Saturday, February 12, 2011

2011 Los Angeles Dodgers Season Preview: Rotation

In the second of a nine-part series, here is my preview of the Dodgers' starting rotation for 2011.

LHP Clayton Kershaw
- Kershaw is the unquestioned ace of the Dodger staff and is the best young left-handed starter in all of baseball. Kershaw followed up his breakout 2009 season with arguably a better 2010. Kershaw lowered his BB/9 from 4.8 in '09 to 3.6 in '10, and his K/BB increased from 2.03 to 2.62. He threw 204 1/3 innings as a 22-year-old and things will only improve from here. The addition of a slider really helped him improve. He should make his first All-Star team in 2011.

RHP Chad Billingsley
- Billingsley is a polarizing figure amongst Dodger fans and media. People love to focus on his poor starts against Philadelphia in the playoffs and a poor second half in 2009. People overlook the good -- like his second half of last season. Despite going 5-7 in the second half, he had a 3.00 ERA (4.14 in the first half), 1.17 WHIP while giving up one home run. In fact, Billingsley set a career-low in HR/9 with 0.4. The biggest improvement overall was his control and willingness to pitch to contact. His H/9 increased slightly from '09-'10 (7.9 to 8.3), but his BB/9 decreased (3.9 to 3.2) and his K/BB improved (from 2.08 to 2.48). And after leading the National League in wild pitches in '09 with 14, he reduced that number to four. He's not trying to strike every hitter out. He's becoming a pitcher, which is scary for the rest of the NL West.

RHP Hiroki Kuroda
- Kuroda had his best season in 2009. Many thought he was destined to return to Japan after some success in the big leagues, but the Dodgers gave him a 1-year, $12 million contract to pitch in 2011. While he isn't as durable as many would like, he did set a career-high in innings pitched (196 1/3) at age 35. If he's healthy, he could conceivably reach the 200-inning plateau. Kuroda is a solid vet and a perfect fit as the Dodgers No. 3- or 4 starter.

LHP Ted Lilly
- Lilly was signed to a 3-year deal. In hindsight, the Dodgers probably overpaid for his services a bit -- but it wasn't a gross overpay. Lilly was good with the Dodgers in 76 2/3 following the July 31 trade, posting a 3.52 ERA and minuscule 0.99 WHIP. However, he gave up a lot of home runs -- 13, good for a 1.5 HR/9 rate (tied for highest on the team). His mark of 1.4 HR/9 in his career doesn't lead me to believe he's going to suddenly decrease his home run rate. So, he's just going to have to keep guys off base. I wish Lilly threw harder, but the Dodgers could do a lot worse for a No. 4 starter.

RHP Jon Garland
- Garland was a surprise signing this off-season. The Dodgers usually go with a retread or rookie as the No. 5 starter, but Garland is coming off one of the best season's of his career (partly due to playing in San Diego's pitcher-friendly pet shop). His WHIP was a little higher than ideal -- 1.31 -- but that certainly isn't terrible. Garland's been touted as a ground-ball pitcher, but his career rate (45.2 percent) would lead you to believe otherwise. He did tally a career-high 51.9 percent ground-ball rate in 2010, but that isn't exactly a trend. Like Lilly, the Dodgers could do a lot worse for a No. 5 starter.

Guys in the mix

Barring injury, the Dodgers' rotation is set, but these guys will be considered (after Vicente Padilla) if the Dodgers need a starter in 2011.

RHP John Ely
- Elymainia struck last year, but not nearly as hard as Fernandomainia did in 1981 (that's an understatement). However, Ely flashed some ability. In his first eight games, he was 3-2 with a 3.00 ERA, 1.06 WHIP and a 3.9 K/BB ratio. Things went to hell after that, ultimately resulting in him ending up in Triple-A, where he was absolutely rocked. Ely could be a decent No. 4- or 5 starter in the bigs, but if he isn't locating his pitches with pinpoint accuracy, he's going to get roughed up. It's that simple. He'll start at Albuquerque.

RHP Tim Redding
- Redding was signed to a minor-league deal and apparently spurned better offers from other teams. Redding pitched for the Rockies' and Yankees' Triple-A teams last year, going 8-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. That's nothing to get excited about, as the 33-year-old (today is his birthday, by the way) last pitched in majors in 2009 for the Mets (3-6, 5.10, 1.43). He'd probably get the call before Ely if the Dodgers needed a seventh starter because of his "veteran" goodness -- but that doesn't make it the right decision. He'll join a solid Albuquerque rotation.

RHP Carlos Monasterios
- Monasterios was the Dodgers' Rule 5 pick last winter and to much surprise, made the club. He had his struggles while starting, posting a 5.91 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 4.9 K/9 and a 1.45 K/BB ratio. He had a few decent starts, but threw five or more innings five times in his 13 starts. He also gave up 12 home runs in 53 1/3 innings as a starter (2.02 HR/9), which won't cut it. He performed much better as a reliever (2.91 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 2.56 K/BB). That is where he'll make his name in the majors. If the Dodgers need an emergency starter, he could handle it, but he'll make his name as a reliever. He'll begin the season in the Triple-A rotation and could be one of the first pitchers called up to fill a bullpen need.

RHP Jon Link
- Link (as well as Mike MacDougal, Travis Schlichting and Oscar Villarreal) probably should have been in my bullpen preview, but the Dodgers are going to try Link as a starter -- at least in Triple-A. Link didn't have the greatest debut with the Dodgers and he'd be an absolute last resort as a starter (assuming he doesn't flourish in his new role).

RHP Rubby De La Rosa
- If Link was a last resort, De La Rosa is an absolute long shot. While his fastball is electric, his breaking stuff needs work. The only way De La Rosa makes the rotation at some point in the season is if there's a ton of injuries and he is absolutely lights-out in the minors. I don't doubt his ability, but there's no need to have unnecessary expectations for De La Rosa.

Analysis

The rotation is setting up nicely. I mean, when guys like Lilly and Garland are your No. 4- and 5 starters, that bodes well for your team's success. With Padilla to back them up, the Dodger pitching staff as a whole looks to be in great shape. Kershaw is on his way to superstardom and Billingsley aims to shut his critics up. While the Dodgers were interested in Zack Greinke, I don't really see them making a move for a starter this season unless things go horribly wrong.

Next up: Bench

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