By Eriq Gardner //
Biggest Surprise: Hiroki Kuroda
Kuroda may not get a ton of press, but after a good career in Japan, the 35-year-old starter provided tremendous value and stability throughout the 2010 season, improving on his strong 2008 and 2009 campaigns. He finished the season with a sterling 3.39 ERA, buttressed by a better strikeout rate (from 6.67 K/9 in 2009 to 7.29 in 2010) and a phenomenal ability to keep the ball on the ground (51.1% groundball rate) and limit home runs (0.69 HR/9 IP).
Biggest Disappointment: Jonathan Broxton
Broxton entered the season as one of the most reliable closers in the game. Guess what? He lost his job. In the first three months of the season, Broxton was dominant. Then, the wheels came off. His ERA after the All-Star break was a flabbergasting 7.13, as he lost the ability to command his pitches. Why did his strikeout rate drop and his walk rate climb? This could certainly be the case of a hidden injury.
2011 Keeper Alert: Clayton Kershaw
When Kershaw came into the league, some called him one of the best left-handed prospects in a generation. This past season, Kershaw stepped up to the hype with a 2.91 ERA and 212 strikeouts. Kershaw’s biggest improvement came by allowing fewer walks. A word of warning: Kershaw got very lucky last season, allowing just 13 HR despite being a flyball pitcher. Still, he’ll be just 23 next Opening Day, and the future looks bright.
2011 Regression Alert: Ted Lilly
The Dodgers’ pitchers are perhaps the showcase example of an MLB-wide trend: not as many home runs allowed. Thing is, the Dodgers were luckier than most. Take a look at most of their starters and you’ll see a staff that kept the ball in the park at a phenomenal rate – not just at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, but on the road too. The exception? Ted Lilly. After being traded to the Dodgers at the trade deadline, Lilly gave up 13 HR in 76 IP. He’s an extreme flyball pitcher (52.6% in 2010, 46% for his career), so the long ball is always a threat. Nevertheless, Lilly still managed a 3.52 ERA with the Dodgers and a WHIP under 1.00, making him a solid bet to provide nearly elite numbers next season – especially after he inked a three-year extension to pitch at Dodger Stadium.