The Angels bullpen finished 12th in the Majors by measure of FIP in 2020 and 21st by ERA, but the most gaudy failures came at the end of games. The Angels blew 14 saves, the most in the Majors. New GM Perry Minasian acted decisively to address their bullpen woes this winter. Raisel Iglesias was the big get coming over from Cincinnati, but he’s not the only new face: Alex Claudio signed early in December, Junior Guerra in January, and Aaron Slegers was acquired via trade from the much-vaunted Tampa bullpen.
They continued to tinker with their bullpen mix with a pair of moves today. In a surprising development, the club optioned Ty Buttrey to Triple-A, the team announced. After joining the Angels from Boston along with Williams Jerez as part of the Ian Kinsler deadline deal in 2018, Buttrey posted a 1.4 fWAR season in 2019 in 72 appearances covering 72 1/3 innings. He earned his 3.98 ERA/3.58 SIERA while striking out 27.2 percent of hitters and walking just 7.4 percent. Entering 2020, Buttrey was a key variable in the Angels’ run-prevention equation.
Over 27 games in 2020, however, Buttrey’s strikeout rate fell to a concerning 16.1 percent. His ERA- saw a year-over-year spike from 87 to 132. He was responsible for four of the Angels’ 14 blown saves while notching just a pair of holds. The North Carolina native converted 26 holds the year prior. His velocity fell from 97.1 mph to 96.1 mph, and while that still ranked in the 88th percentile for fastball velocity, his whiff rate with the offering fell from 25.5 percent to 16.8 percent. Perhaps more to the point, his slider suffered significantly diminished side-to-side break. He recorded just one strikeout with his slider while opponents hammered it for a .511 expected slugging mark. He’ll now begin the 2021 season at the Angels’ alternate site looking “to regain the consistency that eluded the right-handed in his third major-league season,” writes Kevin Modesti of the Orange County Register.
The Angels also moved quickly today to bring right-hander Noe Ramirez back to the organization after he was released by the Reds. Terms of the deal haven’t yet been released, but it’s not believed to be a Major League deal. Ramirez, of course, was the primary Major League piece sent to Cincinnati in exchange for Iglesias. Like Buttrey, he also began his career with the Red Sox before the Angels claimed him off waivers in 2017. From 2018 to 2020, Ramirez logged 172 innings over 141 appearances out of the Angels’ pen with a 4.13 ERA/3.63 SIERA. Ramirez’s strikeout rate also fell alarmingly in 2020, though a favorable HR/FB rate helped produce a 3.00 ERA despite the uninspiring peripherals.
On the whole, Ramirez has been much more effective against same-handed hitters. That trend was amplified in 2020 as righties hit just .173/.267/.269 off Ramirez compared to lefties, who successfully produced a .273/.360/.455 line. Against the 60 right-handed hitters he faced, Ramirez logged a 23.3 percent strikeout rate, which isn’t all that far off his career 28.8 percent mark. He failed to strike out any of the 25 left-handed hitters he faced, however, compared to a 19.7 percent strikeout rate against lefties for his career. He has long been more effective against righties, but if the properties of his work continue as seen in 2020, he’ll require heavily-scripted usage to be an effective piece of manager Joe Maddon’s pen.