The Dodgers Rotation

With Masahiro Tanaka officially a Yankee, it’s safe to write about the Dodgers rotation. The Dodgers were finalists in the bidding for Tanaka, but not because they needed excess pitching. the 40 man roster includes seven experienced starters, although one of those will open the season on the disabled list.

The Upper Class
Clayton Kershaw
Zack Greinke
Hyun-Jin Ryu

Kershaw is obviously in a class of his own, the King to Lords Greinke and Ryu. Kershaw is elite in any fantasy format for all the usual reasons. He strikes out about a batter per inning, limits walks, has shown a multi-season ability to stymie hits on balls in play, pitches a ton of innings, and wins games in bunches. That translates to elite four category production in roto leagues and similar success in more advanced formats. One thing to keep in mind, if you play in a league with more categories than the standard 5×5 format, an all around elite pitcher like Kershaw becomes more valuable.

Greinke and Ryu have secure jobs but lack Kershaw’s dominance. Greinke’s first season with the Dodgers was rewarding for fantasy owners. In 28 starts, he won 15 games and pitched to a 2.63 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. However, a decrease in his strikeouts was disappointing despite the second best whiff rate of his career. His fastball velocity has also been declining for several seasons, but he saw a jump in velocity between June and July that bodes well for the future. Fantasy owners should get strong performance from Greinke, but don’t count on any truly elite categories.

Greinke fastball velo

Ryu is entering his age 27 season after a brilliant rookie campaign. For fantasy purposes he is an innings eater capable of roughly average production across the board. We should expect some modest, negative regression in his overall numbers. In other words, take the Steamer and Oliver projections to heart. They predict an ERA of 3.55 and 3.12 respectively. That comes with a strikeout around 7 K/9 and a WHIP slightly north of 1.20.

Shaky Veterans
Dan Haren
Josh Beckett

The Dodgers brought in the fly ball oriented Haren to add depth to the rotation. Relying on Beckett, Fife, and Billingsley (once health) is a shaky proposition, and the Dodgers have learned the hard way that there’s no such thing as too much pitching depth.

As Chris Cwik noted about Haren, his statistics hint at positive regression and/or continued decline. He struck out a healthy number of batters and limited walks, but he’s had a problem with home runs in recent seasons. Given that he allows a lot of fly balls to begin with, a 13 percent HR/FB ratio is bad indeed. In plain English, he’s allowed 28 home runs in each of the past two seasons despite pitching fewer than 180 innings. That’s the sixth most home runs allowed over the last two seasons, and he’s behind only Phil Hughes and Ervin Santana on a per innings basis.

Dodger Stadium limits home runs, but so does Nationals Park. For fantasy purposes, we should probably expect Haren’s home run problem to continue while he posts otherwise strong numbers. He’s had trouble pitching deep into games the past few seasons, which could negatively affect his win total. He’s risky, but he’ll also be cheap if you want to take a gamble.

Beckett’s season ended after eight games in 2013 when he needed surgery to relieve a pinched nerve. He is expected to be ready by spring training and is entering the final year of his current contract. 2014 will be his age 34 season and he’s been banged up in the past. He’s two years removed from his last positive fantasy performance, but if he comes back healthy he could be primed to post average fantasy numbers at a dirt cheap price. Keep your eye on his velocity this spring, that might inform you as to how healthy he is and if he’s worth a $1 flier over somebody younger.

The Depth
Chad Billingsley
Stephen Fife
Matt Magill

Billingsley has tempted fantasy owners his entire career but has never quite been good enough to provide much value. He required Tommy John surgery after just two starts last season. The surgery occurred in April, which would put him game ready anywhere between March and May. The Dodgersmay milk his rehab until such time as they need a sixth starter. Owners in very deep leagues could throw a dollar at him, but most owners don’t have any reason to hire his services this season.

Fife is a useful, real world swing man. For fantasy purposes, he doesn’t quite cut it. He’s a decent, right-handed finesse pitcher, but that profile offers no opportunity for platoon advantages. Magill’s a step below that, he can eat innings for a major league team in a pinch, but that’s the extent of his value in the rotation. If he can get the walks under control, he might be useful in the future. His destiny is probably in the bullpen.

The Prospects
Zach Lee
Ross Stripling

It was recently announced that Lee would be joining the major league camp this spring. He’s considered the top prospect in the Dodgers’ farm system, and it’s common for teams to let their manager get a look at the top prospects. It doesn’t mean that Lee will be competing for a job in the rotation. Similarly, Joc Pederson was also invited to major league camp, but he’s not going to displace Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, or Andre Ethier.

Lee isn’t a power arm, nor does he profile as an ace, so redraft owners can ignore him entirely. Those in keeper leagues may want to keep an eye on him or even draft him depending on league depth. His upside appears to be as a mid rotation pitcher unless his command and control continues to improve. Statistically, he’ll probably be more useful to a real team than a fantasy roster once he reaches the majors.

Stripling has a similar but less touted profile. He’s a future command and control guy who doesn’t profile as a fantasy stud. Both Lee and Stripling may work better as fantasy spot starters. At this point, there is no PITCHf/x data to turn to, so we’re left at the mercy of scouting reports, which say all the usual hopeful things about pitching prospects that lack elite velocity.

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Barry Smail
Barry Smail

Perhaps I quibble, but I question the author’s characterization of Ryu’s rookie season as “brilliant”. I would say solid, but not stellar. I owned Ryu last year (won my league), and the main thing I noticed was his pronounced home/road split: 3.69 ERA on the road and 2.32 at home. Perhaps that will get ironed out somewhat in 2014.