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LA Angels: Is Patrick Sandoval ready to be a full-time starter?

Patrick Sandoval, Los Angeles Angels (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Patrick Sandoval, Los Angeles Angels (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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For much of the 2021 season, Shohei Ohtani has been the bedrock of the LA Angels starting rotation. Sure, Alex Cobb has started to heat up recently after stumbling out of the gate, but for the most part, the rest of the rotation has suffered some incredibly tough luck. As a result, it’s been inconsistent at best and downright awful at worst.

However, with the recent injury to struggling lefty Jose Quintana and the uncertainty of when he’ll return, fellow southpaw Patrick Sandoval has a chance to help get this rotation back on track. The question is, can he do it?

Patrick Sandoval has the potential to become an effective member of the LA Angels’ rotation.

Even before Quintana went on the IL, Sandoval arguably did his part already to earn a regular spot in the rotation.

Filling in for Cobb when he was injured, Sandoval made three solid starts in the month of May. The most recent of which came on May 27 against a formidable Oakland Athletics lineup. In what has so far been the pinnacle of his season, Sandoval fired five shutout innings at the Coliseum, lowering his season ERA to 3.80.

Much of this success can be attributed to a reworked pitching arsenal that now sees his changeup as his primary pitch. Historically his best pitch, Sandoval is now throwing it 35.5% of the time and is sporting an impressive 54.2% whiff rate on it. In a corresponding move, he’s using his lackluster four-seam fastball at its lowest rate ever (17.2%). In its place is his new sinker (26.2%) which, despite still being a below average pitch, is much more effective than his four-seamer.

Overall, Sandoval owns a 2.57 ERA as a starter this year, good for best on the team.

So it’s a done deal, match made in heaven, right? Sandoval is the second-best starter on the team and should be in the rotation moving forward.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so cut and dry.

You may recall that in years prior, Sandoval struggled immensely as a member of the rotation. Through nine starts in 2019, he owned a ghastly 5.24 ERA and 1.427 WHIP as opposing hitters had a .795 OPS against him. 2020 was even worse as these numbers cratered to a 6.75 ERA, 1.539 WHIP and an .868 opponents’ OPS in six starts.

This year, the only thing that’s substantially improved is Sandoval’s ERA. His WHIP as a starter is still a subpar 1.429, while hitters are still hammering him to the tune of a .785 OPS.

By all accounts, control issues and an all too frequent inability to locate the strike zone are still plaguing Sandoval even though he is managing to work around these problems better than in the past. Case in point, in his shutout against the Athletics, 34 of his 84 pitches were balls (40%), hence why he only lasted five innings.

More broadly, when looking at his career numbers as both a starter and reliever, the overall trend is a worrying one. Based on just the predictive metrics alone, Sandoval is seemingly due for an abrupt regression in the near future.

  • 2019- 4.56 SIERA, 4.02 xFIP, 4.54 xERA
  • 2020- 4.17 SIERA, 4.00 xFIP, 5.34 xERA
  • 2021- 4.64 SIERA, 4.61 xFIP, 5.85 xERA

According to Baseball Savant, his xERA in particular is very troubling as it ranks in just the ninth percentile in all of baseball. Similarly, his .289 xBA and .478 xSLG rank in the seventh and 18th percentiles, respectively. In other words, Sandoval is giving up a dangerous amount of good, hard contact on a regular basis.

Still, despite these numbers, there is still a lot of hope that Sandoval can become an effective starter this year. Remember, the guy is only 24 years old and is still very much in the process of figuring things out. He hasn’t even made 20 starts in his career and has only made three in 2021.

Next. Halos take a step back in May

With more consistent reps, coupled with further refinement of his updated pitch set, in time Sandoval may stake his claim as a valued member of the Halos pitching staff for the foreseeable future.

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