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Angels pitching and the case of Homer-itis



The Angels just completed the 3rd week of the 2017 season and the results have not been pretty. After starting the season 6-2, which included 2 miraculous comeback wins, the team has totally stalled out, going 2-10 in their last 12 games. Recently, the Angels offense has been the problem, struggling to receive any production beyond Mike Trout, Andrelton Simmons and Yunel Escobar. To start the year, the starting pitching could barely get the team through the 5th inning and put up bad results in the process, although they’ve picked it up recently. One huge problem for the Angels that has been consistent so far, however, is the alarming rate the pitching staff is allowing home runs at. Both the bullpen and the starting rotation are responsible here, a disturbing trend for a team that is aspiring to compete in 2017.

The Angels staff allowed 9 home runs in 7 games in the 1st week of the season. Week 2 saw the team allow 11 home runs in 6 games. Week 3 didn’t get any better, as the Angels allowed 11 home runs in 7 games, bringing the season total up to a MLB high 31 home runs in 20 games. This pace probably won’t keep up but right now, the Angels are on pace to allow 251 home runs across 162 games. The all time single season record for home runs allowed was set just last year by the Cincinnati Reds, who allowed an absurd 258 home runs. Through 20 games, the Angels are allowing home runs at a historic rate, posting a 1.57 HR/9. After allowing 208 home runs last year, maybe it shouldn’t be too surprising the team is allowing a lot of home runs again, especially with Garrett Richards, their toughest starting pitcher to square up, out for an extended period of time.

There isn’t just one player to put the blame on for these home runs. It’s been a team wide issue. Ricky Nolasco is the main culprit with 7 home runs allowed in 22.1 innings. Matt Shoemaker hasn’t been much better with his 6 home runs allowed in 21.1 innings. Tyler Skaggs and Jesse Chavez have allowed 3 apiece, albeit their home run rate isn’t too outrageously bad. J.C. Ramirez, Mike Morin, Deolis Guerra, Brooks Pounders and Kirby Yates have allowed 2 apiece. Pounders allowed those home runs on Sunday in 1.1 innings of work and Yates allowed his 2 big flies on Saturday night in 1 inning of work. Yusmeiro Petit and Jose Alvarez have each allowed 1 home run. Garrett Richards, Andrew Bailey, Bud Norris, Daniel Wright, Alex Meyer, Blake Parker and Cam Bedrosian are the only 7 pitchers that have not allowed home runs this year. It’s no surprise that those 7 pitchers have combined to strike out 47 batters and walk 15 batters and post a 2.35 ERA in 46 innings pitched.

Why are the Angels having these home run issues? Well, you can look no further than how many balls are being put in the air and how hard the Angels are throwing as a team. The Angels pitching staff as a whole is not doing a good job of keeping the ball on the ground, which is a huge culprit to the home run issues. Their 41.2% ground ball rate is the 6th lowest mark in baseball. Their 39.8% fly ball rate is the 3rd highest mark in baseball. The Angels pitching staff is averaging 92.1 mph on their fastballs, which is the 7th lowest velocity among pitching staffs. Those same fastballs have a -13.6 wFB(Weighted Fastball Runs), which is the 3rd worst mark in baseball. In this day and age, fastball velocity(or spin rate) is necessary to miss bats and not allow hard contact. From what we have seen, the Angels pitching staff isn’t throwing hard enough and keeping the ball down enough to avoid serious damage when the ball is put in the air.

Here’s some good news: The Angels are allowing home runs but they’re missing plenty of bats, ranking 10th in strikeout percentage(22.5%) among all MLB teams. They’re not walking many batters either, posting the 5th lowest walk rate so far(7.5%). As a result, the Angels pitching staff as a whole has a 3.89 xFIP, which ranks middle of the pack at 14th. Last year, the Angels had the league’s lowest strikeout rate at 18.6% and were middle of the pack with a 8.1 walk%. If there’s any bit of hope with this Angels pitching staff, you can at least squint and see the potential for an average pitching staff if they can mitigate these home runs problems moving forward. The other good news is Ricky Nolasco and Matt Shoemaker won’t have a combined 2.68 HR/9 rate the rest of their season, albeit they’ll still allow more home runs than most pitchers. A 15.6 HR/FB% probably won’t keep up either, which is the 3rd highest mark in the league, but that’s partially a byproduct of allowing so many home runs. Hopefully, the Angels can just experience some regression towards the mean(mathematical term for not being so unlucky) and see their home run rate drop a bit. Home runs can be fickle sometimes, in regards to predicting them moving forward, and we are only looking at a 20 game sample of a 162 game season.

The other aspect of this that isn’t encouraging for the Angels is when you include context for these home run totals. The Angels play at a very friendly home ballpark(8th lowest Runs/Park Factor in 2016, 2nd lowest in 2015, 5th lowest in 2014), which means the team should hypothetically have an advantage with keeping the ball in the yard so far. The Angels haven’t gotten that message as they’ve allowed 16 of their 31 home runs in 9 games at home this year. They’ve allowed 15 home runs on the road in 11 games, coming in more pitcher friendly parks such as the Oakland Coliseum and Kaufmann Stadium and the not so pitcher friendly Minute Maid Park. The Angels have had huge home run issues and only 4 of the first 20 games, or 20% of their games, have taken place in a bandbox ballpark geared for high offense. The other scary aspect of including context is acknowledging that home runs generally increase as the year moves along, due to the weather getting warmer and helping more fly balls leave the yard. If the Angels don’t get a hold of these home runs issues, the warm summer games could have the Angels allowing home runs at an even higher rate.

The Angels pitching has not been good, which shouldn’t surprise too many people. Injuries have played a part early but it was very predictable to see this Angels staff struggle some this year. The way they have struggled so far, however, has been a bit surprising. The Angels are missing bats and not walking many batters but they are allowing home runs at an enormous rate. One could be optimistic and say the Angels could have a good staff, or even an average staff, if the home runs start to come down. Regression to the mean is the more likely future scenario, however, so think less strikeouts, less home runs and more walks going forward. The home run rate will likely come down but will it come at the expense of walking more batters in the process? It’s very unlikely the Angels will allow 250 or so home runs in 2017 but the early signs for the Angels pitching staff aren’t good. For the Angels to be competitive this year, they need to start keeping the baseball in the yard or the team will likely be selling in July and many pitchers will be tweaking their necks after watching so many balls leave the yard.

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