As promised, today’s Prospectus Hit and Run column, “Night of the Living Dodgers,” finds me examining the threadbare state of the team’s pitching staff, one with an all-too-high count of zombies:
Rewind to the winter, when the Dodgers let Randy Wolf, who’d just set personal bests for starts, innings and ERA+ while finishing 11th in the league in SNLVAR, depart as a free agent without so much as an arbitration offer. Even having shed not only Wolf’s minimal salary ($5 million plus incentives) but also that of perennial dead weight Jason Schmidt ($15.5 million in the final year of a three-year, $47 million deal) and second baseman Orlando Hudson ($3.38 million plus incentives), the Dodgers made no attempt to corral a frontline hurler, studiously steering clear of the bidding for John Lackey, the top starter on the market. Furthermore, they avoided Joel Pineiro, Jason Marquis, Ben Sheets and others who wound up signing commitments of at least $10 million, as well as dicier but less expensive propositions such as such as Brad Penny (who left a bridge smoldering on his way out of town after the 2008 season), Carl Pavano (likewise vis-à-vis Torre during his tenure in New York), Rich Harden or Erik Bedard… The list goes on.
Not that any of those pitchers were necessarily ideal fits for the Dodgers, but it was clear going into the season that with Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda — a trio that totaled less than 500 innings in each of the last two years — the only proven starters under contract, the team needed at least one proven innings-eater, and might do well to take an additional shot on a more mercurial starter with a higher upside. Instead, with the news of owner Frank McCourt’s divorce proceedings with wife Jamie turning the team’s hot stove news into tabloid fodder, the Dodgers sat on their hands until late January, when they finally doled out a one-year, $5.025 million deal (plus incentives) to Vicente Padilla, who made all of 10 starts for the team after being plucked off the waiver wire last August.
The Dodgers are now paying for those decisions, or lack of them. Through Monday, the rotation ranked just 12th out of the 16 NL teams in terms of SNLVAR (1.8), and was carrying a 5.47 Fair Run Average. The bullpen hadn’t been much better, ranking 11th in WXRL, with a 0.04 WXRL and a similarly awful 5.68 Fair Run Average. The staff as a whole leads the league in walks (4.4 per nine), and while they’re missing a reasonable number of bats (7.9 per nine, third in the league), their the defense had provided little support, with a .673 Defensive Efficiency, which ranks 12th.
…As shaky as the Dodgers rotation has been, the starters have actually thrown a larger share of the team’s innings than all but two other NL clubs, the Pirates and Mets, though given the divergence between those two rotations’ fates, that may not be saying all that much. What is worth saying is that as currently constituted, the Dodger bullpen is best avoided. At times it’s looked more like a zombie revue worthy of a George Romero retrospective, particularly when the Dodgers broke camp not only with Jeff Weaver (-1.9 WARP since 2005, albeit with reasonable work as a swingman last year) but also both Ramon Ortiz (-1.7 WARP since 2002) and Russ Ortiz (-3.0 WARP since 2004) on staff. Also making the cut was Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterois, one of only four such picks to wind up on active rosters on opening day.
Injuries were a big reason the NRI body count was so high, but they weren’t the only one. Hong-Chih Kuo and Cory Wade began the year on the disabled list, the former with the latest in a lengthy litany of elbow woes, the latter due to the kind of arthroscopic shoulder surgery which comes free with a subscription to Scott Proctorology: The Magazine for Joe Torre’s Overused Relievers. Also missing in action was Ronald Belisario, who emerged from nowhere as one of Torre’s go-to guys last year but whose entry into the US this spring was delayed by visa issues stemming from a DUI charge.
…One could argue that the retreads have simply bought time for pitchers more essential to the team’s blueprint to get right, either physically or with respect to the strike zone, but it’s quite apparent that the team is at least one solid starter away from a rotation befitting a contender, and by struggling to this point they’ve failed to take advantage of the fact that both the Rockies and the Diamondbacks are down multiple starters as well. For want of a League Average Innings Muncher the division was lost? That may be the epitaph of the 2010 Dodgers’ season.
As noted in the piece, missing in action are well-regarded youngsters James McDonald, Scott Elbert and Josh Lindblom, all of whom could have done away with the need to ever staff an Ortiz (don’t look now at who’s starting on Friday); tattooed love boy Justin Miller, a pretty decent reliever for the Marlins and Giants over the past three years, is stuck in Albaturkey, too. And not for nothing, but it’s worth noting that the team’s opening day payroll dropped $5 million from last year — almost exactly the price of a LAIM such as Jon Garland, who instead is doing good work for the division-leading Padres.
All in all, Ned Colletti and Joe Torre have handled the staff in a destructive manner, with Colletti skimping on basics, and Torre taxing the increasingly smaller number of pitchers he actually trusts. If that sounds like a winning recipe to you, well, let’s book a hunting trip for October, because we sure as hell won’t be watching the Dodgers play.