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Predicting How Los Angeles Dodgers' Rotation Logjam Will Be Resolved

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Predicting How Los Angeles Dodgers' Rotation Logjam Will Be Resolved
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The Los Angeles Dodgers laugh at pitching-needy teams, as they presently have eight starters to consider for five rotation spots. 

This is typically the kind of problem every team in the majors would love to have, as the saying that you can never have enough pitching is all too often proved to be quite valid. The Dodgers' pitching excess, however, does have some strings attached.

As Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times pointed out, there is some form of uncertainty surrounding seven of the Dodgers' eight starters. Clayton Kershaw, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley all dealt with injuries in 2012. Ryu Hyun-jin has yet to throw a pitch in the majors. Josh Beckett's stuff isn't what it once was. Both Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang are getting up there in age and have been known to be on the trade block. Only Zack Greinke looks to be standing on solid ground.

The Dodgers most certainly will break camp with a traditional five-man rotation, but it's going to take a little of this, a little of that and some wheeling and dealing to whittle eight down to five.

Here's how it's going to happen.

 

Chris Capuano Will Be Traded

Barring a wave of injuries, one of LA's starters is going to be packing his bags this spring. My money is on Capuano being moved.

Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com said in December that the Dodgers were "becoming aggressive" in their attempts to trade either Capuano or Harang, which he saw as a sign of their confidence that they would land Greinke.

Well, the Dodgers did land Greinke, but Capuano and Harang are still around. This may be because the Dodgers lost some leverage once Capuano and Harang officially became expendable.

Between the two, Capuano is still the more likely one to be dealt because his trade value is higher than Harang's. Harang has value as an innings-eater, but Capuano has value as both an innings-eater and a generally solid mid-rotation starter.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Capuano's 3.0 K/BB was twice as good as Harang's in 2012.

Capuano doesn't live on the edge as much as Harang does. Both of them are fly-ball pitchers, but Capuano commands the strike zone much better. He had a 7.4 K/9 and a 2.5 BB/9 in 2012, whereas Harang had a 6.6 K/9 and a 4.3 BB/9 for a K/BB of 1.5.

FanGraphs' Mike Petriello outlined a list of possible destinations for Capuano and Harang in an ESPN Insider piece, singling out the Seattle Mariners and the Pittsburgh Pirates as the top two fits for them.

The Mariners actually have something the Dodgers should want. Petriello pointed out righty-hitting outfielder Casper Wells as a possible target, as there may be no player in the majors who is more desirable and more attainable for the Dodgers than he is.

Wells can play all three outfield spots, but he's logged the bulk of his playing time in right field. That's where the Dodgers sorely need a platoon partner for Andre Ethier, and Wells is perfect because he's coming off a season that saw him compile an .891 OPS against southpaws.

Wells is essentially a poor mans' Cody Ross, and the Mariners have little incentive to hold on to him because their outfield is too crowded while their rotation desperately needs a veteran arm.

The Mariners and Dodgers are perfect trade partners, so look for a deal to be done between the two.

 

Chad Billingsley Will Start the Season on the Disabled List

Depending on who you ask, Chad Billingsley's right elbow is either a ticking time bomb or coming along nicely.

The Dodgers would have everyone believe that it's coming along nicely. Billingsley's 2012 season came to an early end thanks to a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament, but Ken Gurnick of MLB.com wrote earlier in January that the Dodgers are cautiously optimistic that Billingsley won't need Tommy John surgery.

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Billingsley's right arm is the opposite of stable.

The Dodgers have grounds to hope for the best. Billingsley had an injection of platelet-rich plasma in his right elbow last summer, and that same treatment allowed Takashi Saito to avoid surgery to repair a partially torn UCL back in 2008. 

But partially torn UCLs can certainly still result in a pitcher having Tommy John surgery, as was the case with Atlanta Braves right-hander Brandon Beachy last summer. New York Mets right-hander Mike Pelfrey also had to have Tommy John surgery to repair a partially torn UCL last year.

In general, Petriello noted in his article that pitchers who try to work through partially torn UCLs don't have a lengthy track record of success. The odds are very much against Billingsley.

I'll stop short of predicting that Tommy John surgery is in Billingsley's immediate future because of how cautious the Dodgers have been with him ever since his elbow problems first started. They'll likely just shut him down at the first sign of trouble and then prescribe rest and maybe another PRP injection. 

This is what I see happening, in which case Billingsley would start the 2013 season on the DL. He'll only head for Tommy John if his elbow shows no response to further conservative treatments.

If Billingsley is taken out of the equation, that would leave two men vying for his spot in the starting rotation.

 

Aaron Harang Will Take Billingsley's Place

It would either be Lilly or Harang who would take Billingsley's spot in the rotation, and it's very unlikely that the Dodgers would tab Lilly. His health is too big of a question mark.

Lilly made his last start of the 2012 season in late May due to a bad left shoulder, but he didn't have surgery on the shoulder until September. His plan wasn't to start throwing off a mound again until this month, so he'll be a work in progress once spring training ramps up.

Denis Poroy/Getty Images
Harang's 1.40 WHIP was among the highest in baseball in 2012.

Harang, meanwhile, is A-OK. You never know what you're going to get from him when he pitches, but the only health scare he had in 2012 was a very minor foot problem that he suffered on a foul ball.

Harang would, at the very least, do nicely as a fifth starter in the Dodgers' rotation. He's pitched at least 170 innings in each of the last two seasons, coming exactly one out shy of cracking the 180-inning barrier in 2012.

If Harang were to flirt with 180 innings again out of the No. 5 spot in LA's rotation, the Dodgers would be in no position whatsoever to complain regardless of the quality of the innings. No. 5 starters who can log as many as 180 innings are a rare sight.

As for what would become of Lilly if Harang is slotted into LA's starting rotation...

 

Ted Lilly Will Move to the Bullpen, Become the Next Darren Oliver

The Dodgers are going to be tempted to use Lilly as a starter in 2013 if Billingsley goes down in spring training. After all, Lilly was tremendous through his first seven starts of the 2012 season, going 5-0 with a 1.79 ERA.

But the Dodgers can have it one of two ways. They can try to get their money's worth out of Lilly by putting him in the rotation, in which case Lilly's health would be at risk. Or they can preserve his health as best they can by limiting his innings with work out of the bullpen.

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
Lilly has tended to have very good control throughout his career, which would help him as a reliever.

The latter scenario is the better option for the Dodgers. It's true that they already have a couple of lefties in their bullpen, but more lefties in a bullpen never hurt anyone. Besides which, Lilly has the potential to be a very unique commodity as a reliever.

Instead of using Lilly as a long man, the Dodgers could look to use him as a Darren Oliver clone: a late-inning lefty reliever with a starter's repertoire.

Lilly has an expansive array of pitches, as he throws a four-seamer, a two-seamer, a slider, a curveball and a changeup. By comparison, your garden-variety reliever only throws two or three pitches. Scott Elbert and J.P. Howell, for example, are both primarily fastball/slider guys.

Lilly would surely simplify his repertoire to focus on three main pitches, as Oliver has as a reliever. But just as Oliver occasionally calls on old weapons that he used to rely on as a starter, Lilly could suddenly expand his repertoire to get out of a jam in a high-leverage, late-inning situation.

Working as a reliever has greatly extended Oliver's career. Lilly could easily pull the same trick.

 

In the End, They'll Line Up...

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If the dots connect in the fashion outlined above, the Dodgers would have a starting rotation that would look like this:

  1. Clayton Kershaw, L
  2. Zack Greinke, R
  3. Ryu Hyun-jin, L
  4. Josh Beckett, R
  5. Aaron Harang, R

Kershaw and Greinke have the potential to be the best one-two punch in the National League. Kershaw is easily the best lefty pitcher in baseball with 35 wins and a 2.40 ERA accumulated over the last two seasons. Dating back to 2009, Greinke has a 3.37 ERA and a 4.0 K/BB over 833.1 innings.

Scott Boras has rightfully billed Ryu as a perfect No. 3 starter. He pitches off a four-seam fastball that sits in the low 90s, and he also boasts a solid curve, slider and changeup.

Beckett's best days are behind him, but a full season pitching in the National League and regularly at Dodger Stadium should help him put up solid numbers. It's very much encouraging that he had an ERA under 3.00 in his seven starts with the Dodgers in 2012.

Then there's Harang. His starts won't be any easier to endure than they were in 2012, but he'll get through five or six innings of work and give the Dodgers a chance to win more often than not. 

Depth would obviously be much more of an issue than it is now with this rotation, but not desperately so. The Dodgers will be awaiting Billingsley's return if they determine Tommy John surgery still isn't a necessity, and top prospect Zach Lee could emerge as an option for the majors after making strides at Double-A in 2012.

Besides, the Dodgers will be in very good shape if everyone stays healthy. Their rotation finished third in baseball with a 3.41 ERA in 2012, and this potential rotation has the talent to do better than that.

That's not music to the ears of the other teams in the NL West.

 

Note: Stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. 

 

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