Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball. That is no longer debatable and should not be questioned, as he’s backed up this assertion over the last three years with super-elite production. He won his second Cy Young Award in 2013, and it arguably should have been his third straight if voters had gotten it right last year.
Kershaw set career highs in 2013 in IP (236), WHIP (0.92), FIP (2.39), BB/9 IP (1.98), and ERA (1.83). I don’t put that much stock in ERA when evaluating pitchers and analyzing their performance, but damn if a sub-2.00 ERA still doesn’t jump out at you. He fanned nearly a batter per inning, had nearly four and a half whiffs for every walk he allowed, and surrendered less than half a homer per nine innings pitched.
His swing-and-miss percentage has never been higher (11.4 SwStr%); he continues to prove inducing weak contact is a skill (9.5 IFFB%); and opponents managed a slash line of just .192/.244/.277/.521 against him with a .234 wOBA. Clayton possesses three dynamite pitches — fastball, curve, slider — which were all plus-plus pitches in 2013. If he ever gets bored, he can also mess around with the change-up. He has the best curve in the game, one of the best fastballs, and is still just 25 years old. He was a ~7+ WAR player in 2013 and even contributed half a win with his bat, as he hit three doubles, drew five unintentional walks, and clubbed his first career homer in an Opening Day game he literally won by himself.
Pay this man his money.
Zack Greinke came over in the offseason after receiving the largest deal ever signed by a pitcher in terms of annual average value (6 years, $147 million, $24.5 million AAV). His acquisition finally gave the Dodgers the legitimate number 1/2 starter they needed to pair with Kershaw. Greinke has been vastly underrated outside of the analytical community with the exception of his 2009 season, and though the deal is huge, he is more than capable of producing enough to justify it.
When all was said and done with his first season in L.A., Zack posted a ~4 WAR season that was shortchanged by a Spring Training elbow issue and a broken collarbone caused by a needlessly macho baseball culture and Carlos Quentin being an insane caveman.
As impressive as Greinke’s debut Dodger campaign was, it gets even more amazing when you factor in his tremendous year at the dish, which lifted his value to around ~5 WAR. Zack mashed to the tune of a .328/.409/.379/.788 slash line with a .357 wOBA and 132 wRC+, winning the Silver Slugger for his stellar efforts. Of course, he’s paid to pitch and not hit, but he did not disappoint in holding down opposing hitters. Greinke made 28 starts and pitched just under 178 innings, posting a 3.23 FIP, 1.11 WHIP, 0.66 HR/9, and a 3.22 K/BB mark.
Greinke did see an overall decline in whiffs, but the injury was likely a factor, as he fanned about 8.5/9 last season and over 10.5/9 in 2011. Greinke induced significantly more swings and misses than last year (8.5/10.4 SwStr %), as well as more infield popups (9.1/11.2 IFFB%). In a season in which he nearly abandoned his slider and relied more on his cutter and change, he threw one of the more valuable curveballs among all starting pitchers.
Beginning next year, Zack’s salary jumps to between 23 and 24 million dollars through 2018. He can opt out of his contract after the 2015 season if he so chooses, but considering how much he’s due to make after that, and the fact that the Dodgers are in a position to contend for a World Series berth for the foreseeable future, I feel safe in saying we’ll see Clayton and Zack leading the charge for years to come.
Hyun Jin Ryu — in the first year of a six-year deal he signed after the Dodgers won the right to negotiate with him — cemented himself as the number three starter on the club with a very good rookie season. He surpassed all expectations and far outperformed the comparisons he received (from David Wells to ending up as a lefty reliever).
Ryu, pitching in his age 26 season in a new country and against guys he had never faced before, clocked in at ~3.2 WAR. He struck out 7.22/9 IP while walking just 2.30/9 en route to a 3.24 FIP. He allowed 15 homers in his 192 innings and 30 starts, missing some time due to back and foot issues.
He induced ground balls over 50% of the time, and though he doesn’t throw all that hard, he found it fairly easy to miss bats (8.1 SwStr%) and induce weak contact (11.6 IFFB%). Ryu was particularly effective when throwing his changeup, which was the second- or third-most valuable change in all of baseball.
Ryu allowed two earned runs or less in 20 of his 30 times toeing the rubber. He did struggle in his first postseason outing (3 IP, 4 R, 7 baserunners, 1 K) but was excellent his next time out (7 IP, 0 R, 4 baserunners, 4 K). Ryu finished fourth in NL Rookie Of The Year voting and is scheduled to make just $3.5 million in 2014 (with a high of $7 million in 2017 and 2018). I was wrong on Ryu heading into the year, as I didn’t see him as more than a number four if and when he eventually hit his stride.
Hyun Jin gives the club one of the best 1-2-3 trios in the game. If he continues to perform as he did in 2013 while improving in the areas he needs to, his contract will be a bargain, especially in the inflated pitching market. That’s even taking into consideration that he could opt out after 2017 if he remains healthy, as he’d easily hit the innings requirement to void the final year of his deal.
After being acquired from the Miami Marlins in a great deal by Ned Colletti and company, Ricky Nolasco made 15 starts and one relief appearance in Blue while throwing 87 innings. Ricky was quite good following the trade, posting a 3.15 FIP. He whiffed 7.76/9, walked 2.17/9, and induced swings and misses just over 11% of the time. He was worth ~1.2 WAR in that time and was seriously giving Ryu a run for his money as the number three starter come postseason play.
That all changed in Ricky’s last three starts, however, as he allowed 17 earned runs in 12 innings after allowing just 17 runs in his first 74 innings in Los Angeles. His late-season struggles led to a relief outing to close out the regular season, and Don Mattingly ended up choosing to pitch Kershaw on short rest to close out the NLDS instead of starting the Corona native. Nolasco would get his postseason start in the NLCS, lasting four innings while allowing three earned runs, striking out four, and walking one.
While his season didn’t end well, Nolasco wanted to return and he would have been a fine number four at the right price. He instead signed with the Minnesota Twins, and while the Dodgers could have offered him the most money, not giving him the four-year deal he received was the right move.
Chris Capuano had an interesting and odd 2013 following a solid 2012 campaign. He walked less batters (2.45/2.04); gave up less homers (1.13/0.94); induced more ground balls (40.3%/46.4%); and improved his FIP by 40 points (3.95/3.55). However, even with those improvements, he was still a less valuable player (2.2/0.6 WAR). Some of that was bad luck, as his BABIP jumped 50 points and was 34 points higher than his career mark. A lot of that, however, was due to a decrease in missing bats — under 7 Ks per nine — and inducing less weak contact (12.9 IFFB% in ’12, 1.8% in ’13).
Chris was injured yet again this year, as he was felled by a strained left triceps, a strained left calf, a strained left groin, and even a minor shoulder injury suffered at the hands of a batting donut.
As such, the story of Cap’s season was inconsistency, both in terms of his health and his performance. He made 20 starts, and when we put aside the outing he left early due to injury, Chris allowed two earned runs or less in nine starts, three earned runs in two starts, and four or more earned runs in eight starts. The nature of those up-and-down outings are a perfect representation of his 2013.
Capuano made the NLDS roster but was surprisingly left off in the NLCS against the can’t-hit-lefty-pitching Cardinals, even after three scoreless innings in relief against the Braves. The club declined Chris’ mutual option for 2014, and while it’s possible he could return on a cheap deal to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation or a pen role if J.P. Howell is not signed, he’ll more than likely move on, as the club has better internal options.
Chad Billingsley made just two starts in 2013 after his elbow problems from 2012 worsened to the point of Tommy John surgery becoming the only option. It was probably the best option from the start, but Bills and the staff decided to attempt a non-surgical rehabilitation, despite it being historically almost entirely unsuccessful.
Bills is slated to return sometime before the All-Star break barring any setbacks, and when he does return it will likely be in a relief role, at least at the outset. The Dodgers already have four quality starters and could easily add a fifth before the start of the 2014 campaign. A pen position wouldn’t be the worst for a guy who’s missed over a year of action, has great stuff, and has pitched in relief before in his major league career.
If healthy, I always want Chad in the rotation, and he could easily earn his way into the fourth or fifth spot before next season is complete. Bills has always been underrated (career 3.67 FIP and almost 8 K/9), and you can never have enough depth and enough talented arms with swing-and-miss stuff.
What matters most, however, is getting his talented arm back by the time the postseason comes knocking. Chad is in the last year of his deal and will make $12 million, and if by year’s end he’s healthy and back to his old self, I expect the club to pick up his 2015 option.
Josh Beckett‘s short time as a Dodger has been an interesting one. He’s fanned 8.2 per 9 while walking 3.0 per 9, but he’s allowed a copious amount of home runs (1.4 per 9) and runs in general. His 2013 lasted just eight starts and under 50 innings, as he dealt with nerve issues, had to have a rib removed, and contemplated retirement.
There’s no guarantee Josh will be ready for the start of the season, although he is reportedly ahead in his rehab. Much like Bills, Beckett will probably start off in a relief role unless he has a lights out Spring Training.
Heading into the last year of his deal and due almost $16 million, a starting role — even if he were nothing more than league average — would be a much better scenario for the Dodgers than having a $16 million middle reliever, but that seems highly unlikely at the moment.
Odds & Ends
Stephen Fife, pressed into duty with the back-end of the rotation in shambles, made 10 starts. With an uneventful minor league career, there were serious questions as to how much he could contribute, but he was basically league average (~5 innings a start with a 4.35 FIP) and allowed two earned runs or less in seven of those 10 starts. He more than held his own and gave the Dodgers quality innings during his outings. I care not for ERA, but Stephen’s was 2.76 prior to July 6 and 7.82 after, as he dealt with shoulder issues during the year on multiple occasions. He doesn’t walk a ton of guys but he also doesn’t strike a lot of batters out while allowing over a homer per nine. He’ll likely slot in the 6th or 7th starter role in 2014.
Matt Magill, also pressed into duty, made six starts. Hopes were higher for Matt than for Stephen, as Magill’s 2012 in Chattanooga was fantastic (10.33 K/9 IP, 2.93 FIP). The Show proved to be a bit too much for him, however, as he dished out almost two homers per nine and walked an obscene amount of batters (28 in 27.2 innings) while posting a FIP over 7. Magill is still just 24 years old and struck out over 10 per nine in Triple-A this year as he worked through injury issues of his own. He walked far too many in both the majors and minors, but he’s better depth moving forward than most people think, especially if he regains his command. That said, he was just the second pitcher in the last ~100 years to allow four homers and eight or more unintentional walks in one game.
Ted Lilly was healthy enough to start five games as he battled neck and shin injuries before being designated. He posted a FIP over 5, primarily due to him doing what he does best: allow home runs.
Edinson Volquez made five (!) starts in September when the Dodgers had already locked up the division. In those 27 innings, he allowed five homers, almost a hit per inning, 13 earned runs, and whiffed 26.
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