Eric Stults? Brett Tomko? I don't think many Dodgers fans envisioned that these guys would be starting for the Blue this year we're fighting for survival. And yet, here we are. With the playoffs looking more like a mathematical possibility than a real one and two replacement level pitchers filling the rotation you have to ask, was there anything Ned Colletti could have done to advert this crisis?
First, let's look at what the rotation would have looked like at the beginning of the year if the Dodgers were a meritocracy rather than one run under more realistic guidelines:
In the bullpen:
In the minors:
Well, you certainly can't blame Colletti for lack of trying. Coming into the year, the Dodgers had 11 pitchers that could have been ready by this point in the season for the rotation (up to 13 depending on how much faith you had in Greg Miller and Justin Orenduff). Most members of the media noted the depth that the Dodgers had in their starting rotation, and proclaimed it their biggest strength. However, when you study these players you can see some flaws.
At the start of the season, I pointed out that some of the Dodgers pitching depth was illusionary. When you compared them to a team like the Diamondbacks who had Micah Owings, Juan Cruz, and Dana Eveland as their 6-8 starters at the time, it's just as impressive as the Tomdrickson combo that we had waiting in the wings. Even so, being just as good as the other teams in the division really isn't that much of a downside. Even better, having Wolf/Kuo/Billingsley as your sixth starter is a huge improvement over most other teams. It can be said that Colletti had a plan B.
In my opinion, this really is all you can plan for. Having eight starters, with a couple of emergency guys in AAA is enough. Once you get into plan C, things get pretty scary. If you expect to have a good plan C, it has to come from your own system. There is no way Colletti would be able to find decent pitchers that would be willing to be stashed in the minor leagues. This part of the plan would not rest on Ned Colletti, but Dan Evans and Paul DePodesta. In terms of pure results, they did fail in this regard, but it wasn't necessarily their fault. Here is every starting pitcher that the Dodgers have drafted in the first 10 rounds from 2002-2005.
Greg Miller - Battled numerous injury issues, now can't find the plate.
Zach Hammes - Struggled as a starter, now succeeding in relief.
Mike Megrew - Putting up mediocre numbers in AA
Jamaal Hamilton - Released, playing independent ball now.
Chad Billingsley - In majors.
Chuck Tiffany - Traded in Baez trade, hasn't pitched due to injury since mid 2006.
Corey Van Allen - Did not sign.
Jonathan Broxton - Converted to relief, now in majors.
Phil Sobcow - Released.
Scott Elbert - Injured, out for the season
Justin Orenduff - Constantly battled injuries for his entire career. Possibly lost too much development time to be a factor.
Blake Johnson - Traded in the Odalis Perez deal.
Javy Guerrera - 5.31 ERA for Inland Empire, still just 21.
Corey Wade - Converted to relief, now finding some success
Luke Hochevar - Did not sign
Josh Wall - Has yet to live up to his potential.
Chris Hobdy - Stole credit cards from his teammates.
David Horlacher - Released, hasn't found a job elsewhere
As you can see, the Dodgers have had terrible luck with their starters. Elbert should have been ready right now, same with Orenduff and Miller if it wasn't for their gigantic set of injuries. The only pitcher in the list that can be considered a complete bust is Josh Wall, but even he's still young enough to figure it out eventually. You can't blame Ned for trading away Tiffany and Johnson, as they would be no help this year. The Dodgers have simply had rotten luck with their pitchers over the last few years, and because of that their AAA rotation has suffered. When this happens, when the Dodgers had to go to plan C, all they saw was Eric Stults and D.J. Houlton. Mind you, I don't think any other team has much of a better plan when it gets down that far. The problem here is that Elbert and Orenduff were the only pitchers that could have filled in the gap in the rotation in AAA this year, and both of them got derailed either by past or present injuries. There's nothing that Ned could have done to prevent this.
Compounding the problem even further, there was no one that the Dodgers could have gone after at the trade deadline, so now that there's nothing left, the only solution is to go get someone like David Wells, Byung-Hyun Kim and Joe Kennedy. A severe lack of options is not the general manager's fault.
The only thing that you really can jump on Ned for is not recognizing that the rotation was injury prone, and jumping on a couple of waiver wire pitchers to fill out the AAA rotation. I've talked about these minor moves before, and our unwillingness to take on flawed guys with upside could be the thing that kills the rotation. Even so, flawed guys with upside are generally big risks, that's why they were on waivers in the first place, and there's no guarantee that they could be better. Ned Colletti did all he could with this years pitching staff, and it's not due to his failures that we're starting Eric Stults and Brett Tomko in some big games.