In 2012, the Angels tried that whole "most talented rotation in baseball" thing. It was a real nice idea in theory, alas it was a borderline disaster in practice. In reaction to that, Jerry Dipoto decided to go in the complete other reaction and build from the back of the pitching staff forward. He replenished the overall depth and talent level of the bullpen merely plugged holes in the rotation. It isn't sexy, but it is a strategy and maybe even a good one.
In fact, one could argue that this is the very blueprint for constructing a pitching staff that Mike Scioscia had his most success with earlier in his tenure. Scioscia masked the weakness of his starting pitchers by shortening games with his stellar relievers. If the Angels had the lead after the sixth inning, the opponent was pretty much toast. Or at least that is what our memories of the great Percival-K-Rod-Shields-Donnelly bullpens were able to accomplish.
What we need to figure out is whether or not the stats back up that narrative, which I really hope it does because that seems to be what the Halo front office is banking on. To determine the answer to that quandry, I've broken out the starting pitcher usage and the performance of the rotation and bullpen throughout the Scioscia era. To show whether or not that usage actually paid dividends, I've also included the team's record and Pythagorean record as a finger in the air assessment of how much the Angels under- or over-achieved that season.
Clear as mud, right? The year the Angel bullpen was at its best was during the 2002 championship season, but Scioscia also stuck with his starters pretty well that season too. The next year was actually the best year for the bullpen both in terms of performance (excluding the 2002 season) and usage, but it was also the second-worst season the Angels ever had under Scioscia's reign. This does not bode well.
Things only get more confusing if you look at 2009. The Halos won a ton of games that season and beat their expected record by a healthy margin. Scioscia used the relievers a lot that season, but they were actually the worst they've been under his watch. That just so happened to be the year the Angels scored a Scioscia-era high 883 runs. Basically, the lineup was so good that it didn't matter how bad the pitching staff was. That is definitely one way to win games and the 2013 Angels should have a strong lineup, but maybe not 883 runs strong.
Fret not though for there is hope. From 2006 through 2008, the Angels also wildly overachieved and did so with a middling rotation that they didn't ride into the ground like they have the last few seasons and also a good but not great bullpen. It is hardly conclusive, but it does lend some credence to Dipoto's pitching staff plan. Essentially, it suggests that the Angels could steal a few extra wins by going to the bullpen early and often.
Of course, as in 2003 and 2004, if the starting pitching is outright putrid, that won't do any good. The bullpen won't be able to protect leads that don't exist. But with this bullpen, the Angels starters won't have to walk the tightrope for as long now, which is very good news considering that Hanson, Wilson and Richards all have shaky track records when it comes to going deep into games. Now all they need to do is be at least half decent for five or six innings instead of seven, If all goes according to plan, the bullpen should take care of the rest,