Dodgers Report Card -- the Pitchers

In better times, Phil Spencer would provided the team's report card perhaps three times a season, then one when all the action stopped. Many of you remember Phil on a number of chat rooms as Spendodger, but for those of you who don't, you missed a gem of a guy before he drew his unconditional release in 2004 and finally checked out of the Hotel California.

So we'll give our take on both the hitters and pitchers, knowing full well we will not replace Phil's trademark right-to-the-jaw assessments. We will grade strictly on how each individual did during the 2008 season, career records not withstanding.

Dodger pitching kept them in the hunt most of the season until the guy from Boston dropped by late in the year to kick the team over the top and into the playoffs.

The starters were third in the league, trailing only Chicago and Milwaukee, and the relief corps trailed only Philadelphia.

So we'll start with the pitchers as their ERA ranked them and follow in a day or so with the hitters:

Starters

Chad Billingsley
The youngster (he's 24) has 35 Major League wins and a 3.33 earned run average after completing his first full season on the mound with a 16-10 record. He got off to a stumbling start and was 1-4, 5.44 going into May. Then everything kicked in and he went 15-6, 2.81. Despite the slow start he led the team with a 3.14 ERA and 201 strikeouts. His disintegration in the NLCS was one of those things that had it happened during the season, no one would have thought anything about. Two big wins over Arizona in early September were crucial. The NLCS losses? Sometimes things happen. Grade A.

Derek Lowe
In his fourth, and probably last, season with the Dodgers he again demonstrated he was an October-September pitcher. He added a great July in 2008 and went 6-1, 1.27 after August 11 and finished by allowing just two runs in his last seven starts (0.44 ERA). However, he was 5-9 during April May and June. Over his 12 year career, September is his strongest month. Didn't get much run support and because of that could have been a 20-game winner. His 14-11 record gave him a 58-44 record in Dodger Blue, Grade B.

Hiroki Kuroda
Like the nursery rhyme about the little girl with a little curl, "When he was good he was very, very good but when he was bad she was," well, not so good. Came on strong in the post season and his 9-10, 3.73 record during the year was no indication of how well he pitched. He had the Dodgers only two complete game shutouts, retiring 16 of 17 Cubs in the first and the pitched a masterful 1-hitter after retiring the first 21 Braves. He missed three weeks in late June-early July but came back strong. He'll know his way around the league next year and should perform even better. Grade B.

Clayton Kershaw
The Dodgers didn't want to use the 20-year-old kid early in the season and run him out of arm late in the year so they left him in Jacksonville. Finally, things became desperate and he got the call in May, was sent back to the Suns in early June, then recalled for keeps. He pitched like a, well, like a 20-year-old until September when he broke out, and was unbeaten in his final five starts, winning three, with a 3.45 ERA. As the youngest player in the Major Leagues, he lived up to his press clippings and should have a long and successful career in The Show. Grade C+.

Brad Penny
After winning 32 games in 2006-07, his falloff to six over 17 starts in 2008 could have been a compete disaster for the team. Without the inflammation in his right shoulder, the Dodgers could has sported perhaps the best 1-2-3-4 starting staff in the National League. After going 5-1, 3.19 he was 1-5, 7.38 the rest of the way. He tried to work through the soreness in May and June before telling the club he was hurting. Whether he was not interested in pitching in relief, or was still hurting when he came back late in the season is not known, but he went home when placed on the disabled list again. Grade D.

Eric Stults --Can't overpower you but seems to get people out anyway. In his seven starts he was 2-3 with a 3.49 ERA and a CG shutout, he did much better than people thought he would but apparently it wasn't good enough. Had a perfectly good 3.83 ERA in Las Vegas to lead the team. He's not Greg Maddux, but one wonders if Maddux and his 85 mph stuff could get a good shot at a regular job in the current MLB atmosphere. Every one is looking for the 96 mph heater. Grade C+.

Greg Maddux --The future Hall of Famer didn't bring his "A" game from San Diego but wasn't as bad as his 2-4, 5.09 record seems to say. He was given 13 runs in his seven starts and even the old Maddux would have had a hard time winning with that sort of support. Gets extra points for his "bench pitching coach" work, particularly with Kershaw who seemed to blossom after absorbing everything he said. Might be the first pitching coach to be worth a seven-figure salary. Sorry to see him go. Grade C-.

Other starters -- Chan Ho Park made five starts and was 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA. However, they felt he was more productive out of the pen and finally rode him down to a nubbin. He worked in 49 games in relief and had a 3-3, 3.62 record. Hong-Chih Kuo made three starts and was given one run in each of his last two. Would be magnificent in a starting slot but his fragile (but marvelous) left arm probably wouldn't take it. Esteban Loaiza --Pitched poorly which was no surprise to most observers but a 8.74 as a starter quickly earned him a ticket out of town. Jason Johnson --Is a pretty good starter (two starts, 1-0, 2.65) but a not so good reliever (14 games, 0-2, 6.63) so we used him mostly in relief. Go figure.

Relievers
Jonathan Broxton --It took him a while, but he was a lights-out closer when he got the job for good after Saito went down. Had a glitch in August but finished 1-3, 2.76 with 14 saves in the final three months. His sometimes 100+ mph smoke is unhittable but if he could refine his cutter and/or work on a change he'd be the complete package. Grade B+.

Takashi Saito --It's been a remarkable ride for Sammy, who was as good as ever in April and May but ran into arm troubles and, like Penny, didn't want anyone to know. With all that, he finished 4-4 with 18 saves and a 2.49 ERA. Has converted a remarkable 81 of 91 save opportunities and now ranks 8th on the Dodgers all-time charts. It's not known if he will be back next year at age 39, but age has had little to do with his work up until now. Grade A.

Joe Beimel --Had a fine,a 5-1 record and 2.02 ERA although it came in April, May and June (no runs in 17 appearances April 13-May 19) but he was hammered in July and August. Led the team with 71 appearances and holds the on-going record of 104 straight innings without giving up a homer. Went from 7th inning setup to a situational lefty and never seemed to get the hang of it. Grade B.

Cory Wade --The Surprise Story of the year. He went from nearly anonymous in Jacksonville to the Dodgers #1 middle relief man and, although he wore down in the middle of the year, he posted ERAs of 2.16 and 1.08 in August and September. Grade A.

Hong-Chih Kuo --We mentioned Kuo as a solid starter but he was even more than that in relief. He put in a career-high 42 games although he didn't pitch after September 14. He finished 5-3, 2.14 working mostly in long relief. Final grade: A.

Chan Ho Park --Another who was a spot starter, Park came back from the baseball dead to post a 2.63 ERA before the All-Star break, then was ridden hard, finishing 4-4, 3.40 in 54 games. Was very reliable in either starting or relief roles. Wants to start and may not be back Grade B-.

Scott Proctor --Another quiet sufferer, he struggled all year before finally going into the pit with a bad arm. Can hit 97 when healthy and if not used every day. Off-season operation may have helped. Grade D.

Ramon Troncoso --A strange rookie season with ERAs of 9.63, 0.00, 6.75, 2.57, 3.60 he seemed to have settled in pretty well over the final two months. Grade C-.

James McDonald --Had a late surge that reminded one of Karl Spooner in 1954. You certainly remember that he struck out 27 in his only two starts in late September don't you? Anyway, McDonald was dominant in both the final weeks (6 scoreless innings) and he added 5.1 more scoreless innings against the Phillies in the NLCS. Grade A+.

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