Player Profiles 2020: Los Angeles Angels Bullpen

Tim Jackson takes you through an Angels bullpen that provides end-of-game stability.

The 2019 Angels bullpen probably didn’t leave much of an impression on you, but then-manager Brad Ausmus did use his guys deliberately. As the group heads into 2020, they do so with Joe Maddon at the helm instead, whose bullpen use has been criticized since at least 2016 and his decision on how to use Aroldis Chapman in the playoffs. Whether criticism of Maddon’s bullpen use is warranted, he has at least spoken to how his teams go into each game with an understanding of how to approach numerous possible situations and which relievers would be used in each. If we’re betting on them early, we should look to the end-of-game options for stability while the rest of the bunch sorts itself out in the early going.

 

Angels Projected Bullpen

 

CloserHansel Robles

 

In terms of performing well in high-leverage situations, Hansel Robles was pretty much neck-and-neck with projected setup man Ty Buttreybut it was Robles who got the call to close out games more frequently. His 23 saves were the 12th-most in baseball last year. He zipped them up with his high-90s heat complemented by sliders and changeups approaching 90 mph.

The changeup is what’s worth noting here. He’s abandoned and gone back to it throughout his career but in 2019 he found a way to give it more drop than ever, turning it into a true swing-and-miss pitch with a 19% whiff rate and helping him to his highest K% since he debuted with the Mets in 2015. On top of the Ks, he limited free passes better than any other reliever on the team and kept the ball in the park. If Robles maintains such gains in 2020, he’ll be an excellent second closer for you.

 

Setup Ty Buttrey

 

Buttrey debuted in 2018 and snagged four saves in just 16 appearances. He was pretty much the same pitcher and showed the same stuff in 2019 but served a more distinct, consistent setup role. In 72.1 innings, he only had two saves.

However, he also whiffed more than 27% of batters, which was a full three ticks better than league-average, and, like Robles, was really good at limiting free passes. His fastball sits at 97 mph. Combined with his 6’6″ frame, it gets on hitters in a hurry. He gets a great velo gap off of it with his changeup and also also added depth to his slider last year. Though it didn’t add whiffs for the pitch, it might be worth watching early on in 2020. The stuff is there, and he’s already shown it plays in high-leverage situations. He’s a solid bet for holds and a good speculation pick for saves at some point next year.

 

SetupKeynan Middleton

 

Keynan Middleton has barely thrown during the last two years, amassing just 25.1 innings because of elbow pain that led to Tommy John surgery. He’s the youngest member of the team’s bullpen and still projected for a considerable role. When he was healthy in 2017, he showed us a high-90s fastball that he paired with changeups and sliders approaching 90 mph. (Does it sound like the Angels have a type when it comes to relievers?)

His stuff looked a little different when he came back at the end of 2019 to log 7.2 innings, though. He’d lost a full three miles per hour of velo and couldn’t control the zone. The sample size is so tiny it’s easy to consider irrelevant. Control tends to be the last thing that comes back after TJ. But if the velo isn’t there yet, either, it’s fair to wonder how much leeway Middleton will have in higher leverage situations at the start of the year. There’s no reason to give him a roster spot on your teams before he shows us he’s got one locked down in L.A.

 

Middle Cam Bedrosian

 

Cam Bedrosian rebounded in 2019 from a down year in the prior season, bumping his K rate (24.8%) back above average (~22%) while somewhat corralling his free passes. His fastball velocity dropped for the third year in a row, though, and given his injury history it’s interesting to consider if him saving those bullets is a more deliberate move to help get through the whole season or if he’s just losing zip on his stuff. It’s already below average, and any more velo dip might put him at risk of becoming a lot more hittable.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Bedrosian also dropped his fastball usage for the third year in a row, ending 2019 sitting below 50% for the first time in his major league career. He threw his slider just as much as he threw the heat, and the slider had a tighter shape than usual. A little less predictability seemed to help the overall whiffs. There’s enough going on here to put him on the fringes of intriguing, but a lot will have to go poorly for the Angels if Bedrosian is going to be fantasy relevant in 2020.

 

Middle – Noé Ramirez

 

Noé Ramirez has become a bit of a bulk reliever for the Angels. He went more than an inning in half of his outings last year. He works in low-leverage situations. He gets a sneaky-good amount of whiffs, but his fastball barely breaks 90. When the guys ahead of him can strike out just as many batter while throwing 95+ it’s hard to imagine a scenario where he gets into games at moments it would matter for fantasy players.

 

Middle Mike Mayers

 

Mike Mayers will be another one of those 95+ arms for the Angels out of the pen. He’s sure to have some sort of role, even if not terribly significant, because he’s out of options. L.A. claimed him off waivers from the Cardinals in November. Mayers threw just 19 innings in the big leagues last year and gave up 11 walks and 14 earned runs. Despite the plus velocity, he’s yet to generate even average whiff rates in the majors. The team demonstrated an ability to get any reliever’s stuff to play up last year, and Mayers has had minor league success, so there is some room for optimism here. That said, he’s not worth a look for your team right now.

 

The Other Guys

Adalberto Mejía, Taylor Cole 

 

Adalberto Mejía bounced around last year, going from the Twins to the Angels to the Cardinals and back again to the Angels. When all was said and done he registered 31.1 forgettable innings where he walked more than 14% of batters. Walks have always been a bugaboo for him in the majors. If he can’t get them under control, he’ll likely maintain his low floor and low ceiling. Maybe he finds his way onto your roster when you’re in a pinch and need some innings, but if that happens, you’re probably already having a rough go. 

Taylor Cole bounced back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen because of injuries through the rest of the pitching staff. He registered 51.1 innings in 38 appearances, whiffed hitters less than average, and gave up walks too often. He throws nearly 94 and his peripherals say he was better than his 5.92 ERA, but, like Mejía, he won’t be necessary to keep tabs on unless he shows a significant development. 

Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Tim Jackson

Tim Jackson is a writer and educator who loves pitching duels. Find him Going Deep for PitcherList.

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