Examining the LA Angels Experimental Pitching Staff

TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 24: Shohei Ohtani
TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 24: Shohei Ohtani /

The LA Angels have entered Spring Training  with a massive questions mark set into their rotation. It isn’t a question of “who do they fill their spots with”, but a question of “how”?

The LA Angels have taken a plethora of potential starters into Spring Training, each pitcher a question mark in their own right. Even the Angels guaranteed #1 starter, Garrett Richards, is coming into Spring Training with 61.4 IP across the last two years.

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That’s right, the Angels go to starter hasn’t had a full season, or even half a season of work, in over two seasons. That’s not the most encouraging, despite his impressive Spring Training the question of his durability requires plenty of contingencies to be placed in case of emergency. This is something the Angels struggled with last season, yet with up to nine potential starters in the wake there will be plenty of resources available for experimentation.

Even then, there’s still plenty of concern. Not “concern” in the traditional sense, such as hand-wringing and sweating, but concern in the sense of intensive contemplation. The Angels have plenty of young talent primed for success, and all that is required is proper application of their talents.

The Angels most talented starter, arguably is the young Shohei Ohtani, has plenty of ways to go until he is truly an MLB stud. Aside from Richards and Ohtani, there’s still 4 more rotation spots to fill with the Angels going for a six-man rotation in 2018. Aside from the previously mentioned pitchers, the Angels have guys such as Parker Bridwell, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Matt Shoemaker, Nick Tropeano, J.C Ramirez to command innings.

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That’s a lot of pitchers competing for limited spots, so we should be seeing some of them miss the Major League roster, right?

Not if the Angels play it smart.

This team will be eschewing the traditional starting rotation roles this upcoming season, so why not take it a step further? Instead of a straight six-man rotation featuring one starter every day it might be in the Angels best interest to double up some of their young starters on certain start days.

You could consider it a “bullpen” game in the very basic sense, except this would benefit young starters needing live game-time without putting a ton of pressure or responsibility on their shoulders. Mike Scioscia needs to inch up that responsibility with his young guys like Parker Bridwell and Matt Shoemaker, even Tropeano and Ramirez need a little guidance after coming off big injuries.

Now, the Angels wouldn’t need to position a multiple starts for every game, but double-up on certain days. You probably won’t need to support Garrett Richards with Andrew Heaney picking up innings for him in the same game, but honestly, you just might for Shohei Ohtani. Given his extremely-mixed Spring Training outings it would be foolhardy to send him out and ask for 6 or 7 innings when he’s struggling to come around to the new culture of Western baseball.

We don’t need Ohtani being forced into a hole he doesn’t fit yet, we don’t need to see him slowly lose his confidence over the course of multiple months of poor, forced starts. Now, if you balanced that with a support system, possibly place another starter working to reestablish their footing, such as Parker Bridwell, to pick up 3 middle innings in “relief”, you’re guaranteed to ease a lot of problems.

Firstly, the issue of getting the plethora of pitchers playing time, because you know they’ll need to be on the roster in order for the experiment to take off. It doesn’t make sense to carry up to nine starting pitchers and only use six of them until you see one of your starters begin falter. It isn’t hard to envision guys like Matt Shoemaker having a rocky start given his up and down Spring Training.

Now, I’m not suggesting this as a full-time answer to the rotation question, but for the first month or two it would be vital. It’s a bit obvious we’re going to see Ramirez, Tropeano, and Bridwell work out from the bullpen at some points in the season; instead of expecting guys like Shoemaker or Skaggs to pitch a full starts it would help both their confidence, and the filtering of the pitching plethora, to schedule early relief with another budding starter.

This is the type of game plan that sets up your future in an efficient manner. We don’t need to spend 2-3 months trying to fit nine guys into six spots, which will inevitably happen once a pitcher begins to falter and Scioscia decides to see who else can fit in the role.

I’m not suggesting an extended Spring Training, which it may seem like I’m calling for, but when you realize Andrew Heaney has barely pitched 150 Major League innings in four seasons, or Shoemaker worked only 77 IP in 2018, or even Tyler Skaggs hitting under 85 IP in 2018 and 49.2 IP in 2017, it’s clear this is a roster of talented guys who need assistance to reach full success.

Trotting these guys out once a week and making them wait another week to either build upon their success or fix their errors can be mentally deteriorating.

If you argue the position that the six-man, one starter per game is just fine you still have to take into account the durability and history of these starters. Again, even a “healthy” Garrett Richards carries the possibility of injury, Shohei Ohtani isn’t close to a finished product, and most of the young starters on this team are coming off seasons of less than 100 IP.

We may see a mixture of Bridwell-Tropeano-Ramirez pitching long-relief and emergency appearances, but a simple fix of scheduling their relief appearances instead of wavering you hand over the big red emergency button may fare better for the long term status of not only the team, but the players.

Scioscia does have his tendency to force his players out there and wait to see what happens. An easier avenue would be planning shorter starts, and over the course of the first month ramp them up to full time gigs. I know it sounds obvious when worded that simply, yet given the range of starters and ability among the Angels it carries a lot of fluid responsibility.

One week you might have Scioscia, instead of throwing out a low-end starter to fill the sixth-spot, double up a start of Tropeano/Ramirez, and the very next week you might see a solo start from one of the two depending on how the rest of the rotation shapes up.

Mike Scioscia is not going to have an easy job managing this onslaught of pitching talent, I would dare say it is his biggest challenge yet as a manager.

All I’m asking to consider is, if Shoemaker happens to open the season with a 4 IP 5 ER start we don’t need to see a week pass and then attempt to wring out a 6 IP start and see him falter equally. Should Tyler Skaggs, or any pitcher for that matter, face multiple poor starts let’s not just wantonly relieve and re-position his responsibilities. Instead offer them a Parker Bridwell, or a J.C Ramirez, and let them put out the strongest start they can, and once they begin to waver hit them with support and let them leave the game feeling good about themselves.

Next: Kole Calhoun ready for a bounce-back year

It’s a simple concept at face value, until you dive deeper into it and realize all the nuances and factors actually in play. Maybe if Scioscia does a good job managing this overwhelming roster-jam he might just set himself up for another contract extension.