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Where We Stand Part Two: Pitching

After my bleak report on the Dodgers position players, my post holiday gift to you is the far more positive report on the Dodger pitching staff.

Starting Pitching

Stats on the right are the 2007 ZIPS projections. Remember that pitching projections are far less reliable than hitting projections due to the inherit randomness in pitching.

Jason Schmidt  (192 IP, 3.94 ERA, 183 K, 77 BB, 22 HR)
Brad Penny (180 IP, 3.95 ERA, 129 K, 49 BB, 21 HR)
Derek Lowe (214 IP, 3.83 ERA, 123 K, 56 BB, 21 HR)
Randy Wolf (No Projection)
Chad Billingsley (150 IP, 4.38 ERA, 130 K, 75 BB, 19 HR)

While this doesn't seem amazing on the surface, it really is when you when you consider how bad the average starter is. In 2006, no team was able to field three pitchers that qualified for the ERA title with ERAs under four. If these projections hold, the Dodgers will do just that. I do find it interesting that Lowe, Penny, and Schmidt project to be almost the same pitcher. Even better than that is Chad Billingsley projected to put up a 4.38 ERA as the fifth man in the rotation, well under the ERA of the average starter. If Billingsley is able to solve his control problems, he could easily join Schmidt, Penny and Lowe in the sub four ERA club.

The only question mark is Randy Wolf. Wolf has no projections, but I doubt any system could accurately peg him. He hasn't been healthy for the last three years, so your guess is as good as mine. There's a small chance he could have a four ERA, a good chance he'll have a 4.50 ERA, and a good chance he'll be out of the rotation by June. Fortunately, Hong-Chih Kuo gives the Dodgers a pitcher with only slightly less upside than Billingsley, and heck, Brett Tomko isn't a terrible seventh starter. While I'd rather have Jake Peavy and Chris Young than Schmidt and Penny, the Dodgers starting pitching depth gives them easily the best rotation in the division, if not the entire NL.

Relief Pitching

Takashi Saito (90 IP, 3.10 ERA, 96 K, 27 BB, 7 HR)
Jonathan Broxton (84 IP, 3.32 ERA, 99 K, 35 BB, 8 HR)
Hong-Chih Kuo (96 IP, 4.13 ERA, 98 K, 47 BB, 9 HR)
Brett Tomko (165 IP, 4.47 ERA, 105 K, 56 BB, 19 HR)
Joe Beimel (70 IP, 4.89 ERA, 40 K, 28 BB, 10 HR)
Elmer Dessens (84 IP, 4.93 ERA, 54 K, 27 BB, 11 HR)
Mark Hendrickson (173 IP, 4.79 ERA 100 K, 55 BB, 20 HR)

If starting pitching projections can fluctuate, trying to predict the success of middle relievers is pretty much impossible. So take all of those projections, and anything I write below, with a grain of salt.

The addition of Hong-Chih Kuo to the bullpen lifted a lot of my fears. For some reason, having only two good relievers makes things seem hopeless, while things look great with three of them. I don't know why I think this, but suddenly this looks like a strong bullpen.

While I'd be amazed if Saito came anywhere near his 2006 campaign, he had prototypical middle relief numbers in Japan, he should still be a useful reliever for the Dodgers in 2007. However, I wouldn't be surprised if Jonathan Broxton stepped into the closers role this year. Broxton was a better pitcher than the highly publicized Joel Zumaya in 2006, and he looks primed to take over the closers role in 2007. I think the projection above represents the low end of what Broxton can do this year.

If Hong-Chih Kuo's control problems really are gone, it's going to be hard to keep him in the bullpen. That 4.13 ERA despite a walk rate over 4.5 is tempting. If he's anything resembling the pitcher he was last September, Kuo should be dominant out of the pen and will step into the rotation as soon as possible. As good as Kuo can be, I like the fact that he's starting the season in the bullpen so his innings are limited. Kuo's potential is huge, but his two Tommy John surgery's are a giant limiting factor. I think Kuo will be one of the Dodgers best pitchers this year, but managing him properly will be the biggest challenge that faces Grady Little in 2007.

The rest of the bullpen falls into the random middle reliever category, except Joe Beimel, who doesn't even deserve to qualify for that status. His stats are much closer to Lance Carter's than Danys Baez. No pitcher who puts up a strike out rate under four is able to have any kind of sustained success, so I highly doubt that Beimel will be able to make it to the end of 2007 on the Dodger roster.

Fortunately, the Dodgers have no real need for Beimel, since prospects Greg Miller, Jonathan Meloan and Mark Alexander look ready to crack the Dodgers rotation. If any of these pitchers are able to displace Beimel and Elmer Dessens, the Dodgers could have one of the most effective bullpens in the majors.

The only thing I fear about this pitching staff is falling pray to randomness. One lesson from fantasy baseball that I think applies to actual baseball is the futility in building around pitching. Sure, you'll always get a great year from star pitchers like Johan Santana and Roy Halladay, but the Dodgers don't have any pitchers that are that good. With the Dodgers below average defense, it's entirely possible that this deep staff could fall pray to the balls in play gods and end up looking far worse than it should. Conversely, the Dodgers could end up seeing the ball bounce their way, and they could steamroll the NL on the way to the World Series. I think the projections above are a nice starting point for most of these pitchers, but there's a lot of wiggle room in there.
If the Dodgers live up to the projections above, they'd have a team ERA close to four, which would put them among the league's top pitching staffs. They'll need to save every run they can for the Dodgers to compete this year.

I'll finish this up next time by comparing the Dodgers to the rest of the division.