Angels’ Rotation Not As Strong As Expected

Last season, Angels starting pitchers combined for a 3.78 FIP, eighth-best in baseball. Then the team added C.J. Wilson to replace Joel Pineiro, giving them — on paper — a front three that would be one of the best in the game. Add in more Jerome Williams and Garrett Richards and less Tyler Chatwood, and it seemed that on paper, Los Angeles of Anaheim would easily have a top-five rotation this season. So far, however, it hasn’t worked out that way.

The team’s ace, Jered Weaver, is once again pitching like one. He is striking out fewer batters this season, but getting more ground balls, so it’s basically all coming out in the wash. But outside of Weaver, things haven’t been so rosy. Wilson, for one, hasn’t pitched as well. Despite pitching in a ballpark that has been decidedly more pitcher-friendly than the one he left, Wilson has been less effective. Yes, he is allowing fewer home runs and getting more grounders, but his K/BB has dropped nearly a whole point, from 2.78 to 1.83. His 2.33 ERA paints him as a pitcher who is dominating, but his FIP and xFIP simply don’t agree. In fact, his E-F score (ERA-FIP) is the third-worst among qualified starters this season — only Jeremy Hellickson and Ryan Vogelsong have a larger gap.

The third member of the trifecta is Dan Haren. Wendy Thurm did a good job of tackling Haren’s problems on the mound yesterday, and he did indeed land on the DL for the first time in his career. He hopes to return from the DL after the minimum allotted time, which would be July 19th, but as anyone who has tweaked his back before knows, back injuries and projected timelines for recovery don’t always mesh well. Still, he shouldn’t be out for too long. But that’s not even the real danger here. As Will Carroll notes today, if Haren’s mechanics got too far out of whack while compensating for his back pain, he could create a different type of injury when he does return.

Add it all up, and you have a trio of pitchers who have performed pretty good, but have been far from elite. To wit:

In the chart, we can see that the Angels’ trio is currently tied with the Dodgers for 12th-best in WAR. But with Haren hitting the DL, it’s not hard to imagine the trio slipping of the top 15 in short order. And when you consider the price tag of the trio — $36.75 million this season — it looks even worse.

The pricetag and the expectations that those three pitchers carry with them is one reason why the chart says “Weaver-Wilson-Haren” instead of “Angels,” but the other reason is because Haren actually hasn’t been the third-most valuable Angels starter — Williams has. The 30-year-old righty has held up his end of the bargain, but he too is currently out of action. Assuming his stint on the DL ends soon after the All-Star break, his chest injury will have sidelined him for nearly a month. When he’s been healthy, he’s been the team’s number-three pitcher, if not in name then certainly in effectiveness. He has tossed eight quality starts in 12 tries. His 3.43 FIP is better than that of both Wilson and Haren, as is his 3.88 xFIP.

Even with the positive contributions of Williams though, the Angels’ rotation has still been average. Overall, their rotation WAR is tied for 14th, and its FIP has been worse in both number (4.07) and rank (16th) than last year.

A lot of the problems can be traced to Richards and Ervin Santana. Both have shown flashes of brilliance, but ultimately have disappointed. That actually may be too harsh an assessment of Richards, who had allowed just six runs in his first four starts before allowing 17 in his last two. But then, we also have to look at the quality of his opponents. Those first four starts came against the Mariners, the D-backs, and twice against the Matt Kemp-less Dodgers. Or, more simply, the Mariners and three National League squads. In his last two outings, he had to face the Blue Jays and Orioles, with predictably different results. Now, certainly, the results shouldn’t be that polarizing, but until the 24-year-old clears up some of his command issues — he had a first-strike percentage of 56.0% and 40.7% in those two starts — he won’t ready to continuously post the stellar numbers that he did in his first four outings.

But whereas you can see the light at the end of the tunnel with Richards, Santana is bathed in darkness at the moment. His overall velocity is down for the year, but looking at his velocity chart, we can see that it has ticked up since a large drop earlier this year. It’s not what it once was perhaps, but he’s not experiencing the sharp decline that others have seen. Like Weaver and Wilson, Santana has traded strikeouts for ground balls, but it has not helped his performance, especially since his walk rate has ballooned. Furthermore, there is the question of why you would want to make such an effort to limit fly balls at the expense of strike outs when you a) play 100 games a year in parks that dampen home runs and b) have three great fly catchers in Mike Trout, Torii Hunter and Peter Bourjos to patrol your outfield.

It’s not clear that Santana can be an effective member of Anaheim’s rotation at this point in the season. While he did mix in a one-hit complete-game shutout, Santana has allowed five runs or more in five of his last seven outings, and seven or more in three of those seven. For the season, he has allowed five runs or more in eight of his 17 outings, and his quality start percentage (41%) is tied for 45th out of 65 qualified American League starters. For a team that has playoff aspirations that simply isn’t going to cut it. If, come August, Haren and Williams are back and Richards has tamed his command problems, Santana may be the odd man out. The problem, as you may have surmised upon reading the last sentence, is that that is a lot of “ifs.” If those don’t all play out to their best-case scenarios, the Angels may need to get in the market for a starting pitcher.

In Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson and Dan Haren, the Angels were supposed to have a rotation that would match up evenly or favorably against any in the game, but so far this season that has not been the case. Weaver has held up his end of the deal, but neither Wilson nor Haren has had their best year, no matter what Wilson’s shiny ERA would lead you to believe. Jerome Williams has pitched well, but he is hurt, and Garrett Richards and Ervin Santana both need to improve. The Angels have managed to climb out of their early-season hole, but if their rotation doesn’t improve, they may need to look for reinforcements if they are to reach the postseason.




Print This Post



Paul Swydan is the co-managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for ESPN Insider. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

55 Responses to “Angels’ Rotation Not As Strong As Expected”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Jason H says:

    I’m sure the Angels are terribly disappointed in C.J. Wilson. So what if he isn’t giving up any runs! His FIP is terrible!

    The Angels are among the best run prevention teams in the AL. Their pitching is fine, even if it isn’t measured well by FIP (and therefore fWAR).

    +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • j6takish says:

      FIP is not a measure of results, it’s a projection tool. Using future projections to current performance seems silly to me as well, just ask top 10 pitcher Tim Lincecum

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason H says:

        FIP is also a measure of results. It is just an absolutely terrible one.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • #teamteddy says:

        FIP isn’t as much a projection as, say, xFIP though. It tells you what should have happened given the pitcher’s peripherals, but ostensibly isn’t as forward looking as xFIP. ERA is not great at telling you how well the pitcher performed skillwise, but pretty damn good at saying that pitcher’s work yielded x runs per 9 innings, i.e. “what actually happened.”

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Derp says:

        Jason, I’m really looking forward to when Wilson has a couple of bad outings and the Slegna fanbase freaks out. It’s going to happen, and his ERA will regress.
        Enjoy the illusion for now, Michael.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Kinanik says:

        FIP is a measure of a pitcher’s results, apart from defense. If you put an average pitcher in front of a spectacular defense, you will get an above average ERA. If that average pitcher gives you an average ERA, you will be disappointed in him because he has pitched worse than expected.

        The combination of Wilson and Wilson’s defense has been good, as evinced by his ERA. Just because the combination has be good doesn’t mean each part is good; in this case one is very good (defense) and one is average (Wilson), which means Wilson has been disappointing, since the Angels were expecting an above average performance.

        +5 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Baltar says:

        @Kinanik
        Thank God there’s one commenter in this mess who understands FIP. The others should keep their mouths shut until they educated themselves.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason H says:

        Derp,

        The expectation is that Wilson’s ERA will regress. That is true. However, the expectation is that his ERA will regress to his career ERA as a starter, not his FIP. The Angels will not be disappointed if Wilson’s ERA ends up around 3.00. That is what they signed him for.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason H says:

        Kinanik,

        Actual baseball is not as simple as you pretend.

        First, FIP is in no way independent of defense. Catchers are known to effect ball and strike calls. Also, outfielders sometimes take home runs away. While these are rare events, home runs are a big part of FIP, so they are important.

        Second, many pitchers (including CJ Wilson) consistently “outperform” their FIP. This is not just because they happen to pitch on good defensive teams. If that was the case, all pitchers on a good defensive team would show the same trend. But they don’t. BABIP is a pitcher skill. There is no reason to pretend it is not.

        Third, even if Wilson’s success was entirely attributed to the defense, from the Angel’s perspective why would they care? Their defense is not going to change.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • vivalajeter says:

        Derp, is that going to happen before or after Ricky Nolasco starts to actually prevent runs from scoring?

        Kinanik, FIP attempts to measure a pitcher’s results, apart from defense. In general, it does a good job. Let’s not act like it works perfectly for everybody though.

        Baltar, stop being so close-minded. It’s possible that some people understand the logic behind FIP but don’t think it’s the be-all-end-all.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DavidCEisen says:

        Fun fact: In the month since this article was published, C.J. Wilson’s ERA increased a full run!

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brazen Reader says:

      In that vein, the headline is terrible. What the hell is “strong”? Whose “expectations”? It should read, “Angels’ Rotation’s WAR and FIP not as good as [we, you, Athlon?] predicted”.

      (And yes, fans get pricklishly defensive when anyone (no matter how reasonably) suggests their team is anything but superMikeTroutawesomewonderfulpie. Whaddya gonna do, I gotta be me.)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • j6takish says:

        FIP has it uses but I tend to lean in the direction that it is grossly misused. Especially since half the articles on pitching contain the phrase “soandso’s results don’t match their FIP”

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Derp says:

        Care to use tERA, SIERA, xFIP?
        They all say Wilson’s been average this season, but you can enjoy that .240 BABIP while it lasts…

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Juan Chapa says:

      I agree. Baseball is a game of adjustments. Pitchers and
      batters are always trying to get the upper hand. If you
      do not adjust, you will not stay in MLB very long. While
      Santana’s game (and stats) may be somewhat off, he
      is a quality pitcher. In head to head competition, he
      (and others like him) can rise to the occassion, pitch
      a three hit shutout, and flush your negative stats
      down the commode. Its easier to try adjustments,
      rather than relying on your adrenalin all the time.
      I wish the Rangers had him.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kinanik says:

      Run prevention requires defense as well as pitching, the FIP-ERA disconnect shows that Wilson has pitched okay, but the Angels defense has played spectacularly, which seems true apart from Wells and Aybar.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Snowblind says:

    Doesn’t matter; their offense has been hitting out of their minds over the last 30 days and they’re only 4 back of the Rangers going into the weekend.

    There’s every reason to believe – barring injury of course – that the Angels can catch the Rangers by this time next month. And in a 2-team AL West that’s really all that matters.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Nate says:

    WTF? We had Pineiro last year? Who remembers?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Greg says:

    bigger issue is that there really isn’t any pitching coming up from the farm. You generally need at least 5 pitchers in the farm for every guy who even makes it to the majors, no less performs well. We’ve got nothing.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. Eminor3rd says:

    I get that FIP is a better indicator of a pitcher’s contribution, but how are you going to make an argument that the Angels are disappointed with Wilson’s 2.33 ERA? Whether he deserves them or not, or will regress or not, how are those not excellent results?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason H says:

      It is not actually necessarily true that FIP is a better indicator of a pitcher’s contribution for any single player.

      FIP is a model that assumes that pitchers have absolute responsibility for strikeouts, walks and home runs, and no responsibility for balls in play. We know this model is wrong on every single assumption. Umpires affect strikeouts and walks, parks and atmosphere and luck effect homeruns, etc. Also, we know pitchers do effect balls in play.

      Further, we know that the degree to which FIP predicts future performance varies between players. Consequently, the appropriateness of FIP for evaluating any single player varies even if FIP does well on average.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Nick says:

        That’s a good point, but is there any reason to doubt that it is off this time?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason H says:

        Nick,

        C.J. Wilson’s ERA has been lower than his FIP every year of his career except 2008 when he only threw 46 innings.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • NS says:

        “FIP is a model that assumes that pitchers have absolute responsibility for strikeouts, walks and home runs, ”

        Why do you lie so much?

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason H says:

        NS,

        “McCracken outlined a better way to assess a pitcher’s talent level by looking at results a pitcher can control: strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and homeruns.”

        http://www.fangraphs.com/library/index.php/pitching/fip/

        Cheers.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Ben says:

        “We know this model is wrong on every single assumption.”

        I think your issue lies in the allusion that this is a binary wrong-right scenario. Nobody says FIP is perfect. Its assumptions are flawed, but far less flawed than assuming a pitcher exactly controls how many runs he allows per 9 IP. There are examples of pitchers who consistently out-perform (Matt Cain) or under-perform (Ricky Nolasco) their peripherals, but the extent to which one does so is important. Yes, Wilson consistently out-performs his peripherals, but he typically does so by a way smaller margin. Currently, Wilson’s peripherals are worse than the past and his ERA is better. Unless his peripherals begin to line up with past years, there is no reason to think he’ll be as good as he was.

        In summation: Wilson’s peripherals are worse. His results are better. So it is very reasonable to expect a significant regression.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason H says:

        Ben,

        I generally agree with your points, however I don’t think (as you imply) that I think the FIP model is worthless because we know the model’s assumptions are wrong. Almost all models suffer from this to some degree. For this reason, it is important to think carefully about the implications of the application of the model in any particular case (as you have done admirably).

        I agree we should expect regression from C.J. Wilson (as I stated up thread). Wilson’s 2012 FIP is pretty much identical to his career FIP. His performance really isn’t much out of line with his career at all as measured by FIP. The regression we should expect of Wilson is for his ERA to approach his career ERA, and not his 2012 FIP, however. At any rate, I’m pretty sure the Angles are getting exactly what they expected out of Wilson, contrary to the assertions of the article. In fact, the Angles might feel like they are playing with house money at this point since he has almost certainly performed better than the Angles expected with regards to the only thing the Angles actually care about (limiting runs against).

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Greg says:

    fyi Santana – contract up this year, with a $13M team option against a $1M fee. Also true for Haren at $15.5M Haren’s is still a gimme unless he needs back surgery. Always assumed the same for Santana – a gimme. Now not so sure, especially if you can allocate those monies to Orange County native Cole Hamels? And where would we be if we could allocate Vernon Wells’ money there too?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Greg says:

    If you were the Angels, would you be willing to trade hitting (Trumbo) for pitching? Hellickson if you want to save money? King Felix if you don’t?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Matt says:

    The more interesting story would have been the failure of the Ray’s pitching staff. David Price, James Shields and Matt Moore are WORSE then the top three of the Cardinals,Red Sox or Orioles.

    This isn’t that surprising. Weaver has consistently overperformed as well as C.J. Wilson.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Colin says:

    What needs to happen to stop referring to FIP and start referring to SIERA as the default measure around here!?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Derp says:

      Team FIP: 4.01
      Team SIERA: 4.06
      You’ve made little point in regards to the Angels.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Colin says:

        straw man much? Don’t believe I was talking about the Angels.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • vivalajeter says:

        Derp, FIP/SIERA work much better for team-wide data and league-wide data than they do for individual pitchers. They assume a regression to average in some pretty significant categories (balls in play, timing of hits, etc). If you look at the entire league or one entire pitching staff, yeah, they’ll probably be average in some categories. But stop assuming that every player will regress to that average over time.

        Some will consistently be better than average while some will consistently be worse than average (such as a pitcher who’s much worse at pitching out of the stretch). If you look at them as a combo, both measures work – even though they don’t work for either individual player.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Juan Chapa says:

    The Rays performance is not surprising. They’re one dimensional,
    copying the 1960′s White Sox game plan, all pitching and no
    offense. When your pitching fails, good luck. Moore doesn’t have
    command of his third pitch, probably should have started in
    long relief. It appears also that Price, Hellickson, and Moore
    have caught Shields’ illness, giving up homeruns. And, they’re
    walking too many batters. The batters have adjusted, and
    will not swing at anything outside the strike zone.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. ......... says:

    I am failing to understand how Wilson has been less effective than previous years. Did the author of this article look at his era, fip, and xfip numbers for the last 3 years(when he became a full time starter)? His numbers this year look almost the same as 2 years ago, just with a little bit lower babip and a little higher LOB%.

    Last year he did strike more guys out and walk less people, but look at his numbers this year and they aren’t that far off. Before his last 4 starts he had struck out 73 batters in 79 innings. In those last 4 starts he has been walking more batters while striking out way less.

    Let’s see where his numbers are at the end of the year because it sure looks like he is pretty much the same pitcher and will continue to be.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. camelot says:

    A’s have the lowest team era in american league

    their sp’s have given up 2 er or less in 17 of last 19 starts

    parker, milone, griffin- 3 rookies
    a pitcher in blackley who had not been in the majors since 2007

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason H says:

      Sure, that is all well and good, but the chart that Swydan presents above shows that the A’s top three pitchers are among the worst in MLB according to FIP. They need pitching and fast!

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • camelot says:

        colon just came off DL
        mccarthy maybe back soon
        straily who leads the planet in strikeouts maybe called up

        just call the A’s top 3 pitchers FIP busters

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Zigs says:

    I looked up CJ’s fip, and it was 3.55 which is not a bad fip, not even for expectations. His xfip was a 4.05. Not great, but based on fake stats. I am not a CJ fan, but I just don’t understand the hate. Maybe I am not looking at the stats right or do not understand fip well, but I believe these stats are about what would be expected.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. Antonio Bananas says:

    All this FIP fapping needs to stop. If you are going to use a stat that estimates how the performance should have been, use tERA. If a guy hits a line drive vs a weak groundout or infield fly, that is likely something the pitcher controlled.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Jason H says:

      But it’s really not that simple. In a few days we have the opportunity to watch the Home Run Derby. Pitchers will be trying to throw BP fastballs right down the center. Still, some of the best hitters on the planet will hit lots of balls foul or hit balls that would be easy outs.

      Nothing a pitcher does is ever completely independent of other players or umpires. It’s a real problem.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Nothing is ever independent but adding in line drive, gb, iff, and flyout is surely better at estimating “what should have happened” or “what would have happened under neutral circumstances” than FIP.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Jason H says:

        Antonio,

        I totally agree. I’m just pointing out that even within that data (and assuming no measurement error for the typologies — though there certainly is measurement error), there will still be a lot of error. Pitchers routinely make great pitches that are hit hard, and leave hanging curves in the middle of the plate that are rolled weakly over to second base. On average we hope these things will even out, but for any single pitcher in any single season there is no guarantee.

        Note, this is especially true of FIP. Home runs are rare events for even the worst pitchers relative to the number of pitches they throw. A few extra gopher balls that get popped up rather than hit to the moon make a difference, even though the pitcher is throwing the same junk.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        I think another thing is pitch selection to different hitters. A GB to Michael Bourn probably results in an out less often than a GB to say Adam LaRoche. A pitcher might not want to stay as low in the zone with Bourn because of this (or maybe not, I’m jut talking).

        FIP just bugs me more than any other stat. I truly believe that within 10 years FIP will be completely obsolete and people who use it will get laughed at.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Derp says:

      You realize you’re using a stat that estimates the Angels pitching is > .3 worse. I’m fine with that, just letting you know.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Antonio Bananas says:

        These kinds of stats are “what should happen under normal circumstances”.

        I think the main thing to learn from this is how good the Angels D must be. I bet Trout is running down a LOT of line drives and FB that usually land in the gap for doubles, or holding doubles to singles.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. rubesandbabes says:

    First off, appreciate and enjoy reading Fangraphs very much.

    Yes, this whole CJ Wilson thing sorta demonstrates modern stat tyranny seen too often at Fangraphs. The author’s defiance-in-advance is built right in to the article.

    That graphic: Great job, Milwaukee Brewers!

    Anyway, enjoyed the article, but CJ Wilson is having a great year and his stats reflect reflects this – it’s not a case of old-fangled stats hiding an impostor.

    And Wilson is right on his career numbers, all of them including FIP and whatever. He is even doing a little better, not giving up many HRS. He is one of the most deserving All-Stars, and obvious to see why.

    Joining the chorus…both FIP and xFIP are largely expressed with an added in and equal constant to try and make the number look more baseballish…so that fans can relate to the numbers,and have fun with them. It’s not all about pretending it’s science or something.

    For every Chris Sale that the stats can see coming, there’s a Ryan Cook or Ernesto Frieri that simply flies under the radar.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Jesse says:

    seeing how all 3 have signed post arbitration contracts acquiring 10-11 WAR for 37m (3-3.5/win) really isnt all the bad.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. downbythebay says:

    if Tim Lincecum’s numbers were normalized or panned more towards Timmy legend, I wonder where the Giants would be in that trio pitchers’ WAR chart

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Rob says:

    Wow, check out all the defensive Angels fans on here.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  19. Dingbat says:

    It’s funny — I understand the critiques of FIP and similar stats, but not the defensiveness. As far as I can tell, the main point of using advanced stats rather than basic stats is to do one thing: improve your ability to predict the future. If xFIP thinks that Wilson will see worse results in the 2nd half, that’s just one tool that baseball teams can use when determining strategies for improving their teams. What will be interesting will be if the Angels actually make a move to improve their staff or whether they think the team is strong enough as is.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current day month ye@r *