From opening day to now, the rotation has drastically changed. Many pieces have gone missing, whether due to injury or legal issues, while the team has also added to it either from within or by acquisition. The only constant this season has been Walker Buehler. He has made every one of his starts this year and has been the clear ace.
His production this season has also included him in this year’s Cy Young conversation, especially with the absence of Jacob deGrom. So far this season Buehler owns a 12-2 record with a 2.13 ERA (top in the NL) and 152 strikeouts across 23 starts (heading into Saturday night’s start).
Just take a look at any stat and you’ll find him among the league leaders.
His elite production this year warrants the question of whether the opportunity to achieve such an accolade has been a motivator? According to Dave Roberts, the topic has been brought up.
“We might have had a couple little kind of joking conversations. Nothing too serious. I think that any player that has the chance, and put themselves in position to be the best pitcher in the league or best position player in the league when you’re talking MVP or Cy Young, doesn’t think about it would be lying.”
A different season, a different Walker Buehler
Doc also mentioned that Buehler’s only focus when he takes the mound is to win that particular game, and win he has. Walker has always had the type of stuff needed to make a run at the award, yet it has been his ability this year to perform well even without it. When he’s on he’s on, but he’s also had plenty of starts where he has been able to tiptoe out of traffic on his worst days.
“There are times when – as a younger pitcher you get frustrated, you don’t feel great, and you just want to blow guys away with your fastball – and kind of make it end quicker as far as the game, the outing, the inning. It’s not a good process. I think that this year, he’s really matured. When you’re not feeling your best, there’s still other ways to navigate a lineup to get through to have a quality start. He’s grown in a lot of areas and pitched in big games. That’s probably the biggest area of growth for me.”
The Lasting Impact
The Cy Young usually goes to the best pitcher in the league. While he has been among the best when looking at analytics, his impact goes beyond viewable stats. His ability to eat up efficiently pitch deep into games and protect the bullpen has been a savior for the Dodgers this year.
“Looking at where we’re at right now with the pen, it gives you a little bit of solace knowing that he’s on the mound with what he has done, what he’s capable of doing on a particular start. When you come out of games that he’s thrown, this year in particular, our bullpen is in a much better place than when we started the night before he pitched. The bottom line is that we’re a much better club the day prior, the day he’s pitching, and the day after he pitches.”
With the recent loss of Julio Urías, his presence in the rotation becomes even more crucial. Granted he still has David Price and Max Scherzer helping him prop up LA’s rotation, the Dodgers would not have come as far as they have if it weren’t for Buehler. His ability to pitch in big games and perform well when needed is irreplaceable.
While there is still plenty of season left that will determine the eventual Cy Young winner, Walker Buehler has been the most deserving candidate aside from deGrom. He’s rapidly becoming one of the best in the game, as well as a future Dodger legend.