Angels Fifth Starter: Who Ya Got?
The Angels are poised to enter the 2012 season with one of the top starting rotations in all of baseball. From spots 1-4, the team has great arms that could be aces on most other staffs around baseball with 2011 Cy Young runner-up Jared Weaver, iron-man Dan Haren, newly acquired C.J. Wilson, and Spring Training All-Star Ervin Santana. Each of the four finished in the top 14 of ERA last season and will continue to benefit from the pitcher-friendly confines of Angel Stadium. That group, minus Wilson, finished 2011 as the second best rotation in baseball behind only the Tampa Bay Rays, and will look to finish tops in 2012. The only question that remains about this starting rotation is who will throw fifth?
Entering the spring, it looked like journeyman Jerome Williams would take that role, but a strained hamstring has kept him from throwing since March 2. That’s opened the door for young hurler Garrett Richards to have himself a nice spring and stake his own claim for that spot in the rotation. Now, it’s being reported that the Angels are interested in brining in free agent Roy Oswalt, who would undoubtedly fit nicely into that number five hole. So, who’s it going to be when the regular season rolls around?
Williams entered spring as the favorite to man the back of the rotation, but issues with the hamstring have cast some doubts. He saw his first action March 26 in a minor league appearance. If that goes well, he should have enough time to work himself back into the big league lineup and stake his claim for the fifth spot in the rotation. At 30 years old, Williams has had a long, if not always illustrious, career. After a disappointing start to his highly anticipated career with the San Francisco Giants, Williams turned it around while playing overseas and has been popping up on minor and major league rosters ever since. His last major stint in the big leagues came in 2007 with the Washington Nationals, where he posted a 7.20 ERA with a 1.73 WHIP, while going 0-5 in six starts. After a couple years bouncing around the minors, Williams made a splash coming up for the Angels last season, posting a 4-0 record in six starts with a 3.68 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. That strong showing put Williams into the lead for the fifth spot this year. But was last season’s impressive showing a flash in the pan or an indication that Williams is finally putting all that experience of his to good use? Some work this spring would be helpful in answering that question, and he’ll have some ground to make up if he wants to be a part of the rotation when the games start to matter.
Richards, at 23-years old, is the young gun of the bullpen, and has seized an opportunity this spring with the injury to Williams to try and push his way into the majors perhaps a bit ahead of schedule. Richards spent most of last season at double-A Arkansas, and put together an impressive 12-2 record. When he got called up to The Show, Richards went 0-2 in 3 starts with a 5.79 ERA and 1.64 WHIP, but his raw talent is unmistakable. He’s been showing that talent this spring, pitching nine innings and giving up just two runs with a 7:1 K:BB ratio. The team undoubtedly would like to have Richards spend some time in triple-A Salt Lake to build on his success in double-A last season and continue to refine his pitches. While Richards is unquestionably in the Angels long-term plans for the rotation, but is the best option for their fifth spot this year? While Richards is making a push, and will be the team’s best option if Williams still isn’t ready to go and the team doesn’t bring in another pitcher in the next few weeks, the team would best be served if they could give the young right-hander an extra season of experience in the minors.
Until recently, Oswalt wasn’t really an option for the Halos. Oswalt’s age, at 34, has started to take its toll, as he’s experienced some health issues over the last few seasons. Oswalt has been working on recovering this offseason as he’s weighed his options in free agency. If Oswalt can regain his health, and if the Angels can lure him out west, Oswalt would join an already stacked rotation and make it one of the toughest one through five in baseball. Oswalt’s numbers in Philadelphia last season were not his most impressive, with just a 9-10 record, but posted a 3.69 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in just 23 starts, his lowest total since 2003. While GM Jerry Dipoto has downplayed the Angels pursuit of Oswalt (he also downplayed the interest in Pujols, though), the move would be beneficial for both sides. Oswalt would be able to ease back into a starter’s role while only putting a back of the rotation innings-load on his aged wheels, while the Angels would sure up their fifth spot in the rotation until their younger prospects, like Richards, were ready for the majors.
So what will the Angels do? Well, as HH editor MJ said yesterday, the Angels should throw everything they can behind a play for Oswalt. He would solidify the Angels rotation and galvanize the unit into the best in baseball. That would also allow Richards to get some extra seasoning in the minors for another year and allow Williams to fill a long-relief/spot starter role for the Angels. Giving Richards time to mature in a positive and natural progression would benefit the Halos in the long run, and adding Oswalt would bolster their short term prospects of a deep playoff run in 2012.