After a holiday hiatus, the series continues:
Part Ten: Starting Pitching
For their 47-year history, the Angels have had a strong tradition of starting pitching, at least relative to the positions. For most of that span, there has been a distinct lineage of staff leaders—from Dean Chance to Nolan Ryan to Mike Witt to Chuck Finley to John Lackey. Below is a list of the probable eight best starting pitchers the Angels have had, with their years played as an Angel, including innings pitched, won-loss record, ERA, and Adjusted ERA+ (Baseball Reference’s pitching version of OPS+).
- Dean Chance (1961-66) -- 1236.7 IP, 74-66, 2.83 ERA, 122 Adjusted ERA+
- Andy Messermith (1968-72) -- 972.3 IP, 59-47, 2.78 ERA, 118 ERA+
- Nolan Ryan (1972-79) -- 2181.3 IP, 138-121, 3.07 ERA, 115 ERA+
- Frank Tanana (1973-80) -- 1615.3 IP, 102-78, 3.08 ERA, 117 ERA+
- Mike Witt (1981-90) -- 1965.3 IP, 109-107, 3.76 ERA, 107 ERA+
- Chuck Finley (1986-99) -- 2675 IP, 165-140, 3.72 ERA, 118 ERA+
- Mark Langston (1990-97) -- 1445.3 IP, 88-74, 3.97 ERA, 109 ERA+
- John Lackey (2002-07) -- 1161.3 IP, 79-58, 3.82 ERA, 116 ERA+
There are simply too many starting pitchers to go through them all, although here is a snapshot of some of the notable starters of the 60s and 70s:
- Dean Chance (Cy Young Award in 1964)
- Ken McBride (three time All-Star)
- George Brunet (led the league twice in losses, although finished 4th in ERA in 1965)
- Jim McGlothlin (All-Star in 1967)
- Rudy May (league average starter who pitched on the Angels for a few years)
- Clyde Wright (6th in AL Cy Young voting in 1970)
- Andy Messersmith (two-time 20-game winner, once with Angels, once with Dodgers)
- Bill Singer (won 20 games and an All-Star in ’73)
- Nolan Ryan (finished in top 3 in Cy Young voting three times as an Angel; set all-time single season strikeout record with 383 in 1973)
- Frank Tanana (three-time Angel All-Star; promising career was derailed when he blew out his arm in his late 20s—was a league average pitcher after that)
We all know Nolan Ryan, who had some of his best years as an Angel—although his wildness kept his ERA above 3.00 most years.
Frank Tanana was a particularly unfortunate story. His injury in 1979 kept him from being a Hall of Famer—before it he had a string of ERAs around 2.50, with 200+ strikeout seasons. After his injury he was a league average player, although finished his career with 240 wins (to go with 236 losses), 2773 strikeouts, and a career ERA of 3.66.
The contending teams of the 1979-86 era were better at scoring runs than preventing them, with the top starters including Mike Witt, Ken Forsch, Geoff Zahn, Tommy John, Ron Romanick, Kirk McCaskill, and John Candelaria. Mike Witt was the best of the bunch, winning 15 or more games four years in a row (1984-87), but tapering off at a relatively young age; he was traded to the Yankees in 1990 for Dave Winfield and was injuried for most of the rest of his career, out of baseball before he turned 33.
For a few years in the late 80s and early 90s the Angels had one of their strongest rotations, including Chuck Finley, Mark Langston, Bert Blyleven, Jim Abbott, Kirk McCaskill, and Mike Witt. In 1991 Finley, Langston, and Abbott all won at least 18 games—the first and only time an Angels corp has accomplished that feat. Yet Abbott and McCaskill proved to be disappointments: both with some good years, but fading quickly.
Chuck Finley, on the other hand, proved to be the longest lived Angels starter of all time, with 379 Angels starts to his name, well above the 2nd-5th on the list: Nolan Ryan with 288, Mike Witt with 272, Frank Tanana with 218, and Mark Langston with 210.
Aside from Chuck Finley and Mark Langston, the 1990s were a bad decade for the Angels rotation, with a veritable smorgasbord of mediocre starters: Willi Fraser, Allen Watson, Steve Sparks, Brian Anderson, Julio Valera, Phil Leftwich, Shawn Boskie, and Jason Dickson, among others. The Angels had their usual assortment of past-their-prime names: Bert Blyleven, Tim Belcher, Scott Sanderson, and Ken Hill, not to mention a half year of Kent Bottenfield, one half of the infamous Jim Edmonds trade.
Around the turn of the millennium a promising young corp was emerging, with names such as Ramon Ortiz, Scott Schoeneweis, and Jarrod Washburn. Yet Schoeneweis never panned out to what Peter Gammons promised (an “18-game winner if he develops another pitch”, comparing him to Tom Glavine), and once-heralded prospect Ramon “Little Pedro” Oritz proved to be a couple years older than advertised.
Yet in 2002 the Angels put together a strong enough rotation to win the World Series, with Jarrod Washburn and Ramon Ortiz having career years, coupled with the emergence of John Lackey, a solid year from Kevin Appier, and a place warmer from Aaron Sele. The pitching staff would only get better, as GM Bill Stoneman proved to hold pitching as his #1 priority, signing two marquee starters in Bartolo Colon and Kelvim Escobar after the 2003 season (to go along with Vladimir Guerrero). The Colon signing has to be considered a disappointment, despite earning an undeserved Cy Young Award in 2005; in four years as an Angel, he had a 46-33 record with a 4.66 ERA, making only 95 starts. Escobar, on the other hand, has been a success: 43-35 with a 3.60 ERA in 100 starts, and for much less money.
The last few years has seen steady improvement from John Lackey to become a legitimate staff ace and a Cy Young contender in 2007. To go along with Lackey and Escobar is the consistent Jered Weaver and the inconsistent, but talented, Ervin Santana.
- John Lackey (28) - 3.01 era, 19-9, 224 ip, 52-179 bb-k
- Kelvim Escobar (31) – 3.40 era, 18-7, 195.7 ip, 66-160 bb-k
- Jered Weaver (24) – 3.91 era, 13-7, 161 ip, 45-115 bb-k
- Ervin Santana (24) – 5.76 era, 7-14, 150 ip, 58-126 bb-k
- Bartolo Colon (34) – 6.34 era, 6-8, 99.3 ip, 29-76 bb-k
- Joe Saunders (26)– 4.44 era, 8-5, 107.3 ip, 34-69 bb-k
2007 was a fine year for Angels starters, with John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar having career years. As mentioned, Lackey was a Cy Young contender—among the league leaders in most major pitching categories: Wins (tied 2nd), ERA (1st), Innings Pitched (4th), Shutouts (tied 1st). At one point Kelvim Escobar was also a Cy Young contender, but had a terrible stretch run; and Weaver was very good, if not quite as good as 2006. Ervin Santana, on the other hand, was very inconsistent, getting blown-out in almost every road start, eventually earning a demotion to AAA. Towards the end of the season, mainly in the bullpen, he showed signs of regaining his form.
The final 45 starts were distributed among Bartolo Colon (18), Joe Saunders (18), Dustin Moseley (8), and Hector Carrasco (1). Colon started strong, going 5-0 in his first five starts, but fell apart and got injured (again). Saunders and Moseley were both solid, posting ERAs just a hair better than average.
The four spots in the 2008 rotation are set: Lackey, Escobar, Weaver, and newcomer Jon Garland, a surprise trade acquisition for Orlando Cabrera. Garland is a solid pitcher, although perhaps over-rated due to two 18-win seasons in 2005 and 2006 and a World Series victory. His career ERA is 4.41—basically league average, probably not much better than Joe Saunders. But he is an innings-eater, having pitched over 190 in each of the last six seasons, and most teams would love to have him as their #4 starter.
The fifth spot will likely be filled by Joe Saunders, although it depends on how Ervin Santana pitches in spring training. My guess is that Santana regains--even surpasses--his 2006 level, as well as his spot in the rotation; coupled with strong management, he’s simply too talented not to.
The Angels have a few strong starting prospects, most notably Nick Adenhart, who we’ll probably see sometime in the second half of 2008. Other names include Sean O’Sullivan, Nick Green, Jordan Walden, Brok Butcher, and Trevor Bell, with Green or O’Sullivan most likely to make their first major league appearance, although probably not until 2009 or later.
The future of the Angels rotation looks bright, with the average age of the six possible starters below 28 next year, and every pitcher either capable of remaining at the same level or improving.
- John Lackey (29) - 3.30 era, 18-10, 220 ip, 60-190 bb-k
- Kelvim Escobar (32) – 3.50 era, 14-9, 185 ip, 55-150 bb-k
- Jered Weaver (25) – 3.65 era, 15-8, 190 ip, 55-140 bb-k
- Ervin Santana (25) – 4.00 era, 13-8, 190 ip, 60-150 bb-k
- Jon Garland (28) – 4.20 era, 14-12, 210 ip, 50-110 bb-k
- Joe Saunders (27)– 4.50 era, 8-9, 150 ip, 45-85 bb-k
UPGRADE?Unnecessary. With six starters—not to mention Dustin Moseley able to fill in, and the Two Nicks, Adenhart and Green, not far from the majors—we might see one of the Angels starters traded, probably Saunders or Garland.
- Introduction and Catcher
- First Base
- Second Base
- Third Base
- Left Field
- Center Field
- Right Field
- Starting Rotation