Earlier Friday, we looked at the Dodgers position players, tiptoeing through the minefield of trying to predict the next five years. Now, we move on to pitching, which thanks to Clayton Kershaw is a much easier task.
Kershaw just so happens to be under contract for the next five seasons, though he can opt out after the 2018 season. But should the unthinkable happen, even three years of Kershaw will have him featured prominently on the Dodgers pitching leaderboards from 2016-2020.
But like before, we must first look back before we can look forward, so let's flash back to January 2011.
Kershaw was coming off his third MLB season, going 13-10 with a 2.91 ERA in 32 starts. It was his second straight season with an ERA under 3.00, and his first time reaching the 200 mark in both innings (204⅓) and strikeouts (212). Heading into his age-23 season and with four years before free agency, Kershaw was an easy choice to dominate the 2011-2015 leaderboards. Which he did, and not just for the Dodgers.
Other Dodgers candidates included Chad Billingsley, heading into his age-26 year and with two years before free agency. He would sign a three-year extension the week before opening day, buying out one free agent year and with a club option for another. Ted Lilly signed a three-year deal prior to 2011, and Hiroki Kuroda signed a one-year contract to return for his age-36 year. It was not unthinkable Kuroda would keep pitching beyond 2011, which he did for three more MLB seasons, just not with Los Angeles.
Rubby De La Rosa and Nate Eovaldi were knocking on the door, heading into their age-22 and 21 seasons, respectively, in 2011. Baseball America was high on De La Rosa heading into 2011, ranking him third in the Dodgers' system, and projecting out four years having him as the fourth starter in 2014, behind Kershaw, number-two prospect Zach Lee and Billingsley. Yes, in that order, with 2007 first-round pick Chris Withrow, their fourth-ranked prospect, as the fifth starter.
Like I said, predicting isn't easy.
Jonathan Broxton was projected by BA to be the Dodgers' closer in 2014, which was reasonable even though Broxton would be a free agent after 2011. It wasn't yet fully clear that he was broken, and he actually started the season still as the Dodgers closer, though ultimately he was limited to just 14 games that year because of a bruised elbow.
Hong-Chih Kuo was coming off a season in 2010 that saw him set a Dodgers record with a 1.20 ERA, and had two years before free agency. Matt Guerrier just signed a three-year contract, so it would have been reasonable to expect him to show up somewhere on these lists.
But the smartest bet in the bullpen was its newest member. Kenley Jansen converted from catching to pitching midseason in 2009, and made the majors by the middle of 2010. He represented the future in the bullpen, and to date has delivered on that promise, dominating the relief leaderboard and even ranking third among Dodgers in overall strikeouts from 2011-2015.
Here are the Dodgers' pitching leaders from 2011-2015:
WAR (Baseball-Reference): Kershaw 35.6, Zack Greinke 17.5, Jansen 7.9, Hyun-jin Ryu 5.2, J.P. Howell 4.2
WAR (FanGraphs): Kershaw 36.4, Greinke 13.6, Jansen 9.8, Ryu 7.5, Billingsley 5.1
Starts: Kershaw 159, Greinke 92, Billingsley 59, Ryu 56, Chris Capuano 53
Innings pitched: Kershaw 1,128, Greinke 602⅔, Billingsley 349⅔, Ryu 344, Jansen 313
Wins: Kershaw 88, Greinke 51, Ryu 28, Billingsley 22, Lilly 17
Strikeouts: Kershaw 1,249, Greinke 555, Jansen 487, Ryu 293, Billingsley 286
Complete games: Kershaw 20, Greinke 2, Ryu 2, Josh Beckett 2, Billingsley 1, Jon Garland 1, Brett Anderson 1
Shutouts: Kershaw 11, Greinke 1, Beckett 1, Ryu 1
Relief appearances: Jansen 313, Howell 200, Brandon League 149, Ronald Belisario 145, Jamey Wright 126
Saves: Jansen 138, Javy Guerra 29, League 20, Broxton 7, Chris Hatcher 4
Kershaw dominates not only the Dodgers lists, but also leads the majors in the last five years in both versions of WAR, wins, strikeouts, complete games and shutouts. He is second in innings and tied for ninth in starts, seven innings and eight starts behind James Shields, who leads both categories.
Kershaw remains the overwhelming favorite to own these categories over the next five years. Julio Urias and Jose De Leon are knocking on the door of the rotation at the right time to make some serious impact as well. Alex Wood still has four years before free agency, and bounce-back veterans Ryu and Brandon McCarthy are each signed through 2018.
Scott Kazmir just signed for three years as well, though his stay in Los Angeles could be as short as just one season, too.
That said, I will still choose Kershaw to lead across the board from 2016-2020 in all of the starting categories. With Kenta Maeda reportedly also coming on board, I'll pick him to finish in second in all but strikeouts but just to have something different, I'll pick De Leon to be second in strikeouts over the next five years.
For games in relief and saves, I want to choose Jansen even though he will be a free agent after 2016. I think the Dodgers should sign Jansen to a contract extension (more on that next week), but I'll hedge my bets here and go with newcomer Frankie Montas to lead the Dodgers in relief appearances and saves over the next five years.
Who are your picks to lead, or even factor prominently for the Dodgers, from 2016-2020?