‘A different type of style’: Angels resume bullpen rebuild with signing of Álex Claudio
As they assemble a bullpen nearly from scratch, don’t expect the Angels to look only at the relievers who throw 95 mph or harder and can generate high whiff rates. New general manager Perry Minasian is considering all kinds of pitchers, even those whose fastballs don’t possess the spin qualities desired by so many of the sport’s executives. He proved as much Wednesday when he announced the signing of left-handed reliever Álex Claudio to a one-year, $1.125-million contract.
Claudio isn’t a fireballer like closer Raisel Iglesias, the first reliever Minasian acquired to stock a bullpen from which seven relievers have been purged since the end of the season. He isn’t a promising prospect like Rule 5 draft pick Jose Alberto Rivera, whose fastball has touched 102 mph. Claudio doesn’t have an offering that reaches 90 mph.
Yet Claudio’s arsenal intrigues Minasian. The GM sees the 28-year-old as a reliable relief option who could stump opponents simply because he doesn’t look like most pitchers. Claudio throws a slow changeup that sits around 73 mph, a pair of mid-80s fastballs and a mid-70s slider.
“I think we’ve seen over the last couple of years, especially if you watched this postseason, different looks,” Minasian said in a conference call. “I think it’s a really important thing. Different options, different looks, guys that can do different things, not having the same type of guy in every role.
“It just gives [manager Joe Maddon] more weapons. We can match up certain hitters in certain pockets of the lineup. With [Claudio’s] profile and what he does, it’s a different type of style that hitters aren’t gonna see on a daily basis.”
Claudio, a 27th-round draft pick out of Puerto Rico in 2010, appeared in 20 games for the Milwaukee Brewers last season. He was released by the team this month when it decided not to tender him a contract ahead of his final year of arbitration eligibility.
Since debuting with the Texas Rangers in 2014, Claudio has posted a 3.44 ERA and struck out 217 batters in 311 games. He has made 239 appearances since 2017, the third-most among major league pitchers in that span. He spent the last two seasons with the Brewers, for whom he took the mound in a major-league-leading 83 games in 2019.
Claudio’s durability intrigued Minasian. So did his versatility. Despite having more favorable splits against left-handed batters, Claudio has not been held exclusively to a specialist’s role. Such flexibility is key; MLB adopted a rule ahead of the 2020 season requiring all relievers to face three batters or finish an inning, eliminating the need for a left-hander who is adept at retiring left-handed batters.
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Claudio has faced left-handers in 487 plate appearances in his career and held them to a .202 average and .556 on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He has faced right-handers in nearly twice as many plate appearances (820) and fared worse. They have batted .305 with a .798 OPS.
Minasian isn’t too worried about the platoon splits. Among 218 relievers with at least 100 innings since 2017, Claudio has the 25th-lowest home-runs-per-nine-innings rate (0.67). Batters who put his pitches in play typically keep the ball on the ground and rarely make hard contact.
Opponents produced line drives on about 20% of batted balls the last two seasons. In 2020, Claudio had a 46.6% ground-ball rate and a 34.5% fly-ball rate. He held batters to an exit velocity of 81.5 mph in 2020, a figure that ranked in the top 1% of the league according to Baseball Savant. The same database ranks the 85.8-mph exit velocity he allowed in 2019 in the top 2% of pitchers.
The trends are especially encouraging for an Angels team that boasts a group of sure-handed infielders in third baseman Anthony Rendon, new shortstop José Iglesias and utility player David Fletcher, who is expected to receive most of his playing time at second base next season.
“From talking to Joe, who saw him in Milwaukee when he was managing the [Chicago] Cubs, he was a guy he really respected and liked how he went about it and the way he competed and battled,” Minasian said of Claudio. “I think he fits what we’re looking for.”
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After Wednesday’s move, the Angels bullpen features Iglesias, Rivera, Felix Peña, Mike Mayers, Ty Buttrey and Luke Bard alongside Claudio. Minasian could fill out the group with Gerardo Reyes, Kyle Keller, Hector Yan and Chris Rodriguez, all of whom are on the 40-man roster.
Others who will compete for relief jobs in spring training are Jake Faria and Boomer Biegalski. Each signed minor league contracts last month. The Angels could also consider moving any of left-handers Jose Suarez, Patrick Sandoval and Dillon Peters into relief roles.
But with financial support from owner Arte Moreno, who said payroll would not be reduced for next season, it’s just as likely Minasian will continue to make additions to the roster. The Angels have posted team ERAs above 5.00 for two straight seasons. Pitching has been the team’s weakness for even longer. The more depth they have, the better off they will be.
Scott Boras, who represents Rendon and is baseball’s most prominent agent, pointed out the Angels’ past flaws in a 90-minute conference call with reporters Tuesday. He believes addressing that area of the roster ahead of the 2021 season could push the Angels into postseason contention for the first time since 2014.
“They have the ability to create runs,” Boras said of an Angels team that scored the fourth-most runs (249) in the American League last season. “And if they can do a lot to diminish the runs scored against them, I think they can move up rather quickly.”
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