The Los Angeles Angels have seen positive production from their starting pitching; an early surprise for the 2020 season. After compiling a league-worst 5.64 ERA in 2019, the rotation now tops the league in a number of metrics. The Angels rank seventh in WAR and sixth in strikeouts after nine games. Most of the success can be attributed to the performance of Dylan Bundy, Andrew Heaney, and Griffin Canning.
However, Angels’ fans will hope the rest of the rotation, including Shohei Ohtani and Matt Andriese, will follow suit. Unfortunately, the team’s bullpen has struggled in the early part of the season contributing to the team’s poor record.
Surprising Angels Starting Pitching
A former first-round draft pick, Bundy hopes his move from hitter-friendly Camden Yards to the pitcher-friendly “Big A” will rebound his career. With a stronger supporting cast to include All-Star infielders such as Tommy La Stella and Anthony Rendon, he should be able to maintain a manageable ERA through the 2020 season.
In facing both the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners, Bundy displayed his dominance. His breaking ball and fastball combinations yielded a .71 WHIP, the ninth-best in the league. Additionally, he ranks 12th in the league in WAR and 20th in K/9.
For some, the announcement of Heaney as the Opening Day starter was surprising. After two starts, his performance justified Joe Maddon’s decision. He maintains the rotation’s lowest BB% at 2.9% and the highest GB% at 31.8% contributing to his low 2.79 ERA. Further, Heaney’s 0.83 WHIP is the 14th best in the league and ranks 16th overall with a 0.3 WAR.
Staying healthy will continue to be a point of emphasis for the rest of the 2020 season. In 2019, Heaney was sidelined with elbow inflammation. Maddon has kept his pitch counts to 67 and 64 through his first two starts. However, if the Angel’s continue to experience bullpen struggles, there may be more pressure on him to pitch further into the game.
In his first start, Canning built on his 2019 success. He threw for seven strikeouts and only two walks in his start in Oakland. However, his second start against the Houston Astros was a career-best. Canning pitched six innings and netted five strikeouts with only one earned run. Currently, he ranks slightly behind Bundy and Heaney in WAR, WHIP, and K/9 but his numbers put him in the top forty pitchers in the league.
Work In Progress
Ohtani looked rough in his return to the mound surrendering three hits, three walks, and five earned runs. He failed to record a single out and was pulled in the first inning. His fastball fell flat with a significant drop in velocity at 94 mph and his sliders failed to hit the strike zone. Ohtani looked much better in his second start with his fastball reaching 96 mph and more control of his slider. However, Maddon pulled him in the second inning after walking two runs with the bases loaded (though a missed strike call would have got him out of the inning). More concerning, Ohtani reported discomfort in his throwing arm and received an MRI (results are pending).
There is a reason no one since Babe Ruth has been able to play two-ways. Considering Ohtani has not pitched since September 2nd of 2018, he will continue to have a steep hill to climb to return to his Rookie of the Year performance. However, Ohtani will continue to be one of the primary focal points of professional baseball.
Relieving Ohtani in Oakland, Andriese looked great in pitching through 5.2 innings. He struck out five while only surrendering one walk and three hits keeping the Angels in the game. His performance was aided by his offseason success in adding two new pitches. After being sent to the bullpen in 2018, he added a cutter and a two-seam fastball during the offseason in order to compete for the Angels starting rotation. Though he struggled in his second start against Houston, Andriese will be a pitcher to watch through the 2020 season.
Patrick Sandoval failed to win his first MLB start, but he pitched solid through four innings. He struck out four, walked one, and gave up a solo home run. Still, Sandoval left the game in the fifth inning with the Angels lead preserved. The following day, the Angels optioned him to Long Beach and called up reliever Luke Bard. However, given the struggles of Angel’s relievers, Sandoval should see more action in the 2020 season and still remains in competition for the starting rotation.
The Angels have yet to call a number of other starting arms from last season. Felix Pena pitched over five innings in three games from the bullpen this season. Jaime Barria and Jose Suarez remain in Long Beach on the taxi squad. They have yet to see any action in 2020. Further, the Angels continue to wait for the return of Julio Teheran to the roster. Teheran reported late to summer camp after testing positive for COVID-19. He continues his workups prior to joining the Angels rotation.
Bundy, Heaney, and Griffin gave the Angels starting pitching a surprise early season jolt. Unfortunately for the team, their bullpen has been terrible. The relief corps rank 25th overall in the league and have been unable to protect Angel leads or keep them within striking distance in the later innings. Further, if Ohtani continues to struggle or has to go on the injured list, the team may need to look at adding a long reliever to the pen such as Barria or Suarez. The Angels will need to address the bullpen struggles soon to remain competitive in the division.
On the positive side, the rotation could get a big boost with the addition of Teheran. Further, given the struggles of the 2019 rotation, Bundy, Heaney, and Canning offer Angels fans hope. Health will be a big factor for these three, but their early success this season could be signs of good things to come from starting pitching in the next few years.
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