This past off-season, when MLB modified its rules regarding the disabled list, changing it from 15 to 10 days, the Dodgers front office had to be thrilled. Reducing the timeframe a player has to sit out when injured really benefits a club’s ability to utilize their entire roster, and that fits in perfectly with the Dodgers strategy of maximizing their depth. The added flexibility also allows teams to protect their players more, while not having to risk rushing them back from injury.
However, some have pointed to the Dodgers recent use of the new 10-day DL as an abuse of the rule. The Dodgers have basically rotated their starting pitching staff on and off of the DL this season, with Clayton Kershaw being the only mainstay in the rotation from the start of the year to now.
The question can certainly be asked whether the Dodgers are exploiting the current system, and moreover, if their efforts are working towards their advantage or their detriment?
Are the Dodgers taking advantage of the new 10-day DL?
Absolutely… but so are many other teams. And they’re only doing it because they can.
Coming off of a 2016 season that saw the Dodgers set a MLB record for DL moves, one might think the team simply got a run of bad luck when it came to injuries. Although that’s certainly true to some extent, it also illustrates how the Dodgers front office chooses to handle their roster. Make no mistake about it; some of those injuries last year were surely circumstantial. For example, Ross Stripling admitted to not really being injured while on the DL last season, and merely resting.
“Lower body fatigue is a fancy way of saying I had an innings limit,” Stripling said. “Nothing was hurt… the DL is just for the paper trail I guess.”
Fast forward to this year with the reduced DL timeframe, and the Dodgers have their own triage unit right back to work. According to Spotrac, they’ve utilized the DL more than any other MLB team in 2017, with 18 players being placed on it.
Again, while some of those injuries are legitimate, many probably aren’t. Often times, when a player is struggling a bit, they’ll coincidentally develop some “minor injury.” Other times, players will suddenly get “hurt” and moved to the DL strictly because a corresponding roster move has to be made when another player returns. These are commonly referred to as “phantom” DL moves.
Nowhere is that more evident than with the Dodgers starting pitching situation, and the rotating DL door they’ve employed. Rich Hill, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, and Kenta Maeda have all took their turn on the Dodgers DL train, with Hill’s infamous blister problem perhaps being the sole genuine injury.
So, yes, the Dodgers are manipulating the new 10-day DL to their benefit. That’s no secret. But the more important question is – will it work in their favor?
Benefits of the Dodgers DL strategy
The overall goal of every team is to have their players healthy, strong, and fresh for the end of the season stretch run. To do that, rest is key, particularly for starting pitchers who can see their arm tire out as the season progresses. A 162-game season is a long time. It can be grueling on players, and there’s little doubt that by seasons end, many players may feel worn out. To mitigate this, teams try to find that nice balance of resting their players while still remaining competitive game in and game out.
That’s where utilizing the 10-day DL can be useful.
Starting pitching depth is a luxury the Dodgers have this year. Even with early injuries in spring training to Scott Kazmir and Brock Stewart, they still had to send Julio Urias to the minors and relegate Alex Wood to the bullpen in order to get down to a 5-man rotation to start the year. Since then, Wood has made the most of his opportunities as a starter, and it was only a matter of time before Urias got to call back up to the Bigs, leaving the Dodgers with some serious decisions to make about what to do with the rotation.
So far, the Dodgers response to those rotation questions has been to alternate rest periods—ah, I mean 100% legit 10-day DL trips—between their other starting pitchers. Hyun-Jim Ryu gets a nice break with a “hip contusion.” Brandon McCarthy finds a good rest after an “injury” to his non-throwing shoulder. Kenta Maeda gets some time off for a “tight hammy.” All, of course, conveniently coming one after the other, when the next player is ready to return.
The Dodgers feel comfortable with all the starting options they have, and thus have the luxury of being able to do this. Again, the intent here is to get their players added rest throughout the season. If you can afford having your pitcher throw 160 innings or so instead of 185 on the year, you’d likely take it, especially if it meant having them fresher come the end of the season and into the playoffs.
Possible disadvantages of the Dodgers DL strategy
Although rest is great, one possible downside to this strategy is the uncertainty that comes with having a constantly shifting rotation. Players usually like to stay in their routines, especially starting pitchers. Going out there every 5th or 6th day typically keeps them in that routine, and changing that up too much could get a player out of rhythm.
Before heading to the DL for his hip issue, Hyun-Jin Ryu had pitched back-to-back good games, giving up only 1 ER in his last two starts. Then, after being activated last week, Ryu wasn’t as sharp in his first start back, as he gave up 10 Runs (5 ER) on 8 hits and 6 Walks. Brandon McCarthy was also looking good before his DL stint, posting a 3.10 ERA and allowing 2 ER or less in four of his first 5 starts. In his return Monday, he too struggled, giving up a season high 6 ER on 8 hits.
Of course one shouldn’t be too quick to make any firm conclusions off a couple of starts. Ryu’s return start came at Coors Field, the worst park in baseball for pitchers, and a place where everyone seems to give up a boat full of runs. McCarthy’s start in San Francisco didn’t go great, but he really didn’t get hit that hard, and had some bad luck with bloop hits and defensive miscues. Still, it’s something to note, and when Kenta Maeda returns it’ll be interesting to see how he fares in his first start back. He had pitched 3 consecutive good outings before going down with his “injury” last week.
There are certainly advantages that come with being able to rest your players throughout the year. On the flip side, having a rotation in constant flux can definitely cause some problems with a player’s ability to stay in rhythm. As the season progresses, I’m sure we’ll see more precautionary and deliberate DL moves made by the Dodgers. At some point though, they may have to come to some sort of a more stable determination on how they want to proceed with their roster, principally their starting rotation.
Only time will tell how the Dodgers strategy will play out.