NL West pitching staff rankings -- No. 1: Dodgers

NL West pitching staff rankings -- No. 1: Dodgers
January 31, 2014, 10:00 am
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Clayton Kershaw's new contract averages $30.7 million per season for the next seven years. (USATSI)

Programming note: Get up to date on all the latest offseason Giants news with the Hot Stove Show, Tuesday night at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO -- We wrap up our weeklong rankings of NL West pitching staffs, having already broken down the strengths and weaknesses of the No. 5 San Diego Padres, No. 4 Colorado Rockies, No. 3 Arizona Diamondbacks and No. 2 San Francisco Giants.

So much for the suspense. You know who’s left:

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Who’s new: RHP Dan Haren, RHP Chris Perez, RHP Jamey Wright.

Who’s gone: RHP Ricky Nolasco, LHP Chris Capuano, RHP Ronald Belisario, RHP Edinson Volquez, RHP Carlos Marmol.

2013 rotation ERA (NL rank): 3.13 (1st)
2013 bullpen ERA (NL rank): 3.49 (9th)
2013 overall ERA (NL rank): 3.25 (2nd)

Projected rotation: LHP Clayton Kershaw, RHP Zack Greinke, LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu, RHP Dan Haren, RHP Chad Billingsley or RHP Josh Beckett.

Projected bullpen: RHP Jamey Wright, RHP Brandon League, LHP J.P. Howell, RHP Chris Perez, LHP Paco Rodriguez, RHP Brian Wilson, RHP Kenley Jansen (closer).

OUTLOOK:

Kershaw was destined to become the highest-paid pitcher of all time. The Dodgers had plenty of Guggenheim money to make sure a check never bounces. So it was a matter of time before the two sides came to an agreement.

A couple weeks ago, they arrived at seven years and $215 million – a contract that will pay Kershaw a major league-record $30.7 million per season. And if there’s one saving grace for the Giants, whom Kershaw has dominated like no other pitcher in baseball history (1.38 ERA in 22 games), it’s that the 25-year-old can opt out of his deal after five years.

The thought of facing Kershaw for the next half-decade might not be so cheery for Giants fans. But just imagine if the Dodgers had been successful in their pursuit of Masahiro Tanaka, too. Instead Tanaka went to the Yankees, leaving the Dodgers with merely a forceful rotation instead of an indomitable one.

No NL West team has an ace to match Kershaw, who won two Cy Young Awards and has a runner-up finish in the last three years. In fact, the Dodgers’ No. 2, Zack Greinke, also matches up favorably with anyone else’s ace.

It appeared that Greinke’s first season as a Dodger would be memorable because of the broken collarbone he sustained in his second start, when the Padres’ Carlos Quentin hit him with a WWF-style flying clothesline following a plunking.

But Greinke, after taking a month to heal, quietly put together one of the best seasons by an NL pitcher. He posted a 1.57 ERA in his last 16 starts and the Dodgers went 13-3 in those games. He finished fourth in the NL in ERA and seventh with 7.7 hits allowed per nine innings. He can field his position as well as anyone in baseball and he won the NL Silver Slugger award, too. Now if he can just take a self-defense class…

Lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu was remarkably consistent in his first season after signing a six-year, $36 million contract. He posted an ERA under 3.00 in four of six months, so it’s not like the league ever figured him out. He’s as solid as any No. 3 in the division.

The Dodgers made one addition to their rotation, signing Southern California native Dan Haren to a one-year, $10 million contract. Haren hasn’t recaptured his former form, but if you look at things like FIP and K/BB ratio, there are underlying signs that he is capable of bouncing back if he can limit some of those home runs. In fact, the Dodgers see many of the same positives in Haren that the Giants saw when betting that Tim Lincecum would have better days ahead.

The Dodgers don’t have the rotation depth they enjoyed last spring, when they brought eight starters to camp. But they do have Chad Billingsley coming off Tommy John surgery, and Josh Beckett at least has experience to draw upon as he attempts to come back from a groin injury and thoracic outlet surgery. They’ve got money to scoop up another pitcher, too (Bronson Arroyo, perhaps?), if they don’t like what they see from either Billingsley or Beckett this spring.

The Dodgers also have Zach Lee. He might be the third best NL West pitching prospect, after Arizona’s Archie Bradley and the Giants’ Kyle Crick, and he’s closer to the majors than either of them.

The Dodgers ranked first in rotation ERA among NL clubs last season but the bullpen was nothing special. They should enter the year with an improved unit, though. To begin, they’ll get a full year of Brian Wilson after his successful two-month trial as a setup man for Kenley Jansen. And Brandon League won’t see nearly as many leveraged situations.

With League, Wilson, Jansen and new arrival Chris Perez, the Dodgers have four right-handed relievers with closing experience. They’re just as potent from the left side. Paco Rodriguez held lefties to a ridiculous .131 average, and fellow left-hander J.P. Howell had a 2.03 ERA in 67 games. The new long man is well-traveled Jamey Wright, who is coming off his best season as a reliever (3.09 ERA in 70 innings over 66 appearances with Tampa Bay).

Right-hander Chris Withrow would be a shoo-in to make almost any club, after posting a 0.95 WHIP and striking out 43 in 34.2 innings. But the Dodgers are well stocked, so he’ll need to have a good spring. Depth is a nice thing to have.

ANALYSIS: The Dodgers have the division’s best pitcher in Kershaw, a strong No. 2 in Greinke and their bullpen profiles to be the best in terms of balance, stuff and experience. Wilson would call it delicious. Giants fans would call it annoying.

RANK: 1 of 5.

 

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