The Dodgers’ adaptation amidst pitching questions

The Dodgers have seen their fair share of injuries. Hanley Ramirez sits out with a strained oblique as I write, but the overwhelming majority of the club’s injuries have come from the pitching staff. As such, the rotation continues to develop as pitchers move on and off the DL (or extend their time on the injury list).

Still, only the Orioles have a larger lead in the division than the five games the Dodgers hold over San Francisco. Some of that is due to initial composition of a team with the largest payroll in baseball ($238.8 million, according to ESPN), but a portion of the credit can be given to the front office for moves that didn’t involve big spending.

The rotation

Earlier this month, Joe wrote a defense of Clayton Kershaw as one of the faces of the game. The Dodgers ace has been one of the best in the game, and since returning from DL in May, he’s been phenomenal. The lefty has a career-low 1.78 ERA to this point in the season. His numbers keep getting better, so the Dodgers can take comfort in the extension of an elite starter who continues to live up to his billing.

Righty Zack Greinke, the man who holds the distinction of being the best paid player on the roster of the league’s biggest spender, has also been solid this year, with the added benefit of not facing injury. His 2.84 ERA and 1.16 WHIP are better than his career averages. The Dodgers

Hyun-jin Ryu has been a reliable mid-rotation arm, to the tune of a low-3 ERA over 53 career starts. He’s also won about half of those games with 14 wins so far this year, including a gem of a shutout. His FIP (fielding-independent pitching) numbers indicate he’s pitching at about that level.

As with their other top rotation arms, the Korean pitcher is signed long-term, as he won’t be a free agent until he’s about at the end of his prime in 2019.

Cascading injuries

It’s been a season riddled with pitching injuries for the Dodgers.

Kershaw was out for a month with a teres major sprain. (Shorthand would say, not quite accurately, “shoulder.”) Reliever Paco Rodriguez encountered the same injury immediately after replacing Paul Maholm’s spot on the roster. Rodriguez is still on the DL. Two more notable relievers have spent significant time on the DL — Chris Perez, who’s currently out with ankle bone spurs, and Chris Withrow, who needed Tommy John surgery for what seems like the millionth UCL tear this year. (These sorts of injuries continue to tear up the majors. Our perceptions and preferences help push the epidemic of elbow injuries.)

In June, Chad Billingsley didn’t return to the club as expected. As he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, the flexor tendon in his elbow tore. Apparently it would have torn regardless of whether or not he tore his ulnar collateral ligament. That injury left the Dodgers without a piece they thought they would soon have again to use. Billingsley’s future with the club remains uncertain as the franchise continues to sort out pitching roles for the active roster.

Josh Beckett may have had his first career no-hitter in at 34 (just around the age when numbers typically start to decline), but the magic of that feat and a 2.88 ERA didn’t seem to spill over into the health category. He’s on the DL for the second time this year as a result of a hip impingement. He has two cysts and a torn labrum to show for his efforts. That labrum injury could sideline the righty for the rest of the season — a season after missing most of the previous year with thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. It’s not altogether unlikely that Beckett’s career is over.

Though he didn’t fare too well as a long reliever, Paul Maholm could have been a decent lefty out of the pen, or at least a competent spot starter. On a team that already has several arms on the DL, that’s a valuable piece to have, but a tear of his right ACL (Maholm’s second, as he tore his left one at 14) lands him in the same boat as Billingsley. Though Maholm doesn’t have an elbow injury like the sidelined rightly to further affect his stock as a pitcher on the free agent market, Maholm is also a more marginal pitcher. He’ll find somewhere to go, but I suspect neither he nor Billingsley, who may find his $5 million buyout for 2015 activated, will find the most lucrative deal.

Taking all these injuries into consideration, the Dodgers should be recognized for holding together and leading the NL West. Los Angeles may have more resources than many clubs, but as the Yankees have proven this year, even the most traditionally free-spending clubs can be hugely affected by so many injuries.

New faces

The Dodgers traded marginal prospects to the Phillies for Roberto Hernandez last week to add depth to the rotation after Beckett’s injury. He will likely end up as a reliever when Beckett returns, unless Dan Haren pitches worse. It would seem Hernandez effectively fills Maholm’s slot on the team, as a temporary starter slotted for long relief. His contract is praised by some proponents of sabermetrics, though FIP indicates he may regress as the year goes on.

Kevin Correia was the next Dodgers addition, continuing the trend of looking for depth in the short-term. His numbers aren’t fantastic, but he adds depth to the ‘pen.

There’s a chance LA will sign both pitchers beyond this year. Though I doubt it, that’s really inconsequential to why the Dodgers made the moves. The acquisition of the two late-rotation arms was a temporary solution to a temporary problem. Any added value the Dodgers find from one of these pitchers is just icing.

Dan Johnson is editor-in-chief of Three for Ten Sports and former managing editor of The Collegian at Grove City College.

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