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.



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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for Boston.com. He has written for The Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.


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