Can The Dodgers Win Without Greinke?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Zack Greinke became one of the richest right-handed pitchers of all time this past offseason. The Dodgers did their best impression of the Yankees by purchasing the rights to Greinke, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford, but with Greinke acknowledging recent elbow pain, should we consider the Dodgers contenders without the former Cy Young Award winner?

Going into this offseason Zack Greinke was touted as the greatest pitching prize to be had in all the land. The right-hander, who won a deserved American League Cy Young Award with the Kansas City despite the Royals' awful team record, found the most money and the right number of years in Los Angeles. Much has been written about the Dodgers sale, the ridiculously lucrative television deal the team made, and addition of prodigious contracts like that of Adrian Gonzalez's, Carl Crawford's, Greinke's.

With Greinke not only came the need for a more efficient check-writing machine, but also a major influx of talent to an already exemplary pitching staff including Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Josh Beckett. Not to mention the few 1-2 win pitchers the team already sported, like Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, and Ted Lilly. With Greinke in the starting rotation, the Dodgers projected starting rotation according to mlbdepthcharts.com was expected to include Kershaw, Greinke, Beckett, Korean Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Chad Billingsley. Based on ZIPS projections, that group should put up about 19 fWAR, which eclipses the ZIPS projected 17 fWAR for the San Francisco Giants' starting rotation.

Sounds great, but recently Greinke complained of elbow pain, and was immediately taken for an MRI and told to stop all throwing activities. According to an article by ESPN's resident General Manager Jim Bowden, Greinke seems to be fine.

"Greinke didn't want to talk about the elbow, only saying that he was going to follow the direction of the training staff. To him, the best-case scenario might be pitching the second game of the season, but he definitely won't be able to throw 120 pitches by then even if all goes well."

Bowden suggests that elbow inflammation, the only definitive finding on the MRI often indicates loose bodies or a bone spur. While he has no medical expertise, Bowden has seen this process before, so considering his opinion is worthwhile.

As of now, the cause of Greinke's pain remains unknown. The lone certainty is that Zack, who was supposed to start the Dodger's second game of the season and every fifth day after, most likely will not pitch until the medical staff says he can do so without worry. Given this sticky situation, the Dodgers must turn to option B, or maybe C, or possibly D. That's right, LA's GM Ned Colleti has many roads in front of him, and unlike Robert Frost, Colleti and manager Don Mattingly can use data, some informative opinions, and his own gut to decide who will fill Greinke's rotation spot.

The options include the aforementioned Harang, Capuano, or Lilly. If Greinke's injury truly is season threatening, Kyle Lohse could become an option, but given the information at hand we can safely discard that scenario. With Greinke in the rotation ZIPS had the Dodger's starters projected to compile 19 fWAR. Replacing Greinke with option number one, Chris Capuano, that 19 wins becomes 15.5 wins, a 3.5 win drop off.

"A good season has the Dodgers winning 90 games and a playoff berth, but the fact is they simply aren't better than clubs such as the Giants, Nationals, Reds and Tigers."

Those optimistic 90 wins become 86 by replacing Greinke with Capuano. Not only that, but the Dodgers defense will also have to step up as Greinke's 8.77 K/9 is gone, replaced by Capuano's 7.38 K/9. If the Dodgers go with Harang instead of Capuano their ZIPS projected WAR becomes 15.1 for starters, meaning their optimistic win total turns into 85, further and further from a playoff spot. The rotation's average K/9 drops again, dipping below 8.00 having added Harang, in addition to more base runners given the projected rise in BB/9. The trend downwards continues if the Dodgers surprisingly decide to shift Ted Lilly into the 5th spot in the rotation.

Overall, with the subtraction of Greinke and the addition of any of the other three starters the Dodgers possess, LA's playoff picture becomes murkier and murkier.

"Greinke is emblematic of the Dodgers right now: lots of star power with lots of questions. The star power sends expectations through the roof -- expectations that don't match the team's actual ability level and health."

Bowden may not be an Orthopedic Surgeon, but his description of the Dodgers rings true. This is a team filled with great names, but built on the least sturdy foundation to be had in the Majors. Hopefully for Dodgers fans, and the team, Greinke's pain dissipates, he returns to preparing for the regular season, and puts up ace-like numbers on the way to leading the Dodgers back to the playoffs. Unfortunately every domino must fall LA's way for such a scenario to become reality.

What do you think?

If Greinke's elbow lands him on the DL, who should replace him in the rotation? Should Greinke play through pain, or does he have a responsibility, given the large investment the Dodgers made in him, to get treatment and pitch only when he is fully healthy? Can the Dodgers realistically make the playoffs without Greinke pitching every 5th day for an extended period of time?

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