In the aftermath of 2016’s injury devastation of the Los Angeles Angels’ starting pitching staff, little optimism can be found among the team’s fans upon looking at the likely composition of the 2017 staff. Last season, the team lost four of its top six starters to career-threatening, long term injuries, and with three of the four not expected to see any action in 2017, and with the non-signing of long time ace Jered Weaver, there is little to choose from in selecting arms to man the rotation that will begin pitching in earnest in six weeks.
The new anointed ace of the staff, Garrett Richards, made only six starts before going down to a torn elbow ligament. Disdaining Tommy John surgery, he appears to have recovered through rehab and stem cell therapy, but whether his elbow will hold up to the
rigors of the coming season is a total unknown. Fellow starters Andrew Heaney and Nick Tropeano also succumbed to the same injury last season, and each underwent the knife and will miss all of 2017 as their surgical rehaps continue. C.J. Wilson missed all of 2016 due to ongoing shoulder problems, and he decided to call it quits as he seeks a new career in auto racing.
For almost a decade Weaver was the unquestioned ace of the staff, and for a portion of his career a solid argument could have been made that he was the best starting pitcher in the American League. Despite missing a third of the 2013 season, for a block of four years, 2011-2014, he won 67 against 30 losses, compiled ERAs as low as 2.41, and and WHIPs barely over 1.00. Over 2011 and 2012, batters hit a robust .213 against him. As age and innings took their toll, his fastball disappeared, and his numbers and effectiveness declined, rapidly, sinking to a 5.06 ERA in 2016, and as a free agent, the team determined to let him go. He recently signed with the San Diego Padres, ending an era of success the team may not see again for quite awhile, given the injury status of those most likely to succeed him, Richards and Heaney.
But now, as spring training begins, the Angels’ 2017 rotation shapes us to include three hopefully solid arms in Richards, Matt Shoemaker, and Tyler Skaggs, he also embarking on his first full year returning from 2015 Tommy John surgery. Filling out the rotation are two journeymen pretty much picked up off the scrap heap, Ricky Nolasco, who filling part of the huge gap in the team’s rotation last season after his acquisition from Minnesota, went 4-6 with the Angels, finishing the season at 8-14 with a 4.42 ERA, and Jesse Chavez, who last stared in 2015, spending the 2016 season in bullpens first in Toronto and then with the Dodgers. He compiled a 4.43 2016 ERA, slightly below his lifetime 4,54 mark. He was a regular starter for Oakland in 2015, compiling a 7-15 mark.
The barren Angels’ staff seems to include only one other possibility for the starting rotation, former top level prospect Alex Meyer, who at 27 has failed to develop his early promise. He stared five games for the Angels late last season, showing promise despite going 1-2, 4.57. I , personally, would much rather see the 6’9” lefty in the rotation over
either Chavez or Nolasco, but he needs to impress this spring for that to happen.
Perusing the Angels’ roster, there does not look like there is another likely possibility for a starter’s spot anywhere. The most likely possibilities include another young guy coming off a history of injuries, Vicente Campos, who could be a mid-season insertion into the rotation if he shows health and consistency in the minors over the first couple of months of the season, and another lefty who has not excelled in the minors, but who still has untapped talent, Nate Smith, who is coming off an 8-9, 4.61 year in Triple-A.
The Angels’ have a solid offense and outstanding defense, but they will, once again, go only as far as their pitching will take them, and looking ahead to the 2017 season in a division with all-around solid teams in Texas and Houston and improving young teams in Seattle and Oakland, the reality is that it could well be a very long season in Anaheim.