The next Angel up in our 2012 player previews is the one acquisition from last off-season that actually worked better than expected, setup man Scott Downs. The veteran southpaw almost single-handedly kept the Angel bullpen from imploding, but can he be as excellent in 2012 as he was in 2011?
(EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to the early start, not all stat projection systems are available yet, but I will update the player preview pages after the fact once they do become available)
2011 Stats: 6-3, 53.2 IP, 1.34 ERA, 39 H, 15 BB, 3 HR, 35 K, 1 SV
2012 ZiPS Projections: 5-3, 48.0 IP, 3.56 ERA, 46 H, 14 BB, 4 HR, 36 K
2012 Bill James Projections: 4-2, 53.0 IP, 2.72 ERA, 46 H, 14 BB, 4 HR, 42 K, 5 SV
2012 CAIRO Projections: 3-2, 45.2 IP, 2.32 ERA, 38 H, 13 BB, 3 HR, 34 K, 2 SV
2012 MWaH Projections*: 4-2, 62.0 IP, 2.48 ERA, 55 H, 16 BB, 4 HR, 43 K, 2 SV
*The MWaH projections are simply my best guess based off my own personal opinion and research
2011 in Review: Going into 2011, Tony Reagins knew he needed to add some left-handers to the bullpen so he went out and signed both Hisanori Takahashi and Scott Downs. Downs was always intended to be higher on the bullpen totem pole than Takahashi, but few expected him to become such an integral part of the Angels relief. Downs not only proved to be the top lefty in the bullpen, but also became the team's top setup man and easily the most effective and reliable reliever.
All season long, Downs was almost untouchable, thus his 1.34 ERA. With a .218 BABIP, a FIP of 3.29 and xFIP of 3.40, it is evident that Downs definitely was the recipient of some good luck, but a lot of that was luck he created for himself by never shooting himself in the foot. Downs doesn't throw hard or miss a lot of bats, but he generates a ton of grounders and doesn't give up many free passes. For a pitching staff that has been traditionally built on power arms, the soft-tossing Downs provided a great contrast from the power arms in the rotation and flame-throwing closer Jordan Walden.
What Downs really did to give himself added value to the Halos though was by becoming More than just a southpaw specialist. Make no mistake, Downs is absolute death on lefties, but he was also very good against right-handed batters too, which is why he was allowed to face more righties than lefties in 2011. He seldom strikes righties out, so he can be somewhat vulnerable to them, but it didn't hurt him in 2011.
The only knock on Downs' season was that he only appeared in 60 games due to three different health issues. The first was a broken toe suffered before the season while playing with his children. The second was an illness that landed him on the DL shortly after he rejoined the team after his broken toe. He then nursed a sore hamstring throught he final several weeks of the season.
Three Lingering Questions for 2012:
- Will he be able to repeat his fantastic 2011 success? Regressions is inevitable for any pitcher who posts a 1.34 ERA and his BABIP and FIP numbers strongly suggest that will be the case. The real question though is that even if he gives up a few more runs, will he still be as effective a setup man? Even a "normal" Downs season should have him still posting an ERA under 3.00. His worst season as a full-time reliever left him with a 3.09 ERA, which would still be pretty great. And will he even regress that much? Back in 2008, Downs posted a sparkling 1.78 ERA, so it isn't like his 1.34 ERA was way out of character for him.
- Can Downs stay healthy? His two DL stints in 2011 were for fluke injuries/illnesses, so one would think that on sheer luck alone, he should be healthier in 2012. However, Downs will be 36 on Opening Day and old pitchers typically are more prone to these kind of nagging injuries, so maybe these flukes are just part of him being old. Downs has had health issues throughout his career, so there is real risk of him struggling to avoid the DL this year.
- Will Scott's role change at all? As of right now, Downs is the de facto full-time setup man, but there are continued rumblings that the Angels want to find a right-handed power arm to share that job with him. Will the Halos find that counterpart? If so, will Mike Scioscia just drop Downs to the seventh inning or will he use him as more a situational left-hander?
What to Expect in 2012: There is little reason to believe that Downs won't be a great setup man again in 2012. He definitely won't be as lucky unless he later reveals that he had a rabbit's foot, four-leaf clover and horseshoe surgically implanted up his butt. He is just going to give up more hits, it's inevitable. However, his ability to generate grounders will mean most of those hits will be singles, so the additional damage done to his ERA won't be that bad. Plus, part of that should be canceled out by his strikeout rate, which was his worst since his rookie season, should regress as well, but that's a good thing. It also probably won't hurt him to actually be healthy to start the season instead of basically having his spring training on the mound of a MLB game in late-April like he did in 2011.
Finally, the best thing that Downs has going for him this season is that the presence of LaTroy Hawkins and the late-2011 emergence of Bobby Cassevah should mean that Downs won't be asked to face tough right-handers as frequently as last season. That statement will only be magnified if Jerry Dipoto lands a more prominent right-handed setup man before spring training starts. As mentioned before, Downs is fine against right-handers, but he is just so much more effective against left-handers and the more freely Scioscia can use him in any inning against tough lefties instead of saving him specifically for the eighth inning, the more productive and valuable he will be.
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