The raw numbers are in for what aims to be the Angels' largest collective enigma for 2014.
Again, I'll have my final numbers available some time after the series is finished, but right now it's time for a look at what the raw data has in store for each of the Angels' five projected starters. Notice that I have not included Joe Blanton anywhere in there. Due to consistent reports that he will be either traded or outright released by the time the season begins, I decided NOT to include him in my projections. I will, however, include him in a later piece on intriguing roster options that will include several other potential pieces.
As for THIS portion of the series, the rotation has a starkly different look than last season. Many felt that Garrett Richards should've been given a full look last season as a starter, and now, that chance will be upon him, after delivering in the second half of last season in that capacity. Gone from the rotation are Tommy Hanson, Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton. In to replace them are Richards, Hector Santiago and Tyler Skaggs. At the top remain the team's dual aces, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. What does my data hold at first glance? Let's start with our number-one.
JERED WEAVER, STARTING PITCHER
2013: 11-8, 3.27 ERA, 154.1 IP, 24 starts, 1.140 WHIP, 3.7 WAR
Our beloved ace fell victim to the injury bug. A freak line drive off of his forearm in the season's sixth game sidelined him for almost two months, costing him ten starts and forcing a replacement-level cavalry in to fill in for him, keeping the team even more meddled in their horrible April. Still, Weaver came back and posted numbers in line with many career averages, and though by his recent standards it could be considered a "down season," overall he still was a reliable presence after his return. However, that doesn't mean things don't look alarming for the Weave. His fastball velocity and strikeout rate remained on the decline, and he's missed 14 starts over the past two seasons due to injuries. Can we get a full season from Weaver, and can he revert to the Weaver of 2011?
Well would you look at that, Weaver's gonna be Weaver again! At least, by the raw numbers, anyway. Looks studly as could be. The question here is this: Is Weaver capable anymore of going 225 innings? He's eclipsed it only once (2011, with 235.2) and approached it only one other time (2010, with 224.1). However, had he made his 34 starts each in 2012 and 2013, he would've been on pace for, respectively, 213.2 and 218.2 innings pitched. So to say that 225 is within reach, isn't exactly crazy. What MIGHT be crazy is his strikeout rate. It hasn't topped 7.0 since 2011, when he also posted a 7.6, just as projected above. Whether his diminished strikeout totals are due simply to injuries or due to changes in his mechanics, who's to say? If a healthy Weaver takes the mound this season, that will be the telltale sign of the Weaver we have for the final two years of his extension thereafter. As for 2014, though, he's our ace again.
C.J. WILSON, STARTING PITCHER
2013: 17-7, 3.39 ERA, 212.1 IP, 8.0 K/9, 3.3 WAR, 1.342 WHIP
Wilson was given a hefty task for much of 2013: be an ace, and be consistent. And that was almost EXACTLY what he did. His WHIP left something to be desired, but aside from that he was the exception to the rule of the Angels' 2013 rotation. The only starter last season to eclipse 30 starts (Jerome Williams was closest behind with 26), Wilson seemed to be far past his bone spur issues from the second half of 2012. His consistency, more than anything else, was what drew Wilson so much praise; in 2012, his first-half and second-half statistics were like looking at two different pitchers. In 2013? His first-half ERA was 3.37, second-half was 3.42. First-half WHIP was 1.330, second-half WHIP was 1.359. Can he carry the consistency over to 2014? Is the Wilson we should expect from here on out?
How many pitchers have been so consistent, that they have back-to-back full seasons with the same earned run average (at least, down to the first two decimal places)? However many that may be, I doubt that it's a lot. So for C.J. Wilson to turn in a similar effort is amazing. I'd happily take this. I don't particularly see any one thing that jumps out as a warning sign to me. Low-ish home run rate typical to C.J.'s norm, higher walk rate...I must wonder, though, because C.J. managed to find his way out of so many jams last season, how much of this past season can be attributed to luck and intangibles? And will that carry over to 2014 as well? Or is the C.J. we saw last year the real C.J. that is to be expected? My gut says the latter, but time will tell.
GARRETT RICHARDS, STARTING PITCHER
2013: 7-8, 4.16 ERA, 47 games, 17 starts, 0.8 WAR, 145 IP; 5-4, 77 IP, 3.74 ERA after joining rotation full-time
Richards, after being a swingman much of the season, joined the starting rotation in place of Joe Blanton on July 27th, and didn't look back. That second-half audition seemed to cinch his role as the third starter in the Angels' 2014 rotation. And, barring injury or diminished skills, it seems as though Richards is here to stay beyond 2014. But, just as easily, if he has a bad season or doesn't live up to what is expected, he could be back in the bullpen or trade bait. 2013 got him his opportunity this year, but 2014 could be the harbinger of his future with the Angels. What do the raw numbers hold?
It's not sterling and beautiful, but it's better than we got out of Tommy Hanson or Joe Blanton. An unusually low strikeout rate given his stuff, but that could be something that changes with consistent exposure to a starting role. A low-ish home run rate is to be appreciated, as is the average walk rate. He's our number-three, not our number-one, and as far as stuff goes for a number-three, I wouldn't be all that upset with this. I'd love for him to do better, but it's not as if this is all terrible. The hit rate would be nice to bring down by about one per nine innings, and the strikeout rate would be a bit more comforting at about one more per nine innings, but aside from that, this looks like a decent year--one to learn from--for Richards.
HECTOR SANTIAGO, STARTING PITCHER
2013: 4-9, 3.56 ERA, 34 games, 23 starts, 8.3 K/9, 149 IP, 2.8 WAR (w/ Chicago AL)
A swingman with the White Sox for his past two seasons, the Angels really liked what he had to offer, and he wound up being the deal-maker in the three-team blockbuster that sent Mark Trumbo to Arizona. The White Sox traded him to Arizona with a minor leaguer for Adam Eaton, and the Diamondbacks then flipped him with Tyler Skaggs to us, for Trumbo and A.J. Schugel. His one Achilles is his walk rate; a career number of 4.5, even if nicely balanced with a high strikeout rate, makes for a big question mark. Many feel that his walk rate will decrease with more exposure and development in a consistent role; it appears almost certain that the Angels will use him strictly as a starter, but things can always change. What do the raw numbers have in store for Santiago as a Halo?
No Angels left-handed starting pitcher since Frank Tanana has posted a K/9 ratio higher than Hector Santiago's career average of 8.7, in any individual season (Chuck Finley has come closest, with an 8.6 rate in 1995). Suffice to say, the Angels could use a lefty strikeout machine, and Santiago shapes up that way at an 8.3 rate. Definitely a diamond-in-the-rough sort of pickup by the Angels; he could catch a lot more attention here and, with continued development and a decrease in his walk rate, has the potential to be one of the game's better lefties. His numbers as a starter, for the most part, are better than those of his as a reliever, so use as a regular starter looks to be the most beneficial for his development.
TYLER SKAGGS, STARTING PITCHER
2013: 2-3, 7 games (all starts), 38.2 IP, 5.12 ERA, 1.371 WHIP, 2.4 K/BB, 8.4 K/9 (w/ Arizona)
Tyler Skaggs. At this time last year he was considered one of baseball's best pitching prospects, and the #11 prospect in all of baseball. We traded him to Arizona in 2010, with Joe Saunders, Rafael Rodriguez and Patrick Corbin, for Dan Haren. Haren has since gone (though I wish we re-signed him after this past season), but we brought Skaggs back in the aforementioned Trumbo deal (so it's really like we traded Trumbo, Saunders, Rodriguez and Corbin for Haren and Santiago). Skaggs appeared to be unable to translate his minor league prowess to the big league level, at least in Arizona; though the team didn't just straight give up on him (a la Trevor Bauer), Skaggs did find himself getting sent back to his roots, to a team that direly needed him all along and can now put him to use. Did we simply salvage damaged goods just as Cleveland did with Bauer? Or have we reclaimed a future ace that was ours to begin with?
The good thing is, he's 22 and has a ton of time to develop. My raw numbers here seem kind of pessimistic, but I really don't have a ton to go off of, and his minor league numbers can only mean so much at the major league level. Granted, his major league exposure is limited, and Anaheim and Arizona are two completely different environments to play in in terms of park factors and adjustments to be made. If this is what Skaggs provides as a number-five, I wouldn't at all be discouraged. He'll have five seasons after this one with us to develop further. If it's any encouragement, Randy Johnson's first full big league season (1989, split between Montreal and Seattle) yielded a 4.82 ERA, 1.512 WHIP and -0.6 WAR. And we all know how well Johnson wound up developing. Not to say that Johnson is Skaggs' potential, but a mediocre to bad first season is not at all a discouragement.