There are a lot of things that one can complain about when it comes to the construction of the 2013 Angels but there is one thing that really drives me crazy right now. The fact that the Angels currently carry 13 pitchers on their roster, and appear set to do so for the foreseeable future, is a pox on this ballclub.
Believe me, I understand why they feel like they need to have eight relievers. Early in the season the rotation was such a mess that they needed the extra reliever (or two if you want to take a real hard line stance) just to get through games because guys like Joe Blanton couldn't get out of the fourth inning. But that was a temporary problem. The rotation has been much improved of late and early exits by starters are no longer taxing the relievers at an unreasonable level.
There is also the thought that the Halos don't need much of a bench because their starting lineup is set in concrete. They have two switch-hitters and only one lefty, so there is not much need for setting up a platoon. Their hitters are also generally considered to be strong enough (at least on paper, Mr. Hamilton) that pinch-hitting isn't something that comes up enough, especially in the AL, to necessitate having a stable of strong pinch-hitters at the ready.
None of that, however, is enough to mitigate all the unintended consequences that come with having essentially no bench. Already this year the Angels have gotten burned several times. We are barely a third of the way into the season and here are many (but probably not all because I have a faulty memory) of the unfortunate situations the Angels have found themselves in as a result of carrying a baker's dozen pitchers:
-The most infamous consequence was the May 4th game in which Mike Scioscia was trying to give Josh Hamilton a day off, but his best option for offense was to DH Hank Conger. Unfortunately, the Angels needed to make substitutions late in the game for platoon advantage purposes, which meant Conger had to shift from DH to catcher, thus forfeiting the DH. Yep, an AL team played into extra innings without a DH. The pitcher never go to bat, but very well might have had the game lasted another inning or two. That should NEVER happen.
–Brendan Harris, who has played almost no first base in his career, has made multiple starts at first base so guys could rest. This is the problem with having a short bench, you have to get creative with positional flexibility and the Angel roster just isn't suited for that right now due to injuries. The injuries could be seen as an excuse because baseball players NEVER get injured, right?
–Chris Nelson, a waiver wire pick up who can't hit, has started at DH for the Angels. This is partly just a lack of depth, but it is also the short bench. Nelson was given that start because the Angels lacked other options. It was him or Harris, only Harris was already starting to give someone a day off. Conger was off the table because Scioscia learned his lesson from our first example. But still, Scioscia had some injuries to deal with, so he was forced to give Nelson a start. If they had another position player slot open, the Angels could use it on someone who can actually hit, like Kole Calhoun. Instead, they use that spot on an infrequently used reliever and carry Nelson because of that aforementioned quest to have positional flexibility.
–J.B. Shuck is not only being allowed to start, he is being allowed to start and seldom being pinch-hit for against left-handed pitching. Shuck is not much of a hitter to begin with making it hard to justify him getting as many at-bats as he has been given. It is impossible to justify him being allowed to hit when he doesn't have the platoon advantage. He has held his own so far in a small sample size, but that doesn't excuse the Angels failing to exploit the platoon advantage. The reason for this is quite simply that the Halos are basically playing without a back-up outfielder thanks to their short bench. Removing Shuck isn't an option unless Scioscia wants to do something wacky with one of his infielders.
-Speaking of which, the short bench sometimes forces Scioscia to do something wacky with his infielders. Brendan Harris has played left field, despite almost no experience. Earlier this week, Howie Kendrick was forced to play a few innings in left field where has made only a handful of appearances previously. That, of course, includes an appearance where Kendrick once landed on the DL because he hurt himself in the outfield, likely because he was performing actions and motions that his body is not accustomed to. 13-man pitching staffs get people hurt.
-The lack of bench also makes pinch-running and defensive replacements almost a non-starter for Scioscia. There have been cases where the Angels should be pinch-running for Pujols or replacing Trumbo for defense in the outfield, only Scioscia is reluctant to do either because he doesn't have the right personnel for it. Pinch-running for Pujols on days he plays first would mean having someone play out of position at first. Subbing for Trumbo in right isn't a thing because, again, they have no back-up outfielder right now. These just aren't options, but they could be if the Halos carried another position player to enhance their flexibility.
But the real damning thing about this giant pitching staff is that the Angels aren't doing it because they have too many quality relievers. The truth of the matter is that they have carried a large staff for this long because they can't find enough quality relievers so they have been auditioning relievers all season long to find some who are worth keeping around. Things have improved of late, but all the pitchers still remain because Scioscia still isn't sure who can really be trusted amongst the crop of unproven arms that are Dane De La Rosa, Michael Kohn, Robert Coello and to a lesser extent even Kevin Jepsen and Garrett Richards.
It all adds up to the Halos forfeiting lineup flexibility, late-game strategic maneuverability and win probability so that they can keep around an extra pitcher who probably isn't even a replacement level pitcher. There is nothing smart about and it needs to stop, only it probably won't.