Chad Billingsley was 22 at the beginning of 2007 when the Dodger sensibly assigned him to bullpen duty for the first half of the season, thereby limiting his total innings on the year to 147. Clayton Kershaw will turn 20 later this month. He is almost 3 full years younger than Billingsly was at the beginning of last year. Would the Dodgers dare start the year with Kershaw in the starting rotation?
Via Dodger Thoughts I came across the story by Ken Gurnick about the possibility that the Dodgers might go with Kershaw as the fifth starter to begin 2008. In spite of Honeycutt and Martin talking about it as if it might happen, I really don't think it will. And as much as the fan in me wants to see Kershaw make the starting rotation, I don't think it should happen either.
The Dodgers have to limit Kershaw's innings this year, and next year, and probably the year after as well. More specifically, they have to limit his pitches thrown. Kershaw has major league stuff right now, clearly. But he probably doesn't have major league command yet. And that means walks and high pitch counts. He could easily throw 110 pitches in a five inning start. If Kershaw thrives in the rotation to begin the year, will the Dodgers be able to take him out of the rotation later in the year to keep his overall pitch count down? Will Torre take him out after four innings if he's already thrown 95 pitches but only given up one run?
I would by far rather watch Kershaw pitch than Loaiza pitch. That said, Loaiza is probably a better pitcher in April of 2008 than Kershaw is. Kershaw has only pitched 24.2 innings above single A ball in non-exhibition games. He walked 17 and struck out 29 in those innings, which in a nutshell shows both his awesome talent and his need for more seasoning. If Kershaw starts the year in AA or AAA, he can work on his command without pressure, and the Dodgers can put hard limits on his pitches thrown. By August of this year, Kershaw may well be a better option than Loaiza, and by that time the Dodgers could plug him into the rotation without worrying too much about wrecking his arm.
Still, if the Dodgers started the year with Kershaw in the rotation, I would be beyond excited, in spite of my rational misgivings. What a ticket that would be to get, to see Kershaw's first home start!