Dodger Rotation Exceeding Expectations

Aaron Harang shut down San Diego for seven scoreless innings last night, allowing just four hits without a walk, and while there’s a pretty convincing argument to be made that “it was in Petco and against the terrible Padres,” Harang’s solid outing is yet another in a string of quality starting pitching from the Dodgers through the first quarter of the season. The five Dodger starters are currently second in baseball in ERA, batting average against, & OPS against, with only the outstanding Washington rotation fronted by Stephen Strasburg besting them in each of those areas.

While it’s fair to expect some regression, considering the Dodgers have spent most of the season playing either in the large parks of the NL West, against non-competitive offenses – and the fact that other than Harang, they’re all out-pitching their FIP by a considerable amount – it’s becoming clear that the Dodger rotation is looking a lot more effective than we expected it to be when Ned Colletti ended up with Harang & Chris Capuano rather than Hiroki Kuroda or someone else back in the offseason. Capuano, fully healthy for probably the first time in six years, has been very effective at the back of the rotation along with Harang, and despite Chad Billingsley‘s struggles, the only one I’m really worried about at the moment is Ted Lilly. Sure, 5-0 and 2.11 looks swell, but a decreased strikeout rate (5.17, which would be by far the lowest of his career), an increased walk rate (3.29, highest since 2006), and an absolutely unsustainable BABIP (.196) does concern me about what’s to come.

Still, on the whole the rotation has been great, even considering that we arguably haven’t seen Clayton Kershaw at his best yet, and that opens up a variety of options for the future. Though much has been made of the lack of depth in the minor league organization, if there’s anything the Dodgers have in spades, it’s young, right-handed starting pitching. We’ve already seen Nathan Eovaldi, who would already be in the bigs on many other teams, and Rubby De La Rosa, expected to make his way back from Tommy John surgery later this year. Coming behind them at Double-A Chattanooga (because let’s face it, Triple-A Albuquerque is no place for young pitching) are Allen Webster, Matt Magill, Chris Withrow, & Ethan Martin (plus lefties Chris Reed & Aaron Miller); behind them are Zach Lee, Garrett Gould, & Angel Sanchez. That’s in addition to a new ownership group expected to go out and spend where needed, putting free agents like Cole Hamels & Zack Greinke within reach for the first time in years – and don’t forget, the entire rotation is signed for next year as well.

While I just can’t imagine that we’re going to be speaking about these same five so favorably in May of 2013 – the odds of at least one of the older trio of Lilly, Capuano, & Harang either getting hurt or imploding performance-wise in the next year are astronomical – it’s a clear area of depth for the Dodgers to draw upon to fix more urgent needs, like first base. And third base. And possibly left field. And potentially shortstop. While we all get attached to our own prospects and envision them all in Dodger blue some day (hell, I still get regular questions from people wondering if the Dodgers can bring Blake DeWitt back) it’s important to be realistic and understand that not all of the guys I mentioned above are going to be on this team in the future; with the failure rate of pitching prospects, it’s probably likely that a majority will either not be successful major leaguers or not part of the Dodgers.

It’s here, of course, that I need to put out my regular reminder that I don’t mind trading prospects, as long as it’s in the right deal. People forget that the act of trading Carlos Santana alone wasn’t a mistake; trading him for a decent-but-not-great third baseman when the Indians were also selling C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee for less was the mistake. Prospects exist to provide value. Sometimes that value is in being on your team, and sometimes it’s in being cashed out for other pieces.

Considering the threadbare offensive options on the free agent market next winter, with only Andre Ethier & Josh Hamilton real difference makers at the plate, the Dodgers are going to have to fill those needs through trade. Their deepest area as far as trade chips is clearly in starting pitching, so as the weeks go on and sellers become more clearly identified, it makes all the sense in the world to identify those opportunities. Maybe that’s Kevin Youkilis, or Paul Konerko, or Chase Headley, or Carlos Lee, or someone else. I know some fans will be turned off by the idea of sending a prospect for an older veteran like that, but as long as it’s someone productive – and dear lord, not someone like Aubrey Huff or Chone Figgins – it’s a move that makes all the sense in the world. Thanks, in no small part, to the surprisingly effective Dodger rotation.