This is the sixth of a seven part series previewing the Los Angeles Angels for the 2012 season. So far we’ve looked at the catchers, corner infielders, middle infielders, outfielders and the starting rotation. But now, let’s take a look at the Angels’ bullpen.
Cassevah is the front runner to win the last bullpen spot on the opening day roster. The 26-year olds peripherals look rather ugly at first glance with only 24 strikeouts to 19 walks in 60 big league innings. However, a closer look reveals exactly how he has been able to post a sub-3 ERA despite his lack of swing and miss stuff. Cassevah has a remarkable 67% groundball rate. Only Johnny Venters and Peter Moylan of the Atlanta Braves have a better ground ball rate since Cassevah made his debut in 2010. In addition to Cassevah’s knack for inducing groundballs, a mere 3% of the few fly balls he allows end up leaving the yard. Now his ERA makes a little more sense. It’s likely that Cassevah will see a few more fly balls clear the fence this year, but a sub-3.50 ERA is very realistic.
Initially, the signing of the veteran former closer appeared as nothing more than a little organizational depth. However, Izzy has a clause that allows him to opt out of the deal if he doesn’t break camp as part of the big league roster, but the Angels cut Mike Trout to save Isringhausen last week, ensuring he starts the season in Anaheim. There has been mention of him assisting in the setup role but his real value will be as a mentor to the young Jordan Walden. Isringhausen’s inability to pound the strike zone will stand in the way of him being a go-to guy in high leverage situations, but his 300 career saves shows he knows how to get outs at the end of the game.
The first of last winter’s two lefty bullpen imports pitched pretty well in his first season in Anaheim. While he wasn’t sensational, a 3.44 ERA over nearly 70 innings made him one of the better options in what was a fairly lousy Halo bullpen. Taka was by and large aided by a .259 BABIP which is very fortunate considering batted balls were smacked for line drives over 22% of the time. I expect some regression from Taka in his final year at the Big A. Scioscia simply has better options to choose from in 2012 making it likely he will adopt the long relief role and eat up low leverage innings as well as being employed as a LOOGY (Lefty One-Out Guy) on occasion.
The Australian righty threw the ball very well in his first full big league season. He appeared in 44 games and pitched his way to a 3.00 ERA while racking up over one strikeout per inning. Thompson has a flair for stranding the opposition on the base paths (81% in 2011) but it’s probably unrealistic to maintain that rate. Still, he’s a great candidate to bring into the ballgame when the Halos desperately need a strikeout.
Hawkins was one of DiPoto’s first acquisitions of the winter that seemingly got swept under the rug during all of the Pujols and Wilson hoopla. Make no mistake, Hawkins is nowhere near the impact player of either of those guys, but his contributions will be noticed. It’s highly unlikely the 39-year old will repeat his 62% ground ball rate or 1.86 BB/9, but he will be a reliable option at the back end for Scioscia, nonetheless. Hawkins is a terrific clubhouse guy who should also help Walden mentally down the stretch.
If you fell in love with Scott Downs and his 1.34 ERA in 2011, get ready to have your heart broken. The crafty lefty threw the ball well but nowhere near well enough to justify his surface stats. Take a look at Downs’ 2011 numbers in comparison to 2010. His strikeouts were down, his walks were up, as was his home run rate, and yet, his ERA cut nearly in half. How did this happen? Simply put, Downs was one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball last year. His opponent’s .218 BABIP is a good 70 points below his career norm. Let it be known, he turned quite a few line drives into ground balls, so a drop in BABIP is justified, but not that drastic. Now add in a ridiculous 86% strand rate, and it becomes apparent some serious regression is on deck. He’ll still be our go to guy in the 8th, but don’t expect another sub-2 ERA; not even close.
The big Texan took (and threw) some serious heat during his rookie season. When all was said and done, Walden finished tied for the major league lead with 10 blown saves. There is no arguing the 24-year old can stand to learn a few things from the veterans to help him convert more save opportunities. That being said, it’s important to focus less on last year’s results and more on the process. After all, when you ignore the process and focus strictly on results (save percentage) you end up signing Fernando Rodney (37 for 38 in save opps in 2009).
Walden threw the ball very, very well last year. His 2.79 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is good for 9th among all full-time closers. Not quite elite, but the numbers say Walden threw the ball better than 21 other closers, none of which happened to rack up 10 blown saves. Long story short, saves must be taken in context. Imagine this: a runner reaches on an error, steals second, and comes across to score the tying run on a two-out broken bat Texas leaguer. Blown Save.
Meanwhile, in another ball park: the closer walks the leadoff man and surrenders a two-run bomb to the next hitter. A single and another walk later and he’s really in trouble. But, before the floodgates fly open, he manages to induce a game-ending double play and preserve the victory allowing only two runs. Well, if he carried a three run lead into the 9th he will be credited with a “Save.” Which pitcher had the better outing? Trust the process and don’t get too worked up over the result. We have a legit closer in Anaheim.