Angels Add Pitching Depth, But Where is Quality?

When last we discussed the state of the Angels’ pitching staff, it was in shambles. Four names have been added since, but have they actually improved the staff?

What was a deep, though not always dominant, bullpen, was hurt by the trade of Jordan Walden. But, the signing of free agent Ryan Madson fills that gap, but likely will produce a reshuffling of bullpen roles. Last season, when the team acquired Ernesto Frieri and he took over the closer role, he had several dominant weeks where he was virtually unhitable, but his dominance waned at the end of the season, and he contributed to the team’s terrible season totals of only 38 saves and 22 blown saves. It seems that the team would want to see Madson take over the closer role, and if he is fully healthy after missing all of 2012, he will certainly get every opportunity to win that spot, despite the fact that in his eight year career he was a full time closer for only one season.

Egraphs: Share a Moment with Your Favorite Star
Ernesto Frieri
Making Madson the closer will push Frieri into a battle for the set up roles, along with Scott Downs who was generally brilliant in that role last year, and also with newly acquired Sean Burnett, who had three fine years as a set-up guy in Washington. With both Burnett and Downs, that would give the team two quality lefties for

late-game bullpen duty, and with Frieri, if he handles the righty duties, a deep and quality late-inning group. Of course, all that is dependent on Madson taking over the closer role. If he struggles and Frieri is back in that spot there may be no right set-up guy, and then Kevin Jepson and a couple of real question marks, such as Barry Enright and/or Bobby Cassevah, may be getting key duty as well.

But the real question marks remain in the starting staff. Five weeks ago, we wrote “Angels’ Pitching Needs Major Overhaul”, and listed the team’s presumptive rotation as Jared Weaver, CJ Wilson, Garrett Richards, Jerome Williams, and Nick Maronde. Well, you can now scratch Williams and Maronde off the list. The team acquired Tommy Hanson in the Jordan Walden deal, and signed a free agent starter. We’ll get to that momentarily.

Three years ago, Hanson was a top prospect with “dominant starter” written all over him. After four years in the Braves’ rotation, much of the glitter has worn off, but he remains a middle-rotation guy, still with untapped potential. His 13 wins last season was his career best, but he also compiled by far the worst ERA of of career, his WHIP increased, and most significantly, reports are that he lost a couple MPH off his fastball. But he is still only 26, and should have his best years ahead of him. As a number three or four guy in the Angels rotation, he should be an reliable starter.

Then there is that free agent starter. Late last season, when the Dodgers began throwing money at moving trucks, one of their most questionable acquisitions was Joe Blanton. Well, folks, Blanton is now an Angel. Least you forget, this is what we said about him upon the trade, and then this a couple of weeks later. The same question must be asked now, Why Joe Blanton? With the Dodgers last season, he was 2-4 with a 4.99 ERA, after going 8-9 with the Phillies. Is he an improvement over Jerome Williams who was 6-8 with a 4.58 ERA? The answer is no, he is not an improvement.

The deals give the team more major league experience in the rotation, and some good potential in Hanson. But with Blanton, it’s clearly a step backwards, and with Madson, its a major question mark until he starts facing live batters to see if he is healthy and back to his 2011 closer form.

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