The Situation: The Los Angeles Angels spent $317.5 million this offseason to sign C.J. Wilson and Albert Pujols and more than three-quarters of that total went to the man you shouldn't call "El Hombre."
But the other money spent on Wilson means that the team's greatest strength just might be its starting rotation. The Halos' top-three starters held three of the top seven spots in last year's Cy Young voting: Jered Weaver finished second, Wilson finished sixth and Dan Haren finished seventh. The only question is which one of them should be considered top dog.
The Question: Who will be the Angels' ace — Wilson, Weaver or Haren?
The Analysis: None of the three pitchers are what you would consider a classic ace. They're usually around the top 10 or 20 in most pitching stats, but they don't usually lead the league. Weaver won the AL strikeout crown in 2010, and Haren led the majors in WHIP in 2009 and led the league in strikeout to walk ratio (K/BB) last year, for the fourth time in his career; the only time Wilson ever led the league in anything other than games started was 2010, when he had the most walks among AL starting pitchers.
They're all solid, and relatively similar: a fair number of strikeouts, not too many walks, and lots of innings pitched — each pitched more than 220 innings last year. They each throw in the low 90s. In addition to the fastball, Wilson and Haren both have terrific cutters; Weaver has a great changeup. Weaver and Haren are both right-handed, and neither has a pronounced platoon split; Wilson, the southpaw, is effective against righties but death on lefties.
Haren gives up fewer walks than the other two, and it isn't particularly close. His 1.9 career walks per nine innings (BB/9) is half a walk lower than Weaver's 2.4, and literally half of Wilson's 3.8 mark. His 5.82 K/BB ratio last year led the AL and was a personal best.
But he also had the highest ERA. Like Weaver, Haren can be victimized by the occasional homer. He also gives up more hard contact in general: His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) is the highest of the three, as are his line drive rate (LD%) and home run per fly ball rate (HR/FB). While it's true that year-to-year fluctuations in BABIP and HR/FB are often chalked up to late, pitchers generally tend to regress to their career averages, so the fact that Haren's career rates are worse than Weaver and Wilson for all of these means that he's likely to be worse than them in this respect in 2012, too.
In 2010, Weaver had the best year by far, and if not for Justin Verlander's amazing year he would have been a legitimate Cy Young candidate. He has improved in each of the last four years, and he went 18-8 in 235 2/3 innings with a 2.41 ERA and 3.54 K/BB. Wilson was 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA, and Haren went 16-10 with a 3.17 ERA.
But Wilson is coming from Texas, one of the best hitters' parks in the majors, and Angels Stadium is one of the best pitchers' parks in the majors. (It's a small sample size, but just for comparison, in 379 1/3 innings in Texas, Wilson has a 3.89 ERA. In 38 2/3 innings in Anaheim, he has a 2.79 ERA.) So while Weaver was clearly the best of the trio last year, Wilson will get a substantial additional boost from his new home park.
The major projection systems tend to agree: Weaver by a tick, though it's extraordinarily close. ZiPS says Weaver-Wilson-Haren, with ERAs of 3.16, 3.37 and 3.59; the Bill James Handbook says Weaver-Haren-Wilson, with ERAs of 3.17, 3.27 and 3.31. Basically, when it's that close, it's a wash, and who actually has the better year will depend on things like innings pitched that have less to do with easily analyzed components.
The Forecast for 2012: Right now, it's hard to point to anyone other than Weaver as the "ace," though the trio is closer to Halladay-Lee-Hamels or Hudson-Mulder-Zito or Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz, as a rotation with multiple potential frontmen, than a stereotypical 1-2-3 rotation.
Weaver is top of the heap, both by virtue of the numbers, and by virtue of his back-to-back top-five finishes in the Cy Young race. He's been the opening day starter for three of the past four years and likely will be named to that role again this year. But the Angels won't need to worry too much about juggling the rotation too much. They have three potential Game 1 starters. What a problem to have.
Other Ask Alex questions for 2012
• Can Mike Napoli top his career year?
• Will Jayson Werth hit over .240 this year?
• Are Carl Crawford's best years behind him?
• Can Jose Reyes repeat as NL batting champ?
• Can Fielder and Cabrera combine for 80 homers?
• Will Julio Teheran or Matt Moore win rookie of the year?
• Will Alex Avila be an All-Star again?
• Can Michael Pineda keep his ERA under 4 in the AL East?
• Can Adam Dunn return to 30 home run territory?
• Can Jason Heyward return to his rookie form?
• Can Matt Kemp go 50/50?
- Jered Weaver
- Dan Haren