Sometimes, it’s easy to figure out the source of a player’s struggles. Whether it’s a mechanical issue, an injury, or just a slump, it can easily be understood and corrected. That’s the case with Justin Upton, who had flashbacks to his prime in small spurts this season for the Los Angeles Angels in between various back injuries.
That isn’t the case with Griffin Canning and Dylan Bundy, who both completely fell apart after assuming large roles with the team in April. Bundy was the Angels’ Opening Day starter, but eventually found his way to the bullpen. Meanwhile, Canning was optioned to Triple-A after being a member of the starting rotation before an injury ended his season.
With Canning and Bundy, there was no quick fix or role change that was going to help. Simply put, neither of them had it working for them in 2021. We’ll dissect what went wrong for them and for Upton as well as look ahead to 2022 in Day 10 of our player reviews.
The first nine days of player reviews can be viewed here:
Day 1: Reid Detmers, Janson Junk, Packy Naughton
Day 2: Austin Warren, Jimmy Herget, Oliver Ortega
Day 3: Kean Wong, Adam Eaton, Jose Rojas
Day 4: Andrew Wantz, Jose Quijada, Chris Rodriguez
Day 5: Tony Watson, Andrew Heaney, Jose Iglesias
Day 6: Aaron Slegers, Alex Claudio, Luis Rengifo
Day 7: Jose Quintana, Junior Guerra, Kurt Suzuki
Day 8: Taylor Ward, Juan Lagares, Steve Cishek
Day 9: Jaime Barria, Phil Gosselin, Jack Mayfield
Canning was meant to be the sixth man in the Angels starting rotation this season. In his age-25 season — and his third in the Majors — there was hope for a breakout campaign that could lead to him being a more permanent fixture in Anaheim.
Instead, he struggled right off the bat. Canning went 5-4 in 13 starts and 14 total appearances, but held an ERA of 5.60, a WHIP of 1.484, an ERA+ of 80, and allowed 65 hits and 14 home runs in just 62.2 innings. He was below average in nearly every advanced metric, according to Baseball Savant.
On July 2, Canning was optioned to Triple-A, where he made just one start before an injury ended his season. Things couldn’t have gone much worse for Canning, meaning there could be hope for a bounce-back in 2022. If the Angels make the additions they’re hoping to make, though, it’s unlikely we see him on the Opening Day roster.
Bundy’s fall from grace between 2020 and 2021 was one of the more surprising storylines of the Angels season. In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, Bundy had Cy Young chatter around him. He looked dominant and was setting himself up for a massive 2021 campaign ahead of free agency.
Like Canning, it was clear from the very beginning of the season that something was off. Bundy made 14 starts — many of them filled with hard contact and high walk rates — before being moved down to the bullpen. After four relief appearances, injuries became such an issue that they needed Bundy back in the rotation.
He closed out the season with five starts, and actually looked slightly better than the beginning of the season after the bullpen demotion helped him to figure out some deeper mechanical issues. His season ended on August 24 when he suffered a shoulder injury.
In total, Bundy started 19 games and appeared in 23. In that time, he had a 6.06 ERA and a 1.357 WHIP. He, like Canning, was below league average in nearly every advanced metric, particularly struggling with hard contact. He was 12th percentile in barrel% and 38th percentile in average exit velocity.
He now enters free agency with significantly diminished value from where he was a year ago. Perhaps the Angels take him back on a cheap deal, but it also wouldn’t be surprising to see them let him walk completely.
For about one month of Upton’s age-34 season, he looked like a rejuvenated version of himself. From May 23 to June 19, Upton was the team’s primary leadoff batter. In that time, he batted .333 with a 1.040 OPS, getting 31 hits and 25 runs scored in 24 games.
It was then that he suffered a back injury that derailed his season. He missed one month, then came back and had a .442 OPS over his next 26 games. At that time he re-aggravated his back injury and missed the remainder of the season.
Upton’s season was not as disappointing as Canning and Bundy. Unlike the two pitchers, he showed — if only for a brief time — that he was still the same version of himself that the Angels traded for in 2017. Injuries took their toll on him, and now he has to look ahead to 2022.
Upton is under contract with the Angels for one more season, but it’s been kept quiet what the plans are in the outfield. They could return to Upton as the starting left fielder, keeping Jo Adell or Brandon Marsh as their utility man, or they could make Upton the utility outfielder while Marsh and Adell start alongside Mike Trout.