The Angels Still Have a Starting Pitching Problem

If you look at every team in Major League Baseball from a pure talent standpoint, few clubs would come before the Los Angeles Angels. Boasting the best player in the game, Mike Trout, a two-way superstar sensation in Shohei Ohtani, and the swift, smart Andrelton Simmons, the team in Anaheim clearly has one of the most skilled core of position players in the sport. So why can’t they find any sustainable success?

This might sound familiar, but their starting pitching has been horrendous thus far in 2019, and is the biggest factor for L.A.’s underwhelming 23-24 start. Over the past few seasons, their starters have consistently failed a talented club with postseason potential, and if the first third of the 2019 campaign is any indicator, the Los Angeles Angels still have a starting pitching problem.

After Sunday’s loss to the Kansas City Royals, the Angels’ starting rotation ranks 29th in MLB in starter’s ERA (5.71), 29th in innings pitched (203.1), 30th in strikeouts (170), 25th in opponent’s OPS (.813), 26th in WHIP (1.41), 21st in opponent’s batting average (.260), and 20th in fewest home runs allowed (40). This is a rotation that has been horrible altogether, but even worse from an individual standpoint.

Trevor Cahill, their Opening Day starter and supposed ace, has a 2-4 record with a 6.95 ERA, has allowed 14 home runs in 44 innings, and has surrendered almost 10 hits per nine innings. Matt Harvey, who was brought in this past offseason as a reclamation project, has a 2-3 record and 6.35 ERA through nine starts, having fallen even farther from his All-Star form of the past. Tyler Skaggs, who had a fairly solid 2018 campaign, is 4-4 with an ERA over 5.00.

Only two Angels have an above-average ERA+ after more than three starts, that duo being Felix Pena (126) and Griffin Canning (116). For reference, Cahill (63), Harvey (69), Skaggs (88), and Chris Stratton (51) — who is now with the Pittsburgh Pirates — have all been miserable every fifth day for manager Brad Ausmus and his Angels club.

Over the past few seasons, the script has been acted out the same; the Angels being carried by star position players only to have their horrid starting pitching core bend and break the club’s performance. In 2018, Ohtani (4-2, 3.31 ERA) and Jaime Barria (10-9, 3.41 ERA) were pleasant surprises, but across the board, the Angels lacked consistency and reliability on the rubber from their starters. Only three guys hurled more than 100 innings on the year (Skaggs, Barria, and Andrew Heaney) as arguably their best starters — Ohtani, Garrett Richards, and Nick Tropeano — struggled to stay healthy.

Meanwhile, Mike Trout posted a 10.2 bWAR campaign, Simmons blossomed into an all-around stalwart, and Ohtani raked his way to AL Rookie of the Year honors. Their 80-82 record in manager Mike Scioscia‘s final season fell at the hands of a starting rotation that just couldn’t compete with their opposition and hold down the fort for the offense.

Going back to 2014, we see what this team can be with even “okay” starting pitching. The Angels took home the AL West crown with a 98-64 record, spearheaded by an electric offense. Trout (.287, 36 home runs) took home his first AL Most Valuable Player Award, while Howie Kendrick (.293, 14 steals), Albert Pujols (.272, 105 RBIs), Kole Calhoun (.272, 17 bombs), and even Josh Hamilton (.263, 10 long balls in 89 games) contributed greatly. The difference was that their starting pitching was excellent; Jered Weaver (18-9, 3.59 ERA), Richards (13-4, 2.61 ERA), and Matt Shoemaker (16-4, 3.04 ERA) headlined a borderline elite starting rotation, providing stability and competitiveness every night.

Their batting order has been consistently good since then, with Trout and Pujols (in a way) still kicking it as a new crop of contributors keep the offense afloat. But their starting pitching is the key, and they will not be able to make it back to the postseason (for which they last qualified in 2014) until the hole on the mound is patched.

Consider the last three World Series champions, the 2016 Chicago Cubs, 2017 Houston Astros, and 2018 Boston Red Sox. Not only did each team have elite front-line aces (Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks; Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel; Chris Sale, David Price) but also had fearsome depth (Jake Arrieta, Charlie Morton, Rick Porcello). You can win without great starting pitching, but it’s incredibly difficult — take the 2018 Oakland Athletics for example.

It’s obvious and silly to say that elite offense supported by elite starting pitching is good, but it’s necessary to win in 2019’s MLB. Today’s hitters are just way too talented to throw out subpar starters for six innings. The Angels, an otherwise postseason-caliber club, have had this problem for much of the current decade, and still have an issue with starting pitching that doesn’t seem to have an immediate solution.

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