Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Los Angeles Injuries of Anaheim

The tragic death of Nick Adenhart underscored a depth problem with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim roster that could hurt their competitive chances in the long run. The Angels allowed their talent pool to get a little thin, exposed by a list of injuries that continues to grow.

Below, as of April 25, is the current disabled list for the Angels:
Kevin JepsenRPApr 1915-dayLower back spasms
Darren OliverRPApr 1915-dayStrained left triceps
Dustin MoseleySPApr 1815-dayRight elbow irritation
Vladimir GuerreroRFApr 1615-dayTorn right pectoral muscle - out 4-6 wks
Kelvim EscobarSPApr 460-dayRecovery from right shoulder surgery
Ervin SantanaSPMar 2715-daySprained MCL, right elbow
John LackeySPMar 2715-dayRight elbow inflammation

Losing Vlad Guerrero's big bat is a loss, but the story here is that all the other names are pitchers. Lackey, Santana and Escobar are three of the Angels' top starting arms, all of which began the 2009 season on the DL. Moseley was a rotation replacement who hit the DL last Saturday. Darren Oliver was the Angels' top lefthanded reliever. Jepsen started the season as borderline bullpen filler, but had become by default one of their top relievers when he hit the DL.

Who's left? The rotation was left with Jered Weaver, Joe Saunders and... uh.... When he got hurt, Moseley had already climbed to #3 on the depth chart due to the injuries. Now #3 belongs to AAAA tomato can Shane Loux, a functional strike thrower who probably belongs in the bullpen and is with the big club this year mainly because he was out of minor league options. As a starter, he's going to get hit around: The punchless Seattle Mariners chased him early in last night's 9-3 loss. The #4 starter is 30 year old career minor leaguer Matt Palmer, who had allowed 10 runs in 7.2 innings at AAA Salt Lake before "earning" the recent callup. The #5 starter is raw 23 year old Anthony Ortega, who himself allowed 16 runs in 13.2 innings at AAA Salt Lake before his callup.

The bottom two names indicate that, with all the injury callups, even the AAA club is tapped. Neither Palmer nor Ortega have any business in the bigs: They even struggled against AAA hitters. But that's how many holes the Angels bullpen has right now with the injuries: They're forced to call up AAA garbage because that's all they have left.

The bullpen's hurting too. The team already struggled out of the gate to replace K-Rod, and Brian Fuentes hasn't impressed. They started the season with the dubious Kevin Jepsen and Jason Bulger in the back of the pen and untested Jose Arredondo expected to eat high leverage innings. Now Bulger's forced into a key role, and the bullpen also has some weak callups filling in blanks. 28 year old lefthanded sidearmer Daniel Davidson (pictured above) had all of 11 career appearances at the AAA level before joining the big club, as did unimpressive righthander Rafael Rodriguez. Rich Thompson at least has 32 appearances over 4 seasons, though he hasn't looked good in AAA since 2007. None of those three have any business in MLB, but here they are expected to get outs in a major league bullpen.

The Angels, once lauded for their organization depth that left AAA Salt Lake stockpiled with MLB-ready ballplayers, have let that slide in the past year or two as they decided to spend big money on key components (Bobby Abreu and Brian Fuentes) while leaning on developing young players (Howie Kendrick, Kendry Morales, Erick Aybar). And now they're paying the price, as a rash of injuries led them to raid a cupboard that's now bare.

Meanwhile, their perennial division title hopes are in deep trouble. Never mind their current 6-10 record. The Seattle Mariners, once perennial also-rans, added players that vastly improve their defense (Franklin Gutierrez, Endy Chavez), added depth to their farm system in case of injury (Mike Carp, Jason Vargas, Prentice Redman, Callix Crabbe), and have prospects not far from contributing in MLB (Jeff Clement, Greg Halman, Michael Saunders). Jose Lopez has emerged as a power bat, Felix Hernandez has become the ace the team hoped he would become, and they're winning games with disciplined play instead of giving them away with mistakes like they did before.

And now it's the Angels who are giving games away, as the lack of experience and talent in their replacement level roster has cost them the solid discipline hat buoyed their perennial title runs when the big bats and power pitching wasn't there for them. Their .669 defensive efficiency is 2nd worst in the AL, as is their 12 errors. Their .714 OPS is 11th out of 14 AL teams. Their starting pitching has only topped 100 pitches 3 times this season, 3rd fewest in the majors, as their starters are getting clobbered out of games.

After winning four of the last five AL West titles (and finishing 2nd to Oakland in that off year), the Angels may not have the Disney magic to overcome the loss of all this talent. Even with Lackey's likely return in May, and prospects of Vlad returning in the foreseeable future, the Angels have far too many holes, many of them self-created by poor talent accumulation. This may be the year those upstart Mariners overtake them for the AL West championship.


  1. I don't know if I'd say the Mariners are winning games with disciplined play, exactly. They are winning on the strength of Felix and Bedard right now, a bullpen that's done a surprisingly good job, and some rather timely hitting.

    The Mariners have become a team that can be at times disciplined if they go in with a game plan; I think we learned that this last homestand. However, I'm not quite sold on their discipline yet.

  2. Well, at least disciplined play compared to past year ;P But the solid defense (save for Yuni) is there, they're diligently moving runners over, they're stringing together rallies and (most of the time) taking pitches and letting starters work themselves into trouble more often than they swing themselves into outs and give bad SPs an easy 6-7 innings.

    Certainly, the team could shit the bed at any moment, as any team could at any time over a long season. So far, however, they're showing a foundation of getting things right more often than they get things wrong.

  3. It has been great to see the M's showing some semblance of a plan up there other than hacking away like they have in the last couple years.

    I didn't get to watch their efforts tonight against a first-time starter (though it would appear that they certainly did their job), but they didn't do much against Detroit's Porcello last week.

    The less they shit the bed now, the more they can get away with shitting the bed later, though I should hope it doesn't come to that.