We all know where the Angels play — no need to distinguish them from all the other Angels teams in baseball — and it’s likely that we know their front five, too. At least on day one. Because if there’s any team that’s likely to need their six, seventh, and even eighth starters, it’s the Angels.
Sure, Jered Weaver looks like he’ll be fine. He only has a 39.9% likelihood of hitting the DL in Zimmerman’s starting pitcher DL projections, and that’s basically league average. At 30, he’s not too old yet, and working in his favor are the five straight years of 175+ innings. Of course, his strikeout rate has receded from that one-year peak in 2010, but he’s still got great control and pitches in the perfect ballpark for his skills. The strikeout numbers keep him from being an elite fantasy ace, but he’s still worthy of standing atop a fantasy staff.
C.J. Wilson has his problems, but he’s also likely to be healthy. Since he had Tommy John surgery in 2004, he’s only missed significant time twice. Of course, he did have offseason elbow surgery again — bone spurs — but he one of his best years ever came in 2009 after a similar surgery in 2008. Many might feel like 2012 was Wilson’s true talent level coming out to shine. After all, he doesn’t strike a ton of batters out, and his control can leave him. If you depend mostly on a 50% ground ball rate, you might end up with a 3.83 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP many years. But Wilson has shown better control than he showed last year. Even a slight improvement in that arena would make his numbers fantasy-friendly, at least at the back end of a staff.
After the front two, you have a veritable smorgasbord of regression risks and surgery specials. Tommy Hanson, in particular, seems destined to miss major time this season. He’s only managed 175 innings once in his career (twice if you count minor league innings), he’s coming off a year that saw velocity loss and back problems, he throws a ton of sliders, he doesn’t find the zone at a league average rate, and he’s continually trying to tweak his mechanics to save his back and his elbow. It’s a wonder that Hanson only has a 41.3% likelihood of hitting the DL. But it is worth noting that he has two asterisks related to Zimmerman’s research — his bad zone percentage, and his high slider rate. Just from watching him finish the season last year, Hanson seems like a very risky player. And his upside, with his new velocity rate, and his new league, does not seem worth all that risk.
Jason Vargas isn’t an injury risk (33.7%) as much as he’s a regression risk. Despite terrible strikeout (5.75 K/9 or !5%) and ground-ball (36.5% career) rates, Vargas has ridden the Safeco train to a high-threes, low-fours ERA in the last three seasons. The career 4.35/1.31 pitcher has a 3.38 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in Safeco. And while he’s liked Angel Stadium, it’s only been for six starts. Maybe it won’t be that bad — Angel Stadium has a 96 overall park factor and a 97 home run park factor, while Seattle is at 94 and 96 respectively — but the reward is not worth the risk in fantasy. He’s a spot starter in most leagues.
The biggest injury risk on this team is Joe Blanton, and he’s actually the fourth-highest injury risk in baseball according to Zimmerman’s work. That probably has to do with the fact that the rotund pitcher has hit the DL three times in the last three years. Using a combo of passable strikeouts and great control, Blanton has actually underperformed his peripherals lately. By strikeouts minus walks — the best quick and dirty way to evaluate a pitcher — Blanton has been above average the last two seasons and average before that. Still, he’s a career 4.34/1.37 guy, and after 1400+ innings, it’s hard to project him for much better.
So who are the guys that will step in for the injured veterans? Jerome Williams and his puka shell necklace is probably the first option. He might be slightly more interesting than your typical 31-year-old journeyman — he’s reinvented himself as a ground-ball guy, and shown much improved control in Southern California. Still, like Vargas, it’s not a great fantasy combination. Next on the list is Garrett Richards. Though he’s younger (25) and throws harder (95) than Williams, Richards has not been able to actually, you know, strike guys out. This despite a good swinging strike rate (10%). Maybe it’s the fact that he’s primarily a fastball/slider guy — lefties had a .389 wOBA against Richards last season — in which case you might want to watch the news regarding his changeup or developing a new pitch. On the horizon is Nick Maronde, a 23-year-old lefty that impressed in a short stint last year. If Maronde can find his minor-league walk rates in the majors, he’ll be a decent pitcher, and could easily end the season as the fifth starter given his competition. Deeper dynasty owners should take notice.
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