The Angels went out and signed former Texas Ranger ace C.J. Wilson this offseason to a 5-year $77 million deal that would lock up the lefty for the majority of his prime years and really solidfy the Angels rotation as one of the best in baseball. Wilson joined a rotation that was already stacked with Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, and Ervin Santana, which finished second in the league last season in starters’ ERA to Tampa Bay. The addition of Wilson removed any question that they’d repeat as an elite pitching staff. The only real question about this 4-headed pitching monster was where will Wilson slot?
Obviously, number one goes to the returning ace of the staff in Weaver, and Haren has quietly put together an argument for being at least as good, if not better, so he’s earned the number two spot as the co-ace of the staff. So the logical spot for Wilson to land would be third, right? Well, apparently not, as manager Mike Scioscia has set his rotation to go Weaver-Haren-Santana-Wilson, which leads us to ask: did the Angels really pay $77 million for a number four starter?
Looking at Wilson’s 2011, it’s obvious he’s got better stuff than your typical number four starter. As the ace for Texas, Wilson went 16-7 last year with a 2.94 ERA in 34 starts while striking out 206 batters and walking just 74 as he posted a career-low 1.187 WHIP. He was the number one guy for Texas as they made their second-straight appearance in the World Series, and earned a big pay-day in free agency that he found when the Halos came calling.
Santana, meanwhile, had himself a pretty decent 2011 as well. In 33 starts, Santana posted an 11-12 record with a 3.38 ERA while striking out 178 batters and walking 72 with a WHIP of 1.220. Definitely respectable, and deserving of some consideration to retain his third slot, but has he shown enough to keep Wilson at bay?
If we look at their springs, each of them have been lights out. Wilson has gone 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA while Santana went 1-0 with a 2.19 ERA. Both excellent, but Wilson comes out looking better again. In fact, the worst of the big four this spring has actually been the Opening Day starter, Weaver, who’s gone 2-2 with a 5.40 ERA. That isn’t cause for any concern, however, as Weaver is an extreme fly-ball pitcher who has balls carry on him in the dry Arizona air. Getting back into the spacious confines of Angels Stadium will put him right back on track.
So how is Wilson slated fourth? It may be as simple as matchups. The Angels open up their season against the Kansas City Royals, who were one of the best hitting teams against left-handed pitching last season, batting over .260. The Angels follow up their series with the Royals by traveling to Minnesota, who hit over 20-points worse against lefties in 2011. Scioscia is merely trying to get his big-4 the best matchup to start the season possible. Plus, as Scioscia points out, once the season starts, nobody’s going to care who’s one and who’s four.
“It gave us a way to get a good look to start the season. Once the season starts, there’s no one, two, three, four,” Scioscia said. “We’ve got four guys that are front-of-the-rotation guys and that’s how we’re going to look at it.”
The move allows the Angels to protect their new lefty a bit to open the season, while also rewarding one of their returning arms for being around a while. Scioscia is known for rewarding his guys, so some part of this decision was likely motivated by wanting to let Santana know he’s no less a part of the rotation now that Wilson is in town.
Once the season gets going, the Angels are going to boast four front-of-the-rotation caliber pitchers, making them a formidable matchup for anyone in the American League. Just because Wilson won’t get his first start until game four of the 2012 season, don’t expect to see any drop-off in the level of pitching from the Angels this season from one starter to another. So, is Wilson the most expensive number four ever? Maybe so, but it’ll be worth it when the Halos put four number ones on the hill this season.