Los Angeles Dodgers Evidence of Just How Quickly A Starting Pitching Surplus Can Collapse


It’s been a topic of much contention for years now–why do the Rays always operate with an enormous pitching surplus? Why do they have so many extra starters that they have to keep big league-ready pitchers in the bullpen or the minor leagues while their offense struggles so mightily? Here are the Rays’ current starting pitchers:

1. David Price
2. Jeremy Hellickson
3. Matt Moore
4. Alex Cobb
5. Roberto Hernandez
6. Jeff Niemann (DL)
7. Chris Archer (AAA)
8. Jake Odorizzi (AAA)
9. Alex Colome (AAA)
10. Alex Torres (AAA)

The Rays’ big league rotation is really good (although Hernandez has not done much so far), but why do the Rays have four pitchers at Triple-A who could be the core of a rotation that might be better than that of several teams in the major leagues? Why did the Rays sign Hernandez when one of several pitchers could have stepped up to their rotation right at the start of the season? Archer is at Triple-A Durham to work on his command and changeup, but wouldn’t he be better served doing that in the major leagues? It’s not like the Rays would ask him to be anything more than a 5th starter as a rookie, and Archer could certainly be that right now after how well he pitched at the end of last season. The same can probably be said of Odorizzi. What are the Rays doing? Look no further than the plight of the Los Angeles Dodgers so far this season for the answer. Here was their starting pitching depth entering the season.

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Zack Greinke
3. Hyun-jin Ryu
4. Josh Beckett
5. Chad Billingsley
6. Chris Capuan0
7. Aaron Harang
8. Ted Lilly (DL)
9. Stephen Fife (AAA)
10. Matt Magill (AAA)

The Dodgers had an even bigger logjam with the trio of Billingsley, Capuano, and Harang being established major league pitchers without rotation spots available, not prospects. The Dodgers had an exorbitant amount of pitching depth and designated Harang for assignment to address some of it. But since then, they have watched their entire staff come apart. Kershaw has been unhittable and Ryu has been great as well, and Beckett has stayed healthy. But beyond them, everything has come apart. Greinke will be out until June after the whole incident with Carlos Quentin. Billingsley will miss the rest of the season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Capuano is out with a calf strain. And Fife came up from Triple-A to make a start, but he’s out with shoulder bursitis. All of that necessitated the Dodgers to rely on Lilly straight off the DL and Magill in his major league debut. Suddenly the Dodgers are down to just five starters, and one more injury and they’ll be forced to either call up an organizational arm from Triple-A or rush a top prospect like Zach Lee or Chris Reed from Double-A. The Dodgers’ enviable depth disappeared in a flash and suddenly they’re hanging by a thread.

The past several years, the Rays have been extremely lucky. Since Scott Kazmir left in 2009, just one Rays pitcher has missed time with a significant injury: Jeff Niemann in 2011 and 2012. That’s it. David Price and Jeremy Hellickson have missed a couple starts, but other than that, everyone has made each of their starts on turn. It’s a credit to the Rays for finding not just talented pitchers but durable ones. At the same time, though, their run of rotation health is something that could end at any second. If two pitchers go down, suddenly Archer and Odorizzi are key to the Rays’ success. That seems like an unlikely scenario–after all, the Dodgers have fallen victim to extreme misfortune and not a situation that happens with any regularity in baseball. Here’s one that could very well happen, though: let’s say that Hernandez’s results never improve, leading to a release to bring Archer to the major leagues. Then, the Rays would be just one injury way from calling up Odorizzi.

The chances are that the Rays’ incredible starting pitching depth will not do them much good this season. Their starting staff will stay basically healthy and they’ll be too many quality pitchers for five spots, prompting fans to demand that their team trades a starter to address their offensive woes. It’s only if everything goes wrong and several pitchers get injured that we would truly appreciate the Rays’ depth. No one wants to see that and it probably won’t happen. But even with that being the case, Rays fans should be content to know that the Rays are ready for the worst-case scenario and are going to do whatever they can to keep contending even if the injury bug their starting pitchers have avoided for years rears its ugly head.