The Dodgers will be just fine without Zack Greinke
Despite losing Greinke, the Dodgers rotation is in good hands
When it was announced that now former ace, Zack Greinke had signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks for a record 6 years and $206 million many Dodger fans felt a knife straight through the chest. When they found out that he was to be ‘replaced’ by Hisashi Iwakuma many fans felt betrayed and when they realized he, like Greinke, had been signed through his age 37 season they probably felt flat out confused. However, your frustration and confusion may in fact, be misguided. Here I will attempt to replace this frustration and confusion with excitement as we examine the Dodgers rotation in the post-Greinke era.
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The first thing to recognize is that new-comer Hisashi Iwakuma alone is not responsible for replacing Greinke’s production. There are only a handful of pitchers in baseball who would be capable of such a thing and I need not remind you that one of them will take the mound for the Dodgers on Opening Day. Instead the burden of replacing Greinke’s production lies with the rotation as a whole, something which should be rather easy given that we are unlikely to see (other than the odd spot start) starts from the likes of David Huff, Carlos Frias, Zach Lee, Joe Wieland, Mike Bolsinger or Mat Latos.
A much improved back of the rotation should go along way towards replacing the hole left by Greinke’s production at the top. In fact, the above mentioned starters combined for -.1 WAR last season, which is actually quite favorable given the 1.2 WAR posted by Bolsinger thanks to his solid first half. By simply solidifying the back half of the rotation, the Dodgers nearly replace Greinke’s production before any additions are made. Instead, the back end of the rotation will be held up by the contributions of Alex Wood (2.6 WAR), Brett Anderson (1.7 WAR) and Brandon McCarthy (2.9 WAR in 2014, last full season) who combine for 7.2 WAR in their last full seasons. If those three can just mirror the production from their last full season then Dodgers will combine for a 7.3 win improvement at the back of the rotation. This is before you account for the additions of Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.8 WAR 2014) and Hisashi Iwakuma (1.8 WAR) who will likely form the middle of the rotation in 2016.
If you aggregate the WAR from each pitchers last full season then the Dodgers 2016 rotation would be worth a whopping 21.4 WAR in 2016. If you compare that to the rest of the league in 2015, then the Dodgers rotation without any new signing or trade, would have been more than 2 wins better than the next best team (Cubs, 18.2 WAR). Now this is certainly not a perfect measure and its not intended to be but it simply shows that on the surface, the rotation won’t miss Greinke, as much as you would imagine, in 2016.
On closer inspection even trying to replace Greinke with one player mightn’t be as hard as you think. Using the advanced stats (those which the pitcher has more direct control over) leaderboard on fangraphs for the time period 2012-2015, Greinke ranks just 17th. Meanwhile the Dodgers already have two pitchers who rank higher than Greinke on this leaderboard, Clayton Kershaw (#1) and Hyun-Jin Ryu (#14 despite missing 2015 altogether). So on the surface a healthy season from Ryu should be enough to replace Greinke when comparing peripheral stats (BB rates, K rates, GB rates etc). This pattern is surprisingly prevalent amongst most key performance indicators.
In using the same time period, this time ranking by FIP, Greinke ranks 17th whilst Kershaw (1st) and Ryu (14th) both rank ahead of him while not far behind is young Alex Wood at 26th. Iwakuma and McCarthy rank 26th and 48th respectively. When measuring xFIP, Greinke ranks 15th whilst Kershaw (#1) ranks ahead, with Iwakuma (18th), Ryu (19th), Anderson (27th), McCarthy (29th) and Wood (37th) all follow close behind. These are just a few of the stats where this trend is observable.
In fact, the only area where Greinke holds a significant edge over the rest of the current rotation is in the standard statistics (W-L, ERA etc).
By now you’re probably sick of looking at rankings and past data, so I’ll turn to the latest Steamer Projections to give you a better idea at what the 2016 rotation might look like.
Clayton Kershaw – 17-7, 2.09 ERA, 269K, 217 IP
Brandon McCarthy – 3-2, 3.20 ERA, 43K, 48 IP
Hisashi Iwakuma – 12-9, 3.20 ERA, 159K, 184 IP
Hyun-Jin Ryu – 6-5, 3.42 ERA, 79K, 94IP
Brett Anderson – 10-9, 3.59 ERA, 114 SO, 160 IP
Alex Wood – 9-8, 3.85 ERA, 111K, 143 IP
Rather than the ‘Kershaw and who else’ narrative going around it is quite clear that the Dodgers ace is backed up by a number of quality arms, even if none can be considered an ace. For what it’s worth, Greinke is projected to go 13-10 with a 3.07 ERA on the year, only marginally better than McCarthy and Iwakuma. The 2016 rotation is projected to finish with a 3.23 ERA at years end which, if achieved, would be a significant improvement on last years 3.46 ERA (it would actually have been the second best in baseball last year).
This isn’t to say that the 2016 rotation wouldn’t be better with Zack Greinke, or it couldn’t use a legitimate frontline starter. 2016 would likely be further improved with one or both of those things. But what all these numbers clearly show is that the 2016 ‘Greinke-less’ rotation is going to quite significantly outperform last years rotation which featured a historically good Zack Greinke. The new Dodgers rotation should be just fine.
If you would like to examine the above leaderboards for yourself, click here.