LA Angels Decide To Roll With Six

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 07: Manager Mike Scioscia, Luis Valbuena
ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 07: Manager Mike Scioscia, Luis Valbuena /

It has been speculated upon all winter, and Mike Scioscia finally made it official: the LA Angels will roll into 2018 with a six-man starting rotation.

In an ESPN interview on Tuesday, the LA Angels manager said, “In talking with Billy Eppler and everyone who’s dived into this, we all feel very comfortable with it. Let’s get the six best guys we have and get after it. It will not only pay dividends for Shohei [Ohtani], but with the rest of our staff to hopefully keep them effective and strong through the whole season.”

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This is about Shohei Ohtani, of course. The Angels will be counting upon the most intriguing player of 2018 to be a rotation anchor, and to help keep him healthy, they’re going to try to keep his pitching schedule as close as possible to the one he pitched with so much success with in Japan. Japanese League starters routinely start one game a week — a full season’s worth of starts is often just 25 or so starts, rather than the 32 or 33 starts that MLB starters log in a full season.

The new rotation is about Ohtani, of course, but it’s not only about Ohtani. The Angels are returning a MASH unit of starters, and it’s an open question as to who can survive the season:

  • Garrett Richards: Recovering from an irritated nerve in his right bicep, this coming on top of a torn ulnar collateral ligament in 2016 (for which opted to try an experimental cocktail of stem cells and platelet rich plasma (PRP) rather than Tommy John surgery).
  • Matt Shoemaker: Recovering from surgery on the radial nerve in his right arm.
  • Tyler Skaggs: Threw 85 innings last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
  • Andrew Heaney: Threw 21.2 innings last season after recovering from Tommy John surgery.
  • J.C. Ramírez: Recovering from a ulnar collateral ligament, which he chose to go the stem cell and PRP route instead of Tommy John surgery.
  • Nick Tropeano: Recovering from Tommy John surgery.

It’s not the most encouraging list — the only starter returning from last season that isn’t recovering from something is Parker Bridwell. The three most talented starters, Richards, Shoemaker, and Heaney, made just 25 starts in 2017.  Even if Ohtani stays healthy and successful, the Angels will need at least three of the other starters to step up and become rotation stalwarts.

The Angels prefer to see this not as a problem, but a blessing. Scioscia told Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic that, “A lot of times it’s tough to find that fourth and fifth starter, but if everyone comes back and is healthy for us, we’re going to have some exceptional depth in our rotation. It’s going to be guys you are going to want to go out there and pitch. With six men, it will take a little bit of the burden off guys to have to bounce back.”

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This isn’t just spin: Angels starters managed a 4.38 ERA last season, sixth best in the American league even with Ricky Nolasco and Jesse Chavez combining for nearly 300 innings with an ERA over 5.00. If Richards and Shoemaker pitch to career norms, and Heaney reverts to his pre-surgery form (3.49 ERA in 105.2 innings in 2015), then the Angels really will have a full deck to deal from. Also, Scioscia left it open as to whether the rotation might change over the course of the season, and even noted that they could go back to the more regular five-man rotation later on in the year.

Even though the starters will get one more day off between starts, Scioscia will not be looking to extend them in games. “When a pitcher’s done in a game, he’s finished,” he told Rosenthal. That means a significant bullpen load, and it’s expected that anyone who doesn’t make the rotation will be throwing regularly out of the pen.

Next: Can Tyler Skaggs Break Out in 2018?

For the moment, the Richards, Shoemaker, Ohtani, and Heaney are all expected to get rotation assignments, leaving Skaggs, Ramírez, Tropeano, and Bridwell to battle it out for the last two slots. With the position players already settle everywhere except at first base, Spring Training’s biggest question will be who starts and who goes to the bullpen.