Commentary: The Dodgers can pitch. But wait: The Angels can pitch too?

·4 min read
Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Jose Quintana throws to a Los Angeles Dodgers batter.
Angels starting pitcher Jose Quintana delivers during the first inning of Sunday's 2-1 win over the Dodgers. (Alex Gallardo / Associated Press)

What would you say if I told you the Angels might have just as good a pitching staff as the Dodgers?

You might wonder what was in that Mother’s Day punch. After all, no team in the major leagues has given up more runs than the Angels.

With a competent pitching staff — not even a great one, mind you — the Angels might not have frittered away Mike Trout’s twenty-something years. The bar is not high, but the turnover has been high.

The Angels’ season preview is the same, year in and year out: They can hit, but can they pitch?

With one-fifth of this season done, their earned-run average is over 5.00 and they have fallen into last place in the American League West. They can’t pitch, can they?

“I don’t see ‘awful’ by any means,” Angels manager Joe Maddon said. “I know the numbers aren’t there. I get it. I can’t argue that.

“But when I watch how they’re throwing and I watch what’s happening on the field, I think if we can just keep them healthy and stay with them and show confidence in them, I believe we are going to see a much better result.”

The Angels have placed their faith in baseball’s new math.

Consider two statistics: fielding independent pitching (FIP) and expected fielding independent pitching (xFIP). The statistics evaluate pitchers by what they can control (strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, home runs), independent of what they cannot control (defense). The typically small difference between FIP and xFIP involves how to account for home runs.

At the start of play Sunday, the Dodgers ranked seventh in the majors with a 3.41 ERA and sixth in the majors with a 3.61 xFIP. The Angels ranked 29th with a 5.25 ERA but ninth with a 3.81 xFIP.

Dodgers starters had a 2.90 ERA and a 3.10 xFIP, both ranked third. Angels starters had a 5.20 ERA, ranking 28th, but a 3.44 xFIP, the best in the AL.

The relief staffs of both teams ranked in the bottom half of the majors, but the Angels’ bullpen had a better xFIP than the Dodgers' bullpen.

The Dodgers have six relievers on the injured list. Their starting rotation features a front four of Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Trevor Bauer and Julio Urias. The Dodgers’ pitching will be fine.

The Angels? Their 2-1 victory over the Dodgers on Sunday offered hope and warranted concern.

The headline: The Angels pitched a four-hitter.

The fine print: They walked nine and committed an error. José Quintana, the starting pitcher, walked five in four innings on a day he lowered his ERA to 9.00.

The Angels are throwing too many pitches, and it’s their own damn fault. No team in the AL has committed more errors or walked more batters. Good luck winning that way.

“We do the deep dive all the time,” Maddon said. “There’s been a lot of bad baseball luck.”

The risk in putting too much faith in xFIP and similar metrics is that they purport to predict what might happen, and the standings are based on what actually happens.

“I feel like we’ve pitched a lot better than what our numbers show,” Angels starter Alex Cobb said.

“I think we need to do a better job of not walking people, controlling the running game, things of that sort. But, all in all, I think the pitching has been pretty good.”

The trends might hold up, and the luck might even out. Still, five weeks of xFIP should not be as a reliable as a track record.

The highest career ERA among the Dodgers’ starters: Bauer, at 3.84.

The lowest career ERA among the Angels’ starters: Quintana, at 3.80.

When first-year Angels general manager Perry Minasian imports three relievers on the same day — three days before the start of the season — it is fair to say the bullpen is a work in progress. The Angels’ opening day bullpen included just one of the 10 relievers on the opening day roster last year.

The rotation could be a work in progress too. The Angels last winter did not pursue Bauer, the National League Cy Young winner, and he got $102 million from the Dodgers.

“He’s the kind of guy you’d want,” Maddon said. “The amount of money he received, God bless him. That’s part of it also. But he’d fit in anywhere.”

The Angels spent $13 million on Quintana and Cobb last winter. They spent $14 million on Dylan Bundy and Julio Teheran two winters ago. They spent $20 million on Trevor Cahill and Matt Harvey three winters ago.

You never know. Harvey has a 3.60 ERA this season, for the Baltimore Orioles. Perhaps the Angels might be due for some luck, or sabermetric salvation.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.