21 February 2011
2011 Preview - The Starting Pitchers
Before I begin, I'd like to update you on my life. I applied to a bunch of schools for my Master's and will likely submit a few more applications soon enough, but I've turned my concentration toward Teach For America, an organization I really think fits me and what I where I want to go with my life.
I assume the TFA folks would only need to Google my name and to happen upon this blog. If you're reading this now, TFA Admissions Officer, please do not assume that I am as bitter and resentful about most things as I am the Dodgers and Frank McCourt. After all, today I'm going to talk about starting pitching and how pleased I am with what we've got going into 2011.
Also, TFA Admissions Officer, I didn't deactivate my Facebook to hide from you. I decided to do a Facebook-Free February before I even applied. And so far it's been good, three weeks in and I have yet to feel withdrawals. I'm also the most productive than I've ever been, reading and writing like a roadrunner. I keep going back and forth whether I want to reactivate my profile on March 1. I guess since my birthday is March 13 and I may want to hang out with people, it might be a useful tool. It'll be a game-time decision.
Now, onto the rotation...
Even with the sudden (and "shoulda' saw that coming") injury to Vicente Padilla, the Dodgers Starting 5 is intact. Having Padilla as the emergency sixth starter was a nice little gift going into Spring Training but now we're one Rotator Cuff injury away from Carlos Monasterios or John Ely hopping into the rotation (and Jeff Weaver getting a roster spot).
All we can do now is cross our fingers and hope the rest of spring training will go off without a hitch.
The Dodgers rotation may not have the star power of the ludicrously good Phillies Phront Phive (need to copyright that) or the upside of the stellar young Giants squad that just carried the team to the World Series, but it's likely one of the top 5 in the National League. I'd take Kershaw, Billingsley, Kuroda, Lilly, and Garland, all capable of putting up 200 innings and keeping an ERA under 4.50, over all others aside from the Phillies, Giants, and maybe the Brewers & Braves (note that the Cards just lost Adam Wainwright today and Tommy John surgery looks to be on the horizon).
Pitching doesn't look to be a huge issue for the team this season, nor does it ever seem to be. Whether its because of underrated pitching coaches, desirable pitching conditions at Dodger Stadium, or Stan Conte's special supply of "vitamins," Dodger pitching has been stellar the past few seasons. At the end of 2010, while the offense was dawdling around like a bunch of losers, the Dodger rotation was unreal.
The ace. It's been a while since the Dodgers had a guy you were truly excited to see every 5th day. Last year, Kershaw became that pitcher. He went 200 innings for the first time in his career, lowered his WHIP and (hugely important) dropped his walk rate while increasing his strikeouts. He finished 2010 with an ERA+ of 132. Considering 100 is an "average" pitcher (Garland, pitching in Petco Park last year, was at 106), its safe to finally label the golden boy as a bona fide ace. Losing him would be a huge loss, but the rest of the staff could potentially pick up the slack if he were to be out a month or so. Longer than that and they'd be in big trouble.
After an epic second half collapse in 2009 that saw his biggest critics attack his toughness, Billingsley shot back in 2010 with a solid performance that saw him up his K's and drop his BB's. Chad needs to regain the form that made him the Dodgers' best pitcher in 2008 (and second best just behind Brad Penny in 2007 when Bills was only 22). Billingsley's ceiling for 2011 is for him to be the Matt Cain sidekick to Kershaw's Tim Lincecum. It would be a huge disappointment to see him end up more like 2009 Bills, but 2010 looks to have been a good omen and another 130 ERA+ season like '07 and '08 wouldn't be out of the question. If he starts out of the gate as Bad Chad though, the Boo Birds and critics who question his ability to man up will start getting louder and louder.
Although 2011 will only be Kuroda's fourth in the majors, he's been pitching professional ball since 1997 when he was a freshly caught 22-year old making his debut with the Hiroshima Carp (see what I did there?) of the Japanese Central League. Kuroda is the only guy on the staff I wouldn't deem a for-sure innings eater, as he has made three DL trips in his three seasons (though none last year), and he certainly comes with the most risk of injury out of all the Dodgers starters because of his history. He's been very good in Dodger blue though, and since you can't put a price on very good, his $12 million salary this year could be seen as a solid move if he does end up on the mound the entire year and continues on his track of delivering above-average pitching. His MLB career ERA is 3.60, he strikes out 3 times as many batters as he walks, and 2010 was his best season as a Dodger, so expecting Kuroda to be an above-average #3 starter is certainly reasonable. Health is the key think for the superHiro.
Ted Lilly came over to LA in one of Colletti's awful deadline trades last year. He rejoined the team that first drafted him and pitched very well, striking out 5 times as many batters as he walked. Unfortunately, he could have pitched like Walter Johnson and the team still would have ended up 40 games back, or however we ended up last season. Lilly's Achilles Heel has always been the home run and one would hope that he would be able to take advantage of the big outfields in the NL West to keep his fly balls in the park during the three years he signed to be a Dodger. Lilly has only put up one poor season (2005 in Toronto) since becoming a regular rotation fixture, and is a two-time All-Star as well as extremely efficient with his strikeouts and walks. He is a well above-average #4 starter and will certainly hop on up to #3 in 2012 after Hiroki Kuroda returns to Japan. I'm excited for Lilly and think it wouldn't be out of the question for the top 4 guys in the rotation to really lead this team to victory. They're not Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels, but they don't need to be in this division.
I was shocked when Ned Colletti signed Garland. How could this be the same GM that confidently journeyed into 2010 with Charlie Haeger the Horrible as his 5th starter? I was expecting to go back into this season with another fifth starter capable of getting zero outs before getting pulled in the first inning (I was at that game and Ramon Ortiz pitched 5 innings of mediocre relief that encouraged Torre to keep him around for far longer than he deserved). Garland, though, is coming off a solid year near the top of a Padres staff that almost dragged a historically bad offense into the postseason. A true innings eater, Garland has pitched at least 190 innings in each of the last nine seasons. His best season was in 2005 when he and Mark Buehrle pitched the White Sox to a World Championship. Those days are certainly behind him, but as a fifth starter in another relatively large ballpark (Garland, like Lilly, is a notorious fly ball pitcher - averaging 1.9 per 9 innings in his career), he should be just fine.
As I mentioned earlier, Vicente Padilla won't be the Dodgers' #6 starter until probably the All-Star Break. Non-roster pitchers in camp include Rubby De La Rosa (L.A.'s 2010 Minor League pitcher of the year who still needs some time on the grill), Dana Eveland (who has pitched for five teams and was never good anywhere), Tim Redding (see Dana Eveland), and Oscar Villareal (not as bad as the previous two but still not good). Other options include Albuquerque vet Javy Guerra, Jon Link, Ely, and Monasterios. Guerra has trouble finding the mitt and Link (as well as Scott Elbert and Blake Hawksworth) appears to be fighting for a bullpen spot. That leaves Ely and Monasterios, who both saw time in L.A. in 2010.
John Ely and Elymania roared through the Southland for about a month before he fell back to Earth, escaping from Chavez Ravine with an ERA just below 5.50. Whether it was wear, the other hitters figuring him out, or any other reason, the lively righty lost his mojo and became extremely hittable. All we can do is hope that the Ely of May 2010 who couldn't throw a base on balls will return and the Ely of June and beyond disappears into memory.
Carlos Monasterios, on the other hand, stuck with the team the entire reason for no reason other than the fact that he had to. As a Rule 5 pick, he needed to stay on the 25-man roster all season or else he would have been returned to the Phillies, the team from which the Dodgers claimed him. The young Venezuelan pitched well enough, especially out of the bullpen, but never seemed dominant, often scooting out of trouble rather luckily.
Monasterios and Ely will likely head the rotation in Albuquerque going into 2011, but I think the role of emergency sixth starter goes to the one who is the hotter hand at the moment of opportunity. With the starting five Colletti has somehow managed to put together, I'm confident we can at least contend in the division. It'll be up to the offense to take it from there.
C - Rod Barajas
1b - James Loney
2b - Juan Uribe
3b - Casey Blake
SS - Rafael Furcal
LF - Jay Gibbons
CF - Matt Kemp
RF - Andre Ethier
C - Dioner Navarro
OF - Tony Gwynn Jr.
OF - Marcus Thames
IF - Ivan De Jesus
UT - Jamey Caroll
SP - Clayton Kershaw
SP - Chad Billingsley
SP - Hiroki Kuroda
SP - Ted Lilly
SP - Jon Garland
Next, the bullpen.