Ace in the Making: Andrew Heaney

Following the 2014 season, the Angels front office ruffled some feathers among their fans, trading fan favorite second baseman Howie Kendrick for an unproven talent from the Dodgers, left-handed pitcher Andrew Heaney. Kendrick, just finishing his age 30 season, had just finished his ninth season with the Angels, and had four consecutive seasons hitting over .280. An all-star in 2011, he was a mainstay in the lineup and, along with Erick Aybar, provided one of the best defensive middle infields in baseball. Heaney, on the other hand, had just come off of a very uninspiring 2014 season. A former first-round pick, Heaney pitched to lackluster numbers across the board for the Marlins in 2014: 5.83 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 1.8 HR/9, and 9.8 H/9. He had shown flashes of his first-round potential, allowing only one run across six innings in his major league debut, but could not replicate that kind of performance the rest of the way.

Wait, he pitched for the Marlins in 2014? So how did the Dodgers trade him to the Angels? Well, actually, only a few hours before the Angels acquired him, the Dodgers received him from the Marlins in a deal that included Dee Gordon and Dan Haren going to Miami. So in the span of roughly 6 hours, Heaney saw himself be traded for two different all-star second basemen from LA. He still had to prove himself as a first-round pick after the season he had had, and now he had to prove that he was worth trading for players of this caliber. There were certainly a lot of Angels fans not happy to see Kendrick leave, particularly myself. I knew Kendrick’s contract was up at the end of the season, but it didn’t feel any better to see that Kendrick was going to be playing his games for the other LA team now (also I had just bought a Kendrick jersey that season and was pretty annoyed I couldn’t wear it anymore). If we were losing Howie, then this kid better show up.

Wow, did he show up. Across about a season’s worth of starts, Heaney has pitched to a 3.85 ERA for the Angels. That number isn’t entirely inspiring, but keep in mind that he only made 6 starts in total across 2016–2017. Much of 2017 was spent regaining his pre-Tommy John form, so I’m willing to forgive the 7.06 ERA from that year. The two years we should focus on are 2015 and this current season, in which his ERA for those two seasons (thus far) is a much prettier 3.36. More importantly, in a time where the ball flies out of the park at a higher rate than ever before, Heaney just does not give up home runs. His HR/9 rate of 0.6 is in line with his rate from 2015 of 0.8, which are both outstanding marks for any pitcher. Solely for comparison, Chris Sale has an HR/9 rate of 1.1 on the season.

While in no way am I saying that Heaney is on his way to becoming the next Chris Sale, the Angels don’t need him to be. That’s not what they traded for. They traded for the talent of a young left-hander who’d yet to prove himself, hoping that he’d pan out like the 9th overall pick he was. And Heaney is still getting better. Outside of three blowup starts this season, Heaney’s ERA is 1.58 in all others. Basically, aside from three fluke starts, one in which he allowed all 5 runs in the first inning, he’s been as dominant as anybody. The fact that his one-hit shutout came after his second-worst start of the season, and his worst start was followed by 6 dominant starts against very potent offenses, tells me that Heaney is still improving. He hasn’t allowed himself to be rattled by the bad starts that he has, and every starter is going to have a bad start now and then. As he continues to grow and mature, he’s going to see those starts start to be fewer and far between, and soon, he might be in the same sentence with Chris Sale as one of the best left-handed starters in the American League. He won’t strikeout as many guys as Sale, he won’t be as flashy as Sale, he won’t get the press of Sale, but for what it’s worth, Chris Sale has the ERA edge by only a small amount. There’s another lanky lefty that American League hitters have to worry about now, and his name is Andrew Heaney.

UPDATE: With the news of Shohei Ohtani’s injury, the rest of the Angels’ rotation is going to have to pick up the slack. With the spotlight no longer shining so brightly on every start Ohtani makes, the rest of the rotation will be under more scrutiny than usual, especially if the Angels continue to keep in contention. How they respond to it over the long haul remains to be seen, but as of now, Heaney is off to a rough beginning. His 5 earned runs tied his 2nd most for the season, and his 3 innings pitched were easily his least. Hopefully this is just a bad day, and he has another dominant run like he had after his worst start of the year. Andrew Heaney living up to his full potential would be good not only for the Angels, but for all of baseball.

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Brian Schlosser

Rockies, Angels, and general baseball fan. I love talking about baseball more than I love writing about it, and I'm always open for discussion on Twitter @brian_slosh.

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