AL WestAnalysis

Angels’ Pitching and the Surprising Culprit for Their Downtrend

The Angels find themselves in a big rut. What was a decent 7-3 start to the season has morphed into a 13-15 record where they find themselves in last place in the AL West, with the third-lowest run differential in the whole league. The offense hasn’t been the problem despite some injuries to Anthony Rendon, Max Stassi, and even Mike Trout who missed a few days because he was hit on the elbow. While the offense started out hot, they have been in a funk for the last week, finding themselves 10th-best in FanGraphs’ Team Batting WAR, but the real oddity in this team is still the pitching. While there have been some positives in this newly overhauled bullpen, they still haven’t been very effective and it may or may not be their fault.

The Good 

If we look at the team pitching stats at FanGraphs, there are definitely some bright spots. First off, they surprisingly lead the league in K/9 and are 5th in total strikeouts, which is pretty great given how bad they have been at pitching. They also are league-average at HR/9 and fifth-worst in BB/9, which can be improved. They also allow the least amount of hard contact in the league (they allow the highest medium contact percentage) , meaning they’ve generated a lot of weaker contact compared to other teams. Additionally, they have the second-highest ground ball rate in the league. So, they’ve gotten the most strikeouts, allowed some of the weakest contact, and gotten a lot of grounders. Pretty good, right? In theory, yes, but it hasn’t kept the runs from scoring. 

The Bad

They have allowed the second-most runs and fourth-most earned runs in the league. So, they’re striking out batters yet still allowing a lot of runs? One obvious reason is that they have a league-worse LOB% (Left-on-Base percentage). This means they’ve been the worst team in baseball in keeping runners who are on base from scoring. Not good. They have allowed the 11th-most hits so far this season, which is not terrible, but you would like for that number to be lower. Another possible reason for these runners scoring is the fact the Angels’ BABIP-allowed is .319, which is the worst in the league. This is very contradictory, given Angel pitchers have been able to get weak contact and keep the ball on the ground. It does help when 37.9% of their opponents’ plate appearances end in either a walk or strikeout, which puts them at first in the league. This unfortunately brings the defense into the discussion. While the best way to make up for a bad defense is to strikeout hitters, it hasn’t been able to hide how bad the defense has been for the Angels. 

The Angels currently are the third-worst fielding team (based on FanGraphs’ DEF metric) in the league, ahead of only the Detroit Tigers – who currently are sporting a run differential of minus-68, and the Toronto Blue Jays. From 2016-2019 the Angels have had a top-five fielding team each season except for 2019, where they were a top-seven team. However, the last two years they have not fared as well, and the loss of Andrelton Simmons is hurting the most. In 2020 Simmons only played in half of their games, and in 2021 he signed with Minnesota. Given that the Angels needed to replace Simmons, they signed José Iglesias to replace him and so far that hasn’t worked out. Iglesias’ current Outs Above Average (OAA) is in the 2nd percentile, which is the worst on the team. Comparatively, Andrelton Simmons’ OAA is in the 94th percentile in 2021. This is a complete 180-degree turn from what the team previously had at the position. In 60 games with Baltimore Iglesias had only one error, while in 30 games with the Angels this year he already has eight errors.  

It also doesn’t help that Rendon has been on the Injured List (IL) twice now, so the Angels have had to run Jose Rojas out at third base, who currently sports a -0.3 DEF at multiple positions. Justin Upton has the worst DEF on the team, coming in at -3.8. The recently-released Albert Pujols is the second-worst, and Walsh is the 3rd worst in DEF. It also doesn’t help that their best defender, Max Stassi, has only played 11 games due to his injuries so Kurt Suzuki has had to play 17 games and he is nowhere close to the defender that Stassi is. 

The release of Pujols should help the Angels’ defense immensely. Since they wanted to keep Walsh’s bat in the lineup, he has had to play 18 games in right field due to the loss of Dexter Fowler and the injury to Juan Lagares. He can now primarily play at first base, which is his natural fielding position. Also, Juan Lageres has the fourth-best DEF on the team, so once he comes back the defense should be much improved. Max Stassi’s return is much anticipated as well.

So, while the offense has been pretty good and the pitching has been decent (13th in starting pitcher WAR and 20th in reliver WAR), the defense has been really bringing this team down. The pitching would be faring a lot better had this team had their best defensive players playing rather than on the IL. Once they return to the field, there is a good chance this team can get back on track.

This tweet from @JeffFletcherOCR pretty much sums up what the Angels have allowed other teams to do to them:

Stats are from May 7, 2021.

Featured image courtesy of the Los Angeles Angels twitter account: @Angels

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