Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, May 11, 2013 at 7:00 PM
Before the season began, the Los Angeles Angels were basically co-favorites with the Detroit Tigers to win the American League pennant. They were supposed to win about 91-92 games in the regular season, best in their competitive division…and barely second best in the superior of the two Major Leagues.
Entering their weekend series with the Chicago White Sox (whose finale is being televised Sunday Night on ESPN), the Halos have less than a 10% chance of making the playoffs according to various computer metrics.
How can a team that’s a coin flip to win the league be less than 10% to make the playoffs after just a bit over a month of the season? It takes A LOT of things to go wrong for that to happen! Most of the media is focusing on the slow start of slugger Josh Hamilton. But, that should have surprised NOBODY. He had long stretches if ineffectiveness last year, and now he’s switched from playing home games in a hitting paradise to playing home games in a pitcher’s park.
The big surprise has been the lack of starting pitching. Here are the ERA’s and WHIP’s of LAA’s starters entering their weekend series in the Windy City (WHIP is walks plus hits per inning pitched).
STARTING PITCHERS (at least 4 starts)
C.J. Wilson: 3.86 ERA, 1.55 WHIP
Tommy Hanson: 3.86 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
Jason Vargas: 4.26 ERA, 1.56 WHIP
Garrett Richards: 4.96 ERA, 1.22 WHIP
Joe Blanton: 5.66 ERA, 1.79 WHIP
We’re still early in the season, so the most effective pitchers have ERA’s below 2.00, with WHIPS in the range of 0.90 to 1.10. The Angels don’t have anybody throwing like an ace (nobody in the top 30 of starting pitching ERA’s) even though they play their home games in a pitcher’s park, and even though they’ve had six games with the lowly Astros and several other games vs. either struggling offenses or in bad hitting parks.
What’s amazing in that data set is that the ERA’s are mediocre, but the WHIP’s are HORRIBLE! Angels starting pitchers have actually had good luck with their ERA’s! We can assume some unearned runs are scoring given those splits…and that the Angels have had some good luck stranding runners. A WHIP of 1.40 or more is unacceptable for a major league starter. Los Angeles has FOUR guys higher than that, with three higher than 1.50!!
The pitching has been so bad that the offense can’t possibly make up for it. Yes, Hamilton’s been slumping. If he had been hot, maybe we’re looking at a .500 caliber team that loses a lot of high scoring games. If he had played to career norms (which was a longshot given the changes in context), this is still a losing team.
The good news is that there’s room for improvement. The bad news is that what you saw above could be “the new normal” for this staff until Jered Weaver is able to come back from injury (he’s only started twice this year).
*Wilson’s ERA was 3.86 last year. If he brings his WHIP down, he’s still going to register at the “disappointing” levels of 2012. The Angels thought they were getting an ace when they acquired him (as did many of the rest of us).
*Hanson had an ERA near 4.50 in a full season with the Atlanta Braves last year. That’s over in the inferior National League. Hanson’s ERA is likely to get WORSE from this point forward.
*Vargas created the illusion of effectiveness as a Seattle Mariner last year, pitching his home games in the most extreme pitcher’s park in the league. Vargas had a road ERA of 4.78 in 2012. He’s not likely to be anything more than an innings muncher in his new context.
*Blanton was a longshot to be effective this season to begin with, and is playing down to those pessimistic expectations. Only a desperate team would have Joe Blanton in their rotation in May of 2013.
*Richards is a long reliever turned starter when the team is shorthanded. No evidence that he’s any sort of answer.
The Angels are on pace for a truly horrendous season. There’s still plenty of time to get that turned around. They started slow last year and still made a run at a Wildcard. But…the absence of a healthy Jered Weaver exposed the vulnerabilities of this rotation. They don’t have what they thought they were going to have.
Keep an eye on this team moving forward. If the offense can play up to expectations, you’re going to want to bet a lot of Overs. If that happens AND the starting pitching settles down a bit, then the Angels may start to offer value as a team side. For now…Wilson is still overrated…Hanson is still overrated…Vargas is still overrated…and Blanton should be starting his career as a color announcer.
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