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2006 Team Previews: Los Angeles Dodgers, Pitchers

This preview was penned by Rob McMillin of 6-4-2, an Angels and Dodgers blog. 6-4-2 is one of my favorite sites around, and is a daily read for me. If you haven't learned to love Rob's writing yet, you will.

As disastrous as the 2005 Dodgers were -- the team finished the season with the second-worst record in its history in Los Angeles -- much of the blame for that could be laid at the feet of injuries. Now, that's not to say that erstwhile GM Paul DePodesta was innocent; he made some spectacularly bad choices in some places. The J.D. Drew contract, depending on your perspective, was and is a particular target, as was the signing of the elderly Jose Valentin. Finally, for those inclined to complain about the 2004 Paul LoDuca/Brad Penny trade on the merits of "chemistry", "heart", and the other hobgoblins invoked by lazy and prejudiced newspaper columnists, Penny's subsequent stint on the DL served to merely galvanize such talk.

So going into the 2006 season, the principle question before the Dodgers are principally whether they can hope for improved health in a division that still looks eminently winnable: the Giants are generally conceded to be nothing with Barry Bonds, the Padres have failed to vault over the competition even with their latest roster tweaks, the Diamondbacks are hopeful but still a year or two from adding their copious young talent to their lineup, and the Rockies are still the Rockies. Let us then peek into the Dodgers pitching staff and see what we can see.

Rotation

Derek Lowe
2005:
3.61 ERA, 12-15 (35 starts, 222.0 IP), 5.92 K/9, 2.66 K/BB, 22.2 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 11-12 (30 starts, 195.1 IP), 5.39 K/9, 1.86 K/BB, 21.2 VORP

Derek Lowe beat the market by having the postseason of all postseasons in 2004, polishing a resume that was deservedly headed toward some pitching hell like Cincinnati. Instead, the Boras client ended up in the unlikely arms of Paul DePodesta and the Dodgers, snookering Los Angeles into a four-year contract. So great was his craptitude that it inspired Baseball Prospectus to arrive at the acronym LAIM -- League-Average Innings Muncher. Lowe's peripherals have taken a beating: his strikeouts, which used to hover around 8.0 K/9 in 2000-2001, have fallen to about 5-6, and his walk rate has similarly soared. A story appearing in the March 2, 2006 edition of the Los Angeles Times attributed his mound troubles to a nasty breakup with his wife, and a well-publicized affair with Fox anchor-reporter Carolyn Hughes, all of which converged in a complete and total breakdown on July 2. He further claimed that he turned things around following a divorce proceeding he filed shortly thereafter. Of course, baseball historians -- and anyone with access to Retrosheet -- attempting to assign his collapse's causality to his zipper stylings will also note that he proceeded to give up five runs or more in four games, the last one August 21 against the Marlins in Florida. He is what he is: LAIM. And this is the team's "ace".

Brad Penny
2005:
3.90 ERA, 7-9 (29 starts, 175.1 IP), 6.26 K/9, 2.98 K/BB, 29.6 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 3.76 ERA, 11-10 (29 starts, 182.1 IP), 6.42 K/9, 2.65 K/BB, 27.8 VORP

Penny's trade is still somewhat questionable, but compared to what the Marlins were left with -- at this point, nothing, since the departures of both Paul LoDuca and Guillermo Mota -- it's a whole lot more. Penny started the year recovering from a nerve injury so unusual that team physician Frank Jobe, the man who invented Tommy John surgery, had never seen anything like it before. His 2005 was one of the team's few bright spots, posting mostly reliable starts that ended in losses or squandered leads, as he only received decisions in 16 of his 29 starts. PECOTA thinks Penny will be his same old self, barring injury, but Will Carroll's most recent Dodgers Team Health Report marks him as a yellow light for injury. Fewer innings are altogether possible.

Odalis Perez
2005:
4.56 ERA, 7-8 (19 starts, 108.2 IP), 6.13 K/9, 2.64 K/BB, 8.2 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 3.92 ERA, 8-8 (19 starts, 137.1 IP), 5.89 K/9, 2.63 K/BB, 18.8 VORP

The last remnant of Dan Evans' first act as GM -- the Gary Sheffield trade -- Odalis Perez has posted two solid years with the Dodgers, 2002 and 2004. Shoulder tendinitis and a strained oblique scratched him from many a start in 2005, and at his age, healing is likely to slow down. Paul DePodesta got smacked for giving out an expensive contract to Derek Lowe, but Perez's first year of his three-year, $24M deal is more evidence for the prosecution charging managerial incompetence in the Dodgers' former GM. The fact that he's only pitched three innings in spring training isn't making anyone feel better; nonetheless, he's still scheduled to pitch the home opener. Fans in the outfield pavilion, bring your gloves.

Brett Tomko
2005:
4.18 ERA, 8-15 (30 starts, 190.2 IP), 5.38 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, 19.3 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 4.49 ERA, 10-11 (27 starts, 172.0 IP), 5.23 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, 11.9 VORP

Tomko epitomizes the lower end of the LAIM pitcher spectrum; if he were appreciably worse, he'd either end up in somebody's bullpen or get chased out of baseball. As it was, he criticized his pitching coach and manager in the newspapers while in San Francisco, and thus found himself working for the Dodgers. Ned Colletti isn't earning any GM brownie points for signing guys like this to multi-year contracts, no matter that it's only two years; it's two years too many, but viewed as a stopgap until guys like the somewhat credible Jonathan Broxton can come up and contribute, the deal becomes less objectionable. But PECOTA predicts a whole lot of ugly starts; he, or our next suspect, may be a victim of Chad Billingsley's success. Sadly, Will Carroll predicts him to be injury-free this year.

Jae Seo
2005:
2.59 ERA, 8-2 (14 starts, 90.1 IP), 5.88 K/9, 3.69 K/BB, 29.8 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 4.27 ERA, 8-10 (26 starts, 148.1 IP), 5.76 K/9, 2.44 K/BB, 14.3 VORP

The Mets decided Seo wasn't worth keeping around and traded him for Duaner Sanchez, an inexplicable trade on its surface; you never trade a starter for a middle reliever if you can help it. It could be a simple matter of trading high for a commodity the Mets have no faith in, and indeed PECOTA mirrors that; note well that PECOTA suggests he will give up 20 home runs next year, and playing in Chavez Ravine at that. The Mets booted him off the big club in midseason to work on his control; he came back and was exceptional. Whether the Dodgers get that guy or not is still debateable; Seo had a 0.64 ERA in the recent WBC, and a 3.27 so far (3/29) in spring training. The signs are positive; cross your fingers.

Bullpen

Closer: Eric Gagne
2005:
2.71 ERA, 1-0 (14 games, 13.1 IP), 14.85 K/9, 7.33 K/BB, 4.0 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 1.66 ERA, 5-4 (67 games, 72.1 IP), 12.76 K/9, 5.88 K/BB, 25.1 VORP

The Dodgers dodged a bullet when their Cy Young-winning closer turned out to need only an elbow cleanup instead of full-on Tommy John surgery. They could have saved themselves a whole season by keeping him off the mound once his knees started giving him trouble, but as it is, he's adding pitches to his repertoire, making one wonder how healthy he really does feel. His spring numbers -- 3.00 ERA with 12 strikeouts, 4 walks, but 2 home runs -- are hopeful, but his fastball velocity is still in the high 80's/low 90's. He's not the Thor-on-the-mound he was two years ago, though a return to dominance isn't out of the question.

Closer-in-reserve/setup man: Danys Baez
2005:
2.86 ERA, 5-4 (67 games, 72.1 IP), 6.35 K/9, 1.70 K/BB, 19.1 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 3.85 ERA, 4-5 (58 games, 64.2 IP), 6.82 K/9, 1.88 K/BB, 8.5 VORP

"Being the best closer in Devil Rays history," quipped Baseball Prospectus, "is like being the most enlightened ruler in the history of Albania." The worry is that the Devil Rays are getting smarter, inverting the rationality the Dodgers exhibited by unloading Duaner Sanchez for the serviceable fifth starter Jae Seo; by airmailing once-upon-an-ace Edwin Jackson to the Rays, and for a middle reliever who'll be gone next year at that, the Dodgers seem to have incomprehensibly pushed a prospect who still has considerable upside for a known quantity whose sole attraction is the ability to pitch in the ninth inning. Jackson alternated brilliant and lousy in spring training with Tampa Bay, and so for now the trade appears a wash; but his progress is something to keep an eye out for. Meantime, Baez is only likely to be better than some combination of the departed Duaner Sanchez, the barely-hanging-on Yhency Brazoban, and the still-rehabbing Kelly Wunsch. That's not saying much, especially considering the kind of progress Hong-Chih Kuo made this spring, and a far cry from the Dodger bullpen of 2003, when Quantrill-Mota-Gagne spelled league-leading relief. With any number of ready recruits waiting in Las Vegas to evict this kind of mediocrity, his innings might be smaller than projected here, leaving him fewer opportunities to earn a career year to impress teams looking for a "proven closer". Having announced his intention to jump ship if he and his prima donna arm don't get to close (this being the last year of his contract), Baez is on the short list to be traded if the team can get something good for him.

Middle Reliever: Yhency Brazoban
2005:
5.33 ERA, 4-10 (74 games, 72.2 IP), 7.56 K/9, 1.91 K/BB, -1.6 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 4.69 ERA, 2-3 (46 games, 50.1 IP), 7.51 K/9, 2.27 K/BB, 1.8 VORP

The former "Ghame Over" when he started closing in Gagne's stead in the early part of 2005 became an utter nightmare after his 2.89 ERA April. With an awful 5.23 ERA in spring training, he almost didn't make the 25-man, but he somehow toughed it out. Brazoban is a clear example of why Gagne's health is so very important: it's not that another pitcher can't be found to replace "Game Over", it's that other guy you then have to pull in at the back of the bullpen to replace whoever was the twelfth man before. Brazoban's promise, relative youth (he will be playing out his age 26 season), and the absence of Jim Tracy (who insisted on sending him to the wolves far too many times) all mean he'll have plenty of chances to refine his pitching in less stressful situations.

Middle Reliever: Franquelis Osoria
2005: 3.94 ERA, 3-3 (24 games, 29.2 IP), 4.55 K/9, 1.88 K/BB, 4.1 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 4.06 ERA, 3-3 (60 games, 60.0 IP), 4.95 K/9, 1.74 K/BB, 5.7 VORP

There's no such thing as a ROOGY, but maybe Osoria should be the first. He's really the Dodgers equivalent of Ben Weber, the sinkerball specialist formerly with the Angels against whom right-handers simply beat groundballs straight to the shortstop. If you need a double-play, he's your man. Bonus trivia: he has 11 fingers, six on his pitching hand.

Middle Reliever: Hong-Chih Kuo
2005: 6.75 ERA, 0-1 (9 games, 5.1 IP), 16.88 K/9, 2.00 K/BB, -0.7 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 4.69 ERA, 3-4 (31 games, 56.0 IP), 17.81 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 2.2 VORP

The subject of two Tommy John surgeries bounced back nicely with a 0.75 ERA in spring training, earning him a roster spot on the big club, and thereby bypassing the pitcher's hell known as Las Vegas. He's got a fastball that's been clocked at around 100 MPH, and a strikeout rate that reminds you of Eric Gagne's 2003 season, so don't be surprised to see him used in more than a LOOGY role.

Short Reliever: Lance Carter
2005: 4.89 ERA, 1-2 (39 games, 57.0 IP), 3.47 K/9, 1.47 K/BB, 5.1 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 4.55 ERA, 3-3 (36 games, 51.0 IP), 4.4 K/9, 1.78 K/BB, 4.2 VORP

One reason MLB keeps the rule requiring each team to have at least one player on the All-Star roster is guys like Lance Carter; when the Devil Rays inevitably trade guys like him, they can at least lay claim to moving an All-Star. Unfortunately, he's nowhere near the caliber of the actual good players at the midsummer classic, though he did briefly manage to squeeze his ERA down below 3.00 for a couple games in 2003 before it shot back up toward the end of the season. Principally a flyball pitcher who isn't left-handed enough to be a LOOGY, Carter should be mainly a garbage-time pitcher who sees few critical innings, and is an almost certain lock to leave the team after 2006. He's the kind of guy you hope gets injured so one of the Dodgers better pitching prospects can make it to the 25-man roster.

LOOGY: Tim Hamulack
2005: 23.14 ERA, no record (6 games, 2.1 IP), 6.35 K/9, 1.70 K/BB, 19.1 VORP
2006 PECOTA: 3.85 ERA, 4-5 (58 games, 64.2 IP), 6.82 K/9, 1.88 K/BB, 8.5 VORP

One of those guys who bounces around the minors for years without ever impressing anyone, left-handed relief specialist Hamulack spent most of his career in the Boston Red Sox organization and worked his way into the Mets organization in 2005, starting in AA for the third consecutive year of his career. He fairly quickly advanced to AAA, only this time he stuck and got better, posting a 1.02 ERA at Norfolk, a record that earned him a callup. That didn't go so well: the lefty got shelled in outings against the Cards and Phillies, but also failed to collect outs against the Marlins. Nonetheless, while at Norfolk he cut his WHIP by more than half simply by reducing his walk rate by a similar number, all the while playing in a home park nearly identical to his former home in Pawtucket. Hamulack is this year's Kelly Wunsch -- who didn't make the team after a freak injury in 2005 -- and both appear to be roughly interchangeable LOOGYs.

Once again, thanks to Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 for helping us out and writing this preview.