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Friday Rockpile: 2009 NL West Rotation Early Look

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With today being the opening of free agent season, I thought it would be good to point out that every team in our division should be looking to the market to shore up their rotation. It's becoming clear, however, that just one team (Los Angeles) is intending to do that. The Padres have laid claim to team irrelevant, so similarly to the Giants before last season, I'm just going to ignore them completely to save myself some work. At any rate, here's a current look at what the other four teams are sporting as far as starters:

Arizona:

  • Brandon Webb
  • Dan Haren
  • Max Scherzer
  • Doug Davis
  • some junkballer that makes the Rockies look bad probably, right now Yusmeiro Petit

Really, that's a scary enough front end that it should make up for the back end woes, but 2008 proved that it's not scary enough to make up for the D-backs anemic offense. Arizona also continues to have a depth issue which leaves them vulnerable to injury. Will AZ's offense see more improvement in 2009 to give Haren and Webb more support?

Los Angeles:

  • Chad Billingsley
  • Clayton Kershaw
  • Hiroki Kuroda
  • Larry
  • Moe/Curly/Shep

Okay, so it's not quite that bad for Los Angeles, James McDonald is a decent prospect, but he's an unknown at the MLB level. Kershaw may take a step forward next season, but add him to McDonald and it seems to be a re-enactment of Rockies 2008 that the Dodgers are trying to pull. I do have confidence that the Dodgers will sign somebody better than Kip Wells to help the unstable youth situation (apparently they're looking at Randy Johnson), but for all intents and purposes, this rotation looks to be building for 2010 as much as we are.

San Francisco:

  • Tim Lincecum
  • Matt Cain
  • Jonathan Sanchez
  • Barry Zito
  • Noah Lowry? Kevin Pucetas?

The Giants are more relevant than the Padres now with the latter gutting their rotation, but San Fran probably still needs some offensive help to compete in the NL West. Their rotation shows the same ills at the bottom as everybody else, but they have more pitching depth than either the Dodgers or D-backs

Colorado:

  • Aaron Cook
  • Ubaldo Jimenez
  • Jeff Francis
  • Jorge De La Rosa
  • Greg Smith

Comparing the Rockies three LHP's at the bottom to the Giants three LHP's is somewhat encouraging. Last season our three combined for a VORP of about 50, but about thirty of that came from Smith's fluky good year. Still if you're going to knock him off that pedestal, you probably at the same time have to raise Francis, and if we're lucky, De La Rosa. The good thing about the Rockies is that their depth here is superior to anybody else's in the division. Breakthroughs by Franklin Morales, Jason Hirsh or Greg Reynolds are more likely than the AAA pitchers of the other three teams.

So how much are we going to miss that #1 guy, and is our strength at the bottom of the rotation enough to make up for it? Eh, probably not.

Let's look at Arizona first, consider that Webb and Haren were at least three wins ahead of Cook and Jimenez last season. Although I somewhat doubt this, U-ball might be able to make up some of that ground with improvement, but getting three more wins than Scherzer/Davis/Petit from Francis/De La Rosa/Smith isn't going to be easy. I'm particularly wary of Scherzer; as long as he's healthy, he's going to be very effective, and I can see that Arizona trio matching our 3-5 next season if they pitch all year. Where we'll be able to make up the most on the D-backs is with sixth starters, and because you're talking about unknowns there, it's hard to predict. The only two ways I see us cutting that three game deficit completely from the top of the rotation is with significant time lost by Webb, Haren and Scherzer or with a combined JDLR/Morales breakout. If Arizona loses a combined 20 starts from their top three, or if we get complete quality seasons from both of our most likely two down rotation candidates, the Rockies will have a better rotation in 2009, otherwise we have to make up the ground via the lineup or bullpen. I suppose there is a chance, however slight, that Greg Smith repeats his 2008 performance and inherits the Tom Glavine mantel for being the craftiest lefty on the planet, but of these three unlikely scenarios, this one seems the most remote.

How about with Los Angeles? Right now, the Dodgers rotation is too much in flux to know for sure, but Billingsley plus Kershaw plus Kuroda is not nearly far enough ahead of Cook plus Jimenez plus Francis to make up for projected replacement level performances at the bottom two slots. If the Dodgers sign RJ, they still figure to have a significant gap in the rotation when he needs to rest his back. Unfortunately, I know this isn't how they're going to enter next season. I just don't know who it will be that we have to worry about. My hope is that they get shut out of the starters completely, but barring that, I hope they overpay for somebody on a five year contract and that it's not Sabathia. Anybody else and I think we've still got a decent chance of staying with them in 2009.

While the Giants top two starters had a 4.5 game edge on the Rockies top two starters last season, the next three slots in the rotation were so bad for the Giants that we made up that entire deficit and the two teams were more or less a wash with their starters. Okay, that's a lie, but the Rockies could have made that ground up if it wasn't for Mark Redman/Livan Hernandez/Greg Reynolds. At any rate, thus far the Giants don't seem to be trying to patch the leaks in the rotation, actually looking to deal Sanchez if it helps their offense. Lacking depth at the moment, I think they'll have to continue to rob Peter to pay Paul unless they're willing to part with some of their highly thought of prospects. Otherwise it's going to be a few years of waiting before they're good again, but in this division they certainly could get lucky.