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OC Register: Angels confident they can succeed with lefty-heavy rotation


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ANAHEIM — Perry Minasian insists he didn’t set out to build a rotation with so many lefties.

He also wasn’t trying to avoid it.

“For us, it’s guys that can pitch,” the Angels general manager said. “Left. Right. Doesn’t matter. There are plenty of teams that have five righties. I think, for us, it’s the quality of the pitcher. It’s the person. All those things are factors.”

As the Angels’ rotation is currently constructed, everyone except Shohei Ohtani is left-handed. Considering that only about 30% of starters in the majors are left-handed, the Angels are an outlier in their imbalance.

Only 27 teams in major-league history have started a lefty in at least 100 games. The Angels will almost certainly join that list.

There have been eight teams in the wild-card era (since 1995) to use at least 100 left-handed starters, and four of them made the playoffs.

“It’s awesome,” Angels left-hander Patrick Sandoval said. “There’s more of us. We’re multiplying. I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of a rotation or staff with this many lefties ever. It’s interesting to see how it’s going to shake out.”

The Angels signed left-hander Tyler Anderson as a free agent over the winter, but the rest of the pitchers essentially forced their way in by rising through the farm system and outperforming their right-handed counterparts.

Sandoval, acquired as a minor-leaguer in 2018, reached the big leagues in 2019, but finally stuck once his performance became consistent in 2021.

Reid Detmers was the Angels’ No. 1 draft pick in 2020. He got an opportunity late in 2021, and cemented his role by having a breakthrough, including a no-hitter, in 2022.

José Suarez was signed as a 16-year-old out of Venezuela in 2014. He had bounced up and down in the majors in 2019-20, but he finally demonstrated extended success in 2021, and he repeated it in the second half of 2022.

Tucker Davidson was acquired in the Raisel Iglesias trade last summer. He had been in the mix with righties Griffin Canning and Chase Silseth for the final rotation spot. Davidson had a good spring and won the job, although Canning still might pitch when that spot comes up next week if Davidson is needed out of the bullpen.

However they came together, they all seem to appreciate the confluence.

“I think we can all build off each other,” Sandoval said. “When you have three lefties in front of you, you can watch and see how they pitch and it gives you a scouting report beforehand.”

Anderson pitched as part of a lefty-heavy rotation at times with the Dodgers last year. There were periods when the Dodgers had him in a rotation with lefties Clayton Kershaw, Julio Urías and Andrew Heaney.

“It’s cool,” Anderson said. “I think it’s fun because you can just talk to guys about pitching and their pitches are similar to yours and how they get guys out, how they attack guys. Guys’ approaches versus lefties are usually different from versus righties. You can feel some stuff out and talk to guys and get good feedback.”

Having all of those lefties raises a few questions, though.

Because right-handed hitters generally fare better against left-handed pitchers, and most hitters are right-handed, isn’t it a bad thing to have so many lefties?

In 2022, the major-league OPS against lefties (by all hitters) was .712. Against righties, it was .701.

The Angels, though, believe their home ballpark is better for left-handed hitters, so having so many lefty starters will encourage opponents to stack their lineups with righties.

According to the ballpark factors tracked by Major League Baseball and published at Baseball Savant, Angel Stadium has been more favorable to left-handed hitters in terms of most measured stats over the past three years. With 100 set as average, Angel Stadium has been rated 134 for left-handed hitters in terms of homers over the past three years, compared with 112 for righties.

The Angels also believe left-handed pitchers will help them control the running game better, particularly now that rule changes have led to more stolen bases throughout the game. Last year, runners were successful in 76.4% of their steal attempts with a righty on the mound, compared with 71.7% with a lefty on the mound.

Manager Phil Nevin also thinks the Angels might complicate the lineup decisions for opposing managers who have platoons. This weekend, for example, Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider will either have to have left-handed hitting Brandon Belt on the bench for the entire series or start him against a lefty.

“I know I don’t like to give certain guys that many days in a row when they’re not playing, so that can cause some havoc with the lineup,” Nevin said.

The perceived downside to all of this is that opponents could get comfortable seeing so many similar pitchers on consecutive days.

The Angels don’t buy that either. While there are some similarities in their approaches, they are different too.

Sandoval mainly throws a changeup that drops and runs to his arm-side, and a slider that drops and cuts to the glove side. Detmers’ best secondary pitch is a slider that breaks almost straight down. Suarez has perhaps has the most varied repertoire of any of the lefties, with two types of sliders and two types of changeups.

Anderson is like no one else, with a funky delivery, changing release points and a fastball that rarely cracks 90 mph.

That’s why Anderson doesn’t believe there’s a disadvantage in having so many lefties in a row.

“I used to think that,” he said, “but now I don’t think it matters.”

UP NEXT

Angels (LHP Patrick Sandoval, 1-0, 1.80) vs. Blue Jays (RHP Chris Bassitt, 0-1, 24.30), 6:38 p.m. Friday, Angel Stadium, Bally Sports West, 830 AM.

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