By opening day, Angels had their five-man starting pitcher rotation set: multiple time All-Stars and former Cy Young Award candidates Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, emerging ace Garrett Richards, and the newly acquired young pitchers Tyler Skaggs from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Hector Santiago from the Chicago White Sox.
Watching on from the bullpen was Matt Shoemaker.
Shoemaker, who went undrafted coming out of college and signed with the Angels’ in 2008 as a free agent, had played exclusively in the minor leagues until getting called up to The Show in the final month of last season, playing one game as a spot starter for Jered Weaver.
He pitched five scoreless innings, with five strikeouts and two walks, receiving the no-decision in a 3-2 victory over the Mariners. With this strong performance and a good showing in spring training, he impressed the Angels enough to retain a spot on the main roster by Opening Day, albeit this time in a long relief role.
And the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. After playing in only 3 games and pitching 6.2 innings out of the bullpen where he gave up 3 earned runs and 2 homers, Shoemaker was optioned back down to AAA again.
One month and a few early Hector Santiago struggles later, Matt was back in the majors to audition for a starting role against Philadelphia on May 13th, picking up the 4-3 win. And he has never looked back since.
As of today, Shoemaker currently has the third most wins on the team at 11, trailing behind Jered Weaver and Garrett Richards, each with 13. Of Shoemaker’s 21 games, 14 of them have been as a starter, in which he possesses the best walk-rate on the rotation at 1.66 BB/9. He also boasts the second highest strikeout-rate at 8.74 K/9, behind Richards’ 8.84. Shoemaker’s strikeout-to-walk ratio is an astonishing 5.27, nearly two strikeouts higher than the second best ratio of 3.28 possessed by Richards.
FanGraphs’ advanced metrics paint him in an equally positive light. In his 13 games as a starter, his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is an excellent 3.06, and his weighted xFIP is at 3.10.
He has the lowest xFIP on the team and is second in FIP, again behind Garrett Richards with a 2.58. Richards, as you could probably tell, has been amazing in virtually every statistic out there, traditional or advanced.
Shoemaker, dubbed an “Ace Killer” by Angels fans worldwide on Twitter, is acclaimed for his remarkable ability to play to the level of his highest competition, with wins over the likes of Cliff Lee, David Price, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish, and Justin Verlander. Not bad for a 7-year career minor leaguer who was never ranked higher than #27 in Angels’ farm system heading into a season (2012) by Baseball America.
And more importantly for the Angels… not bad for a man who was only thought to be a temporary fill-in as a fifth starter.
And speaking of fifth starters? To Hector Santiago’s credit, he has pitched very well since Matt Shoemaker had initially replaced him in the rotation, with a 2.72 ERA in 14 games; nine of which were as a starter, with various pitchers sitting games out with injuries.
Veteran C.J. Wilson had just recently been activated after an ankle injury on July 9th brought him to the disabled list, and Tyler Skaggs just had his Tommy John surgery this past Wednesday and will most likely not return until 2016. Angels are rumored to be looking to pick up another starter via waiver wires, leaving speculation as to what the rotation might look like upon another acquisition.
Your guess would be as good as mine… assuming your guess is that Matt Shoemaker will not be leaving any time soon.