A dominant bullpen? Joe Maddon knows what that meant to the Angels in 2002
Joe Maddon is digging his revamped bullpen, and not just because of the stuff, the experience and the track records newcomers Aaron Loup, Ryan Tepera and Archie Bradley are expected to bring in front of closer Raisel Iglesias.
“I love a little energy,” the Angels manager said. “I love a little edge.”
Iglesias goes into attack mode the moment he takes the mound with the 97-mph fastball, 85-mph power slider and 89-mph changeup he used to go 7-5 with a 2.57 ERA and 34 saves, with 103 strikeouts and 12 walks in 70 innings last season.
The left-handed Loup was only the 12th major league reliever since 1950 to throw 50 innings or more with a sub-1.00 ERA last season with stuff former New York Mets teammate Noah Syndergaard described as “absolutely disgusting,” high praise from a starter who throws 100 mph.
Tepera, who had a 2.79 ERA for the Chicago Cubs and White Sox in 2021, giving up 35 hits and striking out 74 in 61 1/3 innings, is anything but timid. He was bold enough to insinuate that the Houston Astros, embroiled in the 2019 sign-stealing scandal, might have illegally swiped signs in the playoffs last fall.
And you want tough? Bradley, who went 7-3 with a 3.71 ERA in 53 games for the Philadelphia Phillies last season, was struck in the face by a 115-mph line drive in 2015, suffering a sinus fracture and swelling that made him look like Rocky Balboa after an Apollo Creed fight, and he returned to action 2½ weeks later.
Outfielders Jo Adell and Brandon Marsh struggled in their major league debuts, but both could be solid contributors for the Angels this season.
“We like what we’ve done, we like the talent we’ve added, but it’s not just about talent,” Angels general manager Perry Minasian said. “It’s the makeup of the group. This is a group of aggressive, hard-nosed competitors who aren’t scared of big moments, and that rubs off in a good way on your younger arms.”
This bullpen will be far deeper and should be much more effective than the group that ranked 24th in baseball with a 4.59 ERA, 25th in WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) and converted only 39 of 65 save opportunities last season.
After emerging as an effective setup man with a 2-0 record and 2.10 ERA in 29 games of pandemic-shortened 2020, right-hander Mike Mayers buckled a bit under a heavy workload in 2021, going 5-5 with a 3.84 ERA in 72 games.
Veteran journeymen such as Steve Cishek, Alex Claudio, Junior Guerra, Tony Watson and Aaron Slegers were erratic. Rookie right-hander Austin Warren was called up in late July and pitching in a setup role by late August.
With Loup (two-year, $17-million deal), Tepera (two years, $14 million) and Bradley (one year, $3.75 million) expected to handle the sixth through eighth innings, Mayers and Warren can assume lower-leverage roles and young relievers the Angels might otherwise lean on can develop in the minor leagues.
“These are even-or-ahead guys that you can count on when you’re even or ahead, and the more of those you have in the bullpen, the better off you are,” Maddon said of Loup, Tepera and Bradley.
“It creates even more depth, because those guys who will be pushed to the minor leagues, they’ll continue the process of becoming solid major league relievers, and then you just keep getting better, because guys are gonna get hurt, and you’re gonna need people. It makes us better in the present and the future.”
With a lockout-shortened, 3½-week spring training, most starters won’t be stretched out to their usual six-inning, 90-pitch range to open the season, so bullpen depth and effectiveness will be especially important in April.
A six-man Angels rotation headed by Shohei Ohtani, Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen is also expected to include young left-handers Patrick Sandoval (25), Jose Suarez (24) and Reid Detmers (22).
“You’re probably not going to want to push young pitchers too early, so the more depth you have at the back of your bullpen, you can shorten the game,” Maddon said. “I think this really helps us work the game from the back, which is a really interesting way to work the game.”
The Angels used a similar approach during their 2002 World Series run, when they rode a deep and often dominant bullpen of closer Troy Percival, setup men Francisco Rodriguez and Brendan Donnelly, short-man Ben Weber, middle-man Scot Shields and left-hander Scott Schoeneweis to their only championship.
Starters Jarrod Washburn (18-6, 3.15 ERA) and Ramon Ortiz (15-9, 3.77 ERA) had career years in 2002, but they were hit hard in the postseason, combining for a 6.26 ERA in eight playoff starts. Percival, Rodriguez, then a 20-year-old phenom, and Donnelly combined for a 2.83 ERA in 41 1/3 playoff innings.
“It was a real strong game from back to front,” said Maddon, who was Angels manager Mike Scioscia’s bench coach in 2002. “I think a lot of teams have adopted that method.”
Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani views his 2021 MVP season as a baseline for future seasons. That’s the type of news the franchise needs.
This year’s Angels relief corps would be hard-pressed to match that 2002 group, but it has the potential to be as deep as the bullpen that keyed the team’s last division title in 2014, when closer Huston Street (1.71) and setup men Joe Smith (1.81), Kevin Jepsen (2.63) and Mike Morin (2.90) had sub-3.00 ERAs.
“I worked with an outstanding baseball guy named Ed Lynch, and he used to talk about your bullpen as an everyday player,” Minasian said, referring to the former Chicago Cubs GM who was a Blue Jays scout when Minasian was in Toronto. “I totally agree with this. Very rarely do you see complete games anymore.
“The way the game is trending, the bullpen shows up every single day. Ed would say, ‘When the gates swing open, you want to like what comes out.’ I think we’ve tried to accomplish that this offseason. We’ve really invested in the bullpen, and I think we’ve seen that teams that have really good bullpens have success.”
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