With every year that goes by, the pressure on the Angels increases a little bit as Mike Trout gets older. It’s now widely thought that the Angels have basically wasted the career of perhaps the greatest player of all time, and there is a breaking point somewhere in the future, but one that’s looming on the horizon. Either Trout will age beyond his Olympus residency numbers, or there will be some sort of rift between player and team.
That hasn’t helped Joe Maddon, and when you lose 12 straight games after one of the few promising starts the Angels have had in the past decade, the pressure becomes unbearable. It was obviously too much for Maddon when the Angels countered him yesterday.
That doesn’t mean Maddon didn’t earn his traveling papers. Maddon has evolved from a truly creative, forward-thinking manager, to one who wants to put his team on autopilot while still being viewed as a creative, forward-thinking manager, to one whose sole priority is thinking as creative and forward-thinking. Going to the press to get Trout into left field before going to Trout himself, or walking Corey Seager with loaded bases were steps taken by a manager who above all wants to make it clear he has a big, throbbing brain without actually doing anything benefits his team. That’s where Maddon is now, drawing attention to himself for no other reason than wanting the attention rather than using unconventional thinking to win.
Maddon was the perfect guy for his first two years in Chicago, where the supremely relaxed atmosphere he created around a team trying to endure the longest drought in the sport, surrounded by everyone in town with their brains out Ears marched in fear (including yours, really, since there was a folding chair on the floor in my apartment during the Division series, which I tossed across the room and then refused to touch it). But when the Cubs needed something more, when their players refused to realize how badly they couldn’t hit fastballs but refused to adjust their approach, Maddon still played “Joe Cool.” Things only got worse from there, both in Chicago and Anaheim.
But… not everything is in the control of a manager. It’s not Maddon’s fault that Trout went 1:28 during the losing streak (and now he’s injured). It’s not Maddon’s fault that Taylor Ward and Anthony Rendon are injured. It’s not due to Maddon that 2021 MVP Shohei Ohtani has been a walk or a strikeout and not much else lately. Or that Jared Walsh has a wOBA of 0.195. It all went wrong.
Still, it has something to do with the way the Angels have to build their team, thanks to Ohtani. As the only team with a six-man rotation, the Angels essentially have to field an extra fifth starter than other teams. The rotation was also petrol during the streak, with Ohtani, Chase Silseth and Patrick Sandoval all sporting ERAs over 8.00 over the past two weeks. And no one gets out of the fifth. Eight different guys from the pen had to pitch three innings or more during that series, and if you can get eight deep in a bullpen you’re likely to find guys who carried a bindle the day before.
Maddon certainly hasn’t used his pen very creatively, having only one multi-inning guy in Jaime Barria. Considering the Angels have to start with six starters, which means one less helper than most, they probably need more than that. And that’s only going to get worse when MLB — if MLB — comes to enforce roster limits on pitchers , from which they should withdraw again and again thanks to the shortened spring training.
The Angels have no way of knowing how many innings they can get out of Michael Lorenzen or Noah Syndergaard given their history, and Ohtani has never managed more than 130 innings in a season. That’s a little skewed because of the six-man rotation, but you’d think that any pitcher who gets an extra day off would be more likely to finish sixth or seventh. The Angels are 10th in MLB in innings from their starters for the year, but 23rd for the past two weeks during this streak of confusion and sadness.
And while Lorenzen and Syndergaard have been good for the most part this season, they get fewer starts. They only have nine apiece when the lead pitchers have eleven. The missed innings of pitchers who are doing well may not matter as much in an extended postseason setup, but they do matter. Those starts go to guys who are at the bottom of the rotation, which the Angels have extra thanks to the way they have to line up around Ohtani.
It’s not the most important thing that got the angels where they are. A combination of injuries, mysterious player incursions and a years-long lack of a coherent plan are mainly to blame. But still, when you’re on a streak like this, you want to get your stopper out there. If the Angels have a stopper, they’ll have to wait an extra day to see it up the mound, and if the slide continues, it’s another six games before they can try again. It may be a shot or two before the Angels can figure out what a team with a six-man rotation and limited pen looks like under the rules so they can compete. That will now be the job of interim manager Phil Nevin.