Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 4/18/12

The Angels are a much better team then they were last year. The team’s offseason additions of Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson have caused many people to pick them as the favorites to win the World Series. However, the Angels have more holes than many people would think. Where the team is lacking the most is in its bullpen, which is one of the worst among teams expected to make the playoffs.

Last season, Jordan Walden managed to strike out more than a batter per inning, post an ERA under 3 and save 30 games. Not bad for a rookie year. However, Walden blew 10 saves and walked nearly four (3.88 BB/9) men per nine innings. The Angels were out of the race for the majority of last year, which is probably why they did not remove Walden from the role. If they had been seriously contending, it would not be surprising if they had trade for a more established closer. This year, with all the money the team spent in the offseason, it is pretty clear that the Angels are in win now mode. Therefore, I was surprised that the Angels decided not to spend a few more dollars on someone like Francisco Cordero. Walden has great stuff and belongs at the back end of a bullpen. But the bottom line is that playoff teams do not have closers who blow 10 saves in a season. If Walden begins to struggle do not be surprised if the Angels begin to look for a replacement throughout the season.

Scott Downs, who is currently plagued with a bad ankle, is the best of the Angels setup men. Signed to a 3-year $15 million deal before the 2011 season, Downs is the rare lefty reliever who can get both righties and lefties out. Last year he was worth every bit of his hefty price tag, posting a 1.34 ERA with great groundball (63 GB%) and strand (86.4 LOB%) rates. One sign of concern however, was strikeout rate (5.87 K/9), which was the lowest of his career. Downs has been relatively durable since becoming a full time reliever in ’07 and has been on the disabled list just once in the past five years. Since he is as close to as a sure thing as they have in the bullpen, the Angels need Downs to have another representative season in order to realize their playoff hopes.

Rather than dip into the free agent market to find a closer, the Angels decided to sign setup man LaTroy Hawkins to a one year deal worth $3 million. After starting last season on the disabled list, Hawkins had a very solid season out of the Brewers bullpen, posting a 2.42 ERA and getting lots of ground balls (61.7 GB%) in 52 games. At this point, Hawkins is what he is. He is a solid middle to late innings guy who gets groundballs and does not strike many people out. At 39 years old, there is no guarantee that Hawkins will stay healthy. Not to mention he could be a prime candidate for decline. Regardless, I’ve always felt that Hawkins always gave it up during big situations. I might be a little biased because he was terrible when on the Yankees a few years back, but I have a few memories of Hawkins being in key situations and blowing the game. It’s quite possible I’m being unfair in that assessment. Regardless, the Angels are hoping that Hawkins will indeed be worth the investment and be a key cog in the bullpen this season.

Much to the surprise of many people (myself included), Jason Isringhausen had a pretty solid season for the Mets last year. He even was able to notch his 300th career save in the middle of August, before missing most of September with a back injury. Isringhausen signed a minor league deal with the Angels during the offseason and made the team out of Spring Training. Like Hawkins, Isringhausen is 39 years old and pitching with diminished stuff compared to his glory days as the Cardinals closer. If Isringhausen is able to stay healthy, he should be a reasonably effective option for Manager Mike Scoiscia in the middle innings. However, due to his extensive injury history, the odds are against Isringhausen staying both healthy and effective.

The other lefty in the Angels bullpen is Hisanori Takahashi. After winning 10 games in a swingman role for the Mets in 2010, Takahashi signed a 2-year $8 million deal with the Angels last year. Takahashi did well for the Halos in 2011, posting a 3.44 ERA over 61 appearances. Takahashi is a solid middle relief option but not much more. Like Downs, Takahashi is capable of getting righties out, so he is not simply a specialist. He also has the ability to pitch multiple innings if needed. Expect Takahashi to post solid, but unspectacular numbers while pitching the middle innings this year.

Kevin Jepsen is a perfect example of a reliever with incredible stuff that cannot seem to figure it out. Jepsen has averaged 95.6 MPH on his fastball throughout his 152 game big league career and is also is armed with a wipeout slider. The problem for Jepsen is that he has been too wild, too hittable or both. After posting a 7.62 ERA over 16 games through the middle of June, Jepsen was demoted to AAA and did not return for the rest of the season. If Jepsen can finally harness his stuff, he will be a great late inning option for the Angels. It remains to be seen if he will be able to though.

All contending teams need to have a good amount of depth. When it comes to pitching, the Angels organization is rather thin. A couple weeks ago, Keith Law opined that the Angels have four major league quality starters in their entire organization. Not good. Their bullpen depth in the minors is not great either. Drew Carpenter was just recalled from AA to take the spot of Rich Thompson, who despite his solid 2011, struggled out of the gate and was designated for assignment. In AAA, the Angels have a few guys who have seen some major league time. Trevor Bell is currently working as a starter at Salt Lake, but has seen some time in the Angels bullpen over the past couple seasons. Don’t be surprised if you see him in long relief at some point soon. The same applies for Beau Mills, who was acquired from the Blue Jays during the offseason. Also on the Salt Lake roster are David Pauley, who pitched well for the Mariners last year, Francisco Rodriguez (not the good one), blast from the past Juan Rincon and Loek Van Mil, who would be the tallest pitcher to ever appear in a big league game at 7’1.

In order for the Angels bullpen to be successful this season, a number of things must happen. First, Jordan Walden cannot blow as many games as he did last year. Next, all of the team’s aging relievers must stay healthy and fight off father time. I think the key to the team’s relief corps is Jepsen. If he can have the kind of year that his stuff would dictate, he would be a very intriguing option at the end of the Angels bullpen. The bottom line is that with so many pitchers who are injury prone and their lack of depth, the Angels could have a hard time holding leads at the end of games for their impressive starting rotation.

-Cohen

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