A Note On Starting Pitcher Depth

The Dodgers will need starting pitchers beyond their current rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, and Brett Anderson. All teams need more than that (there’s no such thing as a number five starter, as Baseball Prospectus likes to say) and the Dodgers have more health questions than most. Anderson hasn’t thrown more than 50 innings since 2011 and more than 113 since 2009. Before a 200 inning campaign last season, McCarthy had only topped 135 innings once. We all love Ryu, but he battled shoulder injuries last year and only managed 152 frames. Greinke had a “creeping concern” in his elbow last year.

If everything just listed goes wrong simultaneously, no amount of depth will save the team. Still, the Dodgers need to be more prepared for the eventuality of starting pitcher injuries than most. Internally, they do have some depth to help. Juan Nicasio isn’t a starter long-term but could probably make a spot start here and there. Joe Wieland is an interesting option, though he isn’t exactly free of injury history either. There’s Zach Lee, who has a lot to prove in the minors but still has promise. Carlos Frias is still around. So is Red Patterson. Mike Bolsinger deserves a closer look in a future post here, and could be a bit better than the organizational depth he’s assumed to be. Collectively, the depth is okay but even it has question marks.

Given all of the question marks, it would probably serve the Dodgers well to go get another starting pitcher. The easiest place to look is the free agent market. A good tool to look through the market is FanGraphs’ free agent tracker. After removing the pitchers who are already signed or are specifically rumored to have signed with one team (Hiroki Kuroda, Josh Johnson, etc), here are the top ten remaining names:

Pitcher Projected WAR/200IP
Max Scherzer 3.9
James Shields 3.0
Chad Billingsley 1.3
Brandon Beachy 0.8
Roberto Hernandez 0.7
Ryan Vogelsong 0.7
Johan Santana 0.7
Kyle Kendrick 0.4
Kevin Correia 0.4
Franklin Morales 0.2

We know all about the top two. Scherzer is great and is going to be paid handsomely, and we shouldn’t count the Dodgers out on any expensive player. Remember, just a few weeks ago they were serious players for Jon Lester. Scherzer rumors have been surprisingly quiet so far, and even if the Dodgers do want him for seven (!) years, it’s hard to count out other large market teams too. Signing Scherzer is still very possible, but given the competition it shouldn’t be seen as likely.

Shields is also great, provided that he can continue pitching 200+ innings per year. However, hidden behind his steady ERA is a pretty big peripheral drop over the past few years. The Kansas City defense was historically good last season and saved Shields from a nasty ERA bump. His future contract is really scary. What happens when a person whose value is mostly gained through being a workhorse gets old and can’t be a workhorse anymore? The 5 year/$90 million crowd estimate on the FanGraphs tracker seems like more than what the Dodgers should be willing to pay, let alone the rumors of 5 years/$110 million.

After the first two names, the quality of the list drops off dramatically. Billingsley showing up third is interesting, but keep in mind that all of these numbers are projected assuming the pitcher can throw 200 innings. Billingsley, Beachy, and Santana are overrated here as a result. Past the surgery recovery names is when things start to get pretty familiar. When the list of the best available starters gets down to the Faustos, Correias, and Kendricks of the world, it’s a pretty big indication of just how thin the market is.

So, what does this mean? Maybe it makes Scherzer or Shields more appealing, but the same factors which would make them more appealing to the Dodgers would make them more appealing to other teams as well. The Dodgers could also end up signing one of the uninspiring veterans at the bottom of the list as an insurance policy. It would be in a Paul Maholm-type role, but hopefully it works out better. At least this front office has shown willingness to cut dead weight, so the risk would potentially be lower.

Otherwise, the starting pitcher depth is set as-is or the Dodgers will need to find a trade partner. Even a trade probably won’t be for somebody notable. At this point, somebody with options who can be stashed in AAA would be appealing, though he would probably be more of a quad-A type than an actual prospect. Still, depending on the pitcher, he might be the third best on the above list. At this point, that might be the best place to look.

About Daniel Brim

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Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.