It has been assumed and widely written that the Angels, roundly considered to be either slight favorites or slight underdogs to Oakland for the AL West would just try to weather the storm of injuries through the first two months and then take off once back to full or near full strength. Roughly 30 games into the season, it would seem that they have accomplished that first goal with Oakland seriously floundering and just the pitching-challenged Texas Rangers ahead of them by a mere half a game.
Is the second part of the model going to hold up though? The point here is to look at what has fueled the Angels success so far to date. It certainly hasn’t been the offense which has produced at a markedly below league average level and gotten roughly, but still below, league average results on the back of an inflated BABIP. It has not been their gloves either, which also rank below average.
The Angels bullpen has produced some decent fielding independent numbers, but I would still rank them as slightly below average thanks to their near league worst line drive rate allowed. In point, what has been keeping the Angels afloat has precisely been their starting pitching.
Now, nobody is going to argue that getting Anthony Ortega out of the rotation isn’t going to be beneficial, but the other displaced member of the rotation is going to have been either Matt Palmer, currently sporting a 4.54 FIP or Shane Loux and his staff leading 3.78 FIP. For reference, John Lackey‘s FIP last season was 4.53 and he was projected to be around 3.90 before the injury with Ervin Santana at about the same level. A half run of FIP spread over 150 innings amounts to a mere eight runs of difference.
All told, as long as neither Lackey nor Santana get re-hurt or implode or, in the case of Santana, turn back into the 2007 form, adding the pair back into the rotation is probably worth about two wins above what the Angels have currently gotten from their worst two starters. Two wins is a lot in a tight division, but consider that even before the injuries the Angels were not projected to be heads or shoulders above anyone out west.
The Angels are about to get better, yes, but looking at the numbers, the highest probable scenario says that they are not going to simply run away with the AL West. It’s a long season yet.