Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Los Angeles Dodgers: Overrated Rotation?

The LA Dodgers have maintained a stranglehold on their division, though that has diminished some over the past week. The team is most certainly built to compete despite their recent sale. The Dodgers are certainly a club with the major league talent and a strong enough farm to compete. They have been dealing with their share of injuries lately, though their strong rotation has been a constant all season.

Nathan Eovaldi gas made two spot starts for the Dodgers and has looked pretty solid in both outings. He hasn’t been so spectacular as to declare him the next Matt Cain or anything, but he’s gotten good results which is more than you see out of most spot starters. He’s bounced back and forth between LA and their AA affiliate for the past 2 seasons, and while he walks too many batters by a fairly large margin, he is proving to be reasonably capable in short stints with the big club. He’s probably not a huge part of the Dodgers rotation plans, but he’s certainly not the worst option out there. He’s showing a lot of potential overall, but it’s all small sample size stuff. I don’t know that he’d hold up particularly well with more tape on him at the major league level, but he’s certainly been a help to the Dodgers so far.

Ted Lilly has twice hit the DL this season, and that’s not encouraging this early on. At 36 he has been having a very productive season, but the two starts he’s missed so far are only the tip of the iceberg there. He’s been relatively ineffective over his last 3 starts, while some of that ineffectiveness has been masked by errors making 5 of the 17 runs he’s given up over his last 16 & ⅔ innings unearned. That said, Lilly has gone 6+ in every start but his most recent when he walked away with discomfort in his pitching shoulder. I don’t know that anyone expected Ted Lilly to be a top flight starter, largely because he’s not. He’s a fine pitcher, more mid to back of the rotation talent but he does what’s asked of him and every now and again he might surprise you with a great year, but overall he’s going to eat innings, keep his team in games, and that’s more or less that. He’s been better since coming to the NL about walking batters, and his strikeout numbers have been more or less constant throughout his career. This year, those numbers are much less good than one would hope, but he’s also allowing almost 2 hits less per 9 than his career average. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher, and this season in between his two DL stints he wasn’t quite that guy, getting more ground balls than usual by a lot, and limiting line drives to 14% of all balls in play. If his peripheral stats stay where they are, batters will adjust, and start teeing off on him, if he can get his strikeout and walk issues under control, he will probably be fine.

Chad Billingsley is striking batters out at a health rate (60 strikeouts over 61 & ⅔ innings) and walking batters at a reasonable, if higher than I’d like rate (25 free passes so far). Nothing Billingsley is doing is really out of the norm for him though none of it’s impressive in the NL West either. He’s pitching to a 4.09 ERA and a 91 ERA+, which is better than last year’s line, but only marginally. He’s getting ground balls at exactly the same rate as last year, but giving up line drives and homers a bit more frequently. This isn’t exactly an impressive year for Billingsley so far. He’s pitched well enough, 5 quality starts so far, and only one real implosion. I understand that if one were to only ever meet the requirements for a quality start (6 innings pitched, 3 runs) they would have a 4.50 ERA, but his biggest problem hasn’t so much been giving up runs hand over fist, but that he’s had 3 outings of 4 innings or less so far, and has given up 3+ earned runs in 5 starts. He’s not pitching impressively so far, and while he’s pitched quite well before, he looks to have settled in as a relatively solid back of the rotation starter and nothing more.

Aaron Harang is looking pretty average, better than his career numbers would indicate, but not overwhelming either. He’s doing well with his strikeout numbers, and doing alright with his walk rate having 56 strikeouts and 24 walks over his 64 & ⅔ innings. He’s pretty much pitching to his career numbers, a pretty solid flyball pitcher, and too many line drives. Harang isn’t going to suddenly start blowing people away, he’s more of an unrealized talent than he is  anything else. He had two very good years in Cincinnati but has otherwise been below average his entire career. While he strikes out batters well enough, and exhibited a good ability to limit walks in the mid 2000s, he has since started giving up more walks, and just appears to be incapable of really fooling batters. Harang isn’t going to start blowing batters away any time soon, but he’s able to keep the back of the rotation from sinking into complete disarray.

Chris Capuano has apparently decided he’s a different pitcher now, after a series of underwhelming years in Milwaukee and a season of generally underwhelming results for the Mets he has up and started destroying the competition so far. over 68 & ⅓ innings Capuano has struck out 61 batters, walked 25, and is giving up 3 fewer hits per 9 than he has at any other point in his career. Capuano isn’t preventing line drives any better than he has in the past, and he’s giving up more fly balls but his BABIP is sitting about 60 points lower than his career mark at .243. I call shenanigans. I fully believe that Capuano isn’t this pitcher that he’s suddenly become at 33 years old, and that he’s due to regress, and when those line drives and extra fly balls start to fall in, he’s going to be in trouble. Maybe the Dodgers saw something in him that I can’t see, because they did sign him for 2 years with an option for 2014, but I’d look at this as an unsustainable line, the 5 & ⅓ inning, 7 run (4 earned) performance he put up to open the month is likely more of the guy we’re going to see than the guy who went 7 in Houston and only gave up 2 hits 5 days prior.

Clayton Kershaw is perhaps the only starter on this staff who can be called legitimate. At 24 years old he has proved more than any given other member of this staff regardless of service time. He’s managed to work his control down to about 2 walks per 9 over the past 4 years, and it’s staying right there this season. He’s not striking batters out like he has in the past, but he’s still going deep into games so it’s hard to complain. He’s pitched 81 & ⅓ innings so far and has gone 7 or more innings in 8 of his starts so far. It’s not as though the Dodgers are stretching him either, he’s thrown a season high 117 pitches twice and only thrown over 110 pitches on 3 occasions. Kershaw is inducing a bit more contact than usual, but he’s getting roughly 50% ground balls as well, he’s also only allowing 15% line drives. He is giving up homers a bit more frequently than ever before, but that’s bound to happen when you start pitching to contact, and he’s still not giving up that many homers (7). Kershaw is clearly the anchor for this staff, and is easily capable of stopping a skid on any given day. If there was one member of this starting rotation I’d put money on at any point it’s Kershaw.

The Dodgers are still holding onto a 3 game lead in the NL West, and while they have the 4th best team ERA in the NL, I doubt seriously Capuano’s ability to continue at this rate and that could be their undoing if he unravels sooner rather than later. The Dodgers have the 5th most runs scored in the National League as well, which give their pitcher friendly home park is great, they’re taking walks better than anyone else, and have the highest OBP in the league. The team is in a less than perfect position with the Giants nipping at their heels as injuries haven’t helped them. If they don’t make a move to upgrade their rotation by the deadline they might seriously be shooting themselves in the foot and end up taking a wildcard spot to see any post season play.

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