What’s the biggest potential weakness of the 2015 Dodgers? Everyone who just said “right-handed power” can go sit in the corner. Stop. Just stop it. That’s not it. That doesn’t matter.
It is, probably without a ton of controversy, starting rotation depth. We’ve been over this a bunch of times. All five members of the 2015 rotation — Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, and Brett Anderson — are very talented. They’ve also all had injury concerns in the not-too-recent past, and while Kershaw’s 2014 teres major strain seems more of a one-time thing than anything worth worrying about long-term, and McCarthy claims that he found a new workout routine that played a big part in hitting 200 innings in 2014, the fact is that Ryu missed time last year three times and Anderson may be the most fragile player in baseball.
So when McCarthy received $48 million to sign over four years, and Anderson got $10 million for a single year — to say nothing of Brandon Beachy, who got very little guaranteed money but has plenty of injury concerns of his own — the reaction was understandable: Damn, that’s a lot of money to guarantee to guys who have very little track record of staying healthy. The first time one of these guys lands on the disabled list — and you can bet that one of them will almost with certainty — the outcry will be obvious. See! Told you so!
That, of course, will miss a very important truth:
The success of these deals should not be measured by DL trips
A DL trip is an easy thing to criticize, because it represents an admission that a player is too injured to contribute. In the case of the pitchers with injury questions, it’ll look like evidence that the new front office made a mistake in signing them. But it’s not really about disabled list trips, is it? No. It’s about innings. Or put another way: If Anderson spends a month on the disabled list but gives you 150 high-quality innings around that, then he’s more than earned his money, right?
Remember how an organization looks at their rotation. It’s not “how can we find five guys who will all throw 210 innings,” because that never, ever happens. It’s “here’s how many innings we expect the rotation to throw, and how do we divide that pie among the most talented pitchers that we can.”
So about that pie — how big is it? Over the last five seasons of Dodger baseball, you can see that the number of innings received from the starting rotation has been pretty consistent:
- 2014 — 975
- 2013 — 979
- 2012 — 987.2
- 2011 — 993
- 2010 — 952
That’s an average of about 980 innings per year. So how do you get there?
You can reasonably count on 230 from Kershaw. He got there or very close to it each year from 2011-13, and would have last year if not for his delayed start, which isn’t a chronic issue.
From there, just go down the line, now with 750 left. Let’s say Grienke gets 200 of them; his elbow thing, while concerning, isn’t new, and he’s reached 200 in five of the last seven seasons, or “every year he hasn’t broken a bone.”
So that’s 550. Ryu claims he’s going to get 200 innings, but I’ll believe that when I see it. 180 seems a lot more realistic. Can we count on McCarthy to do another 200? I’d like to say we can, but I don’t think you can rely on it. I’m saying 180, though I don’t feel great about it — it’s just hard to say he’s less reliable than Ryu after their respective seasons.
Now we’re at 190 remaining, and as much as I’d like to say that Anderson will just do that and be done with it, we all know that isn’t happening. If it was, he wouldn’t have signed for just one year, would he? Could you have signed a reliable innings-eater like an Aaron Harang, someone you know probably stays healthy but doesn’t offer much more than that? Sure. There’s just no upside in that.
So instead of trying to get 190 innings out of one starter with little upside, the Dodgers are hoping to get those innings out of multiple starters with big upside. Now, how this gets distributed is nearly impossible to say. If you can get 80 good innings from Anderson and 80 more from Beachy later in the year after Anderson is inevitably injured, while filling in a few spot starts here and there from Joe Wieland and Zach Lee, that’s probably pretty good. (Or 90/70, or 100/60, etc.) For ~$13m, you’d have created a Frankenstein fifth starter with talent, even if it’s not just one name.
Now, that will be read as “Anderson got $10m for 80 innings,” and that will include “Anderson went on the DL!” derpage, and it’ll seem like an overpay, but it won’t matter. Remember: If Anderson had a better record of health, it’d have cost a ton more than one year. It’s also possible, if not probable, that they get only 80 innings or less total from Anderson/Beachy, and limp along with Wieland or Lee or Carlos Frias until July, when they go out and get Johnny Cueto or Jeff Samardzija or Cole Hamels or whichever other pitcher is available.
And hey, maybe this all goes straight to hell. Maybe this all comes up snake-eyes and more injuries occur simultaneously than they can handle. It’s always a risk. But in the end, it’s about innings — not disabled list trips.