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Angels' rotation abounds with question marks

Exploring the starting pitchers returning from injury or ineffectiveness.

Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Widely considered a strength headed into the 2016 season thanks to a heavy stable of quality arms, the Angels' projected starting rotation is not without its own share of concerns. With just a few weeks before pitchers report to spring training, let's take a closer look at some of the more intriguing arms trying to bounce back and earn a spot in the rotation.

C.J. Wilson

Presumed to be the safest bet to return to effectiveness, Wilson will be returning from the third elbow "clean-up" in his career. Wilson faced some scrutiny from unnamed teammates upon his decision to have the surgery last season, apparently feeling C.J. should have pitched through the pain for the good of the team. This is, of course, an antiquated notion, as players - pitchers, in particular - hurt the team more playing through the pain, as evidenced by his 4.56 ERA through June and July.

It has been noted that C.J. generally bounces back strong from these procedures:

2008 (pre-surgery)* 74 5.48
2009 (post-surgery)* 166 2.89
2012 (pre-surgery) 100 4.04
2013 (post-surgery) 111 3.51
2015 (pre-surgery) 96 4.02
2016 (post-surgery) ??? ???

*Worked exclusively as a reliever.

This is hardly a scientific study and there is likely more reason to see the glass half empty with regards to C.J.'s outlook next year than there is to be optimistic he will once again bounce back strong after his elbow procedure. For one, he actually pitched quite a bit worse in 2014, when his elbow was apparently healthy. Secondly, a 35 year-old starting pitcher with well-documented control issues coming off a third elbow surgery will always be met with skepticism. Still, Wilson is a veteran and will earn $20 million dollars in the last year of his contract. He is expected to be at 100% heading into spring training, so barring any setbacks, expect C.J. to have a spot cemented into the starting rotation going into 2016.

Tyler Skaggs

Considered the crown jewel of the Mark Trumbo exchange, Skaggs was beginning to show the promise of his top prospect status. On July 31, in somewhat tragic fashion, Skaggs removed himself in the middle of a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles with pain in his left elbow. Two weeks later he underwent Tommy John surgery, ending his season and shelving him for the entire 2015 campaign.

2015 provided us with a healthy sample of pitchers returning from the procedure, hopefully giving us a general idea of what to expect from Skaggs heading into the season. Jose Fernandez went under the knife in May of 2014 and returned to the mound this past July, finishing the year as dominant as ever. Matt Harvey would be a better comp for Skaggs, as he underwent his surgery in October of 2013, giving him a full 17 months to recover and allowing him to pitch (roughly) the entire 2015 season. Like Fernandez, Harvey immediately returned to form, leading a talented Mets rotation to the World Series.

Of course, we are looking at the high-end of the pitching spectrum, well above where we can ever expect a healthy Skaggs to perform. Oakland's Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin both had the procedure done following the 2013 season and neither has seen major league action since then. Parker looks to finally be healthy going into spring training while Griffin has been reduced to accepting a minor league invite with the Rangers.

We have reason to believe Skaggs' recovery will go more smoothly than the Oakland duo. Parker had the procedure done for a second time, complicating the rehab process, while Griffin had some in the A's organization questioning his overall conditioning heading into his surgery. Perhaps the best hope for Skaggs comes in the form of fellow lefty and former teammate Patrick Corbin. The former Angels farmhand had his surgery in March of 2014 following a breakout 2013 season. He returned to action in July of last year, with a 113 ERA+ that matched his all-star 2013 mark. Skaggs is now 19 months removed from his procedure, a considerably longer recovery period than both Harvey and Corbin. Considering he never had any arm issues prior to his surgery, the outlook for Skaggs to make a full recovery is a strong one.

Ol' Shoey

Matt Shoemaker won our hearts with an excellent 2014 season that came from seemingly out of nowhere. On the strength of a nasty split-fingered fastball, the bearded-one had a 3.04 ERA complimented by excellent rate stats to help lead the Angels to a division title. His strong run came to a halt in the middle of September that year after suffering a strained oblique. He did manage to make a strong start for the Halos in the playoffs that year before they were swept away by the World Series-bound Royals.

The honeymoon came to an end last season as Shoemaker struggled to find the consistency of his breakout rookie campaign. It seemed as though the league had caught up to Matt, as he posted a 4.85 ERA through the first half of the season. He seemed to adjust with a strong July, pitching to the tune of a 1.78 ERA with 8.2 SO/9 and a 1.145 WHIP. Two disastrous starts in August earned him a brief demotion to AAA, after which he returned with two masterful performances. He was then shelved with a right forearm strain, an alarming injury that is often a precursor to Tommy John surgery. He made one more start last year but his forearm continued to bark, ending his season.

There has been zero coverage on Shoemaker's recovery during the offseason, so the hope is the strain is nothing more serious and an offseason of rest will allow it to heal completely. While Shoemaker saw dips in his peripherals across the board, he still boasted respectable strike out and walk rates. According to PITCHf/x, the velocity and movement on his pitches remained the same last season. What is concerning is a significant decrease in swings-and-misses on his splitter (listed on Fangraphs as a changeup) and a jump in HR%. Ol' Shoey still maintained above-average control last year, though he will have to be more precise in spotting his modest fastball if batters have indeed learned to spot his splitter more effectively.