Remember How Many Starting Pitchers A Team Really Needs

Yesterday, Dan Haren announced that he’d be using his 2015 player option to return, and for the moment, the Dodgers have 80% of a starting rotation. Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu are arguably the best top three in the game. Haren is overpaid, but is potentially an acceptable back-end starter. Unless you really think Zach Lee, Carlos Frias, or Chris Reed are stepping right in, there’s still one more hole to fill.

Or… is there more than that? If there’s any mistake that a fan or organization can make when looking ahead to the next year’s rotation, it’s assuming that you only need to worry about five starting pitchers. That never, ever, happens. Look at how many starters the Dodgers have used over the last 15 seasons, via the wonderful Baseball-Reference:

Year  SP
2000 10 Kevin Brown / Darren Dreifort / Eric Gagne / Matt Herges / Orel Hershiser / Mike Judd / Chan Ho Park / Carlos Perez / Luke Prokopec / Ismael Valdez
2001 12 Terry Adams / Andy Ashby / James Baldwin / Kevin Brown / Giovanni Carrara / Darren Dreifort / Eric Gagne / Terry Mulholland / Chan Ho Park / Luke Prokopec / Dennis Springer / Jeff Williams
2002 9 Victor Alvarez / Andy Ashby / Kevin Beirne / Kevin Brown / Giovanni Carrara / Omar Daal / Kazuhisa Ishii / Hideo Nomo / Odalis Perez
2003 10 Wilson Alvarez / Andy Ashby / Kevin Brown / Darren Dreifort / Kazuhisa Ishii / Edwin Jackson / Masao Kida / Scott Mullen / Hideo Nomo / Odalis Perez
2004 9 Wilson Alvarez / Elmer Dessens / Kazuhisa Ishii / Edwin Jackson / Jose Lima / Hideo Nomo / Brad Penny / Odalis Perez / Jeff Weaver
2005 10 Wilson Alvarez / Elmer Dessens / Scott Erickson / D.J. Houlton / Edwin Jackson / Derek Lowe / Brad Penny / Odalis Perez / Derek Thompson / Jeff Weaver
2006 11 Chad Billingsley / Mark Hendrickson / Hung-Chih Kuo / Derek Lowe / Greg Maddux / Brad Penny / Odalis Perez / Aaron Sele / Jae Weong Seo / Eric Stults / Brett Tomko
2007 11 Chad Billingsley / Mark Hendrickson / Hung-Chih Kuo / Esteban Loaiza / Derek Lowe / Brad Penny / Jason Schmidt / Eric Stults / Brett Tomko / David Wells / Randy Wolf
2008 11 Chad Billingsley / Jason Johnson / Clayton Kershaw / Hung-Chih Kuo / Hiroki Kuroda / Esteban Loaiza / Derek Lowe / Greg Maddux / Chan Ho Park / Brad Penny / Eric Stults
2009 12 Chad Billingsley / Jon Garland / Charlie Haeger / Clayton Kershaw / Hiroki Kuroda / James McDonald / Eric Milton / Vicente Padilla / Jason Schmidt / Eric Stults / Jeff Weaver / Randy Wolf
2010 10 Chad Billingsley / John Ely / Charlie Haeger / Clayton Kershaw / Hiroki Kuroda / Ted Lilly / James McDonald / Carlos Monasterios / Ramon Ortiz / Vicente Padilla
2011 9 Chad Billingsley / Rubby De La Rosa / John Ely / Nathan Eovaldi / Dana Eveland / Jon Garland / Clayton Kershaw / Hiroki Kuroda / Ted Lilly
2012 9 Josh Beckett / Chad Billingsley / Joe Blanton / Chris Capuano / Nathan Eovaldi / Stephen Fife / Aaron Harang / Clayton Kershaw / Ted Lilly
2013 11 Josh Beckett / Chad Billingsley / Chris Capuano / Stephen Fife / Zack Greinke / Clayton Kershaw / Ted Lilly / Matt Magill / Ricky Nolasco / Hyun-jin Ryu / Edinson Volquez
2014 12 Josh Beckett / Roberto Hernandez / Kevin Correia / Stephen Fife / Carlos Frias / Zack Greinke / Dan Haren / Clayton Kershaw / Paul Maholm / Red Patterson / Hyun-jin Ryu / Jamey Wright

Granted, some of these guys have been for just a single start or as the head of a bullpen game, but you get the idea. Five starters? No. Seven? Ha. The Dodgers haven’t used fewer than nine starters since 1997. They haven’t used fewer than eight since 1991.

That, obviously, has to play into the planning of the winter. You might think to yourself, “well, Lee and Reed were first-round picks, and while it hasn’t always been smooth sailing in the minors, they’ve shown enough to deserve a chance. Let the kids try rather than bringing in a veteran.” Setting aside that I don’t automatically think “homegrown” players are 20% better than imports, a stance that tons of fans disagree with me on, remember what that means. If Lee is your No. 5 starter, than you are all but certainly also going to start three or four guys who are worse than he is. (Obviously, a mid-season trade acquisition might not fit that profile.) If Haren & Lee are 40% of your rotation, then you’re going to have more than a few starts from guys who couldn’t beat that pair out.

That is, in a word, terrifying, for a team trying to win a title in 2015. Lee’s a nice guy to have around, even if he hasn’t lived up to his draft position, and if he’s the 7th or 8th best starter you have, that’s a fine place to be. If he’s the fourth or fifth best guy you have, you’re in trouble. You want him to be replacing the failed or injured starters, not to be one of them right off the bat. So while I don’t necessarily expect the Dodgers to spend on Jon Lester, James Shields, or Max Scherzer, they will absolutely import a quality veteran starter in some way — and maybe even two. What they have now, even with Haren back, simply isn’t enough.

About Mike Petriello

Mike Petriello
Mike writes about lots of baseball in lots of places, and right now that place is MLB.com.