Another season on the way, another season in which Los Angeles Angels southpaw Andrew Heaney is dealing with arm trouble. The Angels announced on Twitter today that Heaney would miss his next start because of "left elbow inflammation" and that an MRI had "ruled out ligament damage."
Heaney has made four starts in Spring Training and posted a record of 1-0, but with a 4.63 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. He has not lived up to his potential since being acquired from the Miami Marlins before the 2015 season and is known more for how much time he spends on the disabled list as opposed to on the field.
Nobody wants to admit it but with the Angels looking to compete in the AL West and hoping to keep star outfielder Mike Trout around long-term, it may be time to cut the dead weight that is Heaney.
What used to be
There was a time when Heaney was a highly touted prospect who turned heads in the minors. He went 9-3 and posted an astounding 1.60 ERA in 18 minor league starts in 2013 and followed that in going 9-6 with a 3.28 ERA across Double and Triple-A ball the following year. The Marlins promoted him that summer, and he proved to be green in going 0-3 with a 5.83 ERA across seven games (five starts).
Heaney was dealt to the Angels that offseason and started 2015 in the minors before being called up after a slew of injuries to the team's starting rotation. He made 18 starts and was 6-4 with a 3.49 ERA, plus a strong strikeout to walk ratio of 2.79. All in all, it looked as though the Angels had a strong young pitcher with his best years ahead of him.
The wheels fall off
That was, sadly, not the case for Los Angeles. Heaney made just one start in 2016 before experiencing elbow trouble and undergoing Tommy John surgery in July. He returned to make five starts last year and though he posted a strong K/9 of 11.22, he was still just 1-2 with a 7.06 ERA. Heaney also gave up 12 home runs in 21.2 innings and posted a low ground ball rate (GB%) of 30.2%.
In the blink of an eye, the man of 2015 was gone.
Granted, Heaney's struggles last year could have been solely Tommy John rust, but his spring numbers this year don't exactly support that. His velocity has not changed for the worse so that isn't the root of his issues. Heaney may be tipping his pitches, but that is an issue that can be easily resolved.
Instead, we may need to accept the brutal reality that Heaney just isn't as good as he was made out to be initially. Yes, he's great at keeping his walks low and can rack up strikeouts when he's at his best, but Heaney also has a hard time keeping the ball on the ground. His career GB% is low at 38.8% and he has always been a fly ball pitcher.
This is where things become a concern. Baseball is trending towards an era where the fly ball and batters' launch angles are king. We saw this last year when MLB hitters set a new record with over 6,000 home runs hit in a season, and FiveThirtyEight reported earlier this month that the balls used by MLB had indeed changed and could be responsible for this increase in power across the league. Heaney's career fly ball rate (FB%) is close to his GB% at 39.8%, but this new trend definitely spells trouble for him.
Thus, combined with his continued injury woes and fly ball tendencies, Heaney desperately needs to reinvent himself as a pitcher. He'll get eaten alive otherwise and given how the Angels are trending towards win-now mode, he is certainly in danger of being left on the outside looking in not just in Los Angeles, but in all of MLB if he doesn't right the ship.