The 2017 Angels had flaws that were apparent from the very beginning, but supernatural forces held the squad together until the bitter end.
Not all of these flaws were out of their control, such as numerous doom-spiral injuries that one can only shake their head at for the second year in a row. A juiced baseball, fly ball revolution, and higher strike zone not only led to pitchers giving up a higher number of home runs than ever before, but also it meant less balls in play for defenses to field, rendering the very strategy Eppler and the Angels front office pursued in building the ballclub less valuable.
The main flaw, however, was a lack of talent. Of the players on the 25-man roster, only two were worth more than 2.5 wins above replacement. With the expiring contracts of Hamilton, Street, Nolasco, and Chavez coming off the books, the team will have more breathing room to build their roster. It is surprising, then, that starting pitching is not a priority.
Maria Guardado, the Angels beat writer for MLB.com, explains this in a fan mailbag.
Yes, that was one of the main takeaways from Eppler's comments to the media on the first day of the Angels' offseason. Their rotation has been decimated by injuries in two consecutive seasons, but the Angels are confident that they'll have more depth next year, when Garrett Richards, Andrew Heaney, Tyler Skaggs, Parker Bridwell, [Nick] Tropeano and [Matt] Shoemaker are all projected to be healthy come Spring Training. It's possible that the Angels will look to supplement their depth through waiver claims, Minor League deals or trades, but I don't expect them to pursue high-end free agents like Jake Arrieta or Yu Darvish this winter.
While it is true the Angels have a lot of pitching depth, most of these pitchers have a shaky injury history, an inconsistent track record, or both. From 2015 to 2017, the last three calendar years, Angels starters Richards, Heaney, Skaggs, Tropeano, and Shoemaker combined to throw 1,016 2⁄3 innings. That means an average of 203 1⁄3 innings from this time, or 67 2⁄3 innings per year each.
These figures are severely skewed by injury, but they demonstrate the sheer volatility of starting pitchers in today’s game. This team cannot afford to have replacement level pitchers on the mound as a byproduct of pitching injuries. Pitching isn’t the only need this squad has, so it’s understandable that it isn’t priority 1A. Signing non-Scherzer aces to single-handedly fix an organization isn’t sustainable, after all.
But a starter with a relatively clean bill of health that can provide innings with modest performance at an affordable price? That would be incredibly useful.
The problem is that there aren’t many, so you can imagine the market rate this winter. Take a look at the available starting pitchers this offseason that may fit that mold.
- Recovered from TJ surgery but is now a pitchability type (Alex Cobb)
- Also recovered from TJ, but is more quantity over quality (Lance Lynn)
- 2nd lowest K/9 (min. 160 IP), peripherals point to flukiness (Andrew Cashner)
- A 34 year-old with an 86 mph fastball (Jason Vargas)
- Gives up lots of home runs, may have knee problems (CC Sabathia)
- Wanted a guaranteed starting spot and seized the opportunity (Jhoulys Chacin)
- A back-end starter (Jaime Garcia)
- Good stuff, bad command (Tyler Chatwood)
- Struggled with injuries, arm slot, and results but good track record (Chris Tillman)
The overwhelming trend here is that most of these players have beat their FIP by being pitchability types who aren’t afraid to give up home runs (i.e. Parker Bridwell), making it increasingly difficult to forecast results. And to go hand in hand with volatility, if every contending team needs a starter, what will be the going price? For a team with many needs, that’s where the dilemma lies.
It is understandable the Angels won’t prioritize starting pitching until other holes are filled, given that most of their pitchers are of a similar talent level as the above list of free agents. It need not be an outlay of capital in free agency, but it should be an investment in the future, whether that be through free agency, trade, or waiver claim.
Doing nothing would be a mistake.