When thinking of pitching rotations with a lot of depth, the Phillies, Red Sox and Giants are—rightfully so—the first teams to come to mind. However, one could argue that the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation is underrated and belongs in that discussion.
The biggest distinction between the Dodgers and the other three teams may be the perceived lack of a true ace. We all know that the Phillies have two premier aces in Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, the Sox have Jon Lester, and the Giants have Tim Lincecum, but the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw has not yet achieved that true “ace” perception.
Is it time he should?
There is no doubt that Kershaw is an elite strikeout pitcher. In his first two full seasons, he struck out well over a batter per inning. His ability to miss that many bats (combined with a nice home ballpark for pitchers) has also helped him post an ERA under three in both seasons.
Kershaw’s strikeout ability has even helped him post WHIP’s of 1.23 and 1.18 despite his habit of issuing walks. Where the walks have hurt his roto numbers is in the wins category. Obviously, walks lead to high pitch counts, and high pitch counts lead to early exits from the mound. As a result, Kershaw averaged only 5.2 innings per start in 2009 (eight wins) and 6.1 innings per start in 2010 (13 wins).
As you can see, Kershaw won more games while pitching deeper into games last season, indicative of the significant drop in his walk rate. If the young pitcher continues to improve (as he should), he may be considered a no-doubt, top-ten, fantasy pitching ace by the All-Star break.
Just in case he takes a turn away from becoming a Lester/Lincecum type towards being a Jonathan Sanchez type, I am heading into the season slightly cautious with Kershaw just outside my top-ten pitchers at no. 13.
The second starter in LA is also a guy who is probably underrated. Chad Billingsley was very impressive in 2008—his first full season as a starter—when he won 16 games with an ERA of 3.14 while posting a 9.01 K/9.
Chad then “disappointed” in 2009 (12 W, 4.03 ERA, 8.21 K/9) and 2008 (12 W, 3.57 ERA, 8.03 K/9). However, he showed some positive signs last year by cutting down on the walks issued and having a FIP of 3.07.
Maybe Billingsley’s first year was a bit of an overachievement, but you should not let what he was color your evaluation of what he now is.
This a guy that seems pretty sure to win at least 12 games, have an ERA in the mid-threes, keep the WHIP at or under 1.30, and be a very nice strikeout-producer. In my estimation, that type of certainty makes him a definite top-30 and borderline top-25 pitcher. It is likely he will be drafted a little lower than that and could be a very nice value on draft day.
Ted Lilly is another LA pitcher of whom you can know what to expect. From 2004-2006, Lilly struggled with his control, walking over four batters per nine innings in each of those years. However, Lilly seems to have found his command in the National League as he walked only 2.3 batters per nine innings over the last four seasons. Thanks to that, Lilly has become an excellent source of WHIP help for the fantasy baseball player with WHIP’s of 1.14, 1.23, 1.06, and 1.08. Combined with four straight K/9’s over 7.50, all these numbers make Lilly a reliable, top-40 starting pitcher.
The next guy in line for the Dodgers is another who may be underrated. In two and a half seasons (he missed time in 2009 due to an injury), Hiroki Kuroda has had a cumulative 3.60 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. He is not a huge contributor in the K’s category, but he should chip in a K/9 somewhere between six and seven. Because he is a little older (36) and because he spent the majority of his career playing in Japan, Kuroda is not a very sexy option who is likely to be undervalued in many drafts. I would recommend treating Kuroda as a top-50 pitcher because he is a safe bet to help and not hurt in every category.
After the four guys who are usable in mixed leagues, Jon Garland is a pretty decent fifth starter who should be a decent NL-only play. He is a solid innings-eater who consistently produces a four-ish ERA. He does not contribute much in the strikeout department and has the potential to be a bit of a WHIP liability, but Garland is still a reliable contributor for deeper leagues.
Written by Brett Talley exclusively for http://www.thefantasyfix.com
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