We’re two weeks away from legitimate baseball, which means a number of things. First, the initial excitement of spring training has come and gone and now we’re ready for baseball that counts. Second, we get to really relish the small sample sizes and freak out over a bad inning or couple of plate appearances. Third, we’re seeing players going down playing baseball that doesn’t count, which is a total drag. Just give us real baseball already, please.
In the meantime, we’ll keep looking at how injuries are shaking out across the league. We already looked at the Dodgers’ rotation the other day, so let’s take a look at their AL counterpart, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
When I was grading the Angels’ offseason, the disappointing grade they received was in regard to their lack of attempting to upgrade their offense. They got a pass on their starting pitching, as they seemed to have plenty of depth going into the offseason. With Garrett Richards, Jered Weaver, C.J. Wilson, Hector Santiago, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker, Nick Tropeano and to choose from and Tyler Skaggs hopefully returning very soon, the Angels’ rotation may not have been exciting, but it looked, on paper at least, like it would be enough to not worry too much about.
Mike Trout is a huge head start for any team and the pitching staff looked to be enough to contend if they could just get some more offense. The Angels’ team offense ranked 24th in OPS (.702) in 2015 and they put up a total of 20.2 WAR, which is pretty sad when you realize that Trout was good for almost half of it with 8.9 WAR. While their starting pitching wasn’t great, last year, it was also far from their biggest problem, as the Angels team pitching ranked somewhere in the middle of the pack, no matter what statistics you sort by (12th in WHIP, 15th in KBB, 9th in BAA and 13th in ERA). If the Angels could just put up similar pitching numbers to last year and get some more production out of position players not named Mike Trout, they could be in the hunt for a playoff spot. Thanks to injuries in the rotation, that looks a bit less likely now.
C.J. Wilson ended his 2015 season embroiled in a bit of off-the-field controversy when he elected to have season-ending elbow surgery at the beginning of August when the Angels were just behind the Astros for the division and in possession of one of the AL’s Wild Card spots. Whether you think Wilson was wrong not to tough it out and pitch through the pain or you think he did the correct thing, the Halos were ready to have him back for 2016.
Wilson, 35, has long been a player who has outperformed his peripherals. However, when he has been healthy, he has been somewhere between a solid innings-eater and a groundball-inducing All Star. His GB% dropped quite a bit last year, which would be cause for concern going forward but could certainly have been related to those bone chips which necessitated the surgery. The bad news is that Wilson is now shut down for the rest of Spring Training due to some shoulder problems and is working on changing his delivery so he can throw off the mound again. Needless to say, there isn’t a return date set for Wilson right now and it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see him out for a couple of months, or even longer, this season, which is the last of his contract.
In other news related to former All Stars in their 30s, Jered Weaver’s spring is also not going as he would have liked. While his velocity has been on the decline for quite some time, in his first start during Spring Training, he was hitting only 79 MPH. Apparently, Weaver is dealing with a degenerative spine diagnosis and is making adjustments to his delivery in order to deal with pain. Weaver, like Wilson, is on the final year of his contract, so this doesn’t pose a long-term problem for the organization to deal with, but it does put further question marks around what they are going to do this year.
Tyler Skaggs, who is still recovering from his 2014 Tommy John surgery, has been facing live hitters but he can’t be rushed too quickly and isn’t expected until mid-April at the earliest and that is, of course, barring any setbacks. It would also be wise to keep in mind that, despite the fact that he was a top-rated prospect, he still hasn’t pitched a full season in the MLB and hasn’t shown that he is going to live up to his prospect pedigree. In 181 innings in his three years in the majors, he’s put up a 4.72 ERA. While his 4.20 FIP over the same time portends that better things might be coming, it wouldn’t be wise to necessarily expect them, especially with him coming off of TJ surgery.
Now, it’s looking like the Opening Day rotation is going to look something like: Garrett Richards, Hector Santiago, Andrew Heaney, Matt Shoemaker and Nick Tropeano. After Richards as the presumed No. 1, things get a little dicey. Santiago and Heaney may prove to be perfectly adequate but “adequate” is better suited for the 4th or 5th starter role, and now Shoemaker and Tropeano are in that role and there’s nobody else waiting in reserve. Unless someone in the minors makes a serious jump, the only pitching prospect in the Angels’ system who might be ready to hit the rotation this year is Nate Smith, and he’s projected to likely be at most a 4th or 5th starter.
Up until Spring Training started, it would have made sense for the Halos to make a trade out of their starting pitching depth to try and upgrade the offense, but thankfully for them they didn’t, as they’re already using all of the depth before the season even begins. The Angels will need to just hope that the pitchers that were there for depth but are now in starting roles outperform their expectations and that the baseball gods bless them with some health, both in terms of recovery of those already injured and, seriously, no further injuries.