Despite having a roster that has included some of the best and most recognizable players in baseball, the Los Angeles Angels of recent years have been stuck in mediocrity. The franchises “stars and scrubs” approach of roster construction has been unsuccessful as the team hasn’t qualified for the postseason since 2014 and hasn’t finished above .500 since 2015.
One of the consistent areas of struggle for the Angels over recent years has been in the rotation. While the franchise had one of the worst rotations in all of baseball in 2019 and 2020, there were some improvements in 2021 due to Shohei Ohtani being among the best pitchers in all of baseball and the team receiving quality innings from José Suarez, Alex Cobb and Patrick Sandoval.
While this is all true, it was clear the team would need to address their rotation this offseason as Alex Cobb (San Francisco Giants) and Dylan Bundy (Minnesota Twins) both departed in free agency and many of the remaining options are still relatively unproven at the Major League Level.
In November, the Angels made a big splash by signing Noah Syndergaard to a 1-year, $21 million contract.
Even though the contract is for only 1 season, this is a potentially high reward signing for the Angels. After getting called up to the Mets roster in 2015, Syndergaard was among the best pitchers in all of baseball at times but has barely pitched at the Major League level since 2019. After suffering a torn ulnar collateral ligament in version 1 of Spring Training in 2020, Syndergaard underwent Tommy John Surgery and missed the entirety of the 2020 season. The 29-year old was able to work his way back but appeared in only 2 innings with the Mets late last season.
So far this season, Syndergaard has started 2 games where he has pitched 11.1 total innings and allowed only 2 runs. While Syndergaard hasn’t been striking many batters out in his first 2 starts this season, he has still been effective by limiting hard contact. After not being allowed to throw breaking pitches in his 2 outings last year, Syndergaard has had the full arsenal on display again this year.
The Angels made another addition to their rotation in late-November when they agreed to a 1-year deal with Michael Lorenzen. Prior to signing with the Angels, Lorenzen pitched in parts of 7 seasons, mostly as a reliever, with the Cincinnati Reds. In his career 482.2 innings he has a 96 ERA- and a 101 FIP-.
After starting 5 games for the Angels in the second half of last year, 2020 first round draft pick Reid Detmers was given a full-time spot in the Angels rotation entering the season. While the left-hander has struggled in his first 28 Major League innings, he has a very impressive arsenal highlighted by his 2500+ RPM’s curveball and little left to prove in the minor leagues.
The Angels are using a six-man rotation this year due to the fact they want to get Ohtani extra rest between outings and the fact that Syndergaard is coming off Tommy John. While there are certainly many question marks surrounding this group, there is the potential for this to be a solid Major League rotation.
While no one is questioning whether Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Anthony Rendon will be able to produce offensively if they are healthy and in the lineup, there are real concerns about their ability to do so over a full season. Ohtani was unable to stay heathy his first 3 Major League seasons while Trout and Rendon both missed significant time last year with injuries. The Angels have already had an injury scare to one of these pieces as Trout was hit on the hand by a pitch from Spencer Patton on Sunday and exited the game early. The injury doesn’t seem serious as X-rays came back negative and Trout is listed as day to day.
As the Angels roster was more set on the positional side, they weren’t as active on this front in the offseason. The Angels did make smaller moves trading for Tyler Wade, claiming Andrew Velazquez off waivers and signing Matt Duffy in free agency.
Wade spent 5 seasons as a utility man with the Yankees where he hit .212/.298/.307 over 491 plate appearances. Wade, who has been used primarily at second base for the Angels this season, is known for his speed and defense utility as he has appeared at every position except first base, catcher and pitcher at the Major League Level.
Velazquez has taken over as the everyday shortstop for the Angels following David Fletcher going on the IL early in the season. While Velazquez has only hit for a career 42 wRC+ and a .231 wOBA over 213 plate appearances, he is more known for his impressive defense.
Duffy played in parts of six Major League seasons before signing with the Angels and has hit for a career 102 wRC+ and .318 wOBA over 2119 plate appearances. While Duffy won’t hit for much power, he will provide the Angels with a quality bat off the bench and has even been getting regular time at first against left-handers given Jared Walsh’s struggles against southpaws in his career.
While the bullpen has been another area of weakness for the Angels over the recent years, they attempted to address this in the offseason with the acquisitions of Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup and Archie Bradley. Despite some questionable reliever usage by Joe Maddon, this is an area where the Angels look much improved on paper this season.
Through the first 12 games this season, the Angels have a record of 8-5 and sit in first place in the American League West. While the Angels do appear to have a more legitimate and complete team this year, their success will be largely dependent on their ability to stay healthy and if Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell are able to take the next steps forward.
All statistics through the completion of games on April 20th, 2022