One of the most promising things to come out of the Los Angeles Angels’ forgettable 2020 season was the performance of its starting rotation. While they didn’t necessarily turn heads, what struck fans was the surprising level of consistency and health of the starting five. That said, general injury concerns and innings limits are pointing to the Angels employing a six-man rotation this year. Nevertheless, these starters will get the chance to prove over a full 162-game season that their production last year wasn’t a fluke. Here is a look at the Angels projected 2021 pitching rotation.
1.) Dylan Bundy
After five uneven seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, Dylan Bundy came to LA last year a changed pitcher. Striking out more batters than ever before (9.9 K/9), he would finish the season with a 3.29 ERA, 2.95 FIP, 1.036 WHIP, and a ninth-place AL Cy Young finish. The big adjustment he made was throwing his fastball at its lowest rate ever (33.6%), while upping the usage in all four of his breaking balls. Most notable was his slider which generated a ridiculous 50% whiff rate and 34 strikeouts in just 68 plate appearances.
The key to replicating this success in 2021 will be to continue limiting hard contact. With his improved command in all five of his pitches, Bundy should be able to keep the exit velocity, barrel rate and hard hit rate low again. Since his fastball is only 90 mph, mixing things up further and throwing in even more breaking balls should keep batters whiffing at a high rate as well. If all goes right, Bundy can expect another top-10 Cy Young finish.
2.) Andrew Heaney
For just the second time of his career, Andrew Heaney pitched a full season. Sure, it was a shortened season with just 12 starts, but give credit where credit is due. His 4.46 ERA last year may not be what one wants out of a top-end starter, but for the Angels, getting any level of consistent productivity out of Heaney is all they need right now. On a more positive note, he did post a 3.79 FIP after cutting down on the home runs and walks last year, though, his strikeout rate also dropped from 11.1 K/9 to 9.5 K/9.
Looking ahead to 2021, staying healthy is the main priority for Heaney again. Beyond that, getting better action on his four-seam fastball should improve his strikeout numbers. Heaney replaced his sinker with it last year and was met with underwhelming results (24.8 Whiff%, .478 xSLG). Conversely, his changeup and curveball looked sharper than ever, generating a lot of weak contact and much improved strikeout rates. At the very least, relying more on his breaking pitches should carry him through much of 2021.
3.) Jose Quintana
One of the most high profile free agent pitchers this winter, Jose Quintana comes to LA looking to bounce back from a rough 2020. Despite being the picture of health for his entire career, thumb and lat injuries limited Quintana to just one start and four total appearances. Now 32 years old and with nine years of wear on his arm, injuries might start to become a bigger concern moving forward. Also worrisome are his 2019 numbers (4.68 ERA, 10.1 H/9) which may suggest that his career was already on the downturn.
As a result, 2021 will be a make or break year for Quintana to prove he can still be a reliable starter. He’s long been a consistent innings eater, though, even that’s questionable now. While he likely won’t return to his 2016 All-Star form, if he can get the Angels through the sixth inning on a regular basis, that should keep them competitive.
4.) Alex Cobb
The Angels’ other big pitching acquisition this year, Alex Cobb is also hoping to turn his career around. While his 4.30 ERA last year wasn’t too bad, one look at his advanced stats show he got incredibly lucky in 2020.
Not exactly ideal. It’s certainly a far cry from the promising young starter he was with the Tampa Bay Rays back in 2011. Annual injuries have fully derailed Cobb’s career, leading to him completely reinventing his pitch set three times in the last six years. Unfortunately, his current configuration hasn’t exactly worked out. Batters hit .353 against his sinker last year as he created a meager 7.5% whiff rate on the pitch. His split-finger fastball was much better with a .181 BA against and 36.2% whiff rate, suggesting that he should look into making it his primary pitch in 2021.
5.) Griffin Canning
At just 24 years old, Griffin Canning is the youngest member of the Angels rotation. In limited action, he’s looked decent since coming up in 2019. Though he lowered his ERA from 4.58 to 3.99 in 2020, Canning actually took a step back in most regards last year. In addition to increases in WHIP (1.218 to 1.367) and walk rate (3.0 to 3.7), he also gave up more hard contact (32.4% to 34.2%). Likewise his strikeout rate dropped from 9.6 K/9 to 8.9 K/9 as his whiff rate on each pitch fell sharply as well. Hopefully, this regression was just a result of the shortened season and the lack of a proper spring training for the youngster.
6.) Shohei Ohtani
Last but not least is the two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani. After missing all of 2019 and making just two dreadful starts last season, 2021 is the year that Ohtani will finally get a chance to go all out. Whether he can still be the pitcher he was in 2018, when he owned a 3.31 ERA in 10 starts, is up in the air. Management is currently saying they plan to be aggressive with him this year and not put him under any major limits. Call it overly optimistic or dangerous, one thing’s for sure; Ohtani will pitch and pitch a lot.
Featured Image Courtesy of the Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
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