2014 Los Angeles Dodgers – Pitching Staff Preview
Position Battle – None
Current Average Draft Position (12 team league) – Mid-First Round
Other SPs in that Range – No one
2013 Stats – 16-9, 1.83 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 232 K, 236 IP, 52 BB
Outlook – 2011 Cy Young, 2012 2nd place Cy Young, 2013 Cy Young, 12th, 16th, 7th in MVP voting in those 3 years, 2011 and 2013 NL Strikeout Champion, 2011-2013 NL ERA Champion, at least 30 starts in this last 5 seasons. Need I say more? Even the average player knows he is the cream of the fantasy pitching crop, but the question is: when do I take him? Kershaw is the closest thing to a guarantee as there is in baseball when it comes to pitching. He has not had an ERA over 3 since his rookie year, when he was 20 years old. He has led the NL in WHIP the last 3 seasons, and has not been over a 1.20 WHIP since his rookie year. His hits have never crept anywhere near his IP total, and his walks have declined since early in his career. He pitches on what should be a winning team, with a strong bullpen, and where they lack defensively, he makes up for in strikeouts. Clayton Kershaw is a stud, and we all know it. We are watching a Hall of Fame career unfold before our very eyes, and I would be happy to reap the benefits in 2014 from Kershaw.
The kicker in all of this? He lost both of his starts in the NLCS last year, so he had every reason to work harder, and be mentally focused all winter long. His last memory on the mound is of not getting the job done, so do not expect this to be the year he finally tapers off. He has improved in 5 out of 6 years in the big leagues, and the year he didn’t improve, he went from winning the CY Young, to coming in second. I am betting he gets better, which is almost unfathomable, but the W-L record could improve, and as he is entering his prime, the strikeout numbers could, and should go up. I may be going bold here, but I would not hesitate to grab Kershaw at #5 overall in my draft this year, and consider him at #4. I consider Paul Goldschmidt to be a sure bet, but the guys after him come with risks, and Kershaw does not.
2014 Fantasy Projection – 21-4, 1.92 ERA, 263 K, 0.92 WHIP
Position Battle – None
Current Average Draft Position (12 team league) – 5/6 Round
2013 Stats – 15-4, 2.63 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 148 K, 177.2 IP, 152 H, 46 BB
Outlook – Greinke finished 7th in the NL-Cy Young voting in 2013, even though he missed a little over a month in the early part of the season after breaking his collarbone in an on field altercation with Carlos Quentin of the San Diego Padres. Greinke had an unbelievable season, and has been one of the best pitchers in baseball since his 2009 AL Cy Young season as a member of the Kansas City Royals. That being said, he has only made over 30 starts in 5 of his 10 years in the big leagues. I am not trying to scare you off of Greinke, but drafting him means you are accepting the likely outcome that he will miss sometime at some point in 2014. When he is on the field, he is nothing short of brilliant. He has had only 1 season out of 10 where he has given up more hits than innings pitched, and he has been especially more effective when it comes to WHIP and ERA since moving over to the National League in 2011. The only cautionary things I can bring up would be his strikeout rate went down last year, although it came with lowering his ERA and WHIP. That can go one of two ways, as you could say he just got luckier than in years passed when it comes to batted balls in play, or you could say that he “figured out” that he doesn’t have to try to strike out every batter, and learned to pick his spots when to pitch to contact and make his innings quicker when he needed to.
I am not as bullish on Greinke as some others, as I do feel his ERA really could regress back to the low 3’s territory, so for me I am taking Sale over him, but I would certainly take him over Hamels who should be pitching for an average at best team this season, and choosing between him and David Price is the kind of problem I like to have. I think both are Cy Young candidates, with Price pitching for his contract, and Greinke pitching for a winning team, while trying to match what Kershaw is doing, something that helped elevate his game in 2013. I would take Greinke between the two, if only because he won't be pitching in the AL-East, as I think every lineup in that league can really do damage to a pitcher, and wear them down. That is not to say Price isn’t capable of being the #2 fantasy starter next year behind Kershaw, but I would just prefer the safer choice, as Price has the chance to put too much pressure on himself, and this also could be the year the Rays come back to earth, especially with their questionable bullpen.
2014 Fantasy Projection – 10-7, 3.12 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 197 K, 215 IP
Position Battle – None
Current Average Draft Position (12 team league) – 9th-11th round
2013 Stats – 14-8, 3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 192 IP, 182 H, 154 SO, 49 BB
Outlook – Ryu looks to build on his strong rookie campaign in 2014. He finished 4th in the NL ROY voting, but had a tremendous season and was a victim of being overshadowed by 2 dominant pitchers on his own team, as well as an influx of really good young talent into the NL in 2013. He also had to split votes from the west coast with a member of his own team, as Yasiel Puig finished 2nd in the voting. Ryu has all the peripheral stats that go with a solid winning pitcher in the big leagues. Less hits than innings pitched, 3:1 SO to BB ratio, 30 starts, sub 1.25 WHIP etc., but Ryu is going to come with a injury concerns. Many people last remember all the hoopla made by the Dodgers about trying to protect his arm, and the questions of whether he was falling apart physically at the end of the season. These questions were heightened after he put up quite a stinker against Atlanta in the NLDS. But please remember the brilliant game he pitched against St. Louis in the NLCS where he threw 7 scoreless innings, giving up only 3 hits, and walking one.
This is a man in his prime entering his age 27 season, will not have the pressure of being the staff ace, will be playing for a team that scores runs, and will win ball games. I would absolutely select Ryu over Cingrani, even though he comes with such great strikeout potential, and Weaver, who has really shown diminished velocity over the last few years. I can’t trust Cashner’s arm at that price, not when I can take Ryu or Jon Lester there. Liriano is a favorite of this writer, but I would still take Ryu over him as well. The hardest decision would be Weaver, as I still love his ability to navigate through a lineup pitch-by-pitch, at-bat by at-bat, but I think my fellow draft mates would take care of him well before round 10 in most scenarios, so I don’t think I would be faced with that decision, as he is much more of a household name.
2014 Fantasy Projection – 17-6, 3.13 ERA, 185 K, 1.18 WHIP
Position Battle – Chad Billingsley will be back by the All Star break
Current Average Draft Position (12 team league) – Undrafted
Other SPs in that Range – Plenty
Outlook – Josh Beckett used to be one of baseball’s most feared pitchers. He always pitched with an edge, unafraid to brush a hitter back, and also unafraid to let a hitter know when he had dominated him. He went into Yankee stadium and won a clinching World Series game in 2003 at 23 years old. His playoff resume speaks for itself, but his regular season career quite frankly has left a lot to be desired. He has only had one season under a 3.00 in the ERA column, and has never led the league in any major statistical category other than Wins in 2007, and has never struck out more than 200 hitters in a season. He has had some solid runs of sub 1.20 WHIPS, and was very durable before 2013, never making less than 21 starts in a season since settling into the league. Beckett has a reputation as a big game pitcher, and it is well deserved, but he probably looks back on his career as being unfulfilled, as he had the stuff and mental capacity to dominate, but never really became one of the best pitchers in baseball. One of the issues was that he pitched in the incredibly tough AL-East for the majority of his prime, and pitched under a microscope every time out in Boston, and was always expected to be the next Pedro Martinez by Boston fans.
Now Josh is left to pick up the pieces after his first major surgery in 2013, which limited him to 8 forgettable starts. All the reports have been positive since his Thoracic Outlet Surgery, and it has often been reported that he was ahead of schedule. Maybe, just maybe this has been a lingering issue that has held him back, and Beckett could show up for his age 34 season feeling better than he has in a long time, jump on the Dodgers' dominant pitching train and put together the type of season he was supposed to many years ago. John Lackey proved a year ago that anything is possible when it comes to older pitchers who have lost a step, only to get surgery to bring relief to their arms that have thrown so many pitches and get back on top of their game. I will be monitoring Beckett closer than most, and may even take a flier on him in the last round of some drafts. I'd take a look at the velocity, and see if I see the Beckett of old. That guy, on this team, in this atmosphere could really end up being this year’s Francisco Liriano. At a low price, whether it be a last round pick, or a free agent pickup a week or 2 into the season, he's surely worth the risk, provided you like what you see. He will be someone I will write about often during the season, as his progress could take this team above and beyond the expectations already set.
2014 Fantasy Projection – Can’t say without seeing him pitch
Current Average Draft Position (12 team league) – 5th-6th round
2013 Stats – 76.2 IP, 111 K, 1.88 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 48 H, 18 BB
Outlook – June 11th, the day Jansen took over as closer, will be a day remembered by Dodger fans for years to come. It could be argued that Jansen made more of a difference in Dodgertown than Yasiel Puig. The team was reeling, and Brandon League had been blowing saves at an alarming rate. In stepped Jansen, he of the 347 SO’s in 222.1 career IP, and of the career .91 WHIP. Jansen, simply put, is downright filthy. His career innings almost double his the hits he's given, he does not struggle with walks, and most importantly has 4 years of big league experience, as opposed to some of the other players that are being drafted around his position. A lot of young closers end up losing their job even after looking completely unhittable early in their careers ( Chris Perez, Carlos Marmol, and many others). Most of those guys took the league by storm, but Jansen has taken a different route, starting as a middle reliever, then becoming a set up man, and even closing for half of 2012. He went back to setting up in 2013, after Brandon League had a dominant September for the Dodgers in 2012. When League had blown enough games for Dodgers brass to admit their 20+ million dollar mistake, in stepped Jansen. He helped guide the Dodgers to win 40 out of 48 games during a stretch in June and July which set them up to get to the postseason. Jansen should be a candidate for over 45 saves, and should reach 50. His strikeout totals will again be off the charts, and he will not hurt your ERA or WHIP, which are all the qualities you want out of your number one closer.
Waiting on Rosenthal is probably a safe gamble if you don’t take Jansen, but I have no problem taking him over Holland or Uehara, and Chapman is generally overpaid for in drafts, especially in a year that will not have Mariano Rivera in the draft. Let Chapman go ahead and be the 2nd closer off the board after Craig Kimbrell, the clear-cut number one guy, and grab Jansen in round 6 without hesitation. If he is gone by round 5, and you had to grab someone in that spot, do not fret: you can get Rosenthal in round 7. I wouldn’t have a problem taking Jansen in round 5, provided you love your first 4 picks. But if you got beat out for a target guy or 2 in the previous rounds, you shouldn’t overpay for Jansen, as I believe he is a solid 6th rounder.
2014 Fantasy Projection – 68 IP, 48 Saves, 121 K, 2.15 ERA, 0.92 WHIP
The Other Pitchers
I am very down on Haren, as I do not think he still has what it takes to be a consistent major league starting pitcher. But the Dodgers took a flier here, knowing full well they will get Chad Billingsley back at the All-Star break. Monitor Haren, as I could be wrong, but I am staying away, and pretty much running away from rostering him. He was without a doubt an outstanding pitcher for a good 7 years, but I do not see anything there that gives him a chance to get back to what he used to be, kind of the opposite on how I feel about Beckett. I am not saying Beckett makes it all the way back, but at least he has surgery and presumably better health to lean on as a reason for optimism. Haren is just gonna magically get his velocity back? I'm not buying it. He relies on his splitter, and without a good fastball to pitch off of, the splitter kind of loses it’s luster, as we have seen in his last 2 seasons.
Chad will be back around the All Star break, and by my predictions, should be walking into a starting job, or at least an opportunity for one. Billingsley has been a good pitcher in the past, and is someone who has always been an above average pitcher, keeping his ERA in the mid 3’s most seasons, and has approached 200 strikeouts many times in his career. He made over 30 starts every year from 2008-2011, and regressed just a touch in 2012. He got injured in 2013, but the injury was a carry over from 2012, when he was told he needed Tommy John surgery, but he decided to try to rehab it. That did not work so he went under the knife last August, and all reports from GM Ned Coletti say he is on track for an All Star break return. Billinglsey could be worth signing as a free agent after your draft and places on the DL list. He could be a major spark in August and September.
The Dodgers recently added Maholm to the fold. I fully understand that you can never have too much pitching, but could this be a sign that Ryu's arm is still a question mark, or that Beckett will not be ready by the start of the season? You will have to check back in over the next couple of weeks as we gain some clarity on the back end of the Dodgers rotation. Maholm isn't really on the fantasy radar except in the deepest of leagues, but his presence could bring down the value of some of the Dodgers' other starters. Also, it is very puzzling that I am not writing about Capuano here, another crafty lefty, a thumber of sorts, who had success last year in L.A.
Perez and Wilson are solid players in holds leagues, and both are waiting in the wings in the event Jansen goes down with an injury. I think the Dodgers would go to the hot hand if that occurs, so it is hard to project who is truly next in line at this point. Both have strong histories as far as closing, but Wilson lost his role due to injury, while Perez lost his to ineffectiveness, so I give the nod to Wilson. Withrow is one of those dominating low 20’s right handed relievers sprinkled around the NL who should be great sources of strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. If you end up having to draft too many finesse type pitchers, and are having trouble in the strikeout department, Withrow could be worth an add as the season goes on. He has to make the team of course, as they have a glutton of relievers (Jansen, Perez, Wilson, Howell, Paco Rodriguez, Brandon League, Jamey Wright), but even if he ends up starting the year in the minors, he will inevitably get called up to the bigs, and should resume his flame-throwing displays on the games biggest stage. He has legitimate stuff, and is worth remembering, even if you do not decide to roster him in 2014.