2021 Dodgers Season Preview: Starting Pitching Outlook, Kershaw, Bauer, Buehler & More

Hint – they are loaded.

I waited to do this article until the Trevor Bauer free agency was resolved. In my mind, it was very doubtful that he would come to the Dodgers but I waited just to be safe. Now that Bauer has signed with LA, the starting pitching outlook goes from very good to great. There were very few difference-makers available via trade or free agency and Andrew Friedman got the biggest one.

This article will look at the available starting pitching the Dodgers have at their disposal and how they could be used in the regular season and the postseason.

Top 5 Starters

  • Clayton Kershaw
  • Walker Buehler
  • Trevor Bauer
  • David Price
  • Julio Urias

Major League Depth

  • Dustin May
  • Tony Gonsolin

Minor League Depth

  • Jimmy Nelson
  • Josiah Gray
  • Ryan Pepiot
  • Mitchell White
  • Gerardo Carrillo
  • Andre Jackson
  • Edwin Uceta
  • Bobby Miller

Overall Depth

It’s clear that the Dodgers have more Major League-ready starters than the traditional front five. Let’s remember, it was just last year when the club entered the spring training 1.0 with similar depth but lost David Price (opted out) and Alex Wood (injury) in the rotation. Clayton Kershaw also missed his opening day start with a back injury and Walker Buehler wasn’t quite ready for the start of the season, had blisters, and ended up averaging less than five innings per start.

In fact, no Dodgers’ starter averaged even six innings per start in 2020.

For the regular season, the Dodgers will need to cover about 1500 innings, If the starters average around 5 innings per start (not counting openers), that eats up a little more than 800 innings. That gives each starter 160 innings for the season, which seems reasonable (particularly after the shortened season). However, with the Dodgers having seven legitimate Major League starters, they should find ways for the extra two to take up some of the innings load.

Using All Seven Starters

One of the big advantages of signing Trevor Bauer is that he usually stays pretty healthy and should be counted on for a solid six innings in every start. If he makes 30 starts that covers 180 innings. Clayton Kershaw does have periodic injuries so based on the last three seasons he should be counted on for around 25 starts with an average of 6 innings per start — about 150 innings. Walker Buehler should have similar numbers but has mentioned his goal of reaching the 200 inning plateau in the past. With David Price, I would count on no more than 125 innings. And Julio Urias has never started a full season so I wouldn’t count on him for much more than 125 innings as well.

For those top five starters, that gives the ballclub 730 innings, which understandably is a conservative estimate.

There is no reason that Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin should not be good for at least 100 innings each. The key is to find ways to get them some starts or lengthy appearances.

Using All Seven as “Starters”

Given that the pandemic could cause games to be postponed and made up later as part of doubleheaders, there is a definite need for the extra starters. Another solution for getting May and Gonsolin some innings while also being smart about limiting innings for some other pitchers is to double them up. Plan for someone like Price to only for 4 or 5 and then follow with May for the rest of the game. Buehler seems to need to work into the season so pair him up with Gonsolin for the first two-to-three starts.

I want to see the Dodgers find a way to keep all seven of those arms on the Major League roster and keep them stretched out as starters. Given that May and Gonsolin are not penciled into the rotation going into spring training, the Dodgers should find a way to use those guys in multiple inning roles as much as possible. Another solution could be to use them as two-to-three inning openers.

Some say that it would not hurt Dustin May to work on adding to his pitch mix. That could be done in AAA for a few starts, which is not the worst idea. With May, I think there is another level for him to attain and he has the talent to get there. Reminder, he’s only 23.

An idea that I like a lot is a six-man rotation. That way they can ease into the season. However, it seems the Dodgers are not looking to do that. I am hopeful they reconsider as spring training progresses.

The Postseason

Everything changes in the postseason as clubs usually rely on only four starters. Last year they utilized openers quite a bit, but if Kershaw, Buehler, Bauer, and Price are all healthy and productive then that frees up Urias, May, and Gonsolin for the bullpen. With the type of stuff those three have, Dave Roberts can use them in high-level situations to get the toughest of outs. We all saw how great Julio was in relief last October. He appeared in relief three times (once in the second inning) and he totally shut the opponents down. He got two wins in the NLDS and NLCS clinchers and a save in the World Series clincher.

With all the experience those three have gathered in the postseason they turn the bullpen into a huge weapon.

2021 Outlook

With just the seven starters we’ve spoken about, it is very possible the Dodgers could get 950-1000 innings just from these pitchers. Having seven legitimate starting pitchers on the roster is a luxury in most seasons. In 2021 it will be a necessity as pitchers weren’t able to stretch out in 2020. I remain hopeful that the club holds on to all seven of their starters because pitching depth is paramount in a 162 season. But notably, some fans have suggest a David Price trade to potentially help pay for a Justin Turner contract.

Again, the Dodgers should keep David Price. Yes, the team has a lot of depth, but 2021 brings so many unknowns. With the seven starting pitching candidates and some great minor league depth, the Dodgers have the most complete and best starting pitching in baseball.

Some Final Thoughts

How many times have you seen a pitching staff where the reigning Cy Young Award winner might be slotted in the number three slot? How many teams would consider Julio Urias to be either their number one or two starter? On any other MLB team, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin would be in the starting rotation. The surprise addition of Trevor Bauer has turned the starting rotation into the strongest part of the team. If the rotation stays at the top of its game, don’t be surprised to see the Dodgers celebrating again in 2021.

If that sort of thing is allowed by then.

NEXT: Could Trevor Bauer Be the Next Max Scherzer?

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  1. Great synopsis of where we are currently, baring trades. I believe this is Uriah’s year to break out as a dominant #1 tier starter. If that happens the Dodgers will have pitching staff that would rank as one of the best in baseball history.
    Looking at May he has amazing potential. He needs more experience and to add a secondary pitch but he has the Wow factor. Gonsolin showed early in 2020 what he can do. His split-finger makes hime a weapon out of the bullpen for now.
    I too want all seven to keep stretched out as starters. There are a lot of innings to pitch and Kershaw and Price are older and have had injuries.
    It will be interesting to see what happens with 3rd base and if Lux can perform at the expected level or if Taylor will need to sub him. Curious to see who makes the 26 man roster especially in the playoffs. Should be a dominant 104 or possibly more win year. Hopefully it ends with another ring. Go blue.

  2. These 7 starters now having to bat can pose a concern for any of them as risk for injury is increased and could sideline any one of them. I am not looking forward to this at all after a whole year away from batters box. It’s one thing if they suffer an injury while pitching but having to bat makes it that much worse if they’re forced from the game as a result of an AB.

  3. Good article! Sound thinking and analysis! Yep, keeping May and Gonsolin stretched out is a win win situation. And like you say, using an opener for Price (or having him pitch the first 4 innings or so) would set him up for success. And as Roberts used to do with Ryu, a skipped start here and there for the other 4 would be long term beneficial. Go Dodgers! A great year is on the way. Now let’s re sign Justin!

  4. Why is the top brass at the Dodgers waiting to sign Justin Turner?? They should go ahead and give him what he wants, they some some top players all ready signed and Turner is a great asset and a clubhouse leader., a go to guy and player. SIGN HIM FOR WHAT HE WANTS.