Saturday, December 29, 2012

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By: Tanner Shurtz  - AngelsWin.com Columnist

This article is my take on why Tommy Hanson is the key to the Angels making the playoffs, I will give a brief summary about the 2012 rotation, the replacements that Dipoto has brought in and why they are good moves, and finally the reasoning behind Hanson being our key to the playoffs. Going into the 2012 season, the Angels rotation looked as good as it ever has been, with 3 aces and a potential for a fourth. Lead by team ace Jered Weaver, coming off a season in which he would’ve won the CY Young if not for Verlander’s utterly dominating campaign. The number two in the rotation, was newcomer CJ Wilson, coming off a great season, where he won 16 games and had an ERA just under 3. The next two were Dan Haren and Ervin Santana both of which coming off pretty decent years in which they both had ERA’s in the low 3’s. Man, coming into April this looked like a top rotation in the AL, maybe even the MLB…boy, were we wrong.  



Weaver pitched very well but had some injury trouble in the season, Wilson was in the CY Young conversation in the first half but plummeted because of bone chips in his left arm (he had arthroscopic elbow surgery to remove them in the offseason). Haren and Santana, on the other hand, performed their best launching pad impressions throughout the year, giving up 67 HR total. 

Finally, Williams and Richards pitched exactly as we thought they would, replacement level. Let’s look at how they fared in 2012, by looking at some basic statistics.I’m not going to bundle Zack Greinke with Williams/Richards because, frankly, Greinke deserves more than that (and because he wasn’t considered the 5th starter) but since he’s a Dodger and has no need to be in this article, we’ll just not talk about him.

2012 Rotation

The Angels 2012 rotation consisted of:

1. Jered Weaver- 30 GS, 2.81 ERA, 188 IP, 3.7 WAR
2. CJ Wilson- 34 GS, 3.83 ERA, 202 IP, 0.4 WAR
3. Dan Haren- 30 GS, 4.33 ERA , 176 IP, -0.6 WAR
4. Ervin Santana- 30 GS, 5.16 ERA, 178 IP, -1.6 WAR
5. Garrett Richards/Jerome Williams- 24 GS, 4.62 ERA, 144 IP, -1.6 WAR (includes relief appearances)
2/3. Zack Greinke- 13 GS, 3.53 ERA, 89 IP, 1.2 WAR

Total GS: 161
Total ERA: 4.04
Total WAR: 1.5

This was not the rotation we were expecting, a 1.5 WAR and a 4.04 ERA are not stats that win divisions. Not only did the rotation hamper the rotation itself, it also impacted the bullpen by having to use them too much because of the multiple games in which our pitchers couldn’t get past the 5th inning. I’ve bolded some stats that I deem important, some are good, others bad (we’ll get into that later though). Dipoto went out this offseason to improve both the bullpen and rotation and he did both pretty handily. Remember, when you look at this rotation, don’t look at it like we did last year. Yes, we don’t have 4 potential aces in this rotation but that does not matter, what matters is production. And we have guys in this rotation that can produce and can do it consistently.

Rotation Replacements
The 2013 rotation (as its set now) will look like this (includes 2012 stats of incoming players):

1. Jered Weaver-
2. CJ Wilson-
3. Jason Vargas- 33 GS, 3.85 ERA - *2.8 WAR
4. Tommy Hanson- 31 GS, 4.48 ERA - *-0.9 WAR
5. Joe Blanton- 30 GS, 4.68 ERA - *-0.1 WAR

Total GS: 94
Total ERA: 4.33
Total WAR: 1.8     

The three newcomers to this rotation have already outgained the entire 2012 rotation in WAR. Though we can assume that Wilson will be better next year as he has fixed the injury that he had in the second-half last year, look for him to perform along the lines as he did in the first-half. Now let’s compare each newcomer to their replacement and see if it was an upgrade or a downgrade.
Starting with the 3rd starter spot in the rotation:

Dan Haren-12.75MM
1.29 WHIP
9.7 H/9
7.2 K/9
1.9 BB/9
1.4 HR/9
Jason Vargas-7.4MM(projected)
1.17 WHIP
8.3 H/9
5.8 K/9
2.3 BB/9
1.4 HR/9

Now, when this trade was first reported, I felt the Angels could’ve gotten much more for Morales but the more I looked into it, the more I liked it. You’ll notice, that there is a recurring trend when Dipoto acquires starting pitching: they’re capable of consistently throwing a ton of innings. I’m glad that Dipoto made this move because at the time, the rotation had 2 big question marks and one big question mark in being able to throw a lot of innings, not only did he fix this by adding an innings-eater in Vargas he also eliminated the idea of having Williams/Richards starting off the year in the rotation, a 2-1 fix. Just like acquiring Hamilton let them deal from a position of depth to get a pitcher, a 2-1 fix. He’s actually pretty good at these things, anyways Vargas was a good acquisition because he fits our areas of strength- big ballpark and a very good defensive outfield. Not to say he’ll be a lot better than he was with the Mariners but he might be a tad better because Trout-Bourjos-Hamilton is a lot better than what the Mariners were throwing out there. Vargas doesn’t throw that hard, has a pretty good changeup, which means soft contact and it also means flyballs, lots of them. Yes he did give up a ton of HR last year BUT in 2012 for Vargas, 60% of balls hit were flyballs, 13% of those were HR, 26 HR were in away games and 9 in home games (35 total), 18 of those HR came in hitters parks. Basically, he's a flyball pitcher that tends to give up a lot of home runs at hitters parks, like any other flyball pitcher but he dominates in pitcher’s parks. He'll definitely provide innings: only 6 of his 33 starts were under 6 IP, where as Haren had 12 starts out of his 30 that were under 6 IP. I very much like this acquisition. Upgrade

Now, let’s compare the 5th starter, why skip the 4th starter you ask? What’s life without whimsy?


Richards/Williams-
1.3MM
1.48 WHIP
6.0 K/9
3.6 BB/9
Joe Blanton-7.5MM
1.256 WHIP
7.8 K/9
1.6 BB/9

Yes, the Angels overpaid Blanton, but Francisco Liriano got 7MM AAV, Mike Pelfry got 4MM, and Kevin Correia got 5MM AAV and they’re all considerably worse than Blanton. So just goes to show where the market is for mediocre pitchers. Blanton is a definite upgrade to Richards/Williams and for whimsical purposes, I’ll call them Richiliams.

Blanton brings stability to the 5th spot, by being able to throw 200 innings, limit walks, and provide more strikeouts. Though Blanton didn’t have the same consistency as Vargas had, as 10 of his 30 starts came in at under 6 IP. Yes, Blanton also gives up a lot of HR, 14 of those were given up in Citizens’ Bank Park, a notorious hitters park (3 HR given up were also in hitters parks). Though what is alarming is that he gave up 12 HR at pitchers parks. Though I’m sure most Angel fans have more confidence in Blanton trotting out to the mound every fifth day rather than Richiliams. I also believe that Blanton will improve next year. Upgrade.

Finally, onto the 4th starter, let’s compare them
Ervin Santana-11.2MM
1.27 WHIP
6.7 K/9
3.1 BB/9
2.0 HR/9
Tommy Hanson-4MM (projected)
1.45 WHIP
8.3 K/9
3.7 BB/9
1.4 HR/9

Boy, that doesn’t look appealing at all. If we see 2012 Hanson it will be tough to get into the playoffs but if we see the 2010 (or 2011 w/o the injury of course) Hanson, we will be in the playoffs for sure. Though this isn’t a stuff or mental issue, this is a medical issue. Hanson’s shoulder (and back, had a stint on the 15-day DL) is the problem and it has showed: the average speed for Hanson's fastball declined from 92.7 mph in 2010 to 91.2 in 2011 to 89.7 this past season. Hanson pitched pretty decently before the All-Star break last season but went 3-5 with a 5.69 ERA in the second half. Though I put my confidence in Dipoto and his team of scouts that have evaluated Hanson in the past. Hopefully, by the beginning of the 2013 season, Hanson will be fully healed and he can get back to his 2010 form. By having him throw around, say 180 IP and an ERA in the 3.50-370 range we would have a very solid rotation. Though the consensus is that he would throw around 140-160 IP and have an ERA in the 3.80-4.00 range, which would still be an Upgrade over Santana. Hanson is the key because it would take an ace like year from Vargas or Blanton to propel this team into the promise land and that just doesn’t seem reasonable. Hanson will be the piece that either gets us over the hump and into the playoffs or leaving us with a tough road to get into the playoffs. Either way we will clench in pain (at least I will) each time he delivers the ball every fifth day.

See this .GIF of Tommy Hanson            

Now, remember those bolded stats that I used back at the beginning? Well this is the part where I  explain why I bolded them:

-Wilson’s 34 GS
-Santana’s 5.14 ERA

-Haren, Santana, and Richiliams’ WARs (-0.6, -1.6, -1.6). Now Dipoto had to somehow fix these by building a new rotation that:

-Can pitch more than 30 starts (33, 31, 30 respectively by Vargas, Hanson, and Blanton)

-Have lower ERA’s (this is a gimmy as a lot of pitchers can pitch better than a 5 ERA)

-Have at the very least replacement level WAR’s (these pitchers will improve)

For a projected cost of 18.9MM (AAV), Dipoto has built a pretty formidable rotation.

For a comparison, Greinke’s AAV is 26.5MM and Edwin Jackson’s is 13MM. No, it doesn’t have the names or glamour that 2012’s rotation had but this one will be more productive and more valuable. Even if Hanson repeats his performance last year, this will still be a better rotation than last year.

Though if he does repeat his 2012 campaign, it will be tough to get into the playoffs, not impossible, but tough. Also, remember that it’s safe to assume that Wilson will bounce back from his injury plagued second-half and put up similar numbers to his first-half, next year. Don’t forget we still have Weaver as well. In a sense, if Wilson can put up his first-half numbers and do that over the course of the season and Vargas or Blanton pitch better than their career norms, they might be able to pick up the slack of Hanson if he pitches poorly. I think I can speak for the fanbase and every fan out there, that I can’t wait for this season to begin. Bring it on!
Love to hear what you think!

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