Having tried five different pitchers in their fifth-starter role, including three from the beginning of July alone, the Los Angeles Dodgers finally made a move Saturday to bring some stability to the back of their rotation, acquiring Ted Lilly from the Chicago Cubs in a five-player deal.
First, to be fair, let's not call Lilly "fifth-starter" fodder; in terms of talent he's probably their new three/four, so in essence the Dodgers acquired him and can push Vicente Padilla and perhaps Hiroki Kuroda each back a spot in the rotation. But let's not get caught up in semantics, shall we?
Important is that Lilly gives the Dodgers four solid veterans plus a 22-year-old ace (Clayton Kershaw). Plus, the addition of Ryan Theriot at second base, replacing Blake DeWitt, who was shipped to the Windy City, could also be considered an upgrade, depending upon your opinion of their defensive contributions. However, when it comes to fantasy, it doesn't result in as huge value shifts as you'd think.
For one thing, while escaping Wrigley Field for Dodger Stadium, in terms of perception, seems like an instant win for the left-hander, the ballparks factors hint otherwise. Statistics from 2005-10 (through the recent All-Star break) reveal that Dodger Stadium is actually the 13th-best venue for home runs (1.010 Park Factor), only two spots lower in the rankings than Wrigley Field (1.105). That's significant because Lilly is an extreme fly-ball pitcher, having served up fly balls on 51.4 percent of his balls in play this season and 50.6 percent in 2009. Untimely home runs have been one of the primary roadblocks keeping him out of the elite class, and he's not going to significantly benefit in that area with the ballpark shift.
In terms of most everything else, however, Dodger Stadium suits Lilly fine, which means that while his ERA might not drop much, his WHIP could benefit, and that the Dodgers' bullpen has a 3.92 ERA to the Cubs' 4.88 means his leads should be a tad safer. In fact, if there's any complaint to be had with Lilly the Dodger, it's that they have yet to add a significant offensive weapon, have been rumored shopping slugger Manny Ramirez and haven't been hitting besides, averaging 2.33 runs per game with .209/.276/.312 team rates (AVG/OBP/SLG) since the All-Star break. Apparently, this is an offense that needs a healthy Manny.
In other words, Lilly benefits from the move mostly in terms of stabilizing his ratios, but the improvement isn't significant.
As for Theriot, he's no more likely to move up from the eighth spot in the order in Los Angeles as he was in Chicago, as his on-base percentage is a so-so .320, and it's worth pointing out that all 14 of his stolen bases this season have come from out of the top two lineup spots. Theriot did make 74 starts in those two slots, compared to 16 in the bottom three, but hitting ahead of the pitcher will mean a lesser probability of frequent green lights on the base paths. He'll play regularly and contribute about to the extent that he has so far this year, but it wouldn't be surprising if he fails to offer more than 5-6 more stolen bases.
DeWitt's value shouldn't change much in Chicago, primarily because his greatest weakness -- hitting left-handers (.222/.271/.311 rates this year) -- probably won't be an issue with his new team. He can presumably platoon with Jeff Baker, a .299/.353/.545 lifetime hitter versus lefties, which actually benefits both because it diminishes their risk in the batting-average department. Make no mistake, however, that neither warrants consideration except in the deepest of NL-only leagues.
The two prospects acquired by the Cubs, Class A ball right-hander Brett Wallach and right-handed minor league reliever Kyle Smit, aren't of fantasy relevance, at least not in the short term. Smit has adapted nicely to a bullpen role this season, showing huge advances with his command, but relief prospects without elite closer upside generally don't excite fantasy owners. Wallach, meanwhile, had a 3.72 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and 9.78 K's-per-nine ratio in 17 starts for Class A Great Lakes. With that strikeout rate he'll bear watching, but he's at least a couple years away.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.