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2018 AL West Preview: The Angels’ Pitching Staff

One major upgrade hides a number of lingering injury concerns.

Shohei Ohtani Farewell Ceremony Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

In 2017, the Angels suffered through as much, if not more, poor injury luck as the Mariners. They lost more pitchers to the disabled list than a majority of the American League and lost more potential WAR than any team in baseball. Yet they managed to allow just 4.38 runs per game, the sixth best mark in the AL. Some of that is certainly due to their defense, but they also managed to wring out useful innings from the likes of Parker Bridwell, JC Ramirez, and Ricky Nolasco.

Landing Shohei Ohtani provides an immediate upgrade to the top of the Angels starting rotation but there are just as many injury concerns carrying over into 2018. Both GM Billy Eppler and Manager Mike Scioscia have discussed utilizing a six-man rotation to alleviate some of these concerns. With a bullpen that has lost a number of key contributors as well, Scioscia will have to juggle all of these workloads very carefully.

The starting rotation

RHP Shohei Ohtani

2017 Stats (NPB stats): 25 1/3 IP, 3.20 ERA
2018 Projection (Steamer): 148 IP, 3.49 ERA, 3.56 FIP, 3.1 fWAR

A lingering ankle injury limited Shohei Ohtani to just five starts in 2017 with the Nippon Ham Fighters. That was unfortunate because he was legitimately one of the best pitchers in the league at the young age of just 22. His raw stuff is electric—a fastball that regularly sits in the upper 90s and can hit triple digits, an insane slider, and an awesome splitter. But even Ohtani isn’t safe from injury concerns. The ankle injury has healed sufficiently but reports surfaced this offseason questioning the integrity of his unlar collateral ligament (the ligament famously associated with Tommy John surgery). The damage wasn’t serious enough to scare away potential suitors, and the Angels seem to be pleased with their own physical, but it’s a lingering concern nonetheless.

RHP Garrett Richards

2017 Stats: 27 2/3 IP, 2.28 ERA, 2.43 FIP, 1.0 fWAR
2018 Projection: 142 IP, 3.68 ERA, 3.82 FIP, 2.6 fWAR

Garrett Richards elected to pass on his own Tommy John surgery in 2016, hoping to heal and recover using an experimental stem-cell treatment. Nothing went to plan in 2017 though. He made one start in April and was shut down with nerve issues in his biceps. He returned in limited fashion in September, making five starts down the stretch for the Angels. When healthy, he’s a clear frontline starter. His pitches are known to be Statcast outliers—his curveball has one of the highest spin rate in the game—and that’s helped him post excellent strike out rates and manage the contact he allows. His health will always be a concern but if the Angels get more than 100 innings out of him in 2018, they should be very excited.

RHP Matt Shoemaker

2017 Stats: 77 2/3 IP, 4.52 ERA, 5.13 FIP, 0.3 fWAR
2018 Projection: 120 IP, 4.27 ERA, 4.41 FIP, 1.4 fWAR

After taking a huge step forward in 2016, Matt Shoemaker’s 2017 season was a big step back, as he ultimately succumbed to season-ending nerve damage in his forearm in August. His surgery was successful and he’s already resumed a throwing program and should be 100% by the end of spring training. His breakout a few years ago was centered on throwing his splitter as often as his fastball. He maintained his strikeout rate from his breakout year in 2017, but his walk rate and home run rates ballooned as he dealt with command issues stemming from his injured forearm. If truly healthy, he should see both of those peripherals regress towards what he posted a few years ago.

LHP Tyler Skaggs

2017 Stats: 85 IP, 4.55 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 0.9 fWAR
2018 Projection: 154 IP, 4.14 ERA, 4.30 FIP, 1.9 fWAR

Two years removed from Tommy John surgery, Tyler Skaggs is projected to post the highest innings total among the Angels starters. He made 16 starts last year, losing three months of the season to an oblique strain. He managed to shave three points off his walk rate that had jumped up over 10% in the season immediately following his surgery. That’s a good sign as command is usually the last thing to return after an elbow injury like that. His Statcast peripherals show he was a little unlucky to post such a high home run rate in 2017.

The depth

Filling out the rest of the rotation—whether it’s one or two additional spots—is some combination of Andrew Heaney and JC Ramirez. Parker Bridwell is also still on the roster and Nick Tropeano should be returning from his Tommy John surgery sometime mid-season. All four of these starters are capable of filling in for any injured starters, though each of them come with their own concerns and warts. Heaney is now two years removed from Tommy John surgery and allowed an insane number of home runs in his brief cup of coffee last year. Ramirez adjusted his pitch mix in his first year as a starter to some success but wore out as the season progressed. Bridwell outperformed his FIP by more than a run last year by posting an extremely low, and luck-fueled, BABIP.

The bullpen

Last year, the Angels bullpen posted the fifth best league adjusted FIP in baseball despite filling their relief corps with a number of reclamation projects. A number of those projects have moved on, including Yusmeiro Petit, Bud Norris, and David Hernandez. In their place is a group that is projected to be less than stellar.

The closer – RHP Blake Parker

2017 Stats: 67 1/3 IP, 2.54 ERA, 2.71 FIP, 1.6 fWAR
2018 Projection: 65 IP, 3.41 ERA, 3.54 FIP, 1.0 fWAR

Blake Parker ended the year in the Angels closer-by-committee mix. That’s a significant step forward for him after spending 2016 with six different teams, including the Mariners. Adding some velocity to his fastball helped him increase his strikeout rate from average to excellent. Barring any setbacks during spring training, he should start the year off as the Angels closer, though his leash will probably be pretty short.

The setup man – RHP Cam Bedrosian

2017 Stats: 44 2/3 IP, 4.43 ERA, 3.38 FIP, 0.7 fWAR
2018 Projection: 65 IP, 3.65 ERA, 3.85 FIP, 0.8 fWAR

The presumed closer-in-waiting, Cam Bedrosian accumulated just six saves and bounced around from role to role last year. Without any other obvious candidates, he should be installed as the closer should Blake Parker stumble. As a former first-round draft pick, he probably has the best raw stuff in the Angels bullpen but injuries and ineffectiveness have prevented him from fully leveraging his potential. He possesses an excellent fastball with mid-90s velocity and a nasty slider that generates a whiff on more than 40% of the swings against it.

The rest

The only major addition to the Angels relief corps this offseason was Jim Johnson. He had spent some time as the Braves closer the last few years and could be a candidate to fill that role with the Angels as well. Johnson lost his ground-ball heavy batted ball profile last year which led to a huge ERA spike. Keynan Middleton’s raw stuff is pretty similar to Bedrosian’s—a good fastball/slider combo—but was knocked around pretty hard in his first exposure to major league batters.