How Far Can Angels Ride Two Aces?

Jered Weaver turned in another dazzling performance last night, striking out eight and walking none in a complete game win over the Rangers. Weaver regained the major league lead in Season Score, a measure of a pitcher’s cumulative accomplishments, including innings pitched, strikeouts, and run prevention. Weaver’s 135 Season Score leaps past teammate Dan Haren’s 108, putting pressure on Haren to be equally good tomorrow night (the two have averaged identical Game Scores of 72 in their 9 starts). Weaver’s opponent last night, Matt Harrison, is third in the AL with a Season Score of 78.

The Angels broke a first place tie with Texas on Wednesday and stand 12-6 after 18 games. That’s a great place to be after one ninth of the season, but if we look a little deeper into that record, there are clues that it may be hard to sustain. On their current pace, the Angels would finish the season 108-54, the best record since the 2001 Mariners. Weaver and Haren would be 81-0 with a 1.19 ERA, 594 strikeouts, and 99 walks in 609 innings, while the rest of the team would be 27-54 with a 4.02 ERA.

We know Weaver and Haren aren’t going to sustain their combined ERA and that they’re not going to win every game they pitch. But for the moment, let’s assume they are as good as they have been at preventing runs. Even if they do keep up this pace from a run prevention and strikeout/walk ratio standpoint, there’s no way they’re going to pitch 609 innings. No pitcher has thrown 300 innings since Steve Carlton in 1980. No one’s even thrown 275 since Dave Stewart in 1988. It’s unlikely that they’ll keep throwing 7.5 innings per game and downright impossible that they’ll account for 81 of the team’s 162 starts.

The Angels have used three off days early in the season to essentially employ a four-man rotation so far. With Scott Kazmir looking like a lost cause (five earned runs in 1 2/3 innings in his only start before hitting the DL after a miserable 2010), the Angels are looking to Tyler Chatwood and Matt Palmer (and their combined 11 strikeouts and eights walks in 22 2/3 innings so far) to hold down the fourth and fifth rotation spots, at least until Joel Piniero returns from the Disabled List. There are 1,296 innings left in the season and someone besides Weaver and Haren will probably pitch almost 900 of them. Ervin Santana (19 K/7 BB in 25 2/3 innings) has pitched, and will continue to pitch, better than his 0-2 record and 5.26 ERA (and his Season Score of 9) indicate. Beyond that, the Angels have a lot of question marks. Haren and Weaver are two of the best pitchers in the AL and at 30 and 28, respectively, are still enjoying their prime years, but they’ll both have a bad start here and there, and the Angels need more from the rest of the staff to stay in the hunt in the AL West.

There are two halves of every inning, and we can’t evaluate the Angels’ chances without taking a good look at their hitting as well. Howie Kendrick has come back to Earth some after a ridiculous start to the season, but still leads the team’s regulars with a .996 OPS. He won’t keep that up (his career OPS is .761), but he’s a good bet for a breakout season (maybe .300/.370/.470). Bobby Abreu is walking with a fury (16 in 78 plate appearances), and has a .410 OBP as a result. Expect him to keep that up and maybe boost his .365 slugging percentage with a few homers and doubles. After those two, there are no sure things in the Angel lineup (except the paychecks, of course). Torii Hunter enjoyd a bit of a rennaissance in 2009 and 2010 (7.4 total fWAR), but will turn 36 this summer and hasn’t been a 4-win player since 2002. Vernon Wells has a .538 OPS to-date and looks more like the 2009 version of himself (.711 OPS, 0 WAR) than last year’s 4-win player. Kendrys Morales still hasn’t played a game since breaking his leg last May, and Mark Trumbo and his .304 OBP through 17 games (an admittedly small sample) may not be ready for the major leagues.

Weaver and Haren have already been worth 2.5 marginal wins to the Angels this year. If they both pitch like 7-WAR aces all year, Kendrick keeps hitting, Morales comes back strong, and Santana and Piniero can lend some depth to the rotation, this team can hang with the Rangers and A’s in the AL West race. But as promising as early results have been, the Angels may be one injury away from a sub-.500 team.

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