Wednesday, May 29, 2024
AL WestAmerican LeagueAnalysisLos Angeles AngelsMLB

Have the Angels added enough Pitching?

The Journey

Last winter, the Angels added Matt Harvey and Trevor Cahill to bolster their rotation depth behind Andrew Heaney and Tyler Skaggs. This was much needed depth after Shohei Ohtani went down for the season due to Tommy John surgery. Griffin Canning was projected to come up as one of the best pitching prospects in the higher levels of the minors, and Jose Suarez had looked like a promising young arm as well. I was fairly confident this pitching plan was not the worst in the world, and if things went well they could have competed for the 2nd Wild Card.

Things did not go well.

I do not think anyone anticipated how quickly the Angels rotation would fall apart. After one start in Spring Training, Heaney was shut down with elbow inflammation that would prevent him from making his first start until May 26th. Harvey had a 7.50 ERA when he was placed on the IL in early June. Trevor Cahill, an extreme ground ball pitcher, gave up more HR (25) in 102.1 innings, than he did in 257 innings (22) while he was with the Diamondbacks.

When you thought things could not go any worse, on July 1, 2019 while on the road in Texas, Tyler Skaggs was found dead in his hotel room due to a mixture of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol in his system. This one was bigger than Baseball and we will all miss you Tyler.

The Angels finished the season with 72 wins, and had only one pitcher throw more than 100 innings (Trevor Cahill). All of these factors made it clear that if the Angels wanted to contend in 2020, they needed to add multiple quality SP who could make up for the loss of Harvey, Cahill, and Skaggs. This left the Angels with two Starting Pitchers who could potentially crack a playoff contenders rotation: Andrew Heaney and Griffin Canning. Canning’s 2019 was quite promising, he posted 1.4 fWAR and a 4.33 SIERA in 90.1 IP. A healthy 2020 from both Heaney and Canning will be critical to the Angels success.

Targets

Of the available players in the free agent pool the Starters that seemed to stand out to Angels fans: Gerrit Cole, Hyun-jin Ryu, Dallas Keuchel, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Wheeler. If you had asked me how many of these guys would be Angels by April 1st, I would have guessed at least one or two. As we now know, none of these players will be suiting up with Mike Trout in 2020.

Eppler’s first strike came on December 4th when he traded 3 pitching prospects to the Orioles for Dylan Bundy who was MLB’s top pitching prospect in 2013. Bundy has thrown at least 160 innings in each of the last three years. He has proven to be quite durable and has already had Tommy John surgery. Of course with any pitcher there is a constant worry that they will break at any time, despite that Bundy was relatively cheap and durable. We will be dreaming on Bundy’s 2018 season when he posted a 3.94 SIERA while giving up more HR than any pitcher in Baseball. Escaping the AL East and Camden Yards could be enough to make Bundy a middle of the rotation arm solely off of HR alone. The Angels have also had success in Major League pitching development, with the most recent case being the transformation of Hansel Robles.

Below you will find a Statcast graph made through Baseball Savant’s custom leaderboards. Sliders above the red trend line have an above average spin rate and the further right you go the more you use the pitch. If you click the link you can hover over individual spots on this graph and it will give you the players name. The slider that is closest to Bundy’s belongs to Southern California native Gerrit Cole.

After missing out on Gerrit Cole at the Winter Meetings, the Angels responded the next day by signing superstar 3rd basemen Anthony Rendon to a 7-year contract. When assessing the Angels SP additions, it is quite important to include how Anthony Rendon will impact run support and defense. From 2017-2019, Angels third basemen combined for an 85 wRC+ and -14 DRS. During those three years, Anthony Rendon had the 2nd highest wRC+ among 3B (Only behind Nolan Arenado’s 150 wRC+) and 3 DRS. UZR believes Rendon was the 4th best defensive third basemen which is worth noting. He’s certainly trending downward on the defensive spectrum and it might be in the Angels best interest to move him to second base and keep David Fletcher (Who is an incredible defensive 3rd basemen) at the hot corner.

About a week later, the Angels agreed to terms on a one-year contract with Julio Teheran. It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a bad one-year deal. Obviously Harvey and Cahill might not provide much optimism to move forward with, but a year later they are both off the books. Similar to Bundy, Teheran is entering his age 29 season and has been one of the most durable arms in the game. It’s felt like he has been around forever because he has been. He came up at 20 years old, but did not become a MLB regular until his age 22 season in 2013. Since then, he has not thrown fewer than 174 innings in a season. During that stretch, only eight pitchers in Baseball have thrown more Major League innings.

Teheran has one of the strangest profiles I have come across. He has posted back-to-back sub-4 ERA’s despite the underlying numbers thinking he is over-performing. One of the things that jumped out to me about him was that he has never had a BABIP above .290 in all of his years pitching. When he fluctuates away from the mean, he trends downward instead of upward. In the chart below, you can see Teheran’s BA-xBA in relation to average exit velocity. Below the trend line means they are over performing their xBA, and the further to the left the weaker the contact they are producing. The contact he gets isn’t especially weak and falls closer to the median of the distribution. Considering how many innings he has thrown and how consistently he has over performed his xBA, you have to think that this might be a skill he has developed.

Another note about Teheran’s profile that stood out to me was his slider. This is the same graph shown above in relation to Bundy’s slider. He gets a ton of spin on it, and probably should throw it a little more often. Especially with his Fastball velocity dropping every year, he will need to use his breaking pitches more often to keep hitters on their toes. With Bundy and Teheran I was interested to see if their next acquisition also gets above average spin on his slider.

Matt Andriese is the most recent acquisition made by the Angels. He was acquired from the Diamondbacks after pitching in relief for all of 2019. He is slated to get a shot at cracking the rotation in 2020, but he does have a minor league option left and it would not surprise me to see him start the year in the higher levels of the minors while he works his pitch count up.

We established a trend that the Angels really like right handed pitchers who throw a high spin slider. This isn’t necessarily a foreign trend to MLB in recent years, and it is nice to see that the Angels are looking at some amount of advanced statistics to solve a complicated problem. Andriese looks like he has the potential to be an awesome addition. I am much more excited about him than I am about Teheran. All three starters are interesting, but Andriese is cheap and can pitch in the bullpen or the rotation.

The sample sizes are smaller for Andriese, so this made looking into his slider a little more complicated. Over the last three seasons, Andriese has not thrown his slider nearly enough considering the spin rate he gets on it. Like the other two, a major bump in slider usage could end up transforming him into a great rotation option.

All three of these arms have upside even though they are in their late 20’s and early 30’s. Bundy, Teheran, and Andriese add up to roughly $15 million in payroll. Harvey and Cahill combined for $20 million in payroll and they had much worse projections and less upside than this group. Bundy and Andriese are under team control for the 2020 and 21 seasons. Both of them can be DFA’d if things don’t work out, but if they do then the Angels will have added two SP for basically nothing. There is little risk in these moves, and the Angels added Anthony Rendon to that crop of additions as well.

The Staff

Below you will find a table with the Angels Steamer projections and where they might slot into the rotation. In his Rookie season, Ohtani was pitching once a week on Sundays, and I imagine this trend could continue. I think 110 innings is optimistic as they are going to be extra careful with their superstar.

Jaime Barria provides an interesting case for one of the rotation spots, especially if he can reduce the number of HRs he gives up. Another consideration to take into account would be the ball and whether or not it will be juiced. If we get a ball that is similar to the one in the Postseason, the HR/9 rates below could drop a considerable amount. A 1.97 HR/9 is also quite high, and if he can bring that number down he could stick in the rotation long term.

Barring any injuries between now and Opening Day, the Angels rotation will contain Ohtani, Heaney, Canning, Bundy, Teheran, and another starter. Andriese, Barria, Sandoval, and Suarez all have MiLB options and most if not all of them will start the year in Salt Lake City.

The big question Angels fans are pondering is if these arms provide enough depth to get us through another season. To figure this out, I took the previous three years and found the median SP inning total by teams and that came out around 870 IP. The Angels are currently projected for 964 innings with the starters in the excel table above. That total will fluctuate, but Steamer projections factor in injury risk, and it is quite easy to see any of the names above over or under performing their projected IP total. This rotation is not sexy by any means, but they have done a wonderful job at increasing the SP depth at both the Major League and AAA level.

Conclusion

We came into this questioning whether the Angels have added enough quality pitching to allow them to play meaningful games at least into September. They certainly have established that they have a type when it comes to pitching. The fan base was disappointed when we could not bring Gerrit Cole home, but Anthony Rendon is an excellent consolation prize.

Bundy, Teheran, Andriese, and Ohtani did not throw an inning for the Angels in 2019. They will give the clubhouse and mound a fresh look. I am more optimistic in this pitching staff’s potential than I have been in any Angels staff for quite a while.

Fangraphs has them projected for 43.1 Total WAR, which is right between the A’s and the Indians. The A’s have not made any significant gains, and the Rangers have the worst non Orioles/Marlins offense in Baseball. The Astros are going to be the best team in Baseball again, but maybe fans can dream on them getting distracted by the backlash from the sign stealing scandal. This team will not be the division favorite, but this should be the most respectable Angels team in a couple years.

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