The Angels Have Their Own Late-Inning Ace

Yesterday I wrote about the emergence of Mariners reliever Edwin Diaz, in part because, on Tuesday, I watched him record his first career big-league save in dominating fashion. I was watching the Mariners and the Red Sox because that game was of some interest to me. I wasn’t watching the A’s and the Angels, because that game was not of some interest to me. It would’ve been of interest to almost no one — the game had zero playoff implications. What happened at the end of that game, though, was that Cam Bedrosian recorded his first career big-league save in dominating fashion. If I’m going to be honest, I’ve been more aware of Diaz’s success than I have of Bedrosian’s. Right now I want to try to make up for that.

Even though Bedrosian was a first-round pick in 2010, I first became aware of him in 2014. He got my attention by steamrolling through the minors — when he was first brought up to the majors, it was because in 24 minor-league innings, he’d struck out 45 batters, allowing a .285 OPS. The results were obscene, but they didn’t repeat in the bigs, so Bedrosian started bouncing back and forth. Between later big-league promotions, Bedrosian threw nine innings in the minors, striking out 22 while allowing another .285 OPS. Bedrosian made a mockery of lesser opponents. His inability to get outs with the Angels was frustrating, and I gradually lost interest. Sometimes the lower-level freaks don’t become upper-level freaks.

With the Angels in 2014, Bedrosian was bad. With the Angels in 2015, he was hardly any better. With the Angels in 2016, he’s been one of the game’s best relievers. Only Zach Britton has him in ERA. That’s a fine name to look up to.

Bedrosian has flown under the radar, for a few reasons. Before, he wasn’t very good. At present, the team around him isn’t very good. It also has some far more popular names. And only more recently has Bedrosian been thrust into higher-leverage situations. It took Bedrosian some time to earn Mike Scioscia’s trust, but you can consider it earned, and this is most of the reason why. Behold Bedrosian’s career, by way of a rolling-average ERA plot:

bedrosian-era

Bedrosian last allowed a run on May 31. Now, to be fair, on May 31, he allowed two runs, and shame on him, but since then he’s made 25 appearances. That’s 25 scoreless appearances, spanning 23.2 innings and 87 batsmen. Of those, Bedrosian has walked five, while whiffing 33. His OPS allowed has been a clean .333. A while ago, Angels games ceased to matter to the greater population, but they still matter for the Angels, and for the Angels players, and Bedrosian has breathed fresh life into his career. He had been a 23-year-old disappointment. Now he’s a 24-year-old closer.

We don’t usually make a lot of use of ERA. I know that, which is why I included some other numbers in that paragraph. Allow me to show you some even more meaningful displays. Here is the progression of Bedrosian’s career, by strikeout and walk rates:

bedrosian-k-bb

He’s never before been at this strikeout level, and when he was close, he was also issuing elevated walks. As the strikeouts have spiked of late, the walks have stayed down, and so this related plot is of significance. Here is how Bedrosian has gotten hitters to expand their own zones:

bedrosian-o-swing

That’s a huge jump in out-of-zone swing rate. And here we can talk about what’s been going on. Bedrosian has always had a good, rising fastball that flies in the mid-90s. The trouble was in trying to find other stuff. It’s not impossible to succeed as a one-pitch reliever, but it requires a special kind of heater that Bedrosian didn’t have. He didn’t have a consistent changeup. He couldn’t find a consistent slider. There was frustration, and then there was resolution. Bedrosian has ditched his changeup, and he’s stuck with one grip for his slurve-y breaking ball. The breaking ball has turned into a weapon as the comfort level has increased, and so now Bedrosian has what he needs.

By far the biggest difference has come against left-handed hitters. In 2014 and 2015 combined, lefties batted .368 against Bedrosian with 17 walks and 19 strikeouts. So far this year, lefties have batted .221 with five walks and 34 strikeouts. Bedrosian might not be the weak-contact sort, but he is the uncomfortable sort, aided by the confidence with which he delivers his improved slider. He’s thrown it 32% of the time with zero strikes, 28% of the time with one strike, and 37% of the time with two strikes. That’s not a lot of fluctuation. The breaking ball moves similarly to how David Robertson’s moves, and it can be a putaway pitch, or a strike-stealing pitch.

Here’s a well-located breaking ball to open an at-bat:

Here’s another to finish an at-bat off:

A change from last year is that, before, Bedrosian would unleash a lot of what we’ll call non-competitive breaking balls. This year he’s gotten rid of that problem, throwing the pitch with purpose for both strikes and balls. He can use it to get called strikes, and he can use it to get chases. Last year, opponents swung at 59% of sliders in the zone, and 24% of sliders out of the zone. This year those numbers are 46% and 44%, respectively. That tells you everything you need to know about how the pitch creates confusion.

And you should see the fastball, too. Bedrosian commands it well to the arm-side. Here’s a borderline called strike earned in large part by Bedrosian locating well:

And this is a pathetic and helpless-looking whiff. I don’t think a fastball was being expected.

Bedrosian is able to spot his fastball pretty well. Now, for the first time in his career, he has something else to go with it. The changeup is gone as Bedrosian has committed to his slider, and because he’s so able to move the slider around both in and out of the zone, it makes him exponentially more difficult to hit. That makes sense in theory, and it’s made plainly obvious by the results on paper. Bedrosian can get whiffs and looks, and that makes him precious. It doesn’t necessarily make him Dellin Betances or anything, but it makes him good, and he so badly wanted to be good. Now the numbers up top are beginning to resemble the numbers posted down below.

Bedrosian has Tommy John surgery in his past, so that’ll keep people wondering. People are always free to wonder about any pitcher. It’s totally justified. What’s also justified is believing in Cam Bedrosian’s emergence, and though he’s just one player, and though the Angels still aren’t good, Bedrosian could be a big part of a hoped-for franchise turnaround. It’s not impossible to see them bouncing back down the road. It’s not impossible, as long as younger players put their tools together.

We hoped you liked reading The Angels Have Their Own Late-Inning Ace by Jeff Sullivan!

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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ccoville
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ccoville

Aaaaand he promptly blows a save.