22:34pm: Murray reports that it’s a major league deal between the Angels and Plesac, though the specific terms of the contract are still not known.
22:14pm: The Angels are in agreement with right-hander Zach Plesac on a deal, according to a report from Jon Heyman of the New York Post. Robert Murray of FanSided first reported that a deal between the two sides was close.
Plesac, 29 next month, made just five starts for the Guardians last offseason before being demoted to Triple-A and eventually outrighted off the club’s 40-man roster in June. The right-hander posted a disastrous 7.59 ERA across 21 1/3 innings of work in those five contests, and his performance at the Triple-A level last season did little to inspire confidence: Plesac mustered just a 6.08 ERA with a 17.9% strikeout rate in 19 appearances at the level. While those brutal numbers surely make Plesac something of a surprising choice for any club to add to their pitching staff to those unfamiliar with the right-hander, it’s worth noting that Plesac had established himself as a solid middle-to-back of the rotation starter in the years prior to his disastrous 2023 campaign.
Initially drafted in the 12th round of the 2016 draft, Plesac made his big league debut as a 24-year-old back in 2019, when he made 19 starts in the majors for Cleveland. At the time, he had the look of a solid mid-rotation starter with a 3.81 ERA (126 ERA+) across 21 starts in his rookie season even as his 4.94 FIP and lackluster 18.5% strikeout rate both left much to be desired. Plesac then took a major leap forward during the shortened 2020 season. The right-hander posted an incredible 2.28 ERA that was 96% better than league average by measure of ERA+ and a strong 3.39 FIP.
During the truncated campaign, Plesac’s peripherals caught up to his performance as he struck out 27.7% of batters faced while walking just 2.9%. That strikeout-to-walk ratio placed Plesac between Brandon Woodruff and Clayton Kershaw for the 13th best figure among starters that year, while only Kyle Hendricks and Marco Gonzales allowed less free passes. The strong performance set him up to be a key cog in Cleveland’s rotation for years to come headed into the 2021 season.
Unfortunately for both the Guardians and Plesac, that future as a key piece of Cleveland’s pitching corps did not come to pass. Plesac instead reverted to his previous, low-strikeout rate form in 2021 and has stayed that way ever since. Unlike his rookie campaign in 2019, however, his results fell back down to Earth alongside his peripherals. The diminished results with a 4.49 ERA (90 ERA+) and a 4.59 FIP across 274 1/3 innings between 2021 and 2022. Although his walk rate remained at a strong 6.2% during that time, he struck out a measly 17.2% of batters faced. That figure was the fifth-worst punchout rate among starters with at least 250 innings pitched between the two seasons.
Of course, it’s worth noting that even in those 2021 and ’22 seasons where Plesac offered diminished production relative to his previous heights, the right-hander’s results were only around 10% below league average. A team can do far worse than 25 starts at that level of production for their fifth- or sixth-best starting option; 31 starters posted an ERA- of 110 or higher while throwing at least 100 innings in the majors last season, or more than one per team in the league. If the Angels believe Plesac’s 2023 campaign was an anomaly and his 2021-22 performance is a more accurate baseline, the right-hander could be a valuable depth option for a club that saw 14 different pitchers draw starts in 2023.
After losing Shohei Ohtani to the Dodgers in free agency earlier this month, the Halos have plenty of work to do as they look to retool their roster and return to contention in 2024 on the heels of back-to-back 89-loss seasons. Though the specific terms being discussed between Plesac and Anaheim are not yet clear, a deal for Plesac figures to be either a minor league pact or perhaps a relatively inexpensive major league deal that won’t prevent the Angels from making other additions to the roster, including in the rotation. Either way, Plesac has options remaining headed into 2024 and would likely compete for a spot in the Angels’ starting rotation this spring before potentially starting the season as depth at the Triple-A level should he be unable to secure a starting spot.