Matt Shoemaker Is Helping the Angels Run Away With the AL West

The right-hander is having an outstanding rookie campaign for the hottest team in baseball.

When the Angels lost their ace starter Garrett Richards back on August 20, the Halos were in second place in the American League West, trailing Oakland by 1.5 games. It was thought the loss of Richards, who was 13-4 with a 2.61 ERA on the season, would be a tough blow to Los Angeles' pitching staff.

And while the loss of Richards was certainly not a good thing, it sure hasn't seemed to slow the Angels down at all. After beating the Rangers 8-1 on Wednesday night, they are now a season-high 35 games over .500 at 90-55, the first team in baseball to 90 wins. Their Magic Number to clinch the West is now nine as they've won 22 of their last 28. And much of the credit for their ability to succeed without Richards has to go to rookie right-hander Matt Shoemaker.

The 27-year-old Shoemaker became the first Angels rookie ever to win 15 games in a single season, and is in the midst of a red-hot stretch in which he won American League Pitcher of the Month honors for August.

In his last 11 starts, including Wednesday night's defeat of Texas, Shoemaker is 8-1 with a 1.53 ERA and a FIP of 2.80. On the season, he has a nERD of 1.32 - meaning he has given up 1.32 runs a game fewer over a 27-out game than a league average pitcher - and on the season is 15-4 with a 3.16 ERA and a 3.34 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). And as the table below shows, he's been one of the best rookie pitchers in the American League this year.

Masahiro TanakaYankees124189.391.322.513.053.1
Collin McHughAstros99239.132.542.793.163.0
Yordano VenturaRoyals129267.633.473.253.692.3
Jake OdorizziRays1012299.513.114.083.692.0
Matt ShoemakerAngels154198.351.683.163.341.9
Trevor BauerIndians58238.633.664.123.831.6
Roenis EliasMariners1012287.953.533.814.011.6

Obviously, he's not a top contender for Rookie of the Year. Chicago's Jose Abreu has that all but wrapped up, and he also trails four other rookie pitchers in fWAR. But he has helped the Angels survive the loss of Richards, with L.A. starters going 15-3 over the last 30 days, compiling a 3.19 ERA, fourth-best in the American League over that stretch.

Shoemaker has been solid across the board, with a strikeout rate (K%) of 23.0% that is better than the 19.2% league average, and a walk rate of 4.6% that is also better than the league average 7.2%. He's held opponents to a .239 batting average, and while his Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) of .289 is slightly below the league average (.299), it doesn't indicate Shoemaker has been getting by on luck.

Shoemaker is not a flame-thrower, with a cut fastball that averages about 91.3 mph. He's a control pitcher who relies on a split-finger fastball, slider and curveball to keep hitters off-balance. By all measures he's done a good job at that, allowing three or fewer runs in every outing since July 26.

Obviously, having both Richards and Shoemaker would be ideal, especially in a short playoff series. But in Richards' absence, Shoemaker has done a remarkable job filling in for the missing ace.