Sunday, February 8, 2015

2015 Season Preview: Starting Pitching

Here is the first installment in my season preview series.  The Dodgers have gone through a whole lot of changes in the offseason, one of the biggest turnovers between the front office and on the field in their storied history.

Up first is the strength of the club, starting pitching.

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Zack Greinke
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
4. Josh Beckett
5. Dan Haren

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Zack Greinke
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
4. Brandon McCarthy
5. Brett Anderson

Then Compared to Now:
The top three in the rotation stay the same, and that's a good thing.  You won't find many better threesomes at the top of any pitching staff than Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu.  It's a good mix of power and craftiness coming at you from both sides of the pitching rubber.

That leaves the biggest question mark to the final two slots.  Last year, Beckett gave the Dodgers many terrific starts to the tune of a 2.88 ERA, including that fantastic no-hitter in Philadelphia.  Unfortunately, 20 starts was all he could give, as a hip injury forced him into retirement.

Then there was Haren, who went through the roller coaster of great to start, awful for much of the summer, then reliable again down the stretch.  Through it all he had a 4.02 ERA, which was good for a guy at the bottom of the rotation.

Individual Breakdown:
Kershaw (2014 stats): 21-3, 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 239 K's in 198 1/3 IP
Oh ya, and an MVP and another Cy Young Award, his third overall.  You really couldn't ask for much of anything else, as he completely dominated in just about every start.  About the only thing that didn't go right was in the playoffs against the Cardinals, as he took two losses and got hammered for a 7.82 ERA.  He'll just have to be patient and hope he gets another chance at redemption, as that's the next step in his evolution.

Greinke: 17-8, 2.71 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 207 K's in 202 1/3 IP
After another terrific season from him, the question he'll be facing all season long is if this will be his final year in Dodger blue.  He's eligible to opt out of his current six-year deal, which is now entering the third year.  Who knows how that will play out, but posting another sub-3.00 ERA and All-Star berth will only increase the odds of him looking for more money.  So, in a strange way, the better he does, the more likely he'll be gone.  But the Dodgers will gladly take the quality starts, and then worry about the contract situation in October, hopefully after a parade in downtown LA.

Ryu: 14-7, 3.38 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 139 K's in 152 IP
The third part of the Big 3 put up great numbers in his second season, yet it was a bumpier ride thanks to a couple of injuries that limited him to 26 starts.  He nearly missed the playoffs because of a sore shoulder, though was able to recover and pitch very well in Game 3 against the Cardinals.  He also had a sore butt muscle at one point.  Um, I'm guessing that's not much fun.  Let's hope those injuries don't pop up again, as he quietly is a really good starter.

McCarthy (with Diamondbacks and Yankees): 10-15, 4.05 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 175 K's in 200 IP
Those numbers don't jump off the page, but his 14 starts after being traded to the Yankees should: 7-5, 2.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP.  I don't think anybody anticipated numbers like that.  As a result, the Dodgers gave him a shiny, new four-year, $48 million contract.  We know that he's tough, as he's more than bounced back from taking a horrible line drive to the head in 2012 with the A's, then suffered a seizure the following year in what was related to that seizure.  We also know that he's had a long history of injuries, only making 30 starts once.  The Dodgers believe he'll be good to go every fifth day, as he can be a great addition in the bottom part of the rotation if that's indeed the case.

Anderson (with Rockies): 1-3, 2.91 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 29 K's in 43 1/3 IP
Yup, those numbers are tiny, all because he only made eight starts.  In fact, after making 30 starts in his rookie season with the A's in 2009, he's made 19, 13, 6, 5 (16 appearances), and 8 starts since.  Last year he dealt with a broken left finger and lower back injury.  The Dodgers only signed him for one year, so they're hoping to find that guy who has fantastic stuff when healthy, and not the guy whose name you forget about when he's buried on the DL.

Is Now Better Than Then?
On paper, I would take this year's rotation, mostly because of McCarthy.  If he can pitch anywhere close to the guy who went over the AL East last season and dominated, then the Dodgers have a terrific top four.  If he reverts back to the guy the DBacks were more than willing to get rid of, then that's a pretty back signing.

Let's not forget about all those great starts Beckett gave before the All-Star break last season, as he was one of the top pitchers in the National League for quite some time.  Haren probably won't be missed because of his inconsistency, but when it was all said and done, a 4.02 ERA in 32 starts isn't too shabby.

I also should point out that we all need to temper our expectations for Kershaw, who's set such a high standard for himself, there's not much else he can do.  Let's not just assume he can throw up zeroes every start.  As we saw in the NLDS against the Cardinals, even the MVP can be human, and shaky starts happen to the best of them.

With all of that said, with some good health, the Dodgers have to like their chances in every game with the guy they send to the hill.  You know what you'll get from the top three, but if McCarthy and Anderson can pitch as well as they're capable of, this is a very strong rotation, and an upgrade from last year.

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