In the wake of consecutive arson jobs by Joe Blanton and Barry Enright, the rotation that Jerry Dipoto has come under fire. Well, that's not true, it has been under fire since the first week of the season, but the level of WTF when it comes to the starting pitching is now palpable. How could a GM make over a rotation that struggled last season and somehow replace it with a new rotation that is even worse?
A growing sentiment is that Dipoto is just plain incompetent. That, of course, is stupid. True incompetence would be to build a rotation with no discernible plan. Jerry very much had a plan and a sound one at that. Unfortunately, plans don't always play out like they are supposed to and Dipoto is finding that out the hard way.
The acquisitions of Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson weren't terribly popular. Those three lack the style and flash that Dipoto's other more famous pick ups have had. These weren't big name guys with stellar track records yet they were replacing guys who did have either a big name and/or a good track record in Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana. That was just fine with Dipoto though because he wasn't acquiring those three because of their marketing potential, he was acquiring them because he thought he was getting known, stable commodities.
In his first year as GM, Dipoto got burned badly by the volatility of his rotation. Dan Haren was supposed to be a mortal lock for 200+ innings of high level work. Ervin Santana was supposed to do his usual act of vacillating between dominant and average on a weekly basis. Instead, they both mostly stunk up the joint. The Halos also had to deal with unexpected DL trips for both Haren and the once indestructible Jered Weaver, not to mention C.J. Wilson pitching through elbow problems. In total, it was an unpleasant experience for Dipoto and the Angels. The rotation had become shrouded in too much uncertainty and Jerry reacted to that by heading into the off-season with a plan designed to reduce that uncertainty.
Well, that didn't work out. Dipoto tried to minimize the risk in the rotation by settling for lower ceiling arms. He tried to take the safe bet and still ended up rolling snakeyes. Joe Blanton is the perfect example of this. The Blanton signing was met with scratching of heads from much of the baseball community, but the logic behind it for Dipoto was clear. Sure, Blanton wasn't very good, but he could be below average but not terrible for about 200 innings. With the exception of an injury-plagued 2011, Blanton was never worth less than 1.7 wins and never threw less than 175 innings. The upside isn't there, but there was little reason to believe Blanton would be anything other than a perfectly adequate #4 starter. We all have seen how well that has worked out as Joe Blanton has become the human incarnation of a batting practice machine.
Dipoto took a similar "safe bet" on Jason Vargas and that has worked out as expected. Vargas was generally a league average pitcher good for 200 innings and that sure looks to be what he is going to do again this year. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with Vargas other than his lack of upside. That low ceiling now looks like a flaw because of the other pitchers around Vargas. With Blanton a complete mess, C.J. Wilson struggling and Jered Weaver injured, Vargas has been miscast as the Angels' best starter for the last few weeks. That isn't his fault and it really isn't Dipoto's fault either.
All Dipoto did was rely on assumptions that were virtual certainties to most educated people. Weaver might not be an ace with reduced velocity, but he should still be a pretty good pitcher for 200 innings at worst, right? Wrong, because Weaver, a model of durability, is going to miss nearly two months of action due to a freak injury. C.J. Wilson was supposed to be pretty surefire bet for a bounceback season now that he got his elbow cleaned up. Instead the surgery appears to have helped with nothing. Tommy Hanson was the one high risk-high reward bet that Dipoto did take and thus far the results are not great both because of Hanson's performance and lack of availability due to a family tragedy. It was a bet that he thought he could take because Hanson was just a #5 starter, but with the unexpected loss of Weaver and decline of Blanton, the fact that the Hanson bet isn't paying out looks pretty bad.
The real point of failure in this whole "play it safe" rotation strategy for Dipoto isn't that he has several guys in the rotation underperforming, it is the guys in the lineup underperforming. A big part of the equation for Jerry was that the Halos were supposed to be able to outscore everyone. If the pitching staff he built consistently allowed four and half runs per game, so be it because the lineup was supposed to score five and a half. Instead, the lineup has cratered and can't even come close to keeping up with the expected level of performance which has only served to magnify the shortcomings of the rotation.
This is all a very long way of saying that just about every tenet of Dipoto's roster building plan, while sound in logic, has gone completely wrong. We haven't even mentioned yet the disaster that is the bullpen which Dipoto throught he had fortified in order to mask the weaknesses of the rotation. All of the things that have gone wrong though have hardly been the sort of things that reasonable people would've predicted. Blasting him because Barry Enright is getting lit up is just unfair because almost no team in baseball is so well built that they can get down to the eighth and ninth guy on their starting pitcher depth chart in mid-May and expect things to go off without a hitch.
Not even the best GM can prepare for a season when everything that can go wrong does go wrong. Believe it or not, Dipoto tried to at least minimize the damage such a scenario by making risk averse moves, especially in the rotation, and even still it blew up in his face. Sometimes things just aren't meant to be.
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