2012 Los Angeles Dodgers Season Review: Starting Pitcher

Clayton Kershaw

After Clayton Kershaw‘s 2011 performance, for which he won the Cy Young Award, I wasn’t sure I could be more impressed with him going forward. That’s not to say I was certain he had peaked, but it would no longer come as a surprise to me or anyone else. What impressed me so much about his 2012 season though, was the fact that he had another fantastic season while pitching through physical adversity.

Kershaw had to deal with plantar fasciitis throughout most, if not all of, the campaign, on top of a late-season hip injury that could have led to surgery, and an early-season illness that forced him to last just three innings in his 2012 debut.

After 2011 bests in FIP (2.28), SIERA (2.81), xFIP (2.84), BB/9 IP (2.08), and WAR (7.2), Clayton followed with excellent marks across that spectrum yet again, with a 2.53 FIP, 3.24 SIERA, 3.25 xFIP, 2.49 free passes per nine, and a 6.3 WAR. His strikeouts remained above one per inning (9.57/9 IP in 2011, 9.05 in 2012), and he backed up his 0.98 WHIP last season with a 1.02 mark this year.

Kid K has made his living missing bats and inducing weak contact, and he continued that trend in 2012, inducing a mess of infield popups (12.2 IFFB%) and increasing the amount of ground balls he generates for a fourth consecutive season (39.4%/40.1%/43.2%/46.9%).

In line for his second consecutive Cy, and fresh off of winning the Roberto Clemente Award, Clayton heads into 2013 on the last year of the two-year deal he signed to avoid arbitration. Slated to make just $11 million in ’13, the underpaid Clayton should have already received a long-term extension. Locking up the young stud southpaw should be the primary objective of Ned Colletti and his staff going forward.

Chad Billingsley

Entering 2012, Chad Billingsley was coming off of a pair of interesting and contrasting seasons: 2010 was his best season ever, while 2011 saw him take a step back. Always the lightning rod for Dodgers fans, especially with Jonathan Broxton away in Kansas City, Bills was at somewhat of a crossroads, as a good campaign would go a long way with the organization, while a sub-par one could have easily landed him elsewhere.

Always a Billingsley fan myself, I was very optimistic about his 2012 prospects, with one caveat:

Bills struggles resulted in a WAR cut in half from the previous year (2.1, down from 4.5) and questions about his mechanics and health. Still shy of his 28th birthday, Billingsley has every chance to rebound, and much like his poor second half of 2009 led to his best professional season, said rebound in 2012 would not be the least surprising to me. In fact, I’ll call it right now, as I fully expect Chad to be productive as Kershaw’s running mate next season, provided he is in fact healthy.

And unfortunately, that caveat became reality, as Chad suffered from an elbow injury that sent him to the DL twice, felled him permanently from August 24th on, and may require Tommy John surgery if plasma injections and rest don’t suffice as a rehab method.

Prior to being shut down, Chad started 25 games, and in just shy of 150 innings, had been excellent. A FIP of 3.34, SIERA of 3.83, and HR/9 of just 0.66 worked to produce a 2.5 WAR. On pace for another 3.5 WAR season, what was most impressive about the 2012 version of Billingsley was the fact that he had cut down significantly on his walks, trimming a 4.02 BB/9 mark down to 2.71.

While Bills isn’t the pitcher Kershaw is, we saw what cutting down on free passes did for Clayton, and it was working well for Chad too before his elbow got in the way of what was shaping up to be one of his best seasons. The Dodgers were able to lock him up prior to the 2011 season for a team-friendly three-year contract with a club option for 2015, and Chad will make $11 million this upcoming year whether or not he can throw a pitch.

A 2013 prediction for Chad really can’t be accurately made, as we have little idea whether the treatments he’s presently undergoing will ultimately allow him to pitch, though the most recent news is very promising. Tommy John surgery would wipe out his entire season, but if the treatments work and he’s able to suit up for the Dodgers next year, there’s ample reason to expect another solid year.

Chris Capuano

Chris Capuano was signed to a back-loaded two-year, $10 million deal with a 2014 mutual option, and while I wasn’t thrilled with the back-loaded nature of the deal, I was alright with him being brought on as a #4 starter. Granted, with the Dodgers #3 being Ted Lilly, they really had no #3 and a plethora of #4/#5 options, but with Cap there was at least some upside.

Coming off a bounce back 2011 season following injury issues, Capuano had a solid #3/#4 type season, whiffing 7.35/9 IP while issuing 2.45 BB/9. Like the two men to follow in this review, Chris struggled in limiting home runs, allowing over one per contest. Those walk and homer numbers were improvements over his 2011 season with the Mets, but he also struck out almost a batter less per nine than he did in his lone season in New York.

A look at his FIP, SIERA, and WAR don’t offer a clear picture beyond the aforementioned #3/#4 starter status, as he improved his FIP from 2011 (4.04/3.95), as well as his WAR (1.4/2.3), but saw a decently sharp increase in his SIERA (3.63/3.90). Cap allows a lot of hard contact (~20% LD career) and fly balls (~40% career), so pitching in a park like Dodger Stadium helps to mitigate the struggles associated with that.

Perhaps most interesting is Chris’ career pre- and post-ASG splits. In 2012, Capuano allowed a .232/.295/.374/.669 line to opponents pre-break, but that ballooned to .281/.317/.454/.770 following the mid-summer classic. Those numbers hold true for his career, as he’s always been more of a first-half pitcher (.257/.320/.414/.734 vs. .273/.331/.473/.804 with BABIP and K/BB marks that have remained steady).

He’ll enter 2013 as the #3 or #4 starter, and if he can up that strikeout rate a bit, he could be solid yet again.

Aaron Harang

Signed to a back-loaded two-year, $12 million deal with a mutual option for 2014 — a deal I was against at the time and still am upset with — Aaron Harang was exactly what he has been since Dusty Baker ruined his arm a few years back: an overpaid #4/#5 starter.

In 31 starts and just under 180 innings, Harang struck out a paltry 6.56 per nine while issuing an poor 4.26 free passes per nine. His shiny ERA may lead many to see his season as a success, but dig just a bit deeper and you find a 4.14 FIP, 4.87 SIERA, and just a 1.7 WAR.

Harang hasn’t exceeded 2.3 WAR since 2007, has not struck out more than seven per nine since 2009, and has seen his walk rate trend up in the last four seasons. That’s … uh … not good, and barring a trade, Harang will return and try to hold off age for another 30 or so starts.

Ted Lilly

Lilly only made eight starts in 2012, totaling under 50 innings, as the injury bug bit him hard in the form of a left shoulder ailment that would end up requiring arthroscopic surgery.

Prior to his injury, in an obviously small sample size, the veteran lefty posted a 3.92 FIP and 4.81 SIERA while seeing a sharp drop in his strikeout numbers from 2011 and his career rate (5.73 in ’12, 7.38 in ’11, 7.64 career).

Entering the final year of a back-loaded three-year-deal that will pay him $12 million in 2013, Lilly no longer has no-trade clause protection, but considering that he is coming off of an injury to his pitching shoulder and will be 37 for the duration of next season, there’s not much value to be had on the trade market anyway.

Lilly will reportedly be available for Spring Training barring any setback, and with a rotation already set, there’s a chance Lilly winds up in the pen to complement Scott Elbert and/or Paco Rodriguez, occupying a long-relief role and spot-starting when necessary.

Josh Beckett

Acquired in the massive deal with Boston, Josh Beckett arrived on the heels of an overblown but still bad 21 starts with the Red Sox in 2012. I say overblown because he was pitching like a #3 starter in 2012, but with all of the focus on his personality and the September collapse of 2011, you’d have thought he was pitching his way out of baseball entirely.

His results were terrible in Boston (5.23 ERA), but Beckett had posted a 4.26 FIP and 4.28 SIERA before the deal, while walking 2.7 per 9. Most concerning were his drop in strikeouts to roughly 6.5 per 9 after five straight seasons of over 8.0 per 9.

Upon his arrival, Beckett was solid and showed improvement, striking out almost 8.0 per 9 with a 3.82 FIP and 3.81 SIERA. While some might attribute that to the new manager and new clubhouse environment, it’s far more likely due to the weaker league and weaker division, offensively-speaking.

Beckett is under contract for another two seasons, each at $15.75 million, and slots in as the #2 or #3 starter heading into 2013. Going into his age-33 season, Beckett is no sure thing to transform back into the front of the rotation starter he once was, though that’s what the Dodgers will need out of him if they don’t go out and get an arm in the off-season.

Joe Blanton

Acquired from the Phillies for a PTNBL that eventually became pitcher Ryan O’Sullivan, Joe Blanton turned in a solid ten starts for the Blue Crew, posting a 3.74 FIP and 3.61 SIERA while whiffing 8.0 per 9 and walking 2.5 per 9.

Blanton’s strikeouts were a pleasant surprise, as his career mark sits just above 6.0 per 9, though he did struggle with the home run, as usual, allowing over one per game as a Dodger. Blanton’s overall season numbers are fifth-starter material, as he posted a 1.7 WAR, though his peripherals were good enough to be a #4.

After making $8.5 million each of the last two seasons, Blanton heads to free agency, and entering his age-32 season, he’ll certainly be looking for at least a two-year commitment from a team. The Dodgers will be after an arm or two, and there are worse options than him, but with the Dodgers flush in cash I doubt he’ll be a target.

Odds & Ends

Nate Eovaldi made 10 starts for the Dodgers prior to being dealt to Florida for Hanley Ramirez. In those ten starts, the 22-year-old righty struck out just 5.4/9 IP while walking 3.2/9 IP. He put up an FIP of 4.11 and a SIERA of 4.67.

While some are high on his stuff and potential as a #3 starter, I always saw him as a reliever due to his low strikeout numbers, and for the chance that Hanley hits again, it was a great trade in my book.

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Stephen Fife, acquired in the Trayvon Robinson deal that made no sense at the time, made just five spot-starts for the Dodgers in 2012. Everything I saw from the 26-year-old profiles as a bullpen arm who can spot-start here and there.

With an FIP of 4.14 and a SIERA of 4.67, I suppose he could be a fifth starter, but again, he seems to profile as a fungible relief arm with his lack of swing and miss stuff and the decrease in strikeouts as he’s advanced levels to face more competent hitting.

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Greg Zakwin is the founder of the site Plaschke Thy Sweater Is Argyle. Follow him on Twitter @ArgyledPlaschke.

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