The Dodgers Are Suddenly Thin at Starting Pitcher
The Los Angeles Dodgers have the largest payroll in baseball and feature the very best pitcher in the game.
So how is it that, with spring training halfway over, they are suddenly looking at a pitching deficiency?
Manager Dave Roberts admitted on Wednesday that their projected number-four starter, Hyun-jin Ryu, will not be ready to pitch by May, as had previously been hoped. Ryu had been dealing with problems in his left shoulder, and the hope was that the left-hander -- who went 28-15 in his first two seasons with the club (2013 and 2014), with a 3.17 ERA and a 2.97 fielding independent pitching (FIP) -- would be able to pitch by the season's second month.
That ain't happening.
Ryu was tremendously valuable for the Dodgers in his first two seasons, putting up a 3.6 fWAR in 2013 and a 3.8 fWAR in '14. He averaged 7.67 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) and walked 2.04 batters per nine (BB/9).
But that's not the only bad news to befall Los Angeles this spring.
In his last spring outing, Scott Kazmir, who signed as a free agent this offseason as the number-two starter, was throwing far below his normal velocity. Last year, he averaged 91 miles per hour on his fastball, according to FanGraphs. But on Monday, his fastball was only in the 86-to-89 miles-per-hour range
And while spring statistics are mostly meaningless, when you couple that velocity drop with a 17.18 ERA in his first two Cactus League starts and an opponent batting average of .571, it could be cause for worry.
Brett Anderson, who was supposed to be in the middle of the rotation, will be out for three to five months with a lower back injury. Last year, Anderson threw 180 innings and made 31 starts. The only other season in his career in which he made more than 19 starts and pitched more than 112 innings was in 2009, his rookie season.
His endurance was a pleasant surprise last year. But it wasn't to be.
Los Angeles does have two healthy starting pitchers who appear ready for the season to start. Clayton Kershaw is still the best in the game, and free agent import from Japan, Kenta Maeda, has performed well so far this spring. But there are concerns about the number of innings Maeda threw back in Japan, more than 1,509 innings in eight seasons. He made at least 26 starts in every season starting in 2009.
There is a reason he was only signed to an eight-year, $25 million deal, although that contract could balloon up to $106.2 million if Maeda reaches all his incentives.
The Dodgers will need him to do that.
Here are our projections for Kershaw, Kazmir, Maeda, and Wood, as well as their fWAR projections, via Steamer.
If Kazmir and Maeda stay healthy, and Kazmir can regain the velocity on his fastball, that's a rotation that can potentially win the National League West.
However, concerns over Kazmir's velocity and Maeda's past use could send the Dodgers rotation into shambles.
The alternative to potential number-five starter Mike Bolsinger -- projected by Steamer for a 3.79 ERA, a 21.5% strikeout rate, an 8.4% walk rate, and 0.9 fWAR over 63 innings -- would be to put Zach Lee into the rotation, who performed very well in Triple-A last season, with a 2.70 ERA and 3.35 FIP in 113 1/3 innings.
The other potential alternative is super prospect Julio Urias, who is still just 19 and has made just two starts above Double-A.
L.A. knew coming into the season that some of their pitchers were brittle. That has come to pass, and the Dodgers just have to hope it will stop right there.
Otherwise, they could find themselves looking up at an improved San Francisco and Arizona in the standings rather quickly.