On this week’s edition of the Villar Village, I am going to discuss the first starting pitcher entry in the series – Angels Pitcher Tyler Skaggs. Skaggs bounced back and forth between the Angels and the Diamondbacks early in his career. Skaggs reached the majors in 2014 with the Angels and was serviceable posting 4.30 ERA over 118 innings. However, his 2014 season was cut short when he tore his UCL and required Tommy John surgery.
Last year, there was some minor buzz around Skaggs because the Angels rotation was hardly sound at the start of the year and he was over 18 months removed from the surgery. The buzz died down rather quickly as the Angels took things slowly with Skaggs in his return from Tommy John. In fact, he was shut down early in the year and there was some speculation that he could be headed down the Zach Wheeler path – start-stop, start-stop.
Skaggs did eventually get going in the Minors and was extremely impressive over 39.1 innings, sporting a double digit K/9 rate while exhibiting excellent control. With the Angels already out of it due, in part, to a wide range of rotation injuries, including to ace Garrett Richards, Skaggs got the call. Over a 49 inning sample, Skaggs had a 4.17 ERA with over a K per inning.
Skaggs kept the velocity boost from 2014 (up 2.9 MPH from 2013 to 92.1) and even added a little more as his average fastball velocity clocked in at 92.8 MPH. At that velocity, especially from the left side, Skaggs becomes extremely interesting. However, injury history and innings concerns currently have Skaggs as the 100th starting pitcher off the board.
Now, I will readily admit that this is not all about Tyler Skaggs, but also about what the Angels have done to improve their defense this offseason. The Angels were maligned in some circles about their trade for Danny Espinosa, who was a plus defender last year at shortstop, and now forms what might be the best double-play tandem in baseball with Andrelton Simmons. Skaggs induced groundballs 43% of the time, the highest of any batted ball type, and had a 1.27 GB/FB ratio. Skaggs was even more groundball heavy in the past, posting 50+% marks, which would be to his benefit with this middle infield defense behind him.
His fastball has rising action and his switch to more of a strict four-seam approach probably means that the 50+% groundball rates are not coming back unless he decides to reincorporate the two-seam fastball. Regardless, Skaggs has two pitches – his curveball and change-up, which produce hefty groundball totals. The curve is the real gem, it has excellent bite.
In the current home run environment, it is also important to keep in mind a pitcher’s home park. Skaggs’s home park has a right handed (platoon advantage side) home run factor of 91, which means it is below average. The park suppresses from both sides, which is great, but especially in the AL with the DH. In a park that suppresses home runs, a pitcher like Skaggs does not need to focus entirely on generating more groundballs. While it would be a nice bonus to see the groundball rates return, his park will turn some deeper flyballs into outs.
The Angels also made another trade that has flown under the radar when they swiped out Jett Bandy for Martin Maldonado. Maldonado and Bandy appear to similar players except for two things: one, Bandy is much younger and two, Maldonado is a very good pitch-framer. This particularly important when it comes to Skaggs, whose 9.06 K/9 was underscored by just an 8.1% SwStr%. Skaggs relied on called strikes for his Ks and Maldonado has shown the ability to steal strikes at a greater rate than Bandy.
Thus, there are a lot of factors that work in Skaggs’s favor for this upcoming season. Skaggs is (1) a groundball leaning pitcher with an outstanding double play tandem behind him; (2) a pitcher that relies on called strikes that now has a plus catcher to get those calls and (3) a home park that is favorable to pitchers in a home run-rich environment.
As the 100th overall starting pitcher, I believe Skaggs could be a major value.
My projection: 151 innings, 3.61 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 160 Ks.
The Villar Village Inhabitants:
1B/2B/SS/OF. N. Franklin – TB
OF. A. Dickerson – SD
OF. C. Tilson – CHW
SP. T. Skaggs – LAA