Projecting the Dodgers' 5-Man Rotation for 2014
The Los Angeles Dodgers have always been a team that values starting pitching, and 2013 was no different.
Headed by arguably the best one-two punch in the majors in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Dodgers not only compiled baseball's lowest ERA among starting pitchers at 3.13, but also the most shutouts with 22.
The fact that their No. 3 starter, Hyun-Jin Ryu, could have been an ace on most clubs further demonstrates how formidable the Los Angeles starting rotation was last season.
The good news for Dodgers fans in 2014 is that Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu will all be back, eager to lead the team to the World Series after having come so tantalizingly close last season.
As for the back end of the rotation, veterans Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett will be coming off injuries but should be ready to roll. There's always uncertainty when players return after long stints on the disabled list, which is why general manager Ned Colletti secured some back-end insurance in Dan Haren.
The following slides take an in-depth look at the hurlers who will make up what promises to be another dominant starting rotation for the Dodgers in 2014.
1. Clayton Kershaw
The $215 million man, Clayton Kershaw is the undisputed ace of the Dodgers' staff and the premier pitcher in baseball.
Los Angeles' prized southpaw is coming off a season in which he unleashed a lethal arsenal of pitches to put up a miniscule 1.83 ERA and 232 strikeouts.
The ERA was the lowest in the majors since Pedro Martinez in 2000, and the strikeout total was the most in the National League.
Kershaw's mid-90s fastball is accompanied by a devastating 12-to-6 curveball that freezes even the best hitters with regularity.
But the pitch he mastered in 2013 was a sharp, biting slider that looks like a fastball to most right-handed batters before breaking in towards their back foot at the last second. Left-handed batters do not fare much better against the nasty offering.
These three pitches were all Kershaw needed to take home his second Cy Young Award in three years, but the Texas native can also mix in a circle change at times just for good measure.
Heading into 2014, Kershaw has had all winter to think about his improbable implosion in the deciding Game 6 of the National League Championship series and that should be all the fuel he needs to dominate once again during the upcoming season.
2. Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke was everything the Dodgers hoped for out of their No. 2 starter in 2013 after signing a lucrative free-agent deal prior to the season.
When Greinke returned to San Diego on June 22, he was the winning pitcher in a game that would mark the beginning of the Dodgers' historic 42-8 run over the summer.
A sure ace on most other teams, Greinke as a No. 2 behind Clayton Kershaw gives Los Angeles an extremely potent one-two punch.
It also doesn't hurt that Greinke is no pushover at the plate.
In 2013, Greinke won the Silver Slugger Award after leading all MLB pitchers in batting average (.328), on-base-percentage (.409), hits (19) and stolen bases (two).
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
Locked in at the No. 3 slot in the rotation is Korean import Hyun-Jin Ryu. The hefty lefty is coming off an impressive rookie campaign in which he went 14-8 with a 3.00 ERA.
Ryu's final numbers were probably better than what the Dodgers were hoping for when they decided to take a chance on the Korean league veteran known for his change-up.
In Korea, pitchers like Ryu are given six days of rest between starts instead of the traditional five that MLB pitchers receive.
The Dodgers attempted to accommodate Ryu to this end last season, and since the Dodgers now feature six starting pitchers on the roster, they will most likely be able to give Ryu his necessary rest again in 2014.
With one big league season already under his belt, the soon-to-be 27-year-old should have no problem maintaining his level of play and improving his consistency during the 2014 season.
4. Chad Billingsley
Once one of the most promising young pitchers in the Dodgers organization, Chad Billingsley never quite lived up to the expectations placed upon his shoulders.
The big righty has treaded water since the beginning of the 2009 season, going 46-42 during that span. His best year, a 16-10 record in 2008, seems like a distant memory.
Now 29 years old and coming off Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow, Billingsley will be asked to help round out the back end of the starting rotation in his ninth MLB season.
It still remains to be seen whether he will be ready for Opening Day, but an April return is not out of the question.
As the projected No. 4 starter, pressure the righty felt earlier in his career as a No. 1 or 2 should be mitigated in 2014. But there will obviously still be questions about his arm strength heading into the upcoming season.
5a. Josh Beckett
Ever since the Dodgers acquired Josh Beckett from the Boston Red Sox in the 2012 mega deal, the veteran right-hander has been underwhelming at best.
Beckett went 0-5 with a 5.19 ERA in just eight 2013 starts before thoracic outlet syndrome forced doctors to remove one of his ribs, effectively ending his season.
His overall record in Dodger blue dating back to 2012 is a putrid 2-8.
Beckett should be ready to go for spring training, which is a good sign for Dodgers fans who want to see the former World Series MVP on the mound.
What's more, the $15.75 million he is owed in 2014 almost certainly ensures him a spot in Los Angeles' starting rotation.
The Dodgers will soon find out whether Beckett's poor pitching in recent years has been due to the thoracic outlet syndrome or simply the decline in skills associated with a guy entering his 13th season.
5b. Dan Haren
The Dodgers signed veteran starting pitcher Dan Haren this offseason to a one-year contract worth $10 million, according to the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez.
The hope is that the right-hander can help stabilize a shaky back end of the Dodgers' starting rotation.
With numerous question marks surrounding fellow back-end starters Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett as they return from long-term injuries, there shapes up to be some friendly competition that might spur Haren to find the form that made him a 16-game winner in 2011 with the Los Angeles Angels.
As a 33-year-old last season, Haren turned in a 10-14 record for the Washington Nationals. These numbers don't stand out, but he did put together a solid 3.29 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in his final 87 innings pitched after coming back from midseason shoulder inflammation.
While $10 million may seem like an expensive price tag for a recently injured pitcher who hasn't turned in an ERA under 4.30 in two years, the deep-pocketed Dodgers don't have much to lose in this deal.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com unless otherwise noted.