LA Angels: 2021 looking like a familiar story for the Angels

Thanks to Sunday’s last minute win against the Boston Red Sox, the LA Angels remained 6.5 games back of the first place A’s in the American League West.

Now 5 games off of a .500 pace, the Angels are scuffling, and looking for answers.

Early Saturday morning, the Angels pried RP Hunter Strickland and his 1.69 ERA from the Tampa Bay Rays to sure up what’s been a less than stellar bullpen. Strickland bared fruit instantly, providing 2 Ks and 1 hit facing three batters on Sunday. Through 39 games, the Angels bullpen have the following combined statistics, with respective rankings in the MLB:

·      5.25 ERA (27th)
·      67.7 LOB% (23rd)
·      21.3 K% (27th)
·      1.30 HR/9 (23rd)
·      .262 AVG Against (27th)
·      1.51 WHIP (27th)

… and the lists go on. You all get the picture; they’ve been struggling to say the least.

To top it off, despite the offseason acquisition of bonafide closer Raisel Iglesias, the Angels have cumulatively blown 8 saves, and although Iglesias is only responsible for two of those, he is currently sporting a 5.14 ERA coupled with a 1.93 HR/9 rate, and .268 batting average against – not exactly what the Angels were hoping for when they acquired him from the Reds. Part of the problem is that the bullpen is sixth in the MLB with most innings pitched, meaning the starters are consistently failing to get deep into games and relying on the bullpen for 4+ innings of work. An overworked bullpen is never an effective one in a 162-game marathon.

The bullpen, however, is not entirely responsible for all the Angels struggles, as many other aspects of the roster have underperformed up to this point of the season. As mentioned, starting pitching continues to be a nightmare for the Angels, with the staff ranking at the bottom of the MLB in all of the important categories:

·      5.38 ERA (Last)
·      182.1 IP (28th)
·      4.20 BB/9 (Last)
·      1.43 WHIP (T-last)
·      65 LOB% (29th)

… like the bullpen, the list unfortunately goes on. The theme is simple: the Angels haven’t pitched.

The starting staff does leave reason for optimism, however, as the starting staff ranks 1st in the MLB in BABIP, meaning when opponents swing and make contact against Angels starters, balls are falling into play for hits more often than not – bad luck, if you will. This is likely to regress closer to the league average as the season goes on. In addition, the Angels are 2nd in the MLB in K% at 30.2%, 2nd only to the Dodgers at 30.6%, meaning they’re getting a lot of swings and misses, and their “stuff” isn’t the issue. Despite the lack of a clear cut Ace, and an underwhelming number of moves once again from the front office this past offseason, I expect the Angels staff to find better success moving forward.

The pitching, out of the pen and in the starting rotation, are cause and blame #1 for the team’s lackluster start. However – there are multiple places to point to up and down the lineup that have also contributed to the team’s struggles. David Fletcher signed a 5-year, $26M deal last month, after he proved his worth as the Angels starting second baseman the past two seasons. However, Fletcher’s start has been less than rewarding with his hard-hit percentage at 11.9%, ranking fourth to last on the team, walk rate down to 3%, ranking third to last on the team, and perhaps most concerning, his OBP is down to .271. The season is young, and the sample size is small, but the crafty, on-base machine that has been David Fletcher has not been impressive this year. Despite all of this, the bet for Fletcher to return to form is a good one. His slow start, however, forced Manager Joe Maddon’s hand at moving him down to the #9 spot in the lineup on Saturday, and out of the lineup completely on Sunday. Justin Upton has shown flashes of his old self with his occasional missiles out to left field and willingness to use the whole field via a new and improved inside-out approach. However, his K rate is up, once again, to an alarming 31% and his slash line of .195 AVG and .270 OBP in 32 games this season is hardly anything to get excited about, especially when talking about one of the supposed “big bats” in the middle of the order.

Finally, the injury bug has bitten the Angels, once again, early in the season right when they seemed to be finding their grove. After a 7-3 start, and a team that looked full of momentum and promise, Anthony Rendon hit the IL for the first time following his play on a wet, minor league field in Buffalo. After a short 7-game return, Rendon wound up back on the IL after fouling a ball off his knee. He was activated for the weekend series in Boston. The Angels desperately need his production, both offensively and defensively, to be competitive. Max Stassi started off the year showing his typical flashes of talent and hard hit balls, but he has been on the shelf since May 4th with a concussion and various other lingering issues. Talented righty Chris Rodriguez, Jose Iglesias, Justin Upton, Felix Pena and Alex Cobb also make the list of Halos who’ve missed time with early alignments. Performing on the field is one issue, but inability to stay healthy and on the field is a completely separate issue the Angels have dealt with for years.

The rest of the division have performed up to expectations. After the A’s scuffled out of the gate, they have been hotter than ever, rattling off a 13-game win streak in April after starting 1-7, and currently sitting 0.5 games above the Astros for the division lead. Despite the loss of George Springer and Justin Verlander, the Astros’ extremely talented lineup has produced, even without Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker performing as expected. They’re off to a 24-17 start and second place in the division thus far. The Mariners just called up highly-touted prospect Jarred Kelenic, and after Friday’s impressive 10-base performance, he looks every bit the part of a future superstar. The Rangers are in the middle of a rebuild, and despite that, still sit neck-and-neck with the Angels in the division thanks to Kyle Gibson and Nick Solaks’ hot starts. If the Angels don’t figure out a way to pitch and keep guys healthy quickly, they’re in for another long and disappointing season, and yet another year of wasting Mike Trout’s prime.