When the Angels were assembling their pitching staff for the 2021 season, one of the guys that appeared to be on the outside looking in was Patrick Sandoval.
After being acquired in the 2018 trade deadline deal that sent Martin Maldonado to the Astros, Sandoval showed flashes of potential during his brief stints in the majors in both 2019 and 2020, but those flashes never managed to manifest into much success at the highest level. He made 19 appearances during that span but struggled to the tune of a 5.33 ERA and 5.23 FIP, leaving many to wonder what exactly his role would be in 2021.
Once the end of Spring Training rolled around, Sandoval was one of the last players to be optioned to the team’s alternate training site, narrowly missing out on making the Opening Day roster as a member of the bullpen. He would come to fill that role in short time, however, as he was brought up to fill the roster spot vacated by Mike Mayers after he went on the injured list with an undisclosed ailment (likely being a close contact to someone with COVID). Sandoval made three relief appearances in short order after his callup, pitching well in his first two against the Rays and Dodgers but struggling in the third against the Astros, his former team.
A starter by trade, Sandoval didn’t get to take a turn in the rotation until May 17 against Cleveland when he took the spot of the injured Alex Cobb. He was on a limited pitch count in that start due to not being built up all the way, but he put up solid results despite that, giving up two earned runs in four innings in a game the Angels would go on to win 7-4. The lefty filled in once again on the 22nd, this time pitching five innings of two-run ball despite some very shoddy defense behind him.
The return of Cobb meant that Sandoval was supposed to return back to the bullpen after these outings, but he found himself making another spot start just five days later against the Athletics after Shohei Ohtani got stuck in Bay Area traffic and arrived to the ballpark too late to prepare for his scheduled start in what was one of the stranger stories of the whole season. This provided Sandoval with another prime opportunity to impress the Angels brass while in that role, and he took advantage of it in a big way, tossing five scoreless innings while giving up just five singles and striking out five on short notice.
Hot damn, Patrick Sandoval is looking nasty so far. pic.twitter.com/GAWCsrI3UG— Brent Maguire (@bmags94) May 28, 2021
This start from Sandoval impressed Joe Maddon and company so much, in fact, that they tabbed him to replace José Quintana as a permanent member of the rotation just a few days later. In his first outing following this decision on June 6, Sandoval had one of his best showings of the entire season, striking out 10 Mariners batters in six innings of work while giving up just a pair of earned runs. Even more impressive than this, though, was the fact the lefty got a whopping 32 swings and misses on the day, a mark that stood as the highest total in a single game for any pitcher in the league for nearly three months until Gerrit Cole matched it in a start against the Angels in September. His success in that game came primarily on the back of his signature changeup, which netted him 17 of those 32 whiffs and five of his 10 punch outs.
Patrick Sandoval had 32 swing-and-misses in yesterday’s outing.— Brent Maguire (@bmags94) June 7, 2021
In the pitch tracking era (since 2008), only four pitchers have had more in a single game (deGrom, Kershaw, Duffy, Scherzer). No #Angels starter has had more.
Here are all 32 of those swing-and-misses. pic.twitter.com/f14GfdmJlo
Sandoval continued to pitch well over the next month after this, posting a 3.77 ERA in his next five starts leading up to the All-Star Break while striking out 32 in 28.2 innings. A minor hiccup came against the Mariners in his first start after the break when he gave up four earned runs in a seven-inning outing (albeit with nine strikeouts), but his ERA in his 10 starts on the year still sat at a very good 3.56 mark following this stretch of games.
All of this led to without a doubt Sandoval’s best start of the season on July 24 against the Twins, when he came two outs shy of throwing the 11th no-hitter in Angels franchise history. He ended up striking out 13 Twins hitters in that game and walked just one, finishing his 8.2 innings with one earned run to his name and just the lone hit allowed to Brent Rooker with one out in the ninth inning. This start from Sandoval went down as one of the best from any pitcher in the league all season, and it was at this moment where some people in the baseball world really started to raise their eyebrows at the type of season he was having.
Got 'em!— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) July 25, 2021
All 13 strikeouts from Sandy's stellar Saturday ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/agFD4V0byI
Sandoval would go on to pitch in three more games after this one, performing well in consecutive games against the A’s and Dodgers before stumbling a bit against the Astros. His season would unfortunately come to an early end, though, as he was placed on the injured list a couple days after that Houston start on August 18 and later shut down for the rest of the season on August 27 with a lower back stress fracture. His availability for the season’s final months was in doubt when he was placed on the IL, and once it became more and more clear that the Angels weren’t going anywhere the rest of the year, they made the decision to shut him down.
The premature ending put a bit of a damper on Sandoval’s season, but his final numbers were still quite incredible for a guy who wasn’t even on the team’s Opening Day roster. In his 14 starts, Sandoval posted a 3.39 ERA and 3.63 FIP while striking out 86 hitters against 31 walks. In addition to this, he also...
- Recorded an average exit velocity against in the 97th percentile, trailing only Zack Wheeler and Ryan Yarbrough among pitchers with at least 200 batted ball events against.
- Finished as one of only four pitchers to have a fastball post a called strikes + whiffs rate of above 25 percent and two different secondary pitches (in his case, his changeup and slider) post one of above 35 percent, along with Corbin Burnes, Shane Bieber and Tyler Glasnow (h/t @FoolishBB on Twitter)
- Also finished as one of four pitchers to record a ground ball rate of above 50 percent and a whiff rate of above 30 percent, along with Burnes, Lance McCullers Jr. and Clayton Kershaw (h/t @Krossiant on Twitter)
- Had his changeup finish first among that pitch type in swinging strike rate, CSW rate, whiff percentage and put away percentage (h/t @_nateschwartz on Twitter)
- Had the highest rate of swinging strikes among pitchers under 25 years old, ahead of rookie of the year finalists Trevor Rogers and Luis Garcia (h/t @ByMattWeyrich on Twitter)
- Produced one of the best overlay GIFs of the season:
17 Appearances (14 Starts) / 3-6 Record / 3.62 ERA / 4.03 FIP / 1.21 WHIP / 87 IP / 69 H / 35 ER / 36 BB / 94 K / 11 HR / .215/.30/.349 slashline against / 31.8% called strike + whiff rate
Best Performance of the Year
There could be no other choice for Sandoval’s best performance in 2021 other than his near no-hitter against the Twins back in July. This start was the best by any Angels pitcher all season, and it showed just the type of dominance that Sandoval is capable of on any given night when everything is working right for him.
Outlook for 2022
General manager Perry Minasian said back in November that Sandoval is healthy and running again, so it’s safe to assume that he’ll be ready for the start of Spring Training, whenever that ends up coming. Minasian also said shortly after the season ended that he locked in a rotation spot for 2022, so he’ll join Shohei Ohtani, Noah Syndergaard, Michael Lorenzen and José Suarez as members of that group next season. With this assured role, Sandoval will have the chance to build upon his excellent 2021 campaign, and he’s become a popular candidate to break out even further by many people as a result. He’s shown that he has all the pieces to be a real impact starter, and if he can put them all together over a larger sample of games next year, he could potentially vault himself into the upper tiers of starters in the league.