I knew when I sat down on Wednesday that I wanted to write something about the Los Angeles Angels' starting rotation. All I needed was an angle. Some point, something statistical, or maybe something nobody's thought of. A kind of new and kind of original way to approach a fairly standard story. Usually this doesn't trip me up, but this time it tripped me up. I had trouble, and I started to pace before it finally dawned on me: the Los Angeles Angels' starting rotation is really good. Like, it's really good. So I'm writing about that.
I am not the first person to point this out. As a matter of fact, FanGraphs just completed its 2012 positional power rankings, where they went position-by-position and ranked all the teams in baseball from 30 to 1. When they got to starting pitching, they ranked the Tigers fourth, and the Rays third, and the Phillies second. They ranked the Angels first. It's actually a projection system that ranks the Angels first, but, think about it. Think about how you feel about the Phillies' starting rotation. There's an argument to be made that the Angels look better.
All the teams in the rankings are not evenly spaced, and even if the Angels do look like the best, they're not the best by much. Other people will disagree. It's very close, in any event. But what the Los Angeles Angels had in 2011 were two of the best starting pitchers in the American League. Then they went and signed another one.
That's how they got to where they are. The Angels' rotation isn't getting the hype that the Phillies' rotation got a year ago. In fairness, the Phillies' rotation looked better, because it contained Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. But the Angels don't get a lot of major media hype anyway, and most of the hype they have gotten has been about Albert Pujols. When a team comes out of nowhere to sign one of the greatest hitters in baseball history, that's going to draw the bulk of the attention. So even though the Angels signed arguably the best available hitter and the best available pitcher, the rotation's sort of flying under the radar, because, Pujols.
I've linked to these projections before. Those are projected 2012 standings from early February, so not a whole lot has changed since then. The Angels are projected to allow 653 runs, fewest in the AL. The Rays are in second at 660, and then there are the Yankees at 692. The Angels have the makings of a solid bullpen, but this is mostly about the starters. And the run-suppressing home ballpark. But mostly the starters.
The bullpen might not end up being real busy, relative to other bullpens. A year ago, Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, and Ervin Santana all exceeded 220 innings. If that happens again, the 2012 Angels will be the first team with four such starters since the 1997 Atlanta Braves, and the first AL team with four such starters since the 1987 Kansas City Royals.
And while we're doing historical comparisons, let's talk about Wins Above Replacement, as measured by Baseball-Reference. The last AL rotation to feature three starters worth at least 5 WAR was the 1956 Cleveland Indians. Five NL teams have done it since, including the 2011 Phillies, but the Angels have a shot, here. Maybe not a great shot. Reaching 5 WAR is a hell of a task. But Weaver's done it two years in a row. Haren did it in 2007 and 2009, and barely missed in 2008. Wilson did it last year, and fell just short in 2010. Hell, Santana did it in 2008, although the more I look at that season the less I understand it. Santana's good, and he throws sharp stuff, but he had 214 strikeouts and 47 walks. No idea. He wasn't an ace, then he was an ace, then he wasn't an ace again, all before turning 27.
The Angels' pitching coach is Mike Butcher, and while I wouldn't say he'll have it easy, what with Santana being kind of inconsistent and the fifth spot and the whole bullpen, there are a lot of other pitching coaches who wouldn't mind trading spots. The list of problems that Butcher's likely to wake up to each day probably isn't going to be very long. Maybe, because he won't have to touch the front of the rotation, he'll be able to focus more on Jerome Williams. Maybe, by focusing more on Jerome Williams, he'll be able to get more out of Jerome Williams. Because that's something the Angels could use.
Incidentally, Williams is such a fun fit at the back end. Here's how the rotation reads, barring an unpleasant surprise:
- inconsistent but very talented No. 4
- Jerome Williams
Williams, who was something, and then nothing, and now is something again. Williams would've been a bigger deal in 2011 had it not been for the impossible re-emergence of Ryan Vogelsong. There are reasons to believe he can do this over a full season.
This is basically a thousand words of me gushing, and me gushing over the awesome starting rotation belonging to the baseball team I like the least. One might interpret this as an attempted jinx, but that didn't cross my mind, mostly because jinxes don't cross my mind, mostly because jinxes are stupid. This is honest, sincere, genuine gushing, and while I know the Angels added Albert Pujols, it's the rotation that wows me the most. I'm admittedly biased in favor of pitchers because I think pitchers are more interesting than hitters, but I think it's meaningful that the Angels have built something more impressive than their having added Albert Pujols at first.
I should stop but I don't want to. The Angels have Jered Weaver, and Weaver is kind of quietly fantastic. The Angels have Dan Haren, and Haren is definitely quietly fantastic. The Angels have C.J. Wilson, and C.J. Wilson isn't quiet, but he's better than his reputation. It's funny, the Angels starter with the most "ace stuff" is probably Ervin Santana, since he can get the ball into the mid-90s. Their three aces beat hitters in other ways. This might be a big reason why the Angels' rotation isn't getting enough hype, as measured by me; they don't have a Justin Verlander or a Felix Hernandez. They have guys who look better in the numbers than they look to the eye.
I will stop now, just because I don't know where else to go without repeating myself. Starting pitchers can be volatile and starting pitchers can get hurt, but right now the Angels have a hell of a rotation. That's the whole point of this article. You there, hypothetical reader, stop accusing the Angels of having a bad rotation! It is good! It is a very good rotation! I hope that you've learned something from all this. The Angels should have an awesome rotation, and you can write that down, like I did.