WASHINGTON — March 8th – Lost in virtually all coverage of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2010 season was coverage of the team itself. Literally every article written about the Dodgers had some reference to the nasty divorce between co-owners Frank and Jamie McCourt slipped in. No one cared that Clayton Kershaw was quietly putting up Cy Young-type numbers, or that starters Chad Billingsley and Hiroki Kuroda were also putting up 4-WAR seasons.
Turning to the upcoming season, the Dodgers almost certainly will not be able to contend in the NL West. Their offense is in shambles; they’re working with a first-time manager in Don Mattingly; and they’ll get no help from their absentee owners. These are major problems. The one aspect of the franchise that will provide thrills is the starting three of Kershaw, Billingsley, and Kuroda, who, combined with the extreme pitchers’ park of the Chavez Ravine, should put on quite a show.
All three, the soon-to-be 23-year-old lefty Kershaw, the 26-year-old right-hander Billingsley, and the 36-year-old fourth-year Japanese import Kuroda are strikeout monsters. They combined for a tidy 542 strikeouts between the three of them in 2010. Combined, they pitched 592.1 (41%) of LA’s 1441.2 innings.
Kershaw is ready to step into the role of ace. He’s a power pitcher, firing a hard mid-90’s fastball and one baseball’s top sliders, as well as an above-average curveball. He fans over a batter per inning, has lowered his walk rate to a manageable 3.5 BB/9, and has peripherals right in line with the norms. Remarkably, he didn’t garner even a single third place vote in the 2010 Cy Young balloting after his fantastic year. That should change in a big way.
Ever since forcing his way out of the bullpen in 2007, Billingsley has shouldered a workhorse’s load, taking on at least 190 innings in each of the past few years. He’s stayed consistent in that time frame, too, striking out between 8 and 9 batters per nine innings each year, walking between 3 and 3.6 per nine, and rarely giving up homeruns, including only 8 in 2010. He keeps the ball on the ground, and keeps hitters off balance with four off-speed pitches, a cutter, curve, slider, and changeup, in addition to his favored 91 mph fastball. He’s never been flashy, but a steadily climbing WAR output (4.6 in 2010) is certainly nothing to sneeze at.
Finally, Kuroda is sadly probably best known for taking a Rusty Ryal line drive off the side of his head in August of 2009. Before that, he was one of the top three starting pitchers in Japan, along with Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kei Igawa. After signing with the Dodgers, he became a groundball starter like Billingsley, forcing batters to put the ball on the ground just a tad over 50% of the time. He strikes out fewer batters than his rotation mates, but walks far less as well, clocking in with a 2.06 BB/9 rate for his career. Again, he’s underrated, undervalued, and unknown, but still dominates opposing hitters.
So, there is in fact more to the Dodgers than bickering owners. Even if everything else goes wrong for the Dodgers next year, a distinct possibility, fans will have the talented starting rotation to cheer on.
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