So What is Rubby’s Impact?

News broke today that Rubby De La Rosa, last year’s Minor League Pitcher of the Year for the Dodgers, would be called up to the big league club to help stabilize the bullpen.  This is news that most serious followers of the Dodgers have been very happy to hear, as Rubby dominated last year, dominated in almost all of his Spring Training starts, and has dominated this year in AA.  Rubby is a Right Hander who throws in the high 90’s with his fastball (he’s been gunned at 100 somewhat often), strikes out over a batter per inning, and allows a good number of ground balls.  His walk rate is fairly high, but that tends to happen with hard-throwing, high strike-out minor leaguers.

His fastball speed tends to have him profiled as a reliever first, which bothers me as a fan, because starters always have higher upside and are worth more than relievers.  If nothing else, you let the guy rise through the minors as a starter, and if he hits a wall like other notable high-strike out, high-walk players (Scott Elbert comes to mind), then you convert him to reliever.  That seems to be the Dodgers philosophy too, as he’s been starting for all of this year and last year.  But that’s not to say I don’t think RDLA can be an effective reliever, I just don’t want him pigeon-holed in such a role.

Regardless though, the Dodger bullpen has been bad this year.  The Dodgers have had four different guys in the “closer” role, (side note, I hate forcing relievers into “roles”.  If you have a capable reliever, you should feel free to use him anytime in the game.  Having a “closer” and a “set-up man” just isn’t smart.  If your team is the away team and the game is tied in the bottom of the 9th, you should have no problems using your closer against the Home Team’s lineup there.) and none of them have been consistent and/or healthy.  So a guy with the stuff that RDLA has will be very welcome in this bullpen, and he’s shown the ability to pitch multiple innings whenever needed.

But also, he offers the Dodgers another thing: starter insurance.  As I mentioned yesterday, the Dodgers have been very fortunate to have all of their starters go pitch in every game except 1 so far this year, but that’s just not something you can count on with a position as volatile as pitching.  Heck, just ask the Bullpen.  Rubby would immediately be able to step in and be a capable starter.  His upside is far higher than that of John Ely, and you’d probably rather keep Padilla in the ‘pen because of his inability to stay healthy over the past two years with the Dodgers.  Assuming the injury doesn’t happen to Kershaw or Billingsley, Rubby can step in and likely pitch well as a 5 starter (Lilly, Kuroda, and Garland are nearly interchangeable in my opinion), and that’s good, as you have to figure one of the starters goes down at some point, whether the injury is “phantom” or not (meaning, the Dodgers might place a guy on the 15 day DL after a couple very ineffective starts to help him regain his composure and mechanics.)

This isn’t the first time that the Dodgers (or an MLB team in general) has brought in a highly-touted starting pitching prospect, and had them start their major league career in the bullpen.  This is usually done because it’s a lower pressure environment for a pitcher to get their feet we in the major league.  It doesn’t always work (Scott Elbert spent some time in the ‘pen last year and it was bad… to say the least), but for the most part, it works.  The most recent case is Chad Billingsley though, who started to the 2007 season in the bullpen, and was moved to the rotation by mid-June.  Bills was considered an ace-caliber prospect and some still believe he could take that next step past “solid number 2 starter” (Being a Billingsley optimist, I think he could, but I’m not sure if he will).  Even full-on “aces” such as Pedro Martinez and Orel Hershiser started their major league careers in the ‘pen.  Am I saying that RDLA can be that good?  Not at the moment.  But he certainly has potential, and if it helps the team win now while making Rubby’s path to a Major League Rotation spot easier and clearer, than I’m all for it.

Update: The Dodgers Designated Lance Cormier for Assignment to make room for Rubby.  This is the 2nd best move Ned Coletti has made all season (the best being calling up Jerry Sands), and it also puts Ramon Troncoso as the long reliever/mop-up man, which is his best role at the moment.

What do you think of Rubby?  Do you think he was called up too early?  What about his ceiling?  How good can he be?  Tell me with a comment and let’s get a discussion going!

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