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2019 AL West Preview: Los Angeles Angels, pitching staff overview

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The Angels will be without their best pitcher this year, so they’ll try to manage with a few short-term reinforcements.

Kansas City Royals v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Simply joining the Angels pitching staff is beginning to look like a harbinger of future injury. For the second consecutive season, the Angels lost more days to injury than any other team in baseball. Of course, the biggest blow was losing Shohei Ohtani for the entire year after his Tommy John surgery. They’ll try to get him at-bats as the designated hitter later in the year but he’ll have to juggle his rehab with the looming danger of further injuring himself at the plate.

If keeping their pitchers healthy has been a struggle for them, their offseason acquisitions really don’t provide any confidence the Angels will be able to turn this trend around. Both Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill have significant injury histories and it would be absolutely surprising to see either of them last the entire year without a stint on the injured list. Along with the lengthy injury histories for many of the members of their pitching staff, the Angels will likely have to dip deep into their pitching depth once again.

Projected Rotation

LHP Andrew Heaney

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 57.3% 92.4 82 151 115
Changeup 17.0% 83.8 142 80 100
Curveball 25.7% 79.0 105 141 93
Stuff+ Explainer

With Ohtani on the shelf and Garrett Richards a Padre (and injured), Andrew Heaney is the nominal ace of the Angels staff. In his first full season back after his Tommy John surgery, Heaney exceeded all expectations. He posted excellent swinging strike rates on all of his pitches and showed off excellent command of his entire arsenal. His curveball is rather odd. It doesn’t drop like you’d expect a traditional 12-6 curveball would but it also doesn’t have much horizontal movement either like a slurve. But it works for him. He’s able to generate excellent whiff rates with his bender and has allowed just a .111 ISO off the pitch across his entire career. He’ll need to continue to develop his changeup since he’s really struggled against right-handed batters.

LHP Tyler Skaggs

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 46.2% 92.1 114 136 104
Sinker 12.5% 91.4 50 137 112
Changeup 13.2% 84.7 100 111 87
Curveball 28.2% 75.2 96 87 99

Tyler Skaggs has yet to throw more than 125 innings in a season. He threw most innings of his career last year but missed significant time after a hip injury dogged him throughout the summer. Despite the injury, he posted a career-high strikeout rate, backed by improvements to his entire arsenal. But his changeup was the biggest factor. He pushed the whiff rate of his changeup up to over 30% which helped him hold right-handed batters at bay. Skaggs could be an effective middle-of-the-rotation arm if he’s healthy. That seems like a long shot though.

RHP Matt Harvey

Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 58.7% 94.7 109 94 115
Changeup 11.6% 87.8 71 65 123
Curveball 5.6% 83.4 132 103 128
Slider 24.1% 89.1 129 82 112

It’s been a lifetime since Matt Harvey was named the Gotham Knight after his electrifying debut for the Mets. His thoracic outlet syndrome and subsequent surgery explains why his velocity took a steep dive in 2017. The good news is that he flirted with averaging 95 mph on his fastball last year. But maybe even more promising was the 28 starts he made last year without a trip to the injured list. The Angels are hoping that another year removed from his surgery will help Harvey regain the dynamic stuff that had Mets fans salivating all those years ago.

RHP Trevor Cahill

Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Sinker 39.0% 92.4 124 92 85
Cutter 19.5% 88.6 102 150 104
Changeup 25.2% 84.6 115 133 96
Curveball 16.3% 80.9 98 115 97

Like so many of the other pitchers on this staff, Trevor Cahill enters with a lengthy injury history. Last year he dealt with a shoulder and back issues, and he hasn’t thrown more than 110 innings in a season since 2013. But despite all the trouble with his body, he’s been extremely effective the last couple of seasons. His curveball and changeup have always been excellent for him but he’s recently introduced a hard cutter that nearly led the league in whiff rate last year. And now there are reports out of spring training that he’s hitting 95 with his fastball. We’ll see if he’s able to carry that over into the regular season. The Angels will likely lean on him as a mid-rotation piece as long as his body holds up.

RHP Jaime Barría

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity Stuff+ Whiff+ BIP+
Four-seam 49.6% 91.5 63 51 104
Changeup 14.0% 83.0 105 122 110
Slider 36.5% 82.2 78 114 111

Because the Angels had to juggle so many injuries last season, Jaime Barría found himself thrust into the major league rotation after throwing just over 30 innings at Triple-A across two seasons. He acquitted himself well for an inexperienced 22-year-old. The soft-tossing righty managed to mix his two secondary pitches well enough with his average fastball to limit the damage when opposing batters made contact. Despite allowing a 36.6% (above average) hard contact rate, he limited batters to a .271 BABIP and a 10.2% home run rate. If he’s able to drop his walk rate down to his minor league levels, he could become an effective contact manager who regularly outperforms his peripherals.

Rotation Depth

RHP Nick Tropeano
RHP Félix Peña
RHP JC Ramírez
RHP Griffin Canning
LHP Dillon Peters

Nick Tropeano hasn’t cleared 100 innings since 2015, when he was freshly arrived in Anaheim from the Astros. Lingering shoulder issues waylaid his 2018, while he missed all of 2017 and part of 2016 with TJ. A healthy Tropeano might have third-starter upside, but at this point he’s more question mark than MLB pitcher. Félix Peña is a rare case of a pitcher coming to the Angels and actually getting better; the Halos moved him out of the bullpen and as a starter, Peña has thrown more strikes. He’s still a backend starter-type, but a reliable innings-eater is something the Angels haven’t had in actual years. What’s that, JC Ramírez? Fine, yes, okay, you were a reliable enough innings-eater in 2017 but TJ comes for us all, if “us all” = Angels pitchers. Oh no, where are you going, Dillon Peters, you don’t really want to go back to the Marlins, do you? The final member of the pile here is someone who most likely won’t don Angels red this season, but it’s worth noting that after drafting Griffin Canning in 2017 out of UCLA and giving him the summer off, the Angels started him in High-A, where he pitched all of eight innings before being promoted to Double-A, where he pitched 45 more innings before being promoted to Triple-A as a 22-year-old. While there’s nothing obviously terrible in Canning’s peripherals, the Angels are clearly desperate to prove to Mike Trout that they have a wave of reinforcements coming, and are being extremely aggressive with promoting Canning and fellow top prospect Jo Adell. Also keep an eye on fellow prospect LHP Jose Suarez, called up to Triple-A after a dominant performance in Double-A last season, although he didn’t enjoy quite the success Canning did at the level.

Bullpen

Closer - RHP Cody Allen
2018 Stats: 67 IP, 4.70 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 0.0 fWAR
2019 Projection (ZiPS): 64 ⅓ IP, 3.50 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 0.6 fWAR

Sure, Craig Kimbrel is still out there, but Allen makes sense for an Angels team that’s looking to scrape through 2019 and save money until their two-way superstar is healed and some of their prospects begin to ripen. Allen had a lousy 2018 for Cleveland in which every single one of his peripherals got markedly worse from previous campaigns, and it’s worth wondering just how much the 30-year-old entering his eighth year in the majors has left in the tank. If he does have something, he’ll most likely be flipped to a contending team at the trade deadline.

RHP Ty Buttrey
2018 Stats: 16 ⅓ IP, 3.31 ERA, 1.63 FIP, 0.8 fWAR
2019 Projection: 67 ⅓ IP, 3.88 ERA, 3.77 FIP, 0.7 fWAR

Buttrey came over from the Red Sox last year in the Ian Kinsler deal as one of the last bullets in arguably the worst farm system in baseball (but who cares, because #RINGZ). The Angels promptly installed the 25-year-old as their closer, where he pitched 16 impressive innings, recording a sub-two FIP and impressive K-BB numbers. The closer role has been promised to Allen, but look for Buttrey to snatch the role away with his plus (96+) fastball, above-average change, and a potential slurve-y third pitch. If you’re a fantasy baseballer, Buttrey is a good candidate to hold for when he eventually wrests the closer role away from Allen. He’s someone Mariners fans could be loathing the existence of for quite some time.

RHP Justin Anderson
2018 Stats: 55 ⅓ IP, 4.07 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 0.5 fWAR
2019 Projection: 63 ⅔ IP, 4.10 ERA, 4.23 FIP, 0.2 fWAR

For a while it looked like Anderson might be what Buttrey is: a plus (plus-plus, in Anderson’s case, as his fastball can graze triple digits) velo reliever with a wipeout slider ready to take up the mantle of new Angels closer. But Anderson struggled mightily with his control last year, walking almost 17% of batters he faced, continuing a troubling trend of a walk rate that has crept steadily up as he’s ascended through the minors. If the Angels can help solve Anderson’s command issues he’ll be another late-inning weapon to pair with the formidable Buttrey, but the Halos don’t exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to developing homegrown pitchers.

The Pile

RHP Cam Bedrosian
RHP Hansel Robles
RHP Luis García
RHP Noé Ramirez
LHP Williams Jerez
RHP Keynan Middleton
RHP Jake Jewell

What an especially pile-y pile this is. Bedrosian has lost velocity and with it, his effectiveness. Maybe the Angels have some magic plan for Hansel Robles that will keep him from posting a negative WAR, but so far this spring he’s pitched just over four innings and given up four runs, so if the tide is turning, there are no indications of it yet. Noé Ramirez is an incredibly nice dude and if I was allowed to throw a life preserver and save one pitcher from being a member of the Angels’ pitching staff, it’d be him. Luis García was much better last year than his ERA of 6+ would suggest, but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and won’t be a part of the next great Angels team. Keynan Middleton might be, at just 25 years old with his 60-grade fastball, but he won’t be back until the middle of the 2019 season after having TJ because Angels pitcher. Williams Jerez came over with Buttrey in the Kinsler trade and was also thrust into the big-league bullpen; unlike Buttrey he did not find success there. He’s another high-velocity low-control pitcher who will need to find some command hidden in the cushions of Billy Eppler’s couch. Jake Jewell also got a cup of coffee with the Angels in 2018 and got a fractured fibula on a play at the plate for his trouble, but when healthy profiles as a multi-inning Devenski-type reliever thanks to a deep arsenal of pitches that all grade out as MLB-average or better.