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Riches to Rags: Angels Rotation in Flux

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How did the Angels rotation get to this point?

Chicago Cubs v Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Afternoon Halo fans, I figured I’d create some content alongside Stirrups and Jessica on a slow off day. I’d actually like to thank Jessica for the creation of this post, her post today about Daniel Wright starting for the Angels on Saturday really got me to thinking, “How in the hell did the Angels get to this point?”

The rotation depth was always something often debated among Angels fans since Spring Training. Hell, reminisce back to the offseason, most trade ideas circled around the Angels seemingly endless pitching depth. After all, the Angels had Garrett Richards coming into his regular Spring Training schedule after his previous one had been altered to accommodate his lengthy knee rehab from the injury he suffered in 2014. Andrew Heaney emerged as an intriguing left-handed 24-year old in 2015, showing enough promise to give Angels fans a glimpse of hope for the future. Nick Tropeano was another soon-to-be 25-year old that showed some serious promise in his first season with the Angels. Tyler Skaggs was returning from a pro-longed Tommy John surgery recovery, somewhat forgotten, we seemed to neglect the fact that he was only 24 coming into the season. Not to mention Matt Shoemaker, Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, and Hector Santiago. Nothing exciting and you certainly weren’t going to mix that rotation up with the one the Washington Nationals, Cleveland Indians, or New York Mets were throwing out there, but they seemed to have had enough options to get a passable rotation. Enough options to get a rotation that could keep the team in ballgames. Instead, it’s become a game of musical chairs for first year General Manager, Billy Eppler. Only instead of music, it’s poop, and instead of chairs it’s a wall...and instead of having fun, you’re seeing what sticks.

It went from eight options to...the current rotation. The rotation as of today consists of Tyler Skaggs, Daniel Wright, Jered Weaver, Ricky Nolasco, and Alex Meyer, three guys who weren’t even in the organization to start out the year. Garrett started 6 games and was shutdown after a slight tear in his UCL, Heaney only pitched 6 innings against the Cubs on opening night weekend before going down with Tommy John surgery, Tropeano made thirteen starts before also getting Tommy John surgery, Wilson never threw a single pitch for the club this year, having his season end with shoulder surgery, Shoemaker had his season end prematurely after taking a line drive off of his head last week against Seattle, Santiago was traded to Minnesota for Alex Meyer and Ricky Nolasco (two of the guys obviously in the rotation right now). Eppler has attempted to use duct tape and rubber bands to keep the rotation together, acquiring veterans Jhoulys Chacin from the Atlanta Braves, signing former two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum, claiming lefty Brett Oberholtzer from the Philadelphia Phillies, signing journey man David Huff, and even giving Cory Rasmus a start, his season has mostly been on hold due to a number of injuries. Every single one has been designated for assignment or moved to the bullpen due to lack of effectiveness. Nate Smith seemed like he was next in line to get his shot, but his season was cut short due to elbow tendinitis in his last AAA start. It was all capped off by claiming Daniel Wright off of waivers from the Cincinnati Reds (he of the 6.13 ERA in 83.2 IP in the minors). On Saturday, Daniel Wright will be the 15th different starter used this season (excluding Wilson), the most used since 2009 when they used 14. The only difference being that that club scored 883 runs compared to the 627 they’ve scored so far with a month to go (i.e. ain’t gonna happen).

The outlook doesn’t get much rosier heading into next year. There’s still a chance Richards can avoid Tommy John surgery, recently ramping up his activity and extending his long toss sessions to 120 feet and it sounds like Shoemaker’s expected to make a full recovery, but Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano will still be out all of 2017, Jered Weaver and CJ Wilson are free agents (not that CJ being one matters since they haven’t had him all year) as are Lincecum and Chacin who have already been reduced to smaller or even, in Lincecum’s case, non-existent roles. That leaves the following as the only healthy (hopefully in Richards’ case) starting pitchers under contract for next year: Richards, Skaggs, Shoemaker, Nolasco, Meyer, Oberholtzer, and Smith. The free agent pitching market is even more bleak when you consider the fact that Andrew Cashner, Doug Fister, Jeremy Hellickson, and Rich Hill are the top pitching free agents.

All Eppler can really do right now is keep making claims and get the occasional lottery ticket like a Meyer. Pitching depth and prospects are an even bigger concern throughout the organization. Not that the organization is exactly oozing with prospects of any kind, but the lack of pitching is even more worrisome. I know a lot of people like to focus on left field and Scioscia’s ineptness, but I think pitching should be the biggest concern. As of today, the Angels’ offense is ranked 11th overall in the game per FanGraph’s offensive rankings, just behind the Marlins and Astros. All without a competent left fielder, second baseman, or a strong bench/depth. They rank 29th overall using their pitching rankings (using WAR as a blanket stat)....29th in all of baseball, only ahead of the Cincinnati Reds (the team with a negative team WAR, -0.9 WAR, for pitching). Yikes.

While that takes the entire pitching staff into consideration, it doesn’t exactly inspire a ton of hope. A lot can be chalked up to injuries, sure, that’s been the theme of 2016, but there are no obvious reinforcements in sight and waiting on Heaney and Tropeano to save the day in 2018 doesn’t sound like a secure plan either. Sure, having Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis might help alleviate some of the stress of finding more pitching, but perhaps not as stressful as finding a franchise shortstop of Andrelton Simmons’ magnitude. I think we just need to hope Meyer can figure out his command issues, Nate Smith can turn into an innings eater/crafty lefty, and Eppler can find at least one or two reclamation projects to add into the fold (whether that be in free agency or maybe in a Yunel Escobar trade?). 2017 is going to a bust, the Angels will most likely punt all of it in hopes for another top draft pick and wait this out while the staff gets healthier, it’s all they really can do right now. But how Eppler intends to fix the pitching is what I’m mostly focusing on, I’ve seen enough from the offense to know there’s potential there, but is there enough potential in a core of guys like Richards, Shoemaker, Skaggs, and Meyer? We’ll have to see what Eppler’s able to do.

Quick Note: I’ll be looking over every aspect of the team in upcoming weeks, this was just the starting rotation. I’ll look at the teams offense, bullpen, and fielding in other segments similar to this, I think those will have you leaving with a much better taste in your mouth as opposed this one. But what do you guys/gals think? How should Eppler go about fixing the starting rotation? See any worthwhile projects in the free agent market? Let me see some creativity.