New trio of starters could be bargain for Angels

New trio of starters could be bargain for Angels

TEMPE, Ariz. -- It doesn't make a whole lot of sense, given track record and prestige, but the Angels' three new starters basically matched the production of the trio they're replacing in 2012 -- while costing about half the price in 2013.

Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson and Joe Blanton -- making a combined $18.725 million this season -- posted a 4.32 ERA in 583 innings for their respective teams last season. Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana -- raking in $37.45 million -- had a 4.27 ERA in 567 innings.

To do that again, considering how uncommonly bad Santana and Haren were last season, isn't the expectation and probably isn't very realistic.

The Angels' hope for the new trio, which slots behind Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, is simple: Consistently pitch deep into games, and give a team with a dynamic offense and an improved bullpen a chance.

"I know we have three really good competitors," pitching coach Mike Butcher said. "Not saying we didn't have three competitors last year, but I know these guys know how to compete. I know they're going to take the ball, they're going to grind it out and they're going to give us a chance to win. That's all we can ask for out of a starting rotation."

There is a wild card in all of this, though -- Hanson's velocity.

In 2010, as he continued to establish himself as one of the best young pitchers in the game while pitching in Atlanta, Hanson's average fastball sat at 92.7 mph, according to PITCH f/x. In 2012, when he finished with a career worst in ERA (4.48), strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.27) and home runs allowed (27), it dropped for a second straight year, all the way down to 89.6.

"No doubt he can get it back," manager Mike Scioscia said. "He's got a terrific breaking ball, but the little bit of extra on his fastball is obviously something that will help him set up his pitches better and make it a little better for him."

Hanson had a rough second half last year, posting a 5.69 ERA in 13 starts, but it wasn't a velocity issue. That stayed consistent across the board.

"I felt good up until the last few months," Hanson said, "and then I just didn't feel like I was strong."

The previous offseason had a lot to do with that, he believes.

After a 2011 campaign that was shortened by back and shoulder troubles, Hanson spent most of the following winter rehabbing, with the primary goal of simply returning to health and getting through a year entirely healthy. This winter, though, he was able to focus on actually adding strength and explosiveness, which he believes can get him back to the form of two years ago.

If it does, suddenly the dynamic changes in the Angels' rotation.

"I mean, I'm 26," Hanson said. "I don't feel like I'm declining, you know?"

It may be difficult to project Hanson's 2013, but you pretty much know what to expect from the other two -- if healthy, they'll consume a lot of innings and they'll find a lot of barrels.

From 2005-12, while averaging 10 wins and a 4.37 ERA, Blanton ranked 20th in the Majors in innings but 67th in strikeout rate. Over the last three years, while averaging 11 wins and a 3.96 ERA, Vargas was 23rd in innings and 81st in strikeout rate.

In other words, Vargas and Blanton will rely heavily on their defense, particularly an outfield alignment of Mike Trout, Peter Bourjos and Josh Hamilton that should be among baseball's best defensively. And they should find the thick marine layer of Angel Stadium, which tends to swallow hard-hit fly balls on most summer nights, quite welcoming.

"I think any pitcher would like to pitch in a ballpark that it's going to be hard to get the ball out of, but I try not to let that play into anything," Vargas said. "If it helps me, that's great. But for me, I just have to worry about throwing the ball and getting people out as effectively as I can, regardless if that's in the air. Who wouldn't want three outfielders like that in the outfield, and an infield like you have? I'm excited to just have that defense behind me."

Can those surroundings for Vargas and Blanton, and a normal offseason for a still-young Hanson, make this trio a suitable enough replacement for Greinke, Haren and Santana?

Well, they'll never match them in prominence.

But Blanton believes they share one important trait.

"I feel like the three you just mentioned, over their careers, have been pretty consistent. I feel like that's what we'll bring -- consistency," Blanton said. "We have a good lineup and a good defense, so our job is to go out there and keep us in the game. And if those guys do what they're really good at, we'll win a lot of ballgames this year."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.