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By Jon Weisman
Kevin Correia takes the mound tonight, in his first start for the Dodgers, with the lowest strikeout rate (4.24 per nine innings) of any Major League starting pitcher since 2013.
Correia has faced an average of 25 batters per start this year, striking out 11 percent of them. Approximately nine out of every 10 batters against Correia either walks or puts the bat on the ball.
Perhaps you’re wondering how this ends well for the Dodgers.
One thing to consider is the value of inconsistency. In 13 of his 23 starts this season, Correia has held the opposition to three runs or less. That doesn’t speak well of the other 10 appearances, and five of them, in which he allowed more runs than innings pitched, are best not spoken of at all.
The point here isn’t to try to spin Correia into the second coming of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke or Hyun-Jin Ryu. He’s a clear tier below. But the goal is to offer a little perspective, and I can’t think of a more artful way to say it than this: Below average is not the same as hopeless, and a below-average acquisition is not the same as a pointless one.
If I told you, without naming names, that the Dodgers had a 57 percent chance of a quality start tonight, you wouldn’t despair that the game was lost, nor should you. And that’s from a spot starter whose assignment is to give the other five starting pitchers a breather.
There’s an argument that the Dodgers could have turned to Carlos Frias or a current minor-leaguer to fill that role, an argument that I’m sympathetic to (mainly because I’m reflexively eager to see a kid thrust onstage), but whether that’s the right argument isn’t clear. If the goal for this pitcher is to eat up innings and keep the Dodgers in the game, and we assume that the cost of acquiring Correia is low, it’s not obvious that an in-house candidate is a better choice than Correia right now.
Correia generally keeps the ball in the park, allowing home runs in nine of his 23 games this year. He generally puts the ball over the plate, walking two or fewer in 20 of 23 games. The rest he mostly leaves up to giving his defense a chance at the ball. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But he gives you that chance.
If it doesn’t work out with Correia or Roberto Hernandez, the Dodgers can then theoretically turn to Frias, Red Patterson, Zack Lee or Chris Reed if they need to. The reverse isn’t necessarily true. Given that other teams need rotation help as well, it’s not obvious that Correia and Hernandez would have been around in a week or two. Some of you might be laughing at that, but ask the Angels, for example, whom they can turn to for depth now that Tyler Skaggs is having Tommy John surgery.
Every little bit can help, even if it doesn’t help every single time.