Thursday, March 10, 2011

5 Dodger Questions Before Opening Day: Just How Good is the Pitching Staff?

Well, when this dude is your ace, you can't be too bad can you?

The Dodger pitching staff, especially the starters, appeared to be very strong on paper. Then both Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla had to get themselves hurt for the first month or so of the season. The Fish's injury hurts less because he was going to pitch primarily out of the Bullpen, and was the 6th starter, who would only start in the unlikely event that Garland actually got hurt. Funny how these things go sometimes.

Even in spite of that though, I love this pitching staff. Minor Leaguer John Ely, he of the Elymania last year, and Non-Roster-Invitee (aka, an old veteran with "grit", but who probably shouldn't be on an opening day roster) Tim Redding are now battling for the 5th starters spot. If it were up to me, I'd pick Ely in a heartbeat, but that's because I think Ely can and will be a solid pitcher compared to Redding, who I've occasionally mispronounced as "Ramon Ortiz". The great thing is, when Garland and Padilla are healthy again, Ely will be the 7th starter. That's awesome.

But enough about the back end of the rotation, let's talk about the bigger names. Clayton Kershaw is an ace, and only the really misinformed fans will dispute this. The dude will be 23 this year, and he's already pitched as well as the elite NL pitchers, the Ubaldos, the Lincecums, etc. In fact, he actually had a better ERA (for what it's worth) than Lincecum last year. He just doesn't bring a lot of attention upon himself, which I'm perfectly fine with. As Jon Weisman pointed out though, if Kershaw beats Lincecum to start the season, the media is going to take notice. I think Kershaw's walk rate will continue to decrease over this next season, and really that walk rate is the only main thing that can be improved on. He could very easily be a Cy Young contender. Chad Billingsley is a pretty good number two starter as well. According to Fangraphs' WAR calculations, he was worth just a little bit less to the Dodgers as a starter than Kershaw was. So he's pretty good. It feels like he's been around forever, but he's only 26 years old. There's no reason to think he can't improve on last years numbers, and like Kershaw, if his walk rate decreases, he'll put up excellent numbers. I think Kershaw is very capable of putting up a 2.72ish ERA, and Bills can put up a 3.10ish ERA. And as a Dodger fan, you gotta be happy with those as your top two starters.

Your three and four are Hiroki Kuroda and Ted Lilly, although I'm not really sure who's three and whose four. Lilly is more a flyball pitcher, which will be great in Dodger Stadium, as well as AT&T Park and Petco Park. In Coors Field and Chase Field? Not so much. Although that's not to say the dude can't pitch or anything, as he gets his share of strikeouts and will put up solid numbers as the year goes on. Kuroda has great control, and with a fully healthy year last year, he put up his best season in the MLB (admittedly, a three year career isn't very long). If he does what he did last year (and this applies to Lilly as well), the Dodgers will be in many games that they play unless the bullpen gives it away. Kuroda and Lilly are 3.5-3.75ish ERA pitchers, and as with Kershaw and Billingsley, that's excellent as a Dodger fan.

I'll write more about Garland and Padilla when they're healthy, but let's just say I'm happy that both are on the team. When this staff is fully healthy, it will be amongst the deepest in the league. And while their injuries prove that you can never have too much starting pitching depth, I'm still expecting great things from the Dodger rotation this year. I have no problem ranking them behind only the Phillies and Giants in the National League. They're that good. And for what it's worth, Bobby Valentine things Kershaw and Bills will be better than Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. So there's that.

Tomorrow I'll write about the Bullpen, and the day after that, I intend to write about the months of February and March, and why they suck for me as a sports fan. That's right readers, three blog posts in three days. Fasten your seat belts, or whatever.

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