By Jonathan Northrop - Angelswin.com Columnist
…which brings us to the last part of this Offseason Primer: the bullpen. But never fear, my faithful readers, because--considering that these articles became longer than I expected (I couldn’t help diving into the history of the team)--I will write an eighth part as summation, looking in particular at the Angels right now and what we might expect for the next year or two. But first, the ‘pen…
If there was one aspect of the GMing business that former Angels GM Bill Stoneman (1999-2007) was good at, it was—no, I’m not talking about holding onto prospects, no matter how good or mediocre they are—assembling a good bullpen. Starting with 2011 and going back to Stoneman’s first year as GM (1999), here is how the Angels’ bullpen has ranked in the AL (14 teams) in runs per game, with Stoneman’s years in bold: 2, 7, 10, 5, 5, 5, 4, 2, 2, 5, 1, 4, 9, 4
In other words, during Stoneman’s reign, the Angels had a top five bullpen in the AL in every year except for one, led by stand-outs Troy Percival, Scot Shields, Brendan Donnelly, and Francisco Rodriguez. This is a tradition that remained until the bullpen dropped precipitously in 2009, ranking 10th in the league in runs per game, then showing steady improvement over the last two years to rank 2nd in the AL in 2011.
2011 - A Return to Greatness?
For those remembering numerous Jordan Walden blown saves and Fernando Rodney’s walkathons, this may come as a surprise, but the Angels bullpen was very good in 2011; of relievers with 16 or more innings pitched, only Fernando Rodney had an ERA over 4.00 with 4.50; the second highest was Hisanori Takahashi with 3.44. So last year, these were the Angels’ relievers with at least 20 IP out of relief, in order of innings pitched, and their ERAs:
- Takahashi: 3.44 (68 IP)
- Walden: 2.98 (60.1 IP)
- Thompson: 3.00 (54 IP)
- Downs; 1.34 (53.2 IP)
- Cassevah: 2.72 (39.2 IP)
- Bell: 3.41 (34.1 IP)
- Rodney: 4.50 (32 IP)
Despite an AL-leading 10 blown saves, closer Jordan Walden’s rookie year has to be considered a success; he was only 23, held his own in a high-pressure role, and should only get better. Free agent signings Takahashi and Downs provided the Angels with over 100 innings of low-2.00 ERA relief; despite perhaps over-paying for both, we’ve got nothing to complain about with either pitcher. Young pitchers Rich Thompson and Bobby Cassevah both had break-out years, especially Thompson--Cassevah's peripherals make him a question mark going forward, but he was a solid pitcher in 2011. Only Rodney was bad (especially his 7.9 walk rate), but he’s gone.
Going into next year, Walden, Downs, Takahashi, and Thompson are locks, with Cassevah and Bell also in the mix from last year. Kevin Jepsen will deserve another look and Michael Kohn may finally breakthough. The Angels are likely to sign at least one free agent reliever, although there may be help coming up from the farm.
2012 and Beyond
As with the rotation, the Angels have a wealth of relief prospects. After Michael Kohn, who has flirted with a major league role but has struggled with command issues (25 walks in 33.2 career major league innings), the Angels have a large group of options that may see major league time as soon as next year, including Jeremy Berg, Steven Geltz, Matt Meyer, David Carpenter, Ryan Brasier, Loek Van Mil, Robert Fish, and Daniel Tillman, not to mention minor league starters such as Matt Shoemaker and Ariel Pena that may end up as middle relievers.
The Angels are so stacked with potential major league pitchers—both starters and relievers—that there would be little reason to sign or trade for free agent pitchers beyond a patch here and there, at least beyond this offseason. That said, after those 10 blown saves, management and fans may have lost patience with Jordan Walden and rumors are flying that Jerry DiPoto is looking for relief help, whether a Heath Bell, a Carlos Marmol, or a lesser luminary like Octavio Dotel or Scott Linebrink.
All in all, the bullpen is one area of the team that fans and the front office alike have little need to worry about. The pitching staff is, and will remain to be so for the foreseeable future, a team strength. This doesn’t mean that we won’t see some tweaking, but that the team is operating from a position of strength.