Rethinking the Dodgers’ Starting Rotation

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It was only about a week ago that almost every writer in the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ blogosphere expressed an opinion about Alex Wood and what type of role he would play in the upcoming season.

Now, with Brett Anderson having had back surgery and expected to miss three to five months, Wood has been quickly ushered to the fourth spot in the starting rotation, while the Dodgers are left scrambling to swiftly determine which pitcher slots into the fifth spot.

The popular opinion, at least among many of the Dodgers’ beat writers in attendance at Camelback Ranch, is that the best option is to lean towards one of the three players who have MLB experience — Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias or Brandon Beachy.

Depending on the overall spring training evaluations, Bolsinger could very easily be the safest choice of the trio, despite having several glaring inconsistencies.

In 2015, Bolsinger ended up contributing 109 innings over 21 starts for the Dodgers, compiling a 6-6 record with a 3.63 ERA, a 8.1 K/9, and a 3.91 FIP. For those unfamiliar with FIP (fielding independent pitching), it separates a pitcher’s performance from the ballpark and defense around him. Generally if a pitcher’s FIP is higher than his ERA, it usually means the ERA is on the upswing.

Indications also suggest that Bolsinger’s lack of velocity has a bearing on his performance when facing opposing hitters the second and third times through the batting order. Not that a pitcher with a lower velocity can’t have success, but somebody with an average fastball of 89.2 mph and a slider floating in at 80.6 mph who can’t precisely hit his spots makes it much easier for the opposition to succeed.

Frias, on the other hand, has an electric arm and a very high ceiling based on his velocity alone. He made 17 appearances, including 13 starts, for the Dodgers last season, hurling 77.2 innings to a tune of a 4.06 ERA.

The knock on Frias is that the separation of speeds between his hard stuff and his breaking pitches is so small, that it allows opposing batters to make better reads. Last year, for example, both his fastball and sinker averaged in the 97-98 mph range, while his changeup averaged 91.8 mph. Until Frias can develop and command a more effective arsenal of breaking pitches, he may be better suited for the bullpen.

There’s really not much recent data to make a fair assessment of Beachy. After returning from Tommy John surgery last season, he pitched 47 innings over 10 appearances at Oklahoma City. When given the opportunity with the Dodgers, he surrendered 10 hits and seven earned runs in the two games he started.

One concern with Beachy is that he altered the mechanics of his delivery to avoid additional problems with his elbow. In his old delivery, he threw across his body to generate better spin, whereas now he throws more in a straight line towards the dish with less rotation. Whether this proves to be beneficial and effective in the long run remains to be seen.

While the safe bet may be to ride the shoulders of one of the aforementioned pitchers, the brain trust here at TBPC believes that one of the second-tier options — José De León, Zach Lee or Jharel Cotton may be the better alternative.

De León’s fastball, which has nasty, late movement and sits in the 93-96 MPH range, is by far his best weapon. His slider rates a little above-average but continues to improve. His changeup is by far his best off-speed pitch — he’s not afraid to use it when behind in the count and often uses it as his strikeout pitch. He’s considered to be MLB-ready and possesses the most raw talent of the three.

In terms of mental makeup, Lee is probably the most mature prospect in the organization. His command is very sharp, which was made evident by his 1.5 BB/9 last season. His sinker is consistently solid, resulting in a 50% ground ball rate. His slider is still developing, which will eventually compliment his four-seamer, changeup and sinker. Lee still shows plenty of velocity with the heater, having the ability to reach up to 94 mph.

Cotton probably has the best changeup in the Dodgers’ entire system, and projects much better as a starter after a short stint as a reliever in Triple-A last season. His fastball is still somewhat of an enigma, sitting in the mid-90s at times then sitting 90-91 other times . His breaking pitches are his best weapons, leading him to a 10.7 K/9 in almost 100 innings of work last year.

Of course, any rookie could have the finest skills on the diamond, but ultimately head downhill when given a shot in the bigs. Psychological fortitude is critical at the major league level — having the ability to see past a rough outing, having the mental endurance to stay strong the entire season and having the capacity to be coachable are just several attributes that are paramount for success.

While their performances on the field at spring training will have the most influence on who gets the eventual call to be the fifth starter, option years and 40-man roster implications aside, it very well could be time for one of the kids to step into the rotation and shine above the rest.

(Photo Credit: Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

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