2011 Dodgers Exit Interviews: Starting Pitchers

Clayton Kershaw led a strong starting staff for the Dodgers in 2011.

Our look back at the 2011 Dodgers begins with the strength of the team, its starting pitching. Led by National League Cy Young favorite Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers starters put up a 3.41 ERA and 110 ERA+, both third in the National League behind the Phillies and Giants. The Dodgers were fourth in the NL with 94 quality starts, and nobody in baseball got more starts from their top four pitchers than the 130 starts by Kershaw, Hiroki Kuroda, Chad Billingsley, and Ted Lilly.

The Dodgers had four pitchers make at least 30 starts for the first time since 1993. Here is a look at all nine pitchers who started for the Dodgers this season:

Clayton Kershaw

What went right: Everything. I have been asked in the last few years what kind of ceiling Kershaw has, and though my preferred answer was "he has no ceiling," Kershaw's 2011 campaign was the tangible manifestation of everything you want from a pitcher. He won the pitching triple crown in the National League, leading the majors in ERA (2.28), and leading the NL in strikeouts (248) and wins (21).

On July 3, the All-Star Game rosters were announced, and Kershaw deservedly made the squad as he was 8-4 with a 3.23 ERA and ranked in the top five in the league in most categories. All Kershaw did after that was give up 15 earned runs in 15 starts, go 13-1 with a 1.22 ERA, average a strikeout per inning, and have nearly five times as many strikeouts as walks.

A lot of time gets spent on the semantics of what is an ace starting pitcher. But no matter the definition, the 23-year old Kershaw fits the bill.

What went wrong: He gave up a home run to Cody Ransom, which came on August 7, the last time Kershaw lost a game. Unheralded Giants' catcher Chris Stewart had five hits in nine at-bats against Kershaw in 2011, including a home run. MLB schedulers didn't make the Dodgers and Giants play more often, so Kershaw only got to beat Tim Lincecum four times.

2012 status: Kershaw is about to make big money as he is arbitration eligible for the first time. He is an ideal candidate for a multi-year contract extension this winter.

 

Hiroki Kuroda

Hiroki-kuroda-ted-lilly-getty_medium  

What went right: He was a steady number two pitcher behind Kershaw, not missing a start and surpassing 200 innings for the first time. Kuroda set career highs in starts (32), innings (202), wins (13), ERA (3.07), ERA+ (121), SIERA (3.51), and strikeouts (161).

With the Dodgers out of contention in late July, Kuroda was the one guy on the roster who could have fetched a good return at the trade deadline. General manager Ned Colletti had discussions with the Boston Red Sox about Kuroda -- and boy could Boston have used him in September -- but Kuroda exercised his no-trade clause, choosing loyalty to the team he signed with in November 2007 over a chance at a potential playoff berth with a new team.

What went wrong: Kuroda battled neck pain later in the year and not coincidentally gave up a career high 24 home runs, the first time in his four big league seasons he gave up more than one home run per nine innings (he gave up 1.07 per nine in 2011). Kuroda allowed four home runs to the Nationals on Labor Day in Washington D.C., one of seven games this season Kuroda allowed two or more home runs. He allowed two home runs in five games in the previous three seasons combined.

Kuroda had a weird year of run support. In the middle of the year, he had an 18-start stretch during which the Dodgers scored just 38 total runs, so despite a 2.96 ERA Kuroda's record was 4-12. At one point, the Dodgers lost 13 straight times when Kuroda allowed a run (he was 5-0 in the six starts during that stretch when he allowed no runs). All that led to 16 losses for Kuroda, making him the first Dodgers pitcher to lose 16 games since Orel Hershiser went 16-16 in 1987. However, beginning in August, the Dodgers started scoring for Kuroda, averaging 6.2 runs per start over his final nine starts, including seven or more runs six times.

2012 status: Kuroda will be a free agent after the World Series, but his destination for his age 37 season is really down to two places: either back with the Dodgers, or back to Japan.

Chad Billingsley

  Chad-billingsley-getty_medium

What went right: Billingsley on the year had three signature performances. On April 17, he matched zeroes with Chris Carpenter, and struck out 11 in eight shutout innings in a no-decision (Matt Kemp won the game in the ninth inning with the first of his three walk-off home runs this season). On May 14, Billingsley allowed only one hit in eight innings to the Arizona Diamondbacks, but unfortunately got hung with the loss as he also allowed an unearned run. Then, on July 24 against the Washington Nationals Billingsley allowed the first four runners to reach base and trailed 1-0 with the bases loaded and nobody out in the first inning. Billingsley got out of the jam by striking out the next three hitters, then retired 21 of the final 22 batters he faced, allowing only a walk the rest of the way.

What went wrong: At least Billingsley didn't slip on ice and break his leg. But unfortunately for Billingsley, after that July 24 start, Billingsley put up a 4.85 ERA with 33 walks and 38 strikeouts in 59 innings over his final 11 starts. It was a disappointing end to what became a rather ordinary season for Billingsley, who expressed his frustration to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. "It definitely wasn’t what I wanted," Billingsley said. "When I was going rough and was inconsistent, I was worried about staying on top of the ball and my mechanics changed. I was struggling with my arm slot and delivery this year."

2012 status: Billingsley will make $9 million in 2012 in the first year of a three-year contract.

 

Ted Lilly

What went right: Much like in 2010, Lilly ended his season strong over the final two months. In August and September, Lilly made 11 starts and put up a 2.09 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 21 unintentional walks in 69 innings. Lilly gave up his 28th home run of the season on August 26 and seemed a lock to join the 30/30 club (allowing both 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in a single season, something that has happened only 18 times in MLB history), but Lilly went his final six starts and 43 innings of the year without allowing another home run.

What went wrong: While the final third of the season was fine and dandy for Lilly, the first two thirds of the year were not good, especially not from a 35-year old in just the first year of a three-year contract. Lilly had a 5.02 ERA through July, and his strikeout rate of 6.84 per nine innings at that point was his lowest figure since 2005. On the season, Lilly averaged fewer than six innings per start for the first time since 2006.

Lilly has always been a control pitcher, a must for someone with an average fastball of 87.4 MPH, and has walked just 66 in his 45 total starts as a Dodger. In the first 37 of those starts, Lilly never walked more than two batters in one game. However, he walked three or more batters four times in a five-start stretch in August and September.

2012 status: Lilly will make $12 million in his age 36 season, the second year of a three-year contract.

 

Rubby De La Rosa

Rubby-de-la-rosa-getty_medium  

What went right: The 22-year old started the year in Double A, and was called up to the Dodgers after putting up a 2.92 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 40 innings in the Southern League. After a few relief stints with the big club, De La Rosa stepped in for the injured Jon Garland and showed flashes of brilliance. Throwing 96 and inducing ground balls at a higher rate than every other non-Eveland starter, Rubby provided hope for the future, a true diamond in a rough season. De La Rosa had 10 starts and three relief appearances for the Dodgers, and struck out nearly a batter per inning while putting up a 3.71 ERA.

What went wrong: The human arm wasn't meant to throw a baseball, and De La Rosa found out first hand, having his season cut short by a torn elbow ligament and Tommy John surgery.

2012 status: Rubby had surgery on August 9, and recovery is expected to take nine to 12 months. His last major league start came on July 31, and if he takes the Stephen Strasburg recovery path De La Rosa's next start for the Dodgers will come sometime in the middle of August.

 

Jon Garland

What went right: Though his time on the mound was brief in 2011, Garland did allow three runs or less seven times in his nine trips to the mound, leading the Dodgers staff in quality start percentage. Garland allowed one run to the Braves on April 20, the first complete game for the Dodgers on the season.

What went wrong: Unfortunately for Garland, that win on April 20 was his final victory of the season. He went winless with a 4.39 ERA over his final seven starts, then had shoulder surgery in July to end his season. After nine straight years with 32 starts or more, Garland made just nine starts for the Dodgers in 2011.

Garland hit a run-scoring single on May 12 in Pittsburgh, but it was wiped out as the Dodgers game with the Pirates was called due to rain. Garland is 0 for 23 at the plate in his two stints with the Dodgers.

2012 status: The Dodgers declined Garland's $8 million option for 2012, opting instead to pay him a $500,000 buyout. Don't rule out a return for Garland, though it would be at a reduced rate, likely an incentive-laden deal starting with a base salary less than the $5 million guaranteed he got in 2011.

 

Nathan Eovaldi

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What went right: Eovaldi allowed two runs or less in five of his six starts with the Dodgers, before being moved to the bullpen to limit his innings. Eovaldi struck out 122 batters on the season between Double A Chattanooga and Los Angeles, in a combined 138 innings.

What went wrong: Eovaldi walked 20 batters in just under 35 major league innings, 5.14 per nine innings. He pitched four times in relief in September, but struck out none of the 15 batters he faced out of the bullpen.

2012 status: Eovaldi, who turns 22 in February, will likely be in the mix for the fifth spot in the starting rotation heading into spring training.

 

Dana Eveland

What went right: In three starts on the road with the Dodgers, Eveland allowed one run and picked up three wins. Between Triple A and MLB, Eveland had a 2.71 ERA in 15 road starts.

What went wrong: In his two starts at Dodger Stadium, Eveland allowed nine runs in nine innings, and picked up two losses. Between Albuquerque and Los Angeles, Eveland had a 5.77 ERA in 15 starts at home.

2012 status: Should the Dodgers decide to tender Eveland a contract in December, he will be arbitration eligible this winter with just over three years of service time. He is a candidate for fifth starter as well.

 

John Ely

What went right: Ely pitched a total of four scoreless innings of mopup relief for the Dodgers in September. After making 18 starts for the Dodgers in 2010, Ely only got one start for the big club in 2011, a loss at Petco Park on April 10.

What went wrong: Through his first seven major league starts, in 2010, Ely was 3-2 with a 2.54 ERA with eight walks and 37 strikeouts in 46 innings. Since then, in a combined 261 innings between Triple A and the majors, Ely has a 6.59 ERA.

2012 status: Ely has one option year remaining, and will almost certainly use it next year.

Pictures of Kuroda, Lilly, Billingsley, De La Rosa, and Eovaldi courtesy of Getty Images.

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