Despite boasting two of the most gifted players on the planet on their roster, the Angels have failed to make the playoffs since 2014 and failed to secure a winning season since 2015. As they have been for quite some time, they’ll look to change that in 2023 and return to the playoffs. While they haven’t made a splashy move, their signings of Tyler Anderson, Carlos Estevez and Brandon Drury, and acquisition of Gio Urshela and Hunter Renfroe have put them in good shape to do well this year.
Of course, a big challenge for the Angels is that they play in a division with the defending champion Astros, as well as the Mariners and Rangers, two teams that have big ambitions to compete this season. If they are to return to the postseason, they’ll need contributions across the board, but one area that the Angels will surely be leaning on as a strength is their starting rotation. The team has tended to work with a six-man rotation to preserve Shohei Ohtani’s workload in the past, and given they were linked with Nathan Eovaldi just before he signed with Texas, it seems likely they’ll add another starter before the season starts.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at the starting five for the Angels as things stand:
Shohei Ohtani: The Angels will be relying on their two-way superstar to have another monster season this year. There’s not a lot that hasn’t been said about how good Ohtani is, but for this exercise we’ll talk about him purely as a pitcher. He had his best year yet in 2022, throwing 166 innings of 2.33 ERA ball. The strikeouts were up, the walks were down, and Ohtani benefited a fair bit from leaning less on his fastball and throwing his slider more often. Angels manager Phil Nevin has already stated he plans to increase Ohtani’s workload next season, so it’ll be interesting to see how he handles that given his other duties, but if the Angels can get another year like 2022 out of their ace they’ll come away very happy.
Tyler Anderson: Signed to a three-year, $39MM deal, the left-handed Anderson is the lone new face in the Angels starting rotation. A respectable back-of-the-rotation starter for a number of years, Anderson broke out with the Dodgers in 2022, pitching to a 2.57 ERA over 178 2/3 innings. It wasn’t so much an overhaul of his pitching repertoire as it was a few small tweaks (bumping up his changeup usage slightly) that seemingly did the trick for Anderson, and he induced a ton of soft contact out of opposition hitters. If he can show 2022 was no outlier Anderson will slot in as a very reliable second option behind Ohtani.
Patrick Sandoval: The second of four southpaws in the rotation, Sandoval enjoyed his own breakout year in 2022. The 26-year-old gave the Angels 148 innings of 2.91 ERA ball, striking out batters at a 23.7% clip and walking them 9.4% of the time. FIP pegged him a 3.91, which suggests a bit of regression is due, but he also had an above-average opponent’s BABIP of .316. Regardless, even if he can’t post a sub-3 ERA Sandoval definitely has the makings of a very productive starter. He struggled early on in his career, working to a 5.33 ERA between 2019-20, but has been highly effective ever since. One change he did make in 2022 was throwing his fastball less and leaning far more on his slider.
Jose Suarez: The 24-year-old hurled 109 innings of 3.96 ERA ball for the Angels last year, showing a strong 7.1% walk rate and a solid 22.3% strikeout rate, both of which improved from a year prior. He maintained his fastball usage in 2022, but mixed in a slider to his off-speed stuff (which includes a curveball and changeup) that he’d only thrown sparingly in the past. The ERA doesn’t jump off the page, but he was elite in the second half last year, working to a 2.81 ERA over 11 starts after the All Star break. Still just 24 there’s certainly a ton of promise in this youngster, and if he can build off his showing in the second half the Angels will have a very good fourth starter on their staff.
Reid Detmers: Rounding out their five is Detmers, a 23-year-old southpaw who worked to a 3.77 ERA over 129 innings last season, his first full year in the big leagues. He had a fast rise through the system after being drafted 10th overall in 2020, and given there was no minor league season that year it makes his rise to the big leagues, and strong first full season that much more impressive. Detmers owns a 93 mph fastball, and mixes in a slider, curveball and changeup. There’s plenty of upside for Detmers to tap into over the next few years, and if he can take another step forward in 2023 it won’t take long before he’s near the top of a list like this rather than rounding it out.
As noted earlier, it does seem likely that the Angels would opt to bring in a sixth starter to deepen the rotation. That could be someone like Michael Wacha or Johnny Cueto off the free agent market, or they could go with an internal option such as Chase Silseth, Griffin Canning or Chris Rodriguez. They’ve also got top pitching prospect Sam Bachman at Double-A, and getting closer to being a big league option.
Regardless of who the sixth option is, there’s a lot to like about this group, even if they were just able to put in a repeat of their 2022 performance. But the key for the Angels is there’s also a ton of upside in this group, particularly in the back of the rotation. That’s the sort of thing that could go from making this a strong rotation to one that is up there with the best in baseball. Of course, an injury or two could derail things quickly and there’s a chance that players take a step back rather than a step forward, but the potential is there for this group to be dominant.