LA Angels: Who is the most important player in 2020?

As the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim get ready for the 2020 season, their postseason hopes may rely on Julio Teheran, not Mike Trout.

If the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim want to make a postseason push in 2020, it won’t be Mike Trout that determines their fate. Rather, it may come down to under the radar free agent pick-up Julio Teheran’s performance of whether this team makes a lot of noise or goes quietly.

With a shortened MLB season likely to be announced soon, the Halos are one of a handful of teams that sit on the bubble of being a postseason contender. They have plenty of talent on the roster to make a push, especially if relegated to only playing western teams. The ever-steady Trout, the addition of Anthony Rendon, and a full season of Shohei Ohtani should boost an offense that finished in the middle of the pack in 2019, allowing them to go toe-to-toe with the best in the league.

However, the Angels also have their fair share of question marks that may hold them back. Namely, the health and productivity of the pitching staff.

The Angels made a concerted effort to improve the pitching staff over the winter, making trades for Dylan Bundy and Matt Andriese and signing free agent Julio Teheran. While the trio lacks the appeal of landing a bigger fish like Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg, there is upside there.

Bundy, a former fourth overall pick of the Orioles, has put his health concerns behind him, but his consistency has still been a problem. While he has averaged 167.2 innings of work over the last three seasons and he’s averaged good strikeout numbers over that time (8.9 K/9), his ERA and FIP have floated high (4.83 and 4.76 respectively) and he’s been prone to the home run ball (1.72 HR/9) thanks to 43.5% fly-ball rate and a hard-hit rate of 33.0% over his career.

Meanwhile, Andriese has primarily been relegated to the bullpen for his career, making only occasional starts as an opener for the Rays in 2017 and 2018. In his five seasons, he’s averaged 8.21 K/9 and has been a ground ball machine to the tune of 46.3%. While, he’s surrendered a career BABIP of .307 over his 428.2 innings of work, his estimated FIP (xFIP) of 4.03 paints a picture of poor luck and potential gains.

While both Bundy and Andriese represent a gamble by the Angels to improve their pitching, and there is no guarantee of what the Angels will receive from Shohei Ohtani or Griffin Canning, Julio Teheran may be the only sure thing in the rotation.

And that makes him the most important person to the Angels season.

What makes Julio Teheran important to the Angels season

The struggles of the Angels to get consistency out of their pitching over the years have been beaten to death. Injuries and underperformance have doomed the team’s prospects for much of Mike Trout’s time with the organization.

That’s where Teheran steps to the mound.

Since becoming a full-time starter for the Braves in 2013, Teheran has averaged 191 innings of work and 32 starts per season. While his ERA and FIP have fluttered a bit, mostly due to how well he manages to contain the home run ball, Teheran has generally outperformed his peripherals, with a lifetime ERA of 3.67 against a FIP of 4.23 and an xFIP of 4.37. He’s done this by limiting hard contact to 32.7% over his career and featuring a fairly even split of ground balls to fly balls (38.0 % vs 40.8%).

That’s the type of consistency that the Angels staff has been missing since the heyday of Jered Weaver.

With that all being said, ZiPS does not project the most encouraging results for Teheran in 2020. Before the season delay, he was projected to make 31 starts and pitch to a 10-10 record, a  4.68 ERA, and a 5.31 FIP. However, that may be taken with a grain of salt. In 2019, the same service projected a 9-9 record, a 4.54 ERA, and a 4.97 FIP. Instead, he delivered a 10-11 mark, 3.81 and 4.66 respectively.

The only real question mark around Teheran will be if he performs as expected, will the Angels be able to retain the 30-year-old beyond 2020? Given the state of contract situations in the wake of the Coronavirus, the Angels may wish to use a small sample size to determine if he’s worth extending before hitting the open market.

Regardless, Julio Teheran will likely be counted on to be the staff ace for the Angels in 2020, and if he can deliver the Angels may be a surprise team come playoff time.

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