By Chad Stewart
The amount of injuries the Angels have sustained this year is no secret. Neither is their lack of Minor-League depth. Despite all of the adversity they have faced, however, the Angels have done a decent job attempting to stay afloat with the limited depth they have.
Injuries hit the Angels’ rotation the hardest. Their two best starters, Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney, are currently attempting to avoid undergoing Tommy John Surgery, Tyler Skaggs is still recovering from the Tommy John Surgery he underwent in 2014, and C.J. Wilson is still recovering from elbow surgery he underwent last year.
Coming into the season, rotation depth was one of the only things the Angels had going for them. On paper, they had eight Major League caliber starters to choose from, but that depth quickly dissipated, as Heaney made just one start, Richards made six, and Wilson and Skaggs have yet to appear in a big league game this year.
The injuries forced the Angels to get creative, and that started with the acquisitions of two starters. First, the Angels acquired Jhoulys Chacin from the Braves. Chacin had a few good years in Colorado to begin his career. Then, injuries struck. Chacin made at least 28 starts in three out four years from 2010-2013, but he made a total of 16 starts between 2014 and 2015. The Angels were desperate for quality innings, so they took a flier on him.
He was rather effective in three of his first four starts as an Angel in the month of May, culminating with a dominant complete-game performance against the Tigers on May 30. That was his last reputable start, as his 8.59 earned-run average in June ranks third-worst in the American League.
When he was acquired, Chacin was, at the very least, expected to eat up innings, and be a serviceable fifth starter. But he hasn’t even been able to do that, lasting no longer than 5 1/3 innings in each of his five June starts; he conceded six runs in each of his last two starts.
On May 20, the Angels signed former Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum to a one-year deal, and, after three Triple-A starts, he made his Angels debut on June 18 in Oakland. With Giants fans donning their Lincecum jerseys scattered across the Oakland Colliseum, he yielded just one run on four hits in six innings en route to a 7-1 Angels victory. His fastball only averaged about 88 miles per hour, and he only struck out two over his six innings of work, but Lincecum was able to keep Oakland hitters off balance all day, and his changeup was particularly effective, throwing it nearly 34% of the time. He also struggled with command at times, issuing two walks and falling behind in the count quite often, but he generated enough ground balls and soft contact that he was able to work around any jams he got himself into.
Overall, Lincecum’s first start as an Angel was a success. The same cannot be said about his second start.
Lincecum made his second start of the season, and his first in Anaheim, on June 23. He squared off with the A’s again. This time, they figured something out. Lincecum allowed four runs on seven hits in just three innings. He immediately got himself into trouble in the first inning by allowing a single and walking a batter with two outs. He was able to escape without allowing a run, but he allowed back-to-back singles to begin the second. Oakland shortstop Marcus Semien then launched a hanging changeup over the left-field fence to give his team a 3-0 lead.
Lincecum retired the next batter, but the A’s recorded another pair of back-to-back singles. Then, Yunel Escobar was unable to field a fly ball in shallow left field, allowing a fourth run to score. Lincecum was able to limit the damage by getting Oakland left fielder Khris Davis to ground into a double play with the bases loaded.
After issuing a leadoff walk, Lincecum retired the side in order in the third and was pulled after 83 pitches.
There will obviously be some growing pains as Lincecum learns how to pitch again, and his second start was an example of that. The fact that he faced the same team twice probably has something to do with it, but it will take some time for him to get used to pitching with his diminished velocity. As we’ve seen with Jered Weaver over the last couple of seasons, this is not a pain-free process, and there will be plenty of bumps along the road.
Along with injuries to their starting staff, the Halos have also suffered injuries to their shortstop, left fielder, catcher, utility infielder, and a few key relievers. Even with their weak Minor League system, they have managed to do a fairly good job remedying these injuries.
The Angels entered the season with Daniel Nava and Craig Gentry slated to form their left-field platoon. However, both were injured shortly after the season began. Rafael Ortega was the first one to get a shot at replacing Nava. Ortega is an outstanding defender, and, at first, his defense was enough to justify his sub-par offense. But he went into a prolonged slump that saw his average dip to .238 and his on-base-plus-slugging percentage drop to .577. Because of this, he was sent back down to Triple-A.
Gentry’s spot as the right-handed part of the platoon has been filled nicely by Shane Robinson. He has provided about league-average offense, but his solid defense has allowed him to accumulate 0.5 Wins Above Replacement, tops among Angels left fielders. Robinson is providing something close to what Gentry would have likely contributed.
Jefry Marte and Gregorio Petit have been the biggest revelations for the Angels.
In an attempt to build some infield depth, the Angels signed Petit to a minor-league deal in the offseason. Aside from a few short stints in the Majors with the A’s, Astros, and Yankees, Petit has spent most of the last 13 years toiling away in the minors with various teams.
He seems to have finally found a role with the injury-depleted Angels. When shortstop Andrelton Simmons headed to the DL, Cliff Pennington became the starting shortstop, and Petit was called up to fill Pennington’s utility role. When Pennington went down with an injury of his own shortly thereafter, Petit assumed the starting shortstop role and excelled.
When adjusted for park and league factors, Petit’s overall offensive output has been 11% better than average. Simmons has since returned, but Petit’s play has earned him a spot on the roster, and he is now seeing time at both second and third base.
The Angels acquired Marte in an offseason trade with the Tigers for the same reason they signed Petit, to build depth.
The 25-year old made his Major League debut last year, and, in 33 games, produced slightly below average offensive numbers. This year has been a different story. Marte got off to a scorching start and cooled down as of late, but he is still hitting .264 with a .776 OPS and four home runs in 76 plate appearances thus far. He has spent most of his time at designated hitter, first base, and third base. At one point, he was swinging the bat so well that he even played five games in left field. That was a failed experiment, as his defense out there was just about as bad as anyone could have expected considering he had never played there before.
Now, his offensive game is not without its flaws. He has struck out 21 times and walked just three times. In this way, among others, he is a very similar hitter to C.J. Cron, though Cron has slightly increased his walk rate and decreased his strikeout rate considerably this year. Their similar skill sets have made them a formidable duo when they are in the lineup at the same time, and, because Escobar is currently nursing an injury, this is currently occurring on a more regular basis.
Catcher Geovany Soto was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason, and he was expected to split time with Carlos Perez, who had a favorable rookie season in 2015. Perez stumbled out of the gate, so Soto began receiving more playing time. He was very productive when he played, posting an .822 OPS. Of course, he only played 20 games before hurting his knee and being placed on the DL on May 18. The Angels then called up Jett Bandy from Triple-A to take Soto’s spot. Perez, the second worst hitter in the AL, received the bulk of the playing time until recently.
Bandy is now starting more often than Perez, and he is taking advantage of it. In 46 plate appearances, Bandy is hitting .293 with a home run and nine runs batted in and has thrown out 42% of attempted base stealers. Those numbers still peg him as a below average hitter, but it is certainly better than what Perez was — or wasn’t — providing.
The Angels’ bullpen has also suffered a few injuries. Closer Huston Street missed about five weeks and returned at the beginning of June, Cory Rasmus is currently enduring his second DL stint, and setup man Joe Smith was placed on the DL shortly after Street returned.
Righty Cam Bedrosian has stepped up this year, and, though he struggles with inherited runners, he has a minuscule 1.33 ERA and has struck out 29 batters in 27 innings. Rule-5 pick Deolis Guerra has also done a fine job. He owns a 2.89 ERA with 16 strikeouts, and he has yet to walk a batter.
While there have been a few bright spots in the bullpen, overall, the Angels’ bullpen has not been not been extraordinary; its 3.91 ERA ranks ninth in the American League.
The Angels’ starting rotation was ravaged by injuries early in the season, and, predictably, they have one of the worst rotations in the league, as their mid-season acquisitions haven’t provided much. However, contributions from unlikely places have helped them stave off the plethora of injuries they have experienced elsewhere.