LA Angels Biggest Question Mark In 2018: The Starting Rotation
By Troy Stewart
2017 was another injury riddled season for the LA Angels starting pitching staff. Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, J.C. Ramirez, Alex Meyer, and Nick Tropeano each missed extended periods of time with injuries last season. The Angels fell just 5 games short of a wild card spot, making fans wonder how different next season could be with a healthy starting rotation.
The patchwork starting pitching staff for the LA Angels outperformed all expectations this season. Out of all 30 teams, the Angels staff ranked in the top half in ERA (12th), hits against (10th), runs against (9th), and opponent’s OBP (13th), to name a few. These stats will skew the perception of the main problem from the 2017 season. Many will say that the pitching staff held its own, kept the team in most ballgames, and gave the Angels hitters a chance to win games. These statements are all true to an extent, but the basic statistics can mislead the naked eye. When taking a further look into the season stats of the starting pitching, I found 4 reasons why the starting rotation failed in 2017, and 4 solutions that will be provided in 2018 with a healthy staff.
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The first problem with the Angels rotation was how many batters they faced. The team the 27th fewest batters last year, showing that the bullpen was called on to save embarrassment far too often. I don’t want to get into the bullpen too much, but any Angels fan that watched games in 2017 knows that the pen was the MVP of the season, one of the few bright spots of the team. In 2018, this will change with Garrett Richards healthy. Richards averaged 721 batters faced from 2013-2015. That comes out to 20% of batters faced by all Angels starters combined in 2017. If Richards is healthy, there is stability at the top of the rotation.
Another problem with the starting rotation in 2017 was the innings pitched. The starters ranked 22nd out of 30 teams, with an average 5.9 innings pitched a game. Innings were not provided from the starting staff this season, plain and simple. Although we could again say that a healthy Garrett Richards is the answer, it isn’t him. Yes, Richards was a workhorse for 3 years, averaging over 173 innings a season. You could also say that there is a direct correlation between innings pitched and batters faced. But, the better solution comes from a healthy Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, and J.C. Ramirez. The middle of the rotation needs to be the innings eaters. The expectations for these three are not to become aces (Although it would be awesome). Their jobs are to give the team quality outings, keep the team in the game, and save the bullpen.
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Strikouts are on the rise in the MLB. When you take a closer look into the art of a strikeout, it is very simple. A strikeout decreases the chances of errors, hits, on-base percentage, home runs and many other things. The defense has no chance to make a mistake with a strikeout. The best teams minimize mistakes. Last season, the Angels ranked 23rd in strikeouts from starters. Eight of the ten playoff teams teams made the top 10 in starting pitcher strikeouts. The only two playoff teams in the bottom half were Colorado (21st) and Minnesota (26th). They were both knocked out in the Wild Card Game. With a healthy Richards (7.5 K/9), Shoemaker (8.0 K/9), Skaggs (7.7 K/9), and Heaney (7.3 K/9), the Angels should be in at least the top half of the league in strikeouts next season.
The last problem that will be addressed with a healthy 2018 starting rotation is home runs against. In 2017, the Angels gave up 151 home runs, the 5th most in the league. Angel Stadium has always been known as a pitcher’s ballpark, especially in the evening. Richards and Shoemaker have been able to keep hitters from putting the ball out of the park during their careers. Richards has a career 0.7 HR/9, and Shoemaker’s HR/9 is 1.2. In 2017, Ricky Nolasco tied for 4th place of all starting pitchers with 35 home runs given up. The Angels declined Nolasco’s 2018 club option. All Angel fans can breath a sigh of relief, he won’t be back next season.
Next: How does Angels bullpen shape up?
By the end of the 2017 season, the LA Angels starting rotation was holding on by its last thread. Injuries derailed any hopes of a World Series. If the staff can stay healthy in 2018, Mike Scosicia and Co. will have depth at the position, and their ace back. Considering the last two seasons, these ifs are getting bigger and bigger, but a healthy season in 2018 will help the team battle with the Astros for the AL West, and bring October back to Anaheim.