The Dodgers rotation excelled in 2015.
Led by Clayton Kershaw (2011, 2013, 2014 Cy Young winner) and Zack Greinke (2015 Cy Young runner-up), the club featured the best one-two punch in the game. Opposing clubs quivered at the thought of facing the duo in back-to-back games.
Brett Anderson, who made a total of 32 starts since the start of 2011, surprisingly made 31 starts (including 18 quality starts) in 2015. Hyun-jin Ryu missed the entire year after shoulder surgery, but Mike Boslinger came in to pick up the slack, making 21 starts and holding his own. Brandon McCarthy’s season was over after just four starts because of Tommy John surgery, and a collection of Dodgers pitchers including Alex Wood, Mat Latos, and Carlos Frias stepped into fill the gap.
Despite the injury issues and the turnover in the back-end of the rotation, Dodgers starters, largely thanks to Kershaw and Greinke, still finished second in the league with a 3.24 ERA and an 18.0 WAR.
Los Angeles faced some major hurdles this offseason with Greinke taking a $200+ million deal and bolting to the division rival Diamondbacks. They failed to retain Greinke and passed on strengthening their bullpen with Aroldis Chapman after a domestic violence incident cluttered the deal. The Dodgers rotation needed to be addressed, and with each passing day, it seemed the club was missing out on big name free agents.
Last week, the Dodgers addressed their rotation in a big way, signing Scott Kazmir to a three-year $48 million deal (with an opt-out after one year) and signed Japanese hurler Kenta Maeda to an eight-year, $25 million, incentive-laden deal. Those moves aren’t David Price-esque impact signings, but they instantly improve a depleted rotation.
The Kazmir deal is an interesting one.
Kazmir is a solid middle of the rotation starter and is another left-hander. He was great with Oakland and horrible with Houston in 2015, so I’d expect his numbers to be solid, not spectacular. Baseball-Reference projects him to go 9-9 with a 3.60 ERA, which sounds about right.
The opt-out clause is a somewhat brilliant move by GM Farhan Zaidi. If he pitches well enough and opts out, the move is essentially a one-year flier, and the team reaps the benefits of Kazmir’s performance while turning to young flamethrowers Frankie Montas and Julio Urias, who could be ready in 2017. If Kazmir struggles or gets injured, the Dodgers can just eat the deal as money is certainly no obstacle, and hope he rebuilds his value. Three years isn’t crippling either.
Maeda, 27, is coming off nearly a decade of success in Japan, posting a 97-67 record with a 2.64 ERA in eight seasons with the Hiroshima Carp, but he’s still an unknown quantity and it’s hard to tell how his numbers will translate in the MLB. Here’s what Mike Axisa wrote about Maeda at CBS Sports.
“Maeda is a slightly-built 6 feet, 160 pounds and throws around 87-93 mph with good sink and run, though he doesn’t get great angle on his fastball. He’s a good athlete, which helps him repeat his delivery and thrive when his command, which can be plus at times, is on point. Maeda doesn’t have one knockout secondary pitch, but he has a solid-average slider and mixes in a curveball and a changeup as well.”
The 160-pound frame is concerning, but for essentially $3 million per season, it’s a small risk. The complicated contract will give Maeda a chance to earn heavy incentives (exact figure not known, but rumored to be as much as $15 million per season) so if he’s a total bust, Los Angeles isn’t totally screwed despite the eight-year deal. If he performs well, the Dodgers will gladly pay his incentives. Given his potential as a front-end to mid-rotation starter, that’s a bargain.
The Dodgers rotation is set up to be Kershaw, Kazmir, Maeda, and Anderson followed by one of Wood, Bolsinger, Ryu, and McCarthy depending on recovery from injuries. That’s eight potential major league starters, not including prospects in the farm. There’s no dynamic duo at the top of the rotation anymore, but the club’s depth has improved from the end of 2015 and the rotation is finally in decent shape after a trying offseason.
But considering we’re talking about the Dodgers, don’t expect them to be done addressing the rotation just yet.