Dan Szymborski released his ZiPS projections for the Dodgers earlier this week, and they really like the Dodgers’ (somewhat) rebuilt rotation. Let’s take a look at the front four…
Clayton Kershaw – 14 W, 203 K, 3.02 ERA, 1.24 WHIP (193.2 IP)
Still just 22 (he’ll turn 23 in Spring Training), Kershaw has been an absolute beast over the last two seasons, striking out 9.5 batters per nine with a 1.20 WHIP and 2.85 ERA. He’s benefited from a 76.5% left-on-base rate in his relatively short career, so regression to the ~72% league average will result in the projected ERA. Kershaw is already one of the game’s top starters both in reality and in fantasy, and he should only get on better from here on out. The Dodgers have something special on their hands, but you knew that already.
Chad Billingsley – 16 W, 195 K, 3.30 ERA, 1.25 WHIP (207.1 IP)
Billingsley didn’t turn 26 until this past summer, but he already has three sub-3.90 FIP seasons to his credit. He battled some command issues in 2009 but rebounded very well this year and had perhaps the quietest 4.6 WAR season around. The projection is pretty much right in line with what he’s done over the last few seasons, so there’s no reason to raise your eyebrow here. The ERA might be a tad ambitious but it’s not out-of-this world crazy. That season would be par for the course, and it’s entirely possible that he’ll exceed it in 2011.
Ted Lilly – 14 W, 164 K, 3.44 ERA, 1.12 WHIP (183.1 IP)
Lilly was brilliant for the Dodgers after coming over from the Cubs at the trade deadline, tossing up a 3.52 ERA with 77 strikeouts in 76.2 IP across a dozen starts. He’s had knee and shoulder issues in the last two seasons, so there are some health concerns, though Lilly gets credit for logging no fewer than 177 innings in seven of the last eight seasons (2005 being the line exception). The ERA projection might be a touch optimistic considering that he’s been over 4.00 in five of the last eight years, but he has pitched to a 3.38 ERA over the last two years. I’m skeptical considering the injury history and his age (35 in a few weeks), and what ZiPS sees is probably a 60th or 70th-percentile performance. It’s absolutely possible, but I’d take the under.
Hiroki Kuroda – 12 W, 119 K, 3.56 ERA, 1.19 WHIP (164.1 IP)
The 2010 season was the best in Kuroda’s relatively short MLB career, as he tossed up a 7.29 K/9 with 2.20 BB/9 in 196.1 innings, avoiding the disabled list for the first time with the Dodgers. Last year’s 3.39 ERA came despite a below average 68.9% LOB rate, though he’s consistently been below average in that department in the bigs. Stranding runners isn’t necessarily a repeatable skill, but some guys just seem to have a knack for over- or under-performing the average. Anyway, Kuroda’s big thing is health. If he manages to stay on the field, he’ll be very productive, kinda like Lilly. That projection is essentially his career averages.
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That’s four guys in the same rotation with a 112 ERA+ or better in at least 150 innings according to ZiPS, and fifth starter Jon Garland projects to a dead even 100 ERA+. Just seven teams have boasted a front four that strong since 2000, though only just one (2005 White Sox) won the World Series. Now, if only the Dodgers could find a real left fielder…