As I mentioned yesterday, the Dodgers have been #1 in MLB in ERA and WHIP over the past two years. I see no reason why that trend won’t continue. In fact, I agree with Rick Honeycutt that the pitching can get even better in 2019.
First of all, the Dodgers have a glut of starting pitchers, but two of them will likely be gone after this season, namely Rich Hill and Hyun-jin Ryu, so they really can’t afford to trade any of them right now. That means that the bullpen will be crowded again the year. Which two end up in the pen is unclear.
Since nothing ever goes as planned, the Dodgers have incredible depth to withstand just about any injury. Let’s look at the rank and file of the starting pitching staff… all seven (count ’em 7) of them:
- Clayton Kershaw– The best pitcher in baseball the past 10 years (if you forgetabout the playoffs). He could have more left at age 30… if he can stay healthy with a new training routine. Last year was his worst and it featured a 2,73 ERA. Some pitchers would sell both kidneys on e-Bay to have that kind of ERA. That said, I look for him to have a great year… unless he gets injured again.
- Striker (I refuse to call him Walker) Buehler– Some think he is already the Ace… patience Young Grasshopper. He is simply a filthy throwing horse. He will likely throw a no-no soon. He’s likely a TOP THREE Vote for the Cy Young in 2019. Who would name a pitcher “Walker” anyway – change his name to Striker and do it now?
- Hyun-jin Ryu– According toDodger Insider,“Beyond Ryu’s 1.97 ERA, he had the top-ranked changeup in the game last year among pitchers who threw at least 80 innings. Ryu’s 2.99 weighted changeup runs per 100 pitches (wCH/C) was first in the Majors, according to FanGraphs.” Need I say more? All he needs is to stay healthy. He’s pitching for another contract.
- Rich Hill– If you remember Rich Hill’s first year, he pitched deep into games and then had his blisters flare up. Since then, Roberts had had him on short innnings. With his blisters behind him and in the last year of his contract, I would work him like a rented mule. He could be a big surprise.
- Kenta Maeda– Quietly, he is one of the most unhearlded starters in MLB. The problem is: he can pitch out of the pen too. According toDodger Insider,Honeycutt said it’s imperative for the right-hander to work with the count in his favor. When he was behind in the count, according to Baseball Reference, opponents hit .275/.486/.578/.1.065 against him. When he was ahead, they batted .179/.183/.282/.465. Maeda also has elite pitches in his arsenal. His changeup was eighth in the Majors (min. 80 innings) in wCH/C (2.25). Opponents hit .135 against his changeup and .216 vs. his slider last year. “On any given night, Kenta has weapons to be a dominant pitcher,” Honeycutt said. “For me, at times the command of the four-seam fastball wavers. He knows his slider is probably his best pitch, and the split and changeup combination when it’s on it’s deadly. But you also have to have positive counts to get empty swings on that split. … When the fastball command is there he’s got offspeed weapons that can definitely put you away.”
- Ross Stripling– For two months last year, Ross Stripling was one of the MLB’s best pitchers… certainly the Dodgers’ best pitcher. Then he ran into some injury issues and lost it due to “tipping his pitches.” I happen to believe that if you do it once (he’s done it more than once), you can do it again. Don’t forget the No-No that he was pulled out of. Ross is smart and a student of strategy and he also believes that he is a starter. I believe he is too… maybe even a #3, but unless there are injuries, he will have to pitch out of the pen for this year. In 2020, he could be a big part of the rotation.
- Julio Urias– I think he will start out in the bullpen (I could be totally wrong) because innings are innings and I think he can build arm strength by either being “an opener” like Sergio Romo, except that he could pitch 2 or 3 innings or a long man in the pen. I think he will join the rotation by the All-Star Game and be a solid #2 as a #3. He is so much better than many know.
Waiting in the wings, but not likely this year, are Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May… maybe Gonsolin could get the call (but that means a lot went wrong)… especially in the pen. I agree with Rich Hill: This is the best starting rotation in baseball, bar none! If you have the best starting rotation in baseball, it’s rare that you also have the best bullpen. While I will not predict it, I will say that the indicators are there.
We will start at the backend of the pen and work down. Kenley Jansen is the closer… that much we know. Beyond that, we can only guess and I am not afraid to do that:
- Kenley Jansen– His heart problem fixed, 25 less pounds, chasing a legacy like Mariano Rivera and a hunger to win the World Series leads me to believe Kenley will return to form with a vengeance. He is motivated and able.
- Joe “Machine Gun” Kelly– I am not sure if he will be the Set-Up Guy or pitch all over the game like Andrew Miller. It’s no secret his fastball is 100 MPH, but he has learned to take some off to acheive better control. That’s the key… he has to minimize the walks and if he does, he will be another Brandon Morrow… or better.
- Pedro Baez – el Gasolinois in the rear-view mirror. He has lowered his time between pitches and increased his confidence level. If it carries over into 2019, he will be another 8th inning option. He has went from “most hated Dodger” to someone we are willing to give a chance. If he can pitch again like the last couple of months of 2018, the Dodgers might have something very powerful .
- Scott Alexander– Not many fans have any confidence in Alexander, but we have all seen him get that sinker low in the zone for an inning or two and he is unhittable when he does that. Just a little bit better in his repeatable mechanics and he is a ground ball machine, instead of a walking machine.
- Dylan Floro– While not flashy, Dylan has proven to be a solid addition to the bullpen. While not yet a 8th inning guy, he is a solid RH reliever with two good pitches.
- Josh Fields– Josh had a 2.20 ERA last year and enters his 4th season with LA. Out of options he is a candidate to be traded… before Spring Training, but you could do worse than Fields.
- Yimi Garcia– Yimi never quite got it all back last year, but with some players it takes until the second season to fully recover from surgery. In the past his stuff has been outstanding.
- Tony Cingrani– He resurrected his career with ethe Dodgers, but was injured much of last year. If healthy he is a big LH part of the bullpen solution.
- JT Chargois– With a solid, but not spectacular fastball and slider, he is another piece, but is also like to be moved in one way or another.
- Adam McCreery– At 6′ 9″ he is an imposing figure on the mound, due to throwing from a 3/34 arm slot. The lefty throws 90-92 MPH with a developing curveball. He’s a longshot to do anything this year, due to control issues, but he is unique.
- Brock Stewart– This guy should have been in the pen two years ago where he has flourished. With just two plus pitches, he is not a starter. He had an injured knee last year which allegedly cost him some velocity. Hopefully, the put him in the pen and he can resurrect his career… or be traded… or DFA’ed. If healthy, he could be a surprise.
- Caleb Ferguson– So far they say he is a starter. I don’t believe it. He is already a very good LH reliever with two plus pitches. If kept in the pen he should break with the team.
- Tony Gonsolin– He has several pitches and can sustain his 100 MPH velocity late into the game, so he is on a starters path, but if the unthinkable happens, he can flourish in the bullpen for part of a season.
- Dennis Santana– A RH Caleb Ferguson… maybe even a future closer. I do not see him as a starter, but he will likely start in AAA.
- Jamie Schultz– A failed starter from the Rays, he throws near 100 MPH and has a plus breaking ball… all that is needed for a reliever. Think Cody Allen. He has has control issues but could flourish in the bullpen. Watch this guy! He could put it all together.
- Jesen Therrin– This guy is a strike throwing machine. He has four pitches (two-seam, four-seam, slider and splitter). He can hit mid-90’s his slider is compared to Brad Lidge in his perfect year. He’s a protegee of Eric Gagne. While not on the 40-man, his stuff may play up to having to be called up… if he is healthy (there’s always a catch).
- Marshall Kasowski– Last year, he conquered his control problems and he has a very deceptive motion where the ball seems to come out of his ear at up to 96 MPH. He is pure bullpen!
I have not included Josh Sborz, Yadier Alvarez, Mitch White and Jordon Sheffield, all of whom have the “stuff” to pitch in the majors. Other issues, like health, control or “head” issues plague them, but the talent is apparent.
With 7 starters and 17 bullpen pitchers, there’s a lot to sort out, but sorted properly, this is a pitching staff that could have a sub 3.00 ERA. Of course, I am looking at the upside, and while some players will elevate their game, some will head the opposite direction (kind of like Austin Barnes did last year), others will get hurt and some will stay in the same rut. Who does what is open to conjecture…
I seldom look at “what is?” I focus on “what could be?” I don’t know, I can only use data, my eyes and my gut. That’s all we have anyway. The power of the human spirit often holds sway. That’s the part that is hard to read – how much do they want it? Overall, I will take this pitching staff over any other one in the majors, but the composition will likely change by the end of Spring Training.