Will Matt Shoemaker Regress in 2015?


Matt Shoemaker was a revelation for the Los Angeles Angels in his debut season. The 28-year-old righty went 16-4, and posted an impressive 3.04 ERA in his debut campaign with the Halos. Shoemaker finished second in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting. After just one season in Anaheim, Shoe has already become a fan favorite due to his pitching prowess, and his thick black beard.

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Originally signed by the Angels as an amateur free agent in 2008, the Eastern Michigan alum reached the big leagues in September of 2013. Shoemaker really hit his stride this past season when he shifted from the Angels’ bullpen to the starting rotation in early May. Blackbeard went 14-3, posting an ERA of 2.89 across 121.1 innings as a starter. Shoemaker tallied 2.3 wins above replacement in his debut season.

Reasons for Optimism:

Thankfully for Angels’ fans, there are plenty of indications that suggest Matt Shoemaker can be a quality big league starter for years to come. Not the least of which is his strikeout to walk ratio. Shoe struck out a remarkable 5.1 batters for every walk he issued in 2014. In 2013, as a member of the Angels triple-A affiliate in Salt Lake City, Shoemaker posted a 5.52 strikeout to walk ratio across 184.1 innings, proving his numbers last year were no fluke. In 2014, Blackbeard held the opposition to just 1.074 walks/hits per inning. He showcased his ability to locate pitches by allowing 1.6 walks per 9 innings this past season. If a pitcher can limit the number of unnecessary base runners, he stands a good chance to avoid the “big inning.”

Matt Shoemaker will never be referred to as a power pitcher, but he has the arsenal required to excel as a starter. He possess’ four above average pitches, but relies heavily on his low-90’s fastball, using it over 50% of the time last season. Shoe has developed into a strikeout artist with the Angels, as he averaged 8.2 punch outs per 9 innings in 2014. His ability rack up K’s is largely due to his incredible control, and the movement he generates with his split finger fastball and slider.

Oct 3, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker throws a pitch against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning in game two of the 2014 ALDS playoff baseball game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Trenton, MI product does a nice job keeping the ball on the ground, inducing ground balls 41.2% of the time in 2014. As long as he continues to employ his split finger fastball/slider combination, his groundball rate should hover around 40% for the foreseeable future. Despite the fact that the Angels posted the best offense in baseball last season, Angel Stadium is considered a pitcher friendly park. Shoemaker took advantage of the cavernous outfield, limiting the opposition to just 0.9 home runs per 9 innings.

Reasons to Panic:

While I would not necessarily classify this as a reason to “panic,” it is worth noting that the numbers produced by Matt Shoemaker in 2014 bare little resemblance to what he managed to post across six seasons in the minor leagues. Shoemaker took the long and winding road to the big A. He made his first appearance in triple-A during the 2010 season, and yet failed to earn a promotion until September of 2013. Shoemaker has posted a career record of 25-26, with a 5.38 ERA across parts of five seasons with the Bees of Salt Lake City. The Pacific Coast League is notoriously unkind to hurlers, but Shoe averaged just 7 punch-outs per 9 innings. Also, his 3.21 strikeout to walk ratio fell well below the 5.1 he posted last season. Shoe has allowed a shocking 11.1 hits per 9 innings during his tenure in Salt Lake.

Apart from the glaring discrepancies in statistics, I really have no significant concerns with Matt Shoemaker. He performed admirably down the stretch for the Halos, and played a key role in the Angels’ posting the best record in baseball. I believe the extra years spent in triple-A have allowed him to harness his tools. It really seems like a switch flipped for Shoemaker during the 2013 season, and he has been a different pitcher the last two years. As with any finesse pitcher, there is less room for error, but as long as Shoe’s command holds, I see no reason to panic.

What to Expect in 2015:

FanGraphs Steamer has projected Matt Shoemaker will post a record of 12-11, with an ERA of 4.06 across 189 innings in 2015. The brainiacs at FanGraphs also believe Shoe will average a measly 6.86 strikeouts per 9 innings, and post just 1.3 wins above replacement. While fair to suggest Shoemaker pitched over his head in 2014, it is remarkably unfair to suggest he will struggle this badly.

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It is unreasonable to expect Shoemaker will duplicate his .750 winning percentage from a year ago, but if he is called upon to start 30-35 games in 2015, 12-14 wins are not out of the question. Some regression should be expected, but I have a hard time believing Shoemaker will post an ERA above 4.00 this coming season. He finished strong in 2014, and was the only Angels’ starter to perform well in October. I expect to see more of the same from the 28-year-old this season.

Blackbeard will have to avoid the typical roadblocks that pop up for a player in his second campaign, but he will undoubtedly be one of the key cogs in the Halos starting staff as they push to repeat as division champs. I look forward to seeing Shoemaker grow into becoming the Angels’ potential number two pitcher for 2016.

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