Thursday, January 23, 2014

Dodgers don't really need another starting pitcher with in-house options

All too predictably, one of the other teams overpaid for Masahiro Tanaka, and he took the money. The Dodgers did the right thing here, saying we’ll pay "X" number of dollars, but no more (where x is probably around six years, $120 million + $20 million release fee).

Given his fastball velocity (good, but not elite) and past workload, the Dodgers harbored substantial questions about how well Tanaka will do in the majors and for how long he will be able to pitch well. The Yankees are pretty likely to suffer the "Winner's Curse" in this auction. Read General Manager Ned Colletti say something smart.
"We had a value to the player and that's where we went. The value of a player involves a lot of factors -- needs, strengths and weaknesses. We put a certain value on the player and when it went beyond that, we knew we weren't going to get the player. We understand that's how the process works."
The Dodgers only had so much use for ho they viewed Tanaka. That translated to a large, but finite number. It’s great to hear rational thought coming from the front office. What does the newly rational Colletti think about adding another starter now?
"I think we're fine either way."
I find myself agreeing, which is a little bit scary given Ned’s track record.

After the first three spots in the rotation, the Dodgers are counting on some combination of Dan Haren, Josh Beckett and minor leaguers until June -- at which point they can count on Haren, Beckett, minor leaguers and Chad Billingsley. Haren finished strong last year, and the Dodgers think it's real. For today, let’s just say he’ll be at least OK and focus on the No. 5 starter.  If the Dodgers keep with the standard routine, they need about 30 starts if those top four stay healthy.

Given their respective injuries, I see about a 35 percent chance of Beckett contributing and an 85 percent chance for Billingsley (starting sometime between May and September). The second half of the season, though, is also when trades tend to happen and prospects tend to be ready. So, the Dodgers will have plenty of options in the second half: I’m looking at you Zach Lee and Ross Stripling (pictured). I don’t get the fuss about Chris Reed, as I doubt he’ll work out in the short-term.

If the Dodgers roll with Stephen Fife in the no-Beckett scenario, and he puts up the 4.50 ERA we expect from him, the Dodgers still probably win seven or eight of those first 15 games when the No. 5 starter is used. If they sign a Bronson Arroyo-type, we might get closer to a 4.10 ERA there, and probably still win eight of those games.

Admittedly, Arroyo will stay in longer and save the bullpen about 20-30 innings. Saving the bullpen actually decreases the chance of winning these games since the bullpen is generally better than him, but presumably increases the chance of winning games later in the year.  Being better than Fife, but not letting the bullpen take over in the sixth inning, it about balances out so the two options both have relatively the same expectation.

The problem with signing Arroyo or somebody like him is you cannot send him to the bullpen or the minors, or start him every other time if you decide you'd rather go a different route. With the four outfielder situation, you can rotate them all through and keep them relatively happy; veteran starting pitchers are not like that.

That's why the Dodgers were in pursuit of Tanaka. If the guy you get is a clear upgrade, then it's problem solved. Haren is the No. 5, while Beckett and Billingsley on "rehab assignment" until needed and ready. And critically, the postseason rotation becomes stronger. But if you sign a "meh" starter, all you've done is create drama. Poor Ted Lilly's panties are still in a bunch over the disrespect the Dodgers dealt him last year when he was in the situation of veteran starter on the roster, but one who was not really needed to start.

The Dodgers are right now so much better, talent-wise, than anybody else in the NL West. They should run away with the division unless things break really poorly for them. They can stand to throw out the "B" team 15 times this season, if everyone is healthy.

If they were really smart about it, they should be planning workloads, with the expectation of playing through October, for their top guys. Pull Clayton Kershaw early in a blowout, even if he's cruising; let lesser relievers get the 1-inning, 3-run saves, etc.

Many people in sports refuse to coast because they will regret it too much if it turns out they missed the playoffs by a small margin, or because they don't feel like they can "turn it on" and off. The way the Cardinals handled their young pitching last year was a nice example.

They didn't work any one guy as hard as they could because they knew the next best option was still OK and because they knew they had a good chance of wanting Michael Wacha, et al, to be at their strongest in September and October.

If the Dodgers want sign another starter, that's their prerogative -- but they don't exactly "need" one.

Photo credit: Dustin Nosler, Feelin' Kinda Blue


  1. From everything I've gathered, Beckett is supposed to be ready for Spring Training. If he's healthy, isn't it pretty much a given he'll be handed the 5 spot in the rotation given his salary?

  2. Beckett stinks now. That's been apparent over the last few years. "Injuries" or not.

  3. Beckett had an injury that made it almost impossible to throw... Chris Carpenter had the same injury and came back from it....give Beckett a pass until you see how he throws in spring training....