The Los Angeles Angels had 12 different pitchers hit the IR in 2021 due to non-COVID-related injuries. That number was just six in 2020, but seeing as how the season was only 60 games, you could argue that 2020 was worse for the Angels in the pitcher injury department. In 2019, the Angels had 20 pitchers miss time on the IR. You get the point, the team has seen a lot of injuries to its pitchers in recent years.
Those injuries are on the decline, but they were still a major problem last season. Every starting pitcher on the Angels’ opening day roster aside from Shohei Ohtani, who’s not even listed as a starter but as a “Two-way”, spent time on the IR.
In 2021, the team saw two of its best offensive stars (Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon) head to the 60-day IR as well. This is a team in dire need of durability. They need the Energizer Bunny to get all up in their business because they’ve been plagued with an injury bug for far too long now. So, who is their first signing this offseason?
Oh. It’s someone who missed most of 2021, all of 2020, and most of 2017 due to injury. Yeah, sorry for being a “Negative Ned,” but I don’t feel overly optimistic about this.
Of course, the potential is there. We all saw what Syndergaard was capable of in 2015, 2016, and 2018. I’m not denying his talent. I’m questioning his availability. This is a one-year deal worth $21 million. I wouldn’t be shocked if Syndergaard re-aggravates his elbow, misses a lot of time, spends most of 2022 recovering, and then signs elsewhere. Whoops! Wouldn’t that be a huge mistake? Obviously, the Angels are going to play every little tweak and pop very carefully. They don’t want Syndergaard to miss more time than necessary, but that would only mean that he’s still missing time. Less time than he would’ve if the problem wasn’t treated right away albeit, but they are paying him to be a front-line starter for the entire season, and that seems unlikely to happen.
Could this be a fantastic signing? Absolutely. Since entering the league, Syndergaard has the 15th-highest cumulative WAR of any starter in baseball, all while missing almost three full seasons. You could argue that he’s been extremely unlucky as a pitcher as well. His BABIP is .315 — tied for the 11th-highest average in the league. His xFIP is the sixth-lowest in the league, while his ERA ranks him 16th. His average fastball velocity (98.1) is almost a full mile per hour greater than the next closest qualified pitcher (Nathan Eovaldi — 97.4), and for a pitcher with that much velocity, Syndergaard is surprisingly good at creating weak contact. He’s tied for the eighth-lowest average exit velocity in MLB since 2015. While several of those numbers did lean in the wrong direction in 2019, Syndergaard’s last full season, that season’s metrics point to bad luck as a large culprit for Syndergaard’s poor stats. His FIP was still low and his hard-hit percentage was still lower than it was in 2016, Syndergaard’s best season.
Although he should be ready to go before or around the start of the 2022 season, signing Syndergaard for one-year is undoubtedly a risky move by a team that shouldn’t be making risky moves. Perhaps the Angels have backed themselves into a corner with how poor they’ve been recently. I’m not worried that Syndergaard won’t be able to find his 2016 form after his Tommy John surgery. There have been dozens of pitchers who’ve managed to bounce back after recovering from TJ. I certainly expect Justin Verlander to. However, Syndergaard’s injury history is so prevalent, it can’t be overlooked.
The Angels certainly don’t need to save money. They’re one of the wealthiest franchises in Major League Baseball and can afford to lose a few million on an injured player. However, if they want to ensure they compete in 2022, signing another big-name free agent starter would be a smart move.
The Angels are in win-now territory. They have numerous tools at their disposal, yet they haven’t been able to reach the upper echelon of baseball’s elite ball clubs. A healthy Syndergaard brings them a long way — “healthy” being the key word. I just don’t know how likely it is that Syndergaard stays that way.