a number of familiar faces returning in 2017 but there will be a distinct lack of greasy hair this coming season. Unfortunately, many of the returning pitchers have lingering injury questions clouding their futures. And with their relatively impotent offensive production (outside of one notorious outlier), they’ll be relying on their pitching staff to carry the load.
RHP Garrett Richards
2016 Stats: 34 2/3 IP, 2.34 ERA, 3.32 FIP, 0.7 fWAR
2017 Projection: 145 IP, 3.47 ERA, 3.61 FIP, 2.5 fWAR
After foregoing Tommy John surgery in favor of stem cell treatment in May, Garrett Richards seems to be on the right track to be ready for spring training. He made three appearances in the fall instructional league and reportedly hit 98 mph during his outings. That at least gives some indication that the experimental treatment was successful. But until Richards is back on the mound putting regular strain on his arm, we have no idea what to expect from him. The Angels are hoping that the pitcher who put up a 3.39 FIP over the last four years will show up this year. We do know that the Angels will be extremely cautious with their ace, though that could go out the window if they find themselves in contention in August or September.
RHP Matt Shoemaker
2016 Stats: 160 IP, 3.88 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 3.3 fWAR
2017 Projection: 194 IP, 3.77 ERA, 3.90 FIP, 3.1 fWAR
In April of last season, Matt Shoemaker gave up 22 runs in just 20 innings, good for an ERA of 9.15. After that one month, and a brief minor league demotion, he posted a 3.10 ERA which was backed up by an equally good FIP. The reason behind his dramatic improvement? His splitter. After returning from the minor leagues in May, he nearly doubled the usage of the pitch and it increased as the year went on. An above average strikeout rate and an excellent walk rate make up for the lack of ground balls he’s able to generate. Unfortunately, a nasty head injury suffered in September cut his season short and there’s no telling what affect it might have on his performance in 2017.
LHP Tyler Skaggs
2016 Stats: 49 2/3 IP, 4.17 ERA, 3.95 FIP, 0.7 fWAR
2017 Projection: 149 IP, 3.52 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 2.5 fWAR
Tyler Skaggs is the third pitcher in the Angels’ rotation with some injury concerns. Luckily, his Tommy John surgery is well in the past, as he finally returned to the mound last season after a two year absence. In his brief time in the majors, he posted an excellent strikeout rate but his walk rate ballooned to over 10%. Command is often the last thing to return after a major arm injury so we should expect some improvement in 2017. But he also hasn’t pitched a full season of baseball since 2013 so it would be a stretch to expect more than 180 innings from Skaggs in 2017.
RHP Ricky Nolasco
2016 Stats: 197 2/3 IP, 4.42 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 2.5 fWAR
2017 Projections: 176 IP, 4.12 ERA, 4.19 FIP, 1.9 fWAR
With so much uncertainty surrounding three pitchers above, the Angels need some consistency towards the back end of their rotation. Since 2008, Ricky Nolasco has failed to make at least 26 starts in a season just once (in 2015). His FIP has hovered around 3.75 during that span and he’s averaged 2.5 fWAR in those nine seasons. His ability to generate strikeouts has declined as he’s aged, though his walk rate hasn’t been affected yet. Nolasco has also shown a penchant for seriously underperforming his peripherals—his career ERA is almost a run higher than his career FIP. All of this adds up to a league average, veteran starter, exactly what the Angels are hoping for.
The fifth spot in the rotation will probably be decided during spring training. Alex Meyer, the former top prospect, probably has the advantage for now but Jesse Chavez, the veteran swing man, could sneak into the rotation with a good spring. The reality is both pitchers will see their fair share of time in the rotation. Between the injury concerns and general attrition, the Angels will need some depth to make up for those lost innings.
After Meyer and Chavez, there is a dearth of major league ready talent to step into the rotation. They’ve lost some of that talent to arm injury—both Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano are out until 2018 after Tommy John surgery. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Angels sign at least one or two more starters to fill out their depth.
Closer – RHP Huston Street
2016 Stats: 22 1/3 IP, 6.45 ERA, 6.42 FIP, -0.6 fWAR
2017 Projection: 65 IP, 4.32 ERA, 4.56 FIP, -0.2 fWAR
The Angels’ bullpen will probably be anchored by their veteran closer Huston Street, at least to start the year. He was limited to just 26 appearances in 2016 and they were completely miserable. A nine point drop in strikeout rate and a spike in walk rate are the main culprits but he also struggled to keep the ball in the yard. He was shut down after knee surgery in August and should be ready for spring training. He’ll need to earn the job though his track record should make him the favorite.
Setup – RHP Cam Bedrosian
2016 Stats: 40 1/3 IP, 1.12 ERA, 2.13 FIP, 0.9 fWAR
2017 Projection: 65 IP, 3.14 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 0.7 fWAR
Cam Bedrosian took some huge steps forward last year and is the closer-of-the-future for the Angels. Throughout his minor league career, he’s posted obscene strikeout rates. His strikeout rate in Triple-A across three seasons is almost 30%! That minor league success hadn’t translated to the big leagues until 2016. Last season, he struck out 31.5% of the batters he faced and made huge improvements to his walk rate. It’s not a question of if but when he’ll take the closer role from Street.
The rest of the Angels’ bullpen is completely uninspiring. As a group, they’re projected to compile the lowest fWAR of any bullpen in baseball. Andrew Bailey might be the most interesting piece. After joining the Angels in September and making six saves as their de facto closer, he’s the dark horse candidate to win the role during spring training. Mike Morin has shown excellent peripherals in his three year career but his ability to limit runs from scoring has left him an afterthought on the depth chart.