It seems like we say this every year, but it appears the Los Angeles Angels have a pitching problem. The team is once again sub-.500 to begin the season despite a top-five offense by wRC+. The trio of Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani, and Jared Walsh have been absolutely incredible to begin the season and have helped carry the team through some injury issues. However, once again the pitching staff is the team’s downfall. Their 5.10 staff ERA is third-worst in all of baseball.
One of the main reasons for the brutal start is Griffin Canning. Canning was solid in 2020, posting a 3.99 ERA. However, thus far he has appeared to regress fairly significantly posting an ERA over 5. Yet, there appear to be some positive signs. Canning’s K% has risen to 26% just above his 2019 figure. Additionally, he has actually lowered his BB% from 2020. The biggest issue has been the long ball. Despite some improvement in his underlying StatCast metrics, Canning has already allowed six homers in only 26 innings. So the question is, what does StuffERA and the location analysis have to say about him?
Let’s start with some negatives around Canning. While StuffERA does believe he has been better than his ERA suggests, it says he has deserved at 4.32 ERA, the worst StuffERA mark of his young career. The biggest reason for the poor profile has been an In_wOBA of 0.016 one of the worst in the league. This means that more damage is being done on the balls put in play against Canning than his locations would suggest. Actually, Canning has been locating extremely well with respect to wOBA. His xLwOBA of 0.322 is actually top ten among all pitchers with 250+ pitches. One of the biggest drivers of that success has been the location of his breaking pitches.
As you can see from the above chart, Canning has been excellent at keeping his breaking balls out of the most dangerous spots within the zone (red spots). Overall, he is seeing success with the pitches. His primary breaking ball is a slider and the pitch has a posted a wOBA of 0.307, however, he has already allowed three of his six homers on the pitch. This appears to be largely a function of poor luck for Canning and based off how well he is locating I think there is room for improvement there.
The other major positive for Canning is his elite swinging strike generation. Canning has the third-highest xWhiff among the same 250 pitches plus sample above but unlike many of the other pitchers that locate well for whiffs, Canning also creates more whiffs than expected (1.2% points more than expected). One of the biggest reasons for this success is Canning’s ability to dominate up in the zone with his fastball.
As you can see, Canning has been dominating the top half of the zone with his fastball and while it may not appear that way from looking at the chart he is generating more whiffs with the pitch than he did last season. Overall, the pitch appears to be better across the board and a large part of why has been the location.
Overall it appears that despite the appearance of regression, Canning has actually been the best version of himself so far in 2021. The underlying pitch locations tell a story of a pitcher who has decided to attack north-south with a fastball-slider combination. The new approach has generated more whiffs than ever before and the jump in strikeouts is real. He has had a bit of him run misfortune which has crushed his ERA and really hid some significant gains. If anyone in your league is selling, look to acquire Canning as I believe he is poised for a big season, and he could be the key to turning around the Angels’ pitching staff.