There is a lot wrong with the LA Angels. Instead of being the World Series contender many thought they would be, the Halos have struggled to a 10-17 record and are already on the verge of having to declare 2013 a lost season. The problem that gets the most attention is Josh Hamilton. While he is having a miserable season, he attracts the attention simply based on brand name recognition. The much bigger issue that hasn't received the attention it deserves is the Angel bullpen which has been an outright disaster.
In the first several years of the Mike Scioscia era, the Halo bullpen was a thing to be feared. In recent years, it is still a thing to be feared but this time the fear is being experienced by the team's supporters. Recognizing this, GM Jerry Dipoto worked diligently to address the problems in the off-season by signing Ryan Madson and Sean Burnett. To put it mildly, things haven't exactly gone according to plan.
Through 27 games the Angels have are eleventh bullpen ERA in the American League, which is actually surprisingly good for them considering that they have worst bullpen FIP in the AL. But that is only the beginning of their problems. Where the Angels have struggled is in self-inflicted wounds, leading the majors in total walks allowed (51, seven more than any other team). This combined with a general lack of talent, poor depth, starters that only average 5.8 innings per start has led to the relievers working under near constant duress. Only once all season (not counting Jason Vargas' complete game) has the Angel bullpen failed to allow a walk or hit in a game.
Scioscia, once lauded for his bullpen management, has been unable to find any combination of relievers that work for him. He has tried running relievers multiple innings, he has tried using them on a more match-up basis, but nothing works. One of the areas that it has most glaringly failed him has been in high leverage situations with runners on base. So far this year, the Angels are not only amongst the league leaders in runners inherited, but they have allowed a staggering 49% of those runners to score.
From a win probability standpoint, the relievers are an utter failure as well. While they have only been tagged with five blown saves and five losses, the Halo relief corps leads the free world with 22 meltdowns (the sabermetric cousin of the blown save). Conversely, they've only managed 24 shutdowns, a mediocre number considering that the Angels lead the AL in high leverage appearances at 45.
A big part of their problems has been poor performance by pitchers they hoped to count on. Ernesto Frieri has a solid ERA as the team's closer, but he also is walking 8.03 batters per nine innings, which has made his mere four saves rather tense affairs. Veteran stalwart Scott Downs has been a key pitcher the last two seasons for the Angels but he is struggling too and now might be headed for the DL after injuring his side in Wednesday's game. After that Kevin Jepsen posted a 9.82 ERA as the primary right-handed setup man before going on the DL. Mark Lowe had his ERA at 11.37 before he joined Jepsen on the disabled list.
You might be noticing a trend here. Not only have the Angel relievers been ineffective, they are also dropping like flies. Their big addition Ryan Madson has suffered several setbacks in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and has yet to throw a pitch for the team. The other free agent addition Sean Burnett was a rare bright spot for the club, but he too is on the DL now thanks to forearm soreness. This has forced the Angels into using 13 different relief pitchers already this season, which is a scary thought given they are generally regarded as having one of the worst farm systems in baseball. Every single pitcher on their 40-man roster (excluding the three who have been on the DL all year) has spent at least one day on the active roster and it is only May 2nd.
Things have gotten so bad that Dane De La Rosa, a 30-year old rookie, has emerged as the closest thing they have to a reliable right-handed middle reliever in the bullpen, which is why Scioscia was recently forced to use him eight times in a 12-day span. The Angels also were so desperate for help that they promoted Michael Roth, a 2012 9th round draft pick who had all of six innings of experience above A-ball. In an almost comical twist, the Halos were actually carrying four left-handed relievers last week. If Downs lands on the DL, injuries and demotions will leave the bullpen with ZERO left-handed pitchers. They are literally running out of relievers.
If the Angels hope to salvage their season, they need to find a way to stitch together something resembling a competent bullpen. Considering how many different arms and tactics they've already tried, that may well be an impossible task which means it could be another long, disappointing season in Anaheim.
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