The Angels are awesome.  Being a blogger usually accompanies the responsibility of using more exciting diction, but awesome wholly encompasses the 2014 Angels season to date.  The hitting has been as awesome as advertised, the pitching has been more awesome than advertised, and even the bullpen has a glimmer of hope to become awesome this year.  It’s an, well, awesome time to be an Angels fan, and the summer is only going to get more awesome.

                While writing this piece, I sat back and enjoyed the awesomeness for about 6.7 seconds, and then the analytical side took over and I sat, lonely, and pondered to myself, “How can the Angels get even better?” 

And that, my friends (or enemies, or people who are indifferent about me), is a tough question—for two reasons. 

                1)  The Angels are already really, really good.

                2)  The Angels don’t possess the means to be buyers.

Reason 1 is self explanatory, but I’ll explain it anyway.  The Angels are bouncing around ten games over .500 and are going to be chasing those damned Athletics for first place in the West for the remainder of the summer.  They have a top-shelf offense, formidable top of the rotation, and clear skill in the bullpen.  Like I said, they’re awesome.

Reason 2 is where things get tricky. As the trade deadline ominously looms, it is becoming clearer who this year’s buyers and sellers will be.  The Angels, for the first time in a couple years, are going to be buyers.  Usually, when the Angels buy, they buy hard (see: Greinke, Zack and Teixeira, Mark).

                However, largely because of those two trades, the Angels don’t have the necessary means to buy an impact bat or arm like they’ve shown the willingness to.  With the Trout extension, Pujols, Hamilton, Wilson, and Weaver, they lack the necessary monetary resources to take on a bunch of salary.  Compounding the difficulties, when Taylor Lindsey and Eric Stamets are two of your team’s best prospects, your team probably doesn’t have enough value to acquire a pint of Bud Lite, let alone any difference maker.  As good as the images of David Price, Jeff Saljdjandlmardzija, Chase Headley, and Cliff Lee would look in Angels red, those are only images Angels fans will look at in their minds

                                        with their eyes closed,

                                                    the lights dimmed,

                                                                 candles lit,

                                                                          Usher playing,

                                                                                      and their right hand ready to—

 aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaactually that’s where this image stops.  Yep, it stops right there.  No more images. 

                Where was I?  Oh yea [insert big name player here] is probably not coming to Anaheim this trade deadline.  I’ll give you a minute to pout. Time’s up.  So what’s next?  Going back to my original question: how can the Angels get better? 

                Well, I gave the answer a shot.

Angels trade Austin Wood for Brandon McCarthy

                Why add a pitcher when we already have 6?

Jered Weaver, CJ Wilson, and Garrett Richards have given the Angels the most formidable top of the rotation since 2012.  However, question marks at the end of the rotation such as rookie Tyler Skaggs, tumultuous Hector Santiago, and surprising Matt Shoemaker have left the back end of the rotation as unpredictable as my career choices (sorry, Mom).  Skaggs has produced the most fWAR to date, throwing 84 solid innings, and doesn’t seem to be due for any incredible regression.  Shoemaker, a career replacement level player, has, miraculously, pulled 52 incredible innings from his beard this year.  Shoemaker’s innings should not be slighted in the least, yet counting on a nearly 28-year-old rookie with 5 major league innings prior to this season can be a strategy that hurts a team in the long run.  Santiago has been, at times, maddening.  While Santiago presents the most strikeout-ability of anybody not named Garrett in the rotation, he also is producing a ground ball rate lower than Jered Weaver, while walking more many more batters.  This leaves Santiago prone to the dreaded three run homerun ball that seemingly doomed Ervin Santana’s Angel career.

                This is where McCarthy fits in.  McCarthy was a coveted free agent two years ago.  Signing with the Diamondbacks before the 2013 season has, unfortunately, been the high part of his tenure in Phoenix thus far—as he has posted back to back seasons with an ERA over 4.50.  But I see an incredible buy low opportunity here.

                Why would the Diamondbacks want to trade him?

The Diamondbacks is a team who’s been, ummmm, snakebitten this year.  Losing their prized off-season acquisition Mark Trumbo due to injury for most of the year has really put them back in the win column in 2014.  Coupling that with Archie Bradley’s injury/disappointment laden season, Arizona has known for a while that the summer of 2014 was just not going to be their year.  Flipping Brandon McCarthy, who is a free agent after the season, for anything at all would be a better net value than letting him walk. 

Austin Wood would be the best type of high upside yet low probability prospect the Diamondbacks could feasibly ask for in a deal for a struggling pitcher.  Having not thrown a single pitch in 2014, Wood was drafted three times and possesses an elite repertoire with a complete lack of command.  Most likely reaching the majors as a reliever, if at all, the most complete scouting report on Wood I could find was here.

                Why add McCarthy?

Although McCarthy’s 5.01 ERA is borderline Snookie-ugly, there’s enough below the surface to think that a positive regression will occur.  Why?

1) Most of McCarthy’s problems this year have been with his propensity to give up the homerun ball.  McCarthy has already been the victim of 15 long balls this year, but again, upon closer inspection, we can justify this. First of all, when compared to his career 10.1%, McCarthy has an extremely fluky 20% HR/FB ratio.  Of the 15 homeruns hit against McCarthy this year, 13 have been served up in extreme hitter’s environments: 8 at Chase Field (10th in ESPN Park Factors), 2 at Minute Maid Park (8th), and 3 at Coors Field (4th).  The other two were given up at US Cellular Field and Wrigley, which aren’t usually kind to pitchers, either.  Angel Stadium is ranked as the 24th most likely ballpark to hit a homerun in, so the homerun problem might fix itself.

2)  All of McCarthy’s peripheral numbers (3.79 FIP, 2.89 xFIP), indicate that he’s been a better pitcher than his numbers show.  He’s throwing his fastball more than two miles per hour harder this year (93.0 in 2014 vs 90.8 in 2013), striking out a career high batters (20%), walking batters at an elite pace (only 4.3%), while improving his ground ball rate (55.3%) to an incredible level.  We’ll touch more on that ground ball rate shortly, but McCarthy has done everything right as a pitcher. 

3)  McCarthy has been the victim of poor defense since coming to the Diamondbacks. Now, McCarthy has raised his ground ball rate at least 7% in each of the last two seasons—and getting a hit on a ground ball is much more likely than in the air.  Even accounting for all of this, since residing in Phoenix, McCarthy has the highest BABIP of any pitcher who has a ground ball percentage greater than 50%.  And it’s not close—McCarthy’s .331 BABIP is 40 points higher than the .291 league average of such pitchers and its 16 points higher than the next highest.  Not to mention it’s also more than 35 points higher than his career BABIP before 2013.  

Usually, when citing a high BABIP, one is often inclined to conclude that poor luck was the most significant contributor.  However, looking at McCarthy’s batted ball rates, I don’t believe that to be the case here.  McCarthy has a giant split this year, giving up a .323/.354/.480 to left handed batters.  Coming into 2014, McCarthy had never had a significant handedness split, let alone one this dramatic.  What I’d like to point out first and foremost is McCarthy hasn’t had a change of skill versus left handed batters—both his strikeout rate and walk rate are the same against either side, and he’s given up fewer homeruns to left handed hitters. 

It’s the “defense” in Arizona that’s contributed to his poor showing against left handed hitters. The combination of primary second baseman Aaron Hill, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, and primary right fielder Gerardo Parra have shown next to no range this year.  The trio has been 9 runs below average on defense this year, in terms of getting to balls in their vicinity.  The Angels combination of Albert Pujols, Howie Kendrick, Collin Cowgill and Kole Calhoun is a full 14 runs better than the Diamondbacks right side.  McCarthy has a collective BABIP on balls to the right side (up the middle from left handed batters, pulled from left handed batters, and hit to the opposite field from right handed batters) of .397, over 100 points higher than the league average of .283.  The statuesque immobility of Arizona’s right side of the infield is contributing to McCarthy’s left handed inferiority this year, not his skills.

Furthermore, McCarthy has a .170 BABIP on fly balls this year, which is more than double the league average and more than triple the average of Angels pitching.  Putting the big right hander on the hill in Angel Stadium and in front of the Angels defense will net an, well, awesome result.

4)  The knock against McCarthy has always been his health.  He has reached the 170 inning threshold twice, recording 22 starts or more only 3 times since 2005, and has a history of shoulder issues.  Diamondbacks beat writer Nick Piecoro chronicles McCarthy’s health issues here.  Yet, because the Angels have Hector Santiago and Matt Shoemaker still at their disposal, the Angels can afford to take a risk.

 

                The acquisition would have a trickle-down effect on the roster.  Shoemaker would assume a Jerome Williams-esque 6th starter/long reliever role.  Santiago’s role would be a bit more unclear, but as a left handed pitcher who has shown the ability to get both sides out in his career (.302 wOBA against LHP vs .323 wOBA against RHP), a neutralizing left hander who could pitch to more than one batter would be vital in this Angels bullpen.  Maybe even in a closer’s role.

                The key here is that the Angels don’t have the means to make a big splash, yet still can by being smart with what they get.  A ground ball inducing, whiff creating, walk avoiding, veteran big leaguer can make this Angels’ season just a little more awesome.