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State of the Rotation: Now and in 2018


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With the bombshell* news that Doug Fister has been released, I thought it was a good time to take stock of the rotation (*note sarcasm).

As many have noted, the Angels are currently without their five best starters. In other words, if you dial back to Opening Day 2016 and projected the starting rotation on June 21, 2017, it would probably be Richards, Skaggs, Heaney, Shoemaker, and Tropeano. Instead, right now it is Ricky Nolasco, Jesse Chavez, JC Ramirez, Alex Meyer, and Parker Bridwell. Thafuck?

So here's my quick and dirty guide as to how they're doing and what to expect going forward.

STATE OF THE ROTATION: 6/21/2017

Garrett Richards: The Angels' best pitcher, and also their biggest headache. Still on the DL with an achy nerve in his bicep. He's supposed to come back in August, but with his injury history who knows. It is hard to be optimistic about Richards, especially when there is never any news, but it is also hard not to be hopeful as he's the closest thing the Angels have had to an ace since before Jered Weaver's arm turned into a rubber band. Silver lining: He's pitched only seven starts since the beginning of 2016, giving him tons of rest time for his UCL.

Tyler Skaggs: Skaggs was finally starting to look like he was going to fulfill his #2 potential when he got hit with an oblique strain. He's supposedly due back in late June...well, it is late June, so keep watching.

Andrew Heaney: Remember this guy? According to the Orange County Register, he was two weeks from facing live hitters in Arizona extended camp. That was four days ago, so a week and a half? We're probably looking at a September call-up and maybe a handful of starts. Hopefully will be good to go in 2018.

Nick Tropeano: Will be out all season. His upside remains a #3-4 starter.

Matt Shoemaker: Is supposed to return soon, maybe start Sunday vs. the Red Sox. We shall see. Shoe has been rather disappointing this year. For the last few years he's oscillated back and forth between a #2 to a #4-5 starter; the hope was that he would settle in around #3, but he's really looked like the #4-5 guy all year. The big culprit seems to be the walks - his walk rate went from 1.7 last year to 3.2 this year (walks per 9 innings). I still see no reason why he can't settle into a #3 groove.

Alex Meyer: He's quietly become the best starter in the rotation. OK, he's still walking a ton of batters, but his last start (6 ip, 2 hits, 1 walk, 9 so, 0 runs) was particularly encouraging. He's the probable candidate for next injury (relax, just kidding...sort of).

JC Ramirez: Remember when we were all excited about JC? Well, he's kind of sucked lately. His ERA has ballooned from 3.38 to 4.59 over his last four starts. Hopefully he irons out the kinks and settles in as a solid #4-5 guy.

Ricky Nolasco: Rotation Filler, exhibit A. Nolasco's on pace for about 45 HR allowed. We'll miss you next year, Ricky.

Jesse Chavez: Rotation Filler, exhibit B. Thank your deity of choice for one year contracts.

Parker Bridwell: Nothing to get excited about yet, as that 3.07 ERA masks horrible peripherals. Chances are his ERA moves to match his peripherals rather than the other way around. But wtf, let's see what he can do.

2018 AND BEYOND

First off, contracts. Nolasco and Chavez will be gone. Richards has one more year of arbitration, while Skaggs and Shoemaker have three; Heaney, Meyer, Trope and Ramirez four.

Next year's rotation obviously depends upon health. But assuming everyone is healthy, and barring a free agent acquisition, we'll probably see an Opening Day rotation of Richards, Skaggs, Heaney, Shoemaker, and Meyer, with Tropeano in AAA or long relief to get his arm in order. Of course it is also very possible not everyone is healthy and the Angels sign a free agent. Another possibility is if the Angels become sellers at the deadline, Shoemaker is a good candidate to get shipped off for prospects - especially if he comes back strong.

Minor league depth and/or middle relief includes Ramirez, Bridwell, Nate Smith, Grayson Long, and Jaime Barria, among those that could see significant playing time next year in case of injury (I'm giving up on Banuelos, Campos, and Pounders). Griffin Canning could also progress quickly and receive a late season call-up in 2018, although chances are the Angels baby him and we're looking more at 2019.

Long term the Angels have some interesting pitching prospects with at least mid-rotation potential in Barria, Canning, Jesus Castillo, the two Rodriguezes (Chris and Elvin), Cole Duensing, and John Swanda. Barria should be ready some time next year, Canning in late 2018 or 2019, Castillo in 2019-20, and the two Rodriguezes, Duensing, and Swanda sometime in 2020 or later.

The big question for 2018 is whether Richards can revive his Angels career. It is his contract year, so his big chance to make big bucks. If he's healthy and pitches to his potential, the Angels have to choose between offer him a huge deal with all the risks that long-term Richards entails, or letting him go and taking the compensation pick. We shall see. 2018 is also a recovery and strengthening year for Heaney and Tropeano, and potentially the first full years for Skaggs and Meyer. With Barria and Canning possibly ready for major league duty late in the year, these guys will have to prove themselves to keep their starting jobs.

 

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