Angels manager Phil Nevin spoke with reporters (including The Athletic’s Sam Blum) about the club’s pitching plans this afternoon. The Halos have run with a six-man rotation for the past few seasons, and while they could adopt that as a loose framework in 2023, Nevin indicated the team wants to put an emphasis on allowing the pitchers at the top of the rotation- including two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani – to get more action on the mound. Rather than adhere to a rigid six-man staff every turn through, Nevin suggested the club would be flexible in deploying their nominal sixth starter as more of a swing option.
Headed into the 2022 season, the club had few surefire starting pitchers beyond Ohtani, as Patrick Sandoval had started just fourteen games in 2021 while the big pitching acquisition for the Halos that offseason was Noah Syndergaard, who was returning to the mound after pitching just two innings since the end of the 2019 season.
Fortunately, the 2022 season saw multiple impressive performances from Angels starters: in addition to Ohtani improving as a pitcher on his 2021 MVP campaign and placing fourth in Cy Young award voting, Sandoval impressed with a 2.91 ERA and 3.09 FIP in a career-high 148 2/3 innings while Reid Detmers showed flashes of the talent that made him the 10th overall pick in the 2020 draft. Jose Suarez proved to be a capable back-of-the-rotation starter over twenty starts. The Halos also improved their rotation externally with the addition of Tyler Anderson, a durable starter who broke out with the crosstown Dodgers in 2023 to the tune of a 2.57 ERA and 3.31 FIP across 178 2/3 innings.
With Sandoval having proved himself, Anderson under contract, and both Detmers and Suarez looking ready for a bigger challenge, it makes sense for the Angels to try and lean more on their top five in the rotation, especially if it means getting Ohtani on the mound more often. After years of carefully managing Ohtani’s workload in an attempt to keep him healthy, the Angels have allowed him to play more and more, with less firm restrictions in recent years. Considering a more traditional rotation appears to be the next logical step in that process.
Each of those five starting options appears likely to be a substantial improvement over the starts Anaheim’s internal options for a sixth starter can provide. Following his trade to the Angels last summer as part of the deal that sent closer Raisel Iglesias to the Braves, lefty Tucker Davidson struggled mightily in eight starts (36 2/3 innings): a ghastly 6.87 ERA and nearly matching 6.30 FIP was good for an ERA+ of just 60, or 40% worse than the league average pitcher.
Blum notes that right-hander Griffin Canning is fully healthy and partook in a normal offseason after missing the entire 2022 season with a back injury, so he could certainly factor into the sixth starter mix as well. That said, despite roughly league average results in his major league career to this point (an ERA+ of 96 in 209 1/3 innings spanning from 2019 to 2021), Canning has never reached 100 innings pitched in the majors and is coming off a long layoff, so it would be no surprise if the Angels planned on managing his workload carefully during his age-27 season.
Overall, given the relative strength of their starting five, the emphasis on letting Ohtani play without restriction in recent years, and the dearth of quality, reliable options for the sixth starter slot, Nevin’s plan to consider a more traditional rotation in 2023 makes sense. A reliable sixth starter would likely have to come externally, and those options are slim following Michael Wacha’s signing with the Padres earlier today.