By Robert Cunningham, Angelswin.com Senior Writer
NOTE: This article contains a detailed summary of each prospective bullpen candidate under the "Spoiler" bar. Some of you may just want to jump to the conclusion so the player contents are hidden from view. If you want to read that section, simply click on the bar and dive deeper into each of our reliever candidates, there are some interesting tidbits.
In 2019, the Angels continued to develop a core group of relief options that produced to the tune of 2.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) across 761.2 innings pitched (IP). The latter number was the 2nd most IP, just behind the Rays bullpen at 772 IP. Assuredly, Eppler and staff would like to not only improve the bullpen's production, but also reduce the total number of IP, for the group as a whole, if possible.
The good news is that most of that relief corps will remain this season and a key reliever, Keynan Middleton, should return to the fold, which could provide a real boost to a squad full of upside and potential, capable of closing out the later innings of any ballgame. It is the hope that the bullpen will potentially improve on their 2019 performances, giving reason to believe that the Angels relievers, as a collective, can build on last years 16th ranked production level and become a Top 10 relief staff.
To start let us review 2019 results for the current, projected, 40-man relief staff as of December 16th, 2019:
As you can see, the Halos bullpen was led by Hansel Robles (1.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR)) and Ty Buttrey (1.4 WAR). Other contributors included Noe Ramirez, Cam Bedrosian, Taylor Cole, Felix Pena, and Justin Anderson. The belief is that the group can potentially take a nice step forward in 2020 and there is reason to feel this could be the case.
Part of that solution will come directly from upgrades made in the rotation to, funny enough, relieve the relievers. If the starting rotation can eat up more quality innings, the bullpen will, ideally, be fresh on a more regular basis, which generally should equate to some modest level of improved performance. Additionally, some relievers may make some needed adjustments to improve their performance. Finally, there is a reasonable likelihood that Eppler and the front office staff will still add to this group prior to Opening Day, next year.
To better understand what the Halos have let us take an in-depth look at each relief candidate and what they can bring to the table in 2020. Simply click on the Spoiler bar to unroll the comprehensive, individual player analysis. Note that data is pulled from FanGraphs.com, BrooksBaseball.net, and BaseballSavant.com:
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball (53.2% usage, 97.4 miles per hour (mph)), Change Up (23%, 89.5 mph), Slider (20.7%, 89.6 mph), and rare Sinker (3.1%, 97.4 mph)
Options Remaining: 0
Oh what a difference a change up can make!
Robles had struggled against left-handed hitter's (LHH) for years but suddenly, in early June 2019, a change occurred (pardon the pun) and Hansel took off like the stallion he is due to the increased use of his change up and corresponding drops in the use of his fastball and slider as seen below:
From the start of the season through the end of May, Hansel had a modest 4.26 Earned Run Average (ERA), 3.61 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), and a 3.57 Strikes to Walk ratio (K/BB) over 25.1 Innings Pitched (IP).
However, from June 1st, 2019 through the end of the season, Robles, across 47.1 IP, ran a 1.52 ERA, a 2.50 FIP, a 5.56 K/BB, a 1.01 Walks plus Hits per Innings Pitched (WHIP), a 0.57 Home Run per 9 innings (HR/9), all combined with leaving 91.3% of runners on base (LOB%)!
There are no coincidences in baseball and the addition of a primary third pitch has allowed Hansel to truly spread his wings and, if he continues his success into 2020, become a lethal closer in the back-end of the Angels bullpen. To wit, over the last two months of 2019, Robles increased the use of his change up to a whopping 41.5%, so clearly he feels really comfortable mixing it in and throwing it to both sides of the plate, particularly LHH's, with fantastic results.
Clearly the Angels will continue utilizing Hansel in high-leverage situations, particularly now that Joe Maddon manages the team. Robles has two years of arbitration control left and is projected to make $4M for the 2020 season.
Based on his velocity, excellent spin rate on his fastball, and improved results by adding a quality change up, it would not be shocking to see the Angels offer him an extension prior to the start of the 2020 season. Robles has expressed how comfortable he is playing in Anaheim and the results speak for themselves. Something like a 4-year, $30M-$40M extension contract might be agreeable to both sides if Eppler breaks the mold of not paying for relief pitching. Of course the Angels could wait to see if 2019 was just a fluke or not and reexamine this thought next off-season which is the more probable outcome.
Extending Hansel would lock in his year-to-year salary numbers and allow Eppler to throw him into the closer role without worrying about an exorbitant arbitration raise for 2021, in addition to controlling him for more than just the next two seasons. On top of that it would help artificially depress other reliever arbitration salaries because the arbitration process rewards closers (saves) more heavily than set-up men or middle relievers (looking directly at Buttrey here).
As Maria Torres reported in mid-September, "Caballo Blanco" has truly settled in with the Angels and appears ready to continue taking opposing hitters to the races in 2020.
This may prove to be the best relief waiver wire claim during Eppler's tenure!
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball (57.1%, 97.4 miles per hour (mph)), Slider (29.5%, 84.0 mph), and Change Up (13.3%, 87.8 mph)
Options Remaining: 2
Buttrey's 2019 season started off with a bang as he pitched to a pristine 1.27 ERA, across 28.1 IP, through the end of May. However, over the rest of the season Ty struggled with three primary issues: a slightly elevated walk rate, putting more runners on-base, and an increase in home runs.
Clearly Ty suffered from some bad luck with right-handed hitters (RHH) as his Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP) was at an elevated .324 number, combined with a 68.1% LOB%, a 1.43 HR/9 rate, and a 3.78 FIP number.
When you realize that Andrelton Simmons was out for two extended stretches from June to the end of the season you can see why some of Buttrey's numbers ended up where they did, once the year came to an end, considering his high ground ball rates against RHH's (50.9%). Also, Ty's Isolated Power (ISO) Against coincides with increased use of specific pitches in June and August, resulting in hitters guessing right, more, against him in the 2nd half of 2019:
That slider spike in June, resulted in a .400 ISO Against and, in August, spikes across all three of his primary pitches, resulted in elevated ISO Against, too. Finally in September, very few hitters were being fooled by his change up resulting in two specific outings, one against the A's on September 5th and the other against the Rays on September 15th, where Buttrey gave up 7 earned runs, inducing a .750 ISO Against to end the last month of the year.
Nevertheless, when you examine Ty as a whole there is nothing material that has changed in his profile which would lead anyone to believe that he cannot return to form in 2020. His fastball velocity was actually a tick higher in 2019, over the previous season, and defense has improved (assuming Simmons stays) even further with Rendon on the left side of the infield which can only help a ground ball inducing right-handed pitcher (RHP) like Buttrey. Basically nothing appears to be broken, so there is not much to fix.
Ty is under team control for the next five seasons and will make the League minimum in 2020 (and 2021 before his three arbitration years). Buttrey has two options remaining so he is technically a candidate to start the season in the high Minors but he is so good that this seems very unlikely.
Right now the Angels are almost certainly content to continue using Ty in high-leverage situations and see how he progresses year-to-year for at least the next two seasons before making a longer term decision about his future. Buttrey is a great asset to have and barring an injury should provide strong value working out of the back-end of the Angels bullpen for years to come.
One of Eppler's best trades to-date!
Arsenal: Slider (37.4%, 77.9 mph), Change Up (34.2%, 84.5 mph), and a Four-Seam Fastball (28.4%, 89.5 mph)
Options Remaining: 0
As evidenced, Noe is not a hard-thrower by any definition in modern baseball. He survives on maintaining a good pitch mix, consistent command and control, and his bread and butter change up. So far it has worked well for him and he has had some good consistent results the last handful of years, particularly over the last two seasons, including picking up seven games as a spot starter.
Ramirez, just like Buttrey, gets RHH's to pull the ball on the ground a lot and thus probably suffered from the absence of Simmons a bit from June through the end of the season. This, too, should change with a healthy and upgraded left side of the infield in 2020 which is good news because Noe is a RHH killer, running a 24.9% Strikeout minus Walk percentage (K-BB%) against them in 2019. This is not to say that Ramirez does not do well against LHH's but they are less prone to striking out against him and they are able to take him out of the park more often.
In terms of pitch usage, Noe suffered a bit from overuse of certain pitches in particular months that resulted in more extra base hits from time to time such as his slider getting hit more in April, May, and August, probably in-part due to overuse.
Ramirez is in his last season of pre-arbitration control and will have an additional three years of arbitration control after, for a total of four more years. His ability to suppress RHH's and fair decently well against LHH's should make him a staple in the bullpen for at least the next couple of seasons, possibly more if he adds another pitch to his repertoire and/or improves even further. Noe's additional value comes in his versatility to make spot starts and ability to pitch in long relief if needed.
Not a bad acquisition off of the waiver wire!
Arsenal: Slider (50.8%, 83.6 mph) and a Four-Seam Fastball (47.9%, 93.3 mph)
Options Remaining: 0
Despite concerns about his velocity dropping from previous seasons, Cam had a quietly good year pitching near the back of the bullpen, posting a very solid 3.23 ERA, across 61.1 IP.
Most notable about Bedrosian's 2019 campaign was his ability to create bad contact via a really low Batting Average Against of .206 and a .253 BABIP. Whether this is sustainable or not will be the real question heading into 2020 but Cam gets the benefit of the doubt for now until proven otherwise.
Another interesting bit about Bedrosian is that he gets quite a few ground balls and suppresses the long ball against LHH's quite well, whereas versus RHH's the balls tend to be more elevated although he strikes them out at a better clip. It should be noted that Cam's BABIP against LHH's this year was really good at .215 and he left 94.3% of runners on-base, while his BABIP against RHH's was a more modest .289 but he had an abnormally low number of runners left on-base of 41.4%.
This leads to the question of possible regression for Bedrosian heading into the 2020 campaign. Against LHH's you'd expect his BABIP and LOB% to regress in a negative manner while versus RHH's you would almost certainly expect to at least see his LOB% increase in a positive direction.
Bedrosian is entering his 2nd year of arbitration control and is projected to make approximately $2.8M in 2020. This could be Cam's last year as an Angel as he is becoming increasingly expensive and may not fit into the teams long-term plans, particularly when the Angels are taking a low resource approach to bullpen building.
Cam will need to continue the improvements he made in 2019 if he wants to succeed in 2020 and possibly 2021. Throwing his rarely used change up or adding another pitch to his repertoire would be very useful and could elevate his performance so the hope here is that he regresses in a positive manner and improves his skill set to help the 2020 Halos win more ball games.
Great value out of a homegrown farm system player!
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball (42.2%, 93.4 mph), Change Up (31.4%, 87.1 mph), Slider (24.3%, 87.2 mph), and a rarely used Curve Ball (2.2%, 81.2 mph)
Options Remaining: 1
Cole, despite seeing a 1/2 tick increase in velocity from 2018, struggled a bit more than usual with walks (4.18 BB/9 rate) and a really elevated BABIP of .366, across 51.2 Major League IP in 2019. In particular, against RHH's, he struggled the most to the tune of a .386 BABIP, a 1.63 WHIP, and a 51.6% LOB%.
Certainly, like Buttrey and Ramirez, Taylor probably felt the loss of Andrelton on the left side of the infield when Simmons went down for three weeks in August, particularly because this was the time frame where Cole had five really bad outings where he gave up a total of 22 earned runs. Assuredly the lack of Simba couldn't account for all of that (and maybe none of it, it is a speculative observation) but Taylor is a ground ball pitcher that gets a lot of RHH's to pull to the left side of the infield so it is not a groundless (pardon the pun again) accusation.
Interestingly, Taylor did a really good job of keeping the ball in the park (0.35 HR/9 rate) but he gave up a lot of line drive contact which leads one to suspect that one or more of his pitches were not generating ground balls as much as they have in previous seasons:
As you can see Cole struggled to keep all of his pitch types on the ground in 2019. This may point to a mechanical issue whether it is grip, bio-mechanics, or even mound alignment. Whatever the root cause is, it intuitively feels like something that can be addressed and fixed so there is cause for hope that Taylor can return to form in 2020.
In the end there is room for improvement to return Cole to the 2018 version of himself which gives rise to the idea that positive regression may occur and Taylor will become a quality mid-innings eater, riding the shuttle up and down from Salt Lake City where he is likely to start the season since he still has one option remaining. It should be noted that Cole made six spot starts in 2019 so the Angels may end up using him more than an average reliever.
Taylor will make the League minimum in 2020 and 2021. After that he has three years of arbitration control, for a total of five years of team control. Assuming he makes the necessary corrections, Cole could be a staple of the Angels bullpen for at least the next 2-3 seasons, possibly more.
Not bad for a Minor League signing!
Arsenal: Sinking Fastball (41.9%, 92.0 mph), Slider (39.3%, 82.7 mph), Change Up (11.6%, 84.3 mph), and Four-Seam Fastball (7.2%, 91.6 mph)
Options Remaining: 1
Poor Mr. Pena suffered a very unlucky anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury while covering first base in the 2nd inning of a game in early August. Sadly this will keep Felix off the field for approximately 6-9 months, which means he will be on the Injured List (IL) probably through at least the start of the season, possibly into late May or early June.
Felix proved to be a sturdy, reliable reliever and spot starter in 2019, to the tune of a 16.5% K-BB% and a 4.58 ERA. Unfortunately the long ball hurt him this season but beyond that issue his K/9 rate was solid and hitters made poor contact off of his four-pitch mix.
Pena has been inconsistent against LHH's over the last four years but, like Noe, has been really solid against RHH's, to the tune of a 20.5% K-BB% over the last four seasons. Felix does have issues with the long ball and leaving men on-base a bit too much but other than that he makes a fine middle or long reliever out of the bullpen.
Felix's best pitch is his slider which he pairs with a sinking fastball in a majority of his outings. He might be better served utilizing that change up more to keep hitters off balance but overall he just needs to keep a tighter lid on balls in the air.
2020 will be Pena's last year of pre-arbitration and then the Angels will still have three years of arbitration control over him. The Halos are fortunate he has one remaining option left so that once he has completed his rehabilitation assignment, they can possibly option him down to the Minors if the Major League bullpen is full.
The Angels made heavy use of Felix as he has pitched 90 innings over each of the last two seasons. He will almost certainly not hit that mark in 2020 but he has been a reliable workhorse out of the bullpen to help mitigate some of the pitching injuries the Angels encountered over that time frame.
Not a bad value return for cash considerations, by most reckonings!
Arsenal: Slider (51.7%, 84.8 mph) and Four-Seam Fastball (45.5%, 95.0 mph)
Options Remaining: 3
In the first half of 2019, Anderson performed fairly well, tossing 28.2 solid innings resulting in a 3.77 ERA. However, from the beginning of July through the end of September, Justin had twenty-two relief appearances where he collapsed giving up 17 earned runs across 18.1 IP, to the tune of an 8.35 ERA. This is why relievers can appear to be so volatile because it only takes a handful of bad (or good) innings to skew their results for the season.
It should be noted that in early-mid August, Justin was diagnosed with a lat strain and there is a suspicion it had been bothering him prior to the prognosis so that, too, may have contributed to his woes in the second half. Additionally there is concern about Anderson's velocity loss (nearly 2 1/2 mph from his 97 mph average in 2018) but that seems to be a feature of a change in his pitch mechanics at the beginning of the season, not necessarily all due to injury or arm fatigue and degradation (probably a combination of both though).
Justin features a two-pitch mix (slider and four-seam fastball) but does throw three rarely-used pitches including a change up, sinking fastball, and curve ball. If Anderson is able to take one of those extra pitch types and add it successfully to his repertoire he could become a real force out of the Angels bullpen.
Anderson is indisputably a good strikeout artist but the two key areas that can hurt him are his walk and home run rate. Generally he has been good suppressing the latter but in the 2nd half of 2019 his home run rate ballooned along with his walk rate to unsustainable numbers.
A plus for Justin is the fact his splits have been fairly even to-date, which means that if he can tame his walk rate a bit, he could see regular action out of the bullpen at the Major League level. Adding one of the aforementioned third pitches (change up, sinker, curve ball) could really open up doors for him in terms of total performance.
Based on Roster Resource, Anderson has three options remaining and unless he has a spectacular Spring Training he is a strong candidate to start the season in Salt Lake City and ride the shuttle up and down for the 2020 season.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, Justin has one last year of pre-arbitration control and four more years of arbitration control (he is a Super-Two player apparently). This probably means, based on a repeat performance, that he will remain with the Angels for at least the next two years. If Anderson markedly improves then this may change but for now he can be a decent middle reliever that can be called up on an as-needed basis as part of the Angels depth solution.
Anderson, like Cam, is another solid home-grown talent.
Note: Middleton's 2018 Statcast profile is listed above since he missed most of the 2019 season.
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball (57.3%, 94.3 mph), Change Up (23.1%, 84.3 mph), and Slider (19.6%, 82.8 mph)
Options Remaining: 2
That is the word that will best describe Keynan as we enter the 2020 season.
Tommy John Surgery is a serious operation and approximately 80% of players that undergo the procedure actually make a return to baseball. However, of that 80%, most do not return to their previous form and some don't fully make it back or end up retiring early out of baseball.
All that being said, Middleton does not appear to be one of the unlucky 20%. Also, in fact, he did throw a minimal number of innings in 2019, across four levels including the Majors, so he is already grouped in that 80% number and the only thing left is to determine how far he can return to some level of his previous form.
One thing that is clear is Middleton will not be quite the same fireball closer type, touching triple digits, that we saw when he first came up. However, if Keynan manages to stay in the mid-90's, as he did at the Major League level in 2019, he can still be very effective out of the bullpen next season.
Keynan's 2019 sample size is quite small so the usage numbers on his pitch mix, above, are probably skewed a bit as he has, in the past, used his four-seam fastball more and his change up less. However, incorporating a third pitch more often can only help Middleton so a healthy mix of the three, assuming they are all of average quality or better, would keep batter's on their toes and possibly improve his performance.
There is a real possibility that Middleton could start the season down in the Minors because he has options left (two to be exact). The Angels may want Keynan to ease back into the Major League bullpen so expect Joe Maddon to use him more in middle relief initially, assuming he is on the Opening Day roster, until he gets his feet back under him and shows he can manage the workload and perform to his current ability, which includes finding his command and control again.
Finally, due to the fact that he was out on the IL for 2019, Keynan is now a Super-Two player. This means that 2020 will be his first year of arbitration, followed by three more seasons of control, for a total of four years. Middleton is projected to make $800,000 for the upcoming year so the clock is ticking on performance versus value so let us hope that Major Key has a healthy and productive 2020.
Another potentially strong homegrown talent that has reached the Majors.
Arsenal: Slider (50.4%, 86.3 mph), Four-Seam Fastball (44.1%, 94.5 mph), and Change Up (5.4%, 87.5 mph)
Options Remaining: 2
Bullpen Spin Master.
That should probably be Bard's nickname but it is not super catchy to be honest.
Luke works, primarily, off of a two-pitch mix, consisting of a good, high quality slider and four-seam fastball. The latter achieves, on average, a 2,748 rpm spin rate while the former checks in at 2,465 rpm. Bard rarely uses his change up and his four-seam fastball is his most hit pitch type out of his primary two thrown.
However, the slider is Bard's main strikeout tool as he ran a 27.7% K% rate in 2019. On both pitches, Luke achieves a fairly low exit velocity in the mid-to-high 80's (mph) range which results in poor contact and weak batting average against.
Luke has six seasons of team control left, three pre-arbitration and three arbitration years. This likely means a potentially long tenure on the Angels relief staff, assuming his stuff continues to play up and he can stay healthy. Barring a trade it would not be shocking to see his name on the roster for at least the next 2-3 seasons, if not more. He will be making the League minimum salary in 2020.
Originally, Bard was drafted in the Rule 5 Draft in the 2018-2019 off-season by the Angels but elected free agency. However, the Angels re-signed him to a Minor League deal and because he still has two options remaining, he will likely be a candidate to start the year in the Minor Leagues and will almost certainly see some time in the Majors going up and down on the shuttle as needed.
Luke has inherent upside with his massive spin rates which make it difficult for hitters to pick up the ball when it is released out of his hand. If he can add a third average pitch, such as the rarely used change up, he could possibly take a step forward in his career.
Reasonable Rule 5 pick-up and subsequent Minor League signing for sure.
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball (42.6%, 93.0 mph), Slider (29.6%, 84.5 mph), Change Up (15.7%, 81.2 mph), and Two-Seam Fastball (11.3%, 92.0 mph)
Options Remaining: 0
Speaking of spin, if Luke Bard is the Bullpen Spin Master, then Adalberto Mejia is the Bullpen Spin Master 2: Electric Boogaloo!
Seriously, though, Adalberto also has high spin rates on his four-seam and two-seam fastballs (both around the 2,500 rpm range) and his slider (2,334 rpm average), which is almost certainly why the Angels claimed him originally from the Twins and then reclaimed him off of waivers again from the Cardinals who had claimed him when the Angels tried to pass him down to the Minors. Clearly spin rate is important to the organization as a whole as Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register has reported on more than one occasion.
Mejia has been a starter most of his career and in fact started six games down in the Minor Leagues last year for the Twins High-A and AA affiliates. However, once he arrived with the Angels they immediately moved him to a relief role, where he ended up pitching 31.1 innings out of the bullpen to the tune of a not-so-good 6.61 ERA.
The thing that killed him most was a very uncharacteristic 6.03 BB/9 rate, which simply left no room for error and ultimately resulted in enough hits to drive a lot of those men on-base in, for runs. This poor performance could be attributed, in-part, to the switch in roles itself but it is difficult to tell on the surface.
Mejia was a previous Giants, then Twins, well-regarded prospect so there is hope that moving to a bullpen role could turn him into a good back-end reliever but in baseball you have to put up or shut up and the time is short for him to do so with the Angels.
Adalberto is out of options so he is at-risk right now on a team that is preparing to make a real run at the Division in 2020. This means that if the Angels make another move to acquire one or more pieces, Mejia could be the odd man out and designated for assignment to make room for other preferred warm bodies. It also means that he will need to have a great Spring Training as well because if he does not, others will take his spot on the 40-man.
Adalberto has one year of pre-arbitration control and three years of arbitration control left, so that, too, is an artificial gate that will force him to produce or be cut by the Halos. He will make the League minimum in 2020.
The Angels took a shot with the waiver claim on this praised prospect so we will probably know shortly if it was a win or a loss.
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball (53.2%, 95.0 mph), Slider (37.7%, 86.0 mph), and Curve Ball (8.8%, 77.1 mph)
Options Remaining: 0
So at first glance, the clear reason for the waiver pick-up of Mike Mayers is not readily apparent.
Inflated ERA, reduced velocity, high 2019 walk rate, high career home run rate, and a pretty bad career left on-base percentage might make the average fan question the front office's decision-making capability. But then, as Jeff Fletcher likes to remind the fan base, you have to look deeper to see why the Halos took a flyer.
Spin rate. Lots and lots of spin rate.
Mayers has above average spin on not only his four-seam fastball (2,353 rpm) but also really good spin rate on his curve ball (2,620 rpm). The latter, in particular, is a more recent addition to Mike's repertoire, used just 8.8% in 2019 with most of that use in the last two months of the season.
It is this raw base of potential (the high spin rates on two pitches, a three-pitch repertoire, and mid-90's velocity) that the Angels took a flyer on and Calloway and the rest of the pitching coaches will need to work fast to see if they can mold Mayers into a serviceable reliever prior to Opening Day 2020.
The reason for the rush is that Mike is out of options, which means that he needs to have a great Spring Training to make the team's 26-man active roster. Additionally, like Mejia, this puts Mayers at increased risk of being designated for assignment if the Angels make further off-season additions that could force him to lose his 40-man roster spot.
Mayers has one year of pre-arbitration control left in 2020, followed by three years of arbitration control, for a total of four years. However, the experiment of extracting increased performance when Mike has no remaining options puts everything on a ticking countdown that seems difficult to avoid.
This could be a short-lived venture or one that blossoms quickly into a useful waiver addition but only time will tell the tale.
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball (38.0%, 94.7 mph), Slider (35.5%, 84.9 mph), Change Up (14.6%, 89.0 mph), and Sinking Fastball (11.9%, 94.6 mph)
Options Remaining: 1
Out of all the relievers on the current 40-man roster, Jake Jewell must have loved the Anthony Rendon signing the most.
That is because, against RHH's in 2019, Jewell ran a 66% ground ball percentage and forced hitters to pull them to the left side of the infield at a whopping 57.5% Pull% rate! You have to think that a Simmons and Rendon combination on the left side of the infield will be an early Christmas gift to Jake. On top of that an additional 29.8% went up the middle where not only does Simmons prowl but also the gifted defender David Fletcher, which, if the numbers hold relatively close, means 85%+ of the balls put on the ground will likely get vacuumed up by our infield defense. Outstanding!
Overall Jewell throws four different pitch types and all of them generate ground balls at a high rate. He does it well against LHH's too so this is not just limited to one side of the plate:
It is a limited sample size but you get the idea, that when you think of Jake, hitters won't rake.
Now it should be noted that one area Jewell had serious trouble with in 2019 was his HR/9 rate of 2.73. This number, however, is completely out of character with his Minor League history where his HR/9 rate was significantly lower. It would be expected that this number would regress to the mean and home runs shouldn't be an issue in 2020 and beyond.
Jake is a candidate to start the 2020 season down in the Minor Leagues due to his one option remaining but unless he has a terrible Spring Training the likelihood of him making the Opening Day roster feels high.
In terms of years of control, Jewell still has six seasons of team control left. Currently, Baseball-Reference.com indicates he has two years of pre-arbitration and four years of arbitration control (a Super-Two player). He will make the League minimum in 2020 and will, barring a trade or injury, be a part of this team for a long time to come.
No matter what though the Angels appear to have a nice back-end reliever that can be brought in during those high leverage situations where there are runners on and the team needs a ground ball double play to end the inning. He is that guy.
Another nice homegrown talent from the Angels farm system!
Arsenal: Slider (50.9%, 83.2 mph) and Four-Seam Fastball (47.8%, 95.7 mph)
Options Remaining: 2
So, just about like every other waiver claim made recently by the Angels, Parker Markel is all about spin rate. His four-seam fastball and slider averaged 2,386 rpm and 2,723 rpm, respectively in 2019.
Parker spent seven seasons in the Tampa farm system but washed out and spent the next two years playing for the American Association Sioux City Explorers. Then in September of 2018, his contract was purchased by the Seattle Mariners and he finally was able to play in the Majors last season with both the Mariners and the Pirates who claimed him off of waivers in July. Subsequently the Angels acquired him for cash considerations in late October 2019.
Markel works primarily off a two-pitch mix (Slider and four-seam fastball) but does carry a rarely used change up. The slider is pretty special as it sweeps across the zone and has the aforementioned strong spin rate. If he can build upon his natural high spin rates, mid-90's velocity, and perhaps add in a third pitch, there is a lot of potential for a good middle reliever.
Parker is definitely a candidate that could start the year down in the Minors as he has two options remaining. He has six years of team control, three pre-arbitration and three arbitration seasons. Markel will make the League minimum in 2020 and could become at least a short-term staple in the Halos bullpen for the next couple of years if he can perform.
Markel is certainly a flyer in the Angels eyes but when you acquire pitchers with above average base skills, like him, for a very minimal investment, the upside is easy to see and if you need to walk away it does not hurt the team at all.
Arsenal: Four-Seam Fastball (Data Not Available (DNA), DNA), Curve Ball (DNA, DNA), and Change Up (DNA, DNA)
Options Remaining: 3
Hector is a very new addition to the Angels 40-man roster as Eppler and the front office made a decision to protect and add him prior to the Rule 5 draft.
Clearly, the Angels believe his 2019 results were buzz-worthy and the numbers support that as, across 109 IP, Yan recorded a 3.39 ERA with a fine 21.0% K-BB% rate, a .189 BAA, a 1.16 WHIP, and a 0.41 HR/9 rate!
Many scouting reports on Hector seem to feel that despite the fact he has been a starter he will likely end up in the bullpen and the addition to the 40-man roster will likely accelerate that changeover. His splits in the Minors were inconsistent against both sides of the plate year-to-year but he probably fairs against LHH's a bit better than RHH's.
Yan features a good four-seam fastball and curve ball with a project-able change up as a solid third pitch. His velocity can touch the mid-90's but not regularly (yet at least) so he sits in the low-90's. This strong primary two-pitch mix with a third average kicker pitch will probably work well in relief.
The odds are very heavy that Yan will begin the 2020 season down in the Minors and will continue to develop either as a starter or reliever, but likely the latter, or perhaps as a long relief candidate in a hybrid role. It would not be surprising to see him start in A-ball or High-A with one or more aggressive promotions to AA, AAA, or even the Majors in short order, particularly if he takes the bullpen development route.
Because Hector has not even cracked the Majors yet, he has a full six years of team control remaining and the clock will only start once he does make it to Anaheim. If he does make it up in 2020, he will make the League minimum.
An international signing for $80,000, this, too, was a small investment with a potentially big pay-off!
Likely Outcome: The Angels will continue to use the waiver wire to pick up relief targets of opportunity as the off-season continues and avoid expending resources as is typical for this front office.
The next, most likely, alternative is to find a target of opportunity in free agency or trade, probably the latter. This is because the FA market lacks quality options whereas there are some interesting names that might be available in deals with other teams.
Author's Choice: Personally, if the price is right, acquiring a name like Brad Hand (someone Eppler has inquired on previously) or Mychal Givens would be great. Since Eppler and his team love high spin rates so much, names like Drew Steckenrider, David McKay, Joe Jimenez, Buck Farmer, Jose Urena, Jeff Brigham, or Robert Gsellman might hold some level of interest.
Ultimately this is not an area that I am to concerned about, as the Angels front office has done an outstanding job acquiring relievers that have the skills and tools to turn into effective relievers.
All that the Angels need to do is start the season with an established group that can soak up innings and be effective to help the team reach the Trade Deadline in the right posture (wins) so that Eppler can reevaluate at that time whether the Halos need to acquire a rental bullpen option or two to help carry us over the Division finish line.
Conclusion: Eppler probably understands that this unit, as a whole, might need some level of improvement, so it seems plausible that if he gets an opportunity to pick up a good reliever in trade (maybe names like Josh Hader, Jose LeClerc, Ken Giles, Mychal Givens, Scott Oberg, Keone Kela, Joe Jimenez, Jeurys Familia, Mark Melancon, Carlos Martinez, Richard Bleier, Ian Kennedy, Tim Hill, Paul Fry, Jared Hughes, Brad Hand, or Seth Lugo, among many others, might have some level of availability) or in free agency (maybe a guy like Arodys Vizcaino, Addison Reed, or, perhaps, Tyler Thornburg) he would do so, to help lift the squad a little further for the 2020 season and possibly beyond.
Billy was recently quoted as saying, "There are a lot of ways to create a winning team." One of those ways is to build a really deep bullpen, not dissimilar to what the Yankees have done over the last couple of years, to help consistently build a bridge to success when transitioning from a starter to the later innings of a game.
The good news is that the Angels have a good base of relievers to build upon, so the idea of a high quality relief corps is not a fantasy for the 2020 Angels. If Eppler was able to add a Hader, Giles, Givens, Hand, Martinez, or Jimenez type of player that would go a long way toward a consistent, sustainable run at the American League West Division championship. To be clear it does not have to be one of those names, either, there are plenty of other options out there to be had.
Finally, the Angels could end up pulling one of their starters in and converting them to a relief role. Near the end of the season, the Halos used Jose Suarez in a long relief role four times, although they will likely start him in the Minors in the rotation. Jaime Barria and Dillon Peters made six and five long relief appearances, respectively, mostly early in the season. Jared Walsh is a two-way player, capable of relief work too, but he is most likely to do mop-up, low leverage work where the team is either ahead or behind by a significant amount of runs. Even Sandoval made a long relief appearance in early August. To be clear these guys are clear-cut starters (except Walsh) and will probably be used as such but they are available if the Halos switch course or have a need.
Currently, it appears the Angels bullpen, barring an injury, trade or designation for assignment, will start the season with at least the following relievers in-tow:
- Hansel Robles
- Ty Buttrey
- Noe Ramirez
- Cam Bedrosian
These four are the probable core base of the Angels 2020 bullpen.
Behind them, the next group represents potential higher-probability adds and out-of-options players, in no particular order, that could be included on the 26-man active roster:
- Keynan Middleton
- Jake Jewell
- Taylor Cole
- Adalberto Mejia
- Mike Mayers
- Luke Bard
- Justin Anderson
To be clear these seven will need to have good Spring Training outings to be included on the Opening Day roster, it will not be handed to any of them.
Finally, the following names are very likely to start the year in the Minors no matter how well they perform in Spring Training (and in Pena's case he is on the IL for a while):
- Hector Yan
- Parker Markel
- Felix Pena
So to wrap up this very long discussion, the author believes, based on the current 40-man roster, that the Opening Day starting eight (it is typical to start the season with eight relievers) will probably include these names:
- Hansel Robles
- Ty Buttrey
- Noe Ramirez
- Cam Bedrosian
- Keynan Middleton
- Adalberto Mejia
- Jake Jewell
- Mike Mayers
If you do not feel we will carry eight out of the gate, then knock Mayers off the end of that list, probably. Also there is a real chance that if Eppler finds a reliever on the free agent or trade markets, that Mayers or Mejia (probably in that order) will be displaced off the 40-man and designated for assignment to make room for the new addition(s).
This is what a good minimum resource bullpen looks like and this thriftiness allows the Halos to apply their monetary and trade resources elsewhere, for the betterment of the team as a whole. Longer term, once the Angels have an established rotation and position player group (which they are getting closer to this off-season), Eppler may be able to afford adding higher quality bullpen arms but, for now, he and the front office staff are doing this the right way.
The Primer Series continues, next, with the Left Field article.