Breaking Down The Angels Late Bullpen Additions By Ryan Kanne
With only one day before MLB’s Opening Day, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim have quietly rebuilt their bullpen through smart signings and one trade for cash. In a matter of three days, the Angels have added relievers Steve Cishek, Tony Watson, Noe Ramirez, and James Hoyt. With new faces on the roster, what do they mean for the Angels bullpen and how manager Joe Maddon wants to attack opposing batters.
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The first major move for the Angels was signing former Angel Noe Ramirez. Ramirez was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in the offseason for new Angels closer Raisel Iglesias, giving the Angels a rare trade win. Ramirez has been a steady force in the Angels’ bullpen since 2018 with a 4.11 ERA and 111 ERA+ across 180.1 innings. He won’t dominate many batters, but what Ramirez doesn’t have in velocity or spin, he makes up for by inducing soft contact.
In fact, the four relievers the Angels acquired have similar profiles, especially Cishek. While Cishek has been great throughout his career, he is coming off of his worst season with a 5.40 ERA across 20 innings. You hope that Cishek can regain form, but with how his career is trending it’s hard to imagine a return to elite form.
At 34 years old Cishek has seen his velocity dip, especially in his sinker. While the submarine style reliever typically works his still great slider off of his sinker, hitters starting crushing Cishek’s sinker in 2020. Over his career, beginning in 2010, Cishek’s worst slugging percentage against his sinker was .487. In 2020 his sinker was hit to the tune of a .789 slugging percentage. For perspective, Juan Soto led the league in slugging percentage with .695.
The Angels hope Cishek can regain his sinker and deliver at least a solid veteran presence in the bullpen. Helping with that veteran presence will be the 35-year-old Tony Watson. Despite his age, Watson had a productive 2020 with a 2.50 ERA across 19 innings.
Watson continues to find ways to get batters out even with his velocity dropping sharply since 2019. An added fastball and heightened use of his changeup led to success in 2020, but Watson shouldn’t be expected to repeat that success easily. Even with a proven track record and his stats maintaining across the past three seasons, age creeps up quickly and without remorse. Watson should still be another option to force a lot of groundballs and pitch in critical situations until he proves otherwise.
With their final bullpen addition, the Angels traded for James Hoyt from the Miami Marlins. The Marlins were going to send the 34-year-old to the minors with his final option but opted to trade him for cash instead. After a phenomenal job anchoring a Marlins bullpen in 2020, Hoyt will have tempered expectations in Anaheim.
Despite an incredible 1.23 ERA across 14.2 innings in 2020, Hoyt isn’t expected to repeat his breakout performance. Like the two relievers mentioned before him, Hoyt has seen his velocity drop with age. With that drop came a spike in barrel percentage from 10% in 2019 to 12.1% in 2020.
Even with heightened barrel percentage, Hoyt was able to keep hitters at a .173 batting average while striking out 32.3% of them. Hoyt has always struck out a lot of batters, but what really kept the ERA down was his career best 1.6% home run rate. That should maintain at a low rate as he moves to a slightly more favorable stadium for pitching with the Angels.
While the moves General Manger Perry Minasian may not push the Angels over the edge to make the playoffs, it certainly helps their chances by adding much needed depth to the bullpen. The Angels are in for a season they hope ends in their first playoff appearance since 2014, and some of the deals made right before the season starts could help them do that.