The Los Angeles Angels head into 2013 as a nearly unanimous favorite to capture the AL West this season, if not take home the pennant in the American League. With the addition of Josh Hamilton to a lineup that laready featured a few big names in it, it isn't difficult to see why.
Aside from the main guys (Hamilton, Pujols, Trout, etc.), there are a couple of folks who could fit the bill as an "x-factor" for this team (Mark Trumbo). But the one I'm thinking that is crucial, yet completely under the radar heading into the season season is the newly acquired Tommy Hanson.
The Angels acquired Hanson from the Atlanta Braves in exchange for reliever Jordan Walden. If Hanson can return to his pre-2012 form, this trade could end up being a steal for the Halos. That's a big 'if' though.
Offense was not a problem for the Angels in 2012. They ranked near the top of the league in almost every offensive category. Which is why a player like Trumbo isn't the key, though he is important to success. The concern in Anaheim is going to be pitching, whether it's in the rotation or the bullpen. But success in the bullpen starts with success in the rotation. And the questions in the rotation come after Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson. Which means it starts with Hanson.
Jason Vargas won't put up the 3.96 ERA he posted in the pitcher's utopia of Seattle the last three seasons. He's going to regress, at least a bit. Joe Blanton is absolutely not more than a no. 5 guy in the rotation. Hanson needs to be a strong third starter for the Angels to be successful.
Prior to the 2012 season, he never had an ERA above 3.60. He has a solid strikeout-to-walk ratio for his career, but health is going to be an issue for him, most notably with his shoulder and back, both of which have presented problems in the last two years. Which, no doubt, contributed to his struggles in 2012, when he posted a 4.48 ERA, a career high WHIP, and walked more batters than he ever had before.
If Hanson can bounce back and get closer to that 2012 form, while remaining healthy, it would not only benefit him, but the bullpen that struggled mightily for this team in 2012 as well. One issue for the relief corps was starters not going deep into games. If he can go at least six innings per outing, as he did in 2011, the Angels' staff as a whole will be a lot better off in 2013.
The success of the Angels, from a pitching perspective, will fall heavily on the shoulders of Tommy Hanson. He's not the most important part of this staff, but he's the x-factor. His success, or potentially his failure, will tell a lot about where the Halos will be going in 2013.