The Angels had the second-best starting pitching in the American League last year, behind only Tampa Bay. Then they added C.J. Wilson, a pitcher who has gone 31-15 and allowed batters to hit just .225 off him since he became a starter two years ago.
Everything is in place to make the Angels' rotation perhaps the best in franchise history and the stingiest in their league. When he ranked baseball's best rotations, ESPN's David Schoenfield slotted the Angels at No. 2. That's great, but it's also just one place better than AL West rival Texas, which replaced Wilson with Japanese sensation Yu Darvish.
The Angels figure to need all the pitching they can get, because -- even after adding the best player in the game, Albert Pujols -- their offense isn't the equal of either of the two AL East juggernauts in Boston and New York or of Texas'. Pujols will draw more fans, but the Angels' fortunes will rise and fall in 2012, again, with how Jered Weaver, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana and Wilson perform.
Here's what Schoenfield wrote about the Angels starting pitchers:
Weaver, Haren and Santana averaged 234 innings in 2011 and now they've add Wilson to the mix. He threw 223 innings for the Rangers. The last team with four starters to pitch 220 innings? The 1997 Atlanta Braves. That team won 101 games. Wilson could have a monster season -- after all, he posted a 2.31 ERA on the road last year and allowed just six home runs in 18 starts. Pitching behind Weaver and Haren should take away some of the pressure of the big contract. Yes, [Jerome] Williams is a bit of a question mark in the five-hole, but while they traded away Tyler Chatwood the Angels still have power arm Garrett Richards as depth.
Here are the ZiPS projections (via baseballthinkfactory.org) for Angels starters:
Weaver: 16-8, 3.16 ERA, 216 2/3 innings
Haren: 14-9, 3.59, 215 2/3
Wilson: 14-8, 3.36 ERA, 200 2/3
Santana: 11-10, 4.19, 195 2/3
Williams: 5-7, 5.04, 103 2/3
You would think Wilson might be better pitching for the Angels than he was for Texas. He's going from one of the most hitter-friendly home parks to one of the most expansive, from one of the hottest places to pitch to one of the coolest; and he's doing it a few miles from where he grew up, with all the comforts of home.
Williams doesn't strike me as such a big risk in the No. 5 hole. The Angels plucked him out of obscurity (Taiwan and independent ball) and he responded like a guy who'd been given a second chance. Even as his role became inconsistent (he shuttled between the bullpen and the rotation and often had extra rest), he did yeoman's work in some key games in the final two months.
If I were the Angels, I'd fret more about the top of the rotation. Santana has been a mystery since he came up, often alternating strong seasons with bad ones. One encouraging sign: His ERA and WHIP have declined in three straight seasons.
Weaver and Haren have been pictures of consistency, but they're both coming off career highs in innings pitched, as manager Mike Scioscia (justifiably) put the team's fortunes on their shoulders in the final months. Both pitchers had noticeable drop-offs in their velocity by September. Five months of rest figure to have rejuvenated the Angels' co-aces, but you wonder how their arms will respond to so many high-stress pitches in competition. Weaver pitched twice on three-days' rest.
Nothing is ever guaranteed in baseball, but the Angels figure to have a solid foundation with one of the most proven rotations in the game.