The Angels received a worst-case diagnosis on the right elbow of closer Keynan Middleton, as doctors have recommended that the 24-year-old righty undergo Tommy John surgery (Twitter links via Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times and Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register). He’ll miss the remainder of the 2018 season and a significant portion of the 2019 campaign as well.
Middleton becomes the latest in a growing line of Angels hurler’s who’ve been plagued by significant injuries in recent years. Garrett Richards, Tyler Skaggs, Andrew Heaney, Nick Tropeano, Matt Shoemaker and J.C. Ramirez have all had arm troubles over the past couple of seasons, with Skaggs, Heaney, Tropeano and Ramirez each also requiring Tommy John surgery.
The loss of Middleton stings quite a bit for the Angels and ranks among the more impactful injuries they’ve incurred recently. The flamethrowing young righty has averaged nearly 97 mph on his heater since making his MLB debut last year, and he’s pitched to a combined 3.43 ERA with 9.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9 and a 36.7 percent ground-ball rate in 76 Major League innings. Middleton has been especially effective in 2018, notching a 2.04 ERA and taking over the Angels’ ninth-inning job with six saves.
Of course, there’s been some cause for concern even as he racks up impressive run-prevention numbers. Middleton’s velocity was down 0.7 mph early this season, and his swinging-strike rate had plummeted from a robust 16.6 percent last season to a pedestrian 9.5 percent this year. Unsurprisingly, Middleton’s K/9 rate dipped, and his walk rate spiked as well. In all, while his 2.04 ERA certainly looks impressive on the surface, it’s been buoyed by an 88.5 percent strand rate and minuscule 5.3 percent homer-to-flyball ratio — neither of which he was likely to sustain. Metrics such as FIP (3.77), xFIP (4.79) and SIERA (4.40) all projected regression for Middleton, though it’s clear that he has the talent to be a high-quality reliever for years to come.
Unfortunately, that promising future will be put on hold for the time being. The possibility exists that Middleton won’t be ready to pitch until the 2020 season, though the Angels will obviously be holding out hope for a return next summer. In the meantime, he’ll accrue valuable service time while rehabbing on the Major League disabled list. Middleton won’t reach arbitration eligibility this offseason, but he’ll wrap up the 2019 campaign with two years, 150 days of MLB service, making him a lock to qualify as a Super Two player. The Angels control him all the way through the 2023 season.