The Dodgers have been blessed with excellent starting pitching depth over the past seven seasons or so and have also been given star-level performances with names like Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler in tow. Now, the Dodgers face somewhat of a dilemma and youth movement with their starting rotation.
The recent departure of Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu to the Toronto Blue Jays on a four-year, $80 million deal does not help matters and the graduations of top prospects lead to reliance on unproven sources.
Now, while not stretched thin in quantity, the Dodgers’ starting rotation appears to be stretched thin in quality. They will continue to have Walker Buehler’s prime seasons and Clayton Kershaw. They have Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, and Julio Urias. They have top prospects like Dustin May, Josiah Gray, and Tony Gonsolin. The issue is, though, that they are missing that one co-ace. Clayton Kershaw might not be that anymore.
So the Dodgers remaining options to fill out rotation:
A) Trade for Clevinger or Price
B) Go with in-house candidates (Urias, May, Gonsolin, Stripling) to fill out rotation
Fully anticipating they will go with option B
— Trolley Blue (@TrolleyBlue) December 23, 2019
Let’s take a look at the way the starting rotation currently stands.
The young ace is excellent. He will be for years to come, boasting a powerful fastball and curveball combination that keeps the ball on the ground and aids the swing and miss. Buehler posted a 3.26 ERA in 2019 and a 2.89 DRA. He tossed 182 1/3 innings while striking out 215 batters. Similar numbers should be expected out of him going forward, but the club should look to find someone of similar caliber to step in as the #2 in the rotation.
Kershaw’s velocity has diminished while his spin rate has spiked. Simply put, there is still more left in his arm that might not have been fully enabled by the coaching staff in recent seasons. Despite the velocity decline, the best pitcher of the generation posted a 3.03 ERA and 3.33 DRA in 2019. His strikeout rate shot back up, seeing him punch out 189 batters over 178 1/3 innings of work. He might take another step back, he might not. However, he is almost a lock to be at least a #3 starter in 2020.
This might be the season where the Dodgers allow Julio Urías to finally break free and eclipse 150 innings as a starting pitcher. He has undergone some major surgeries in his career and should continue to be handled with kid’s gloves at just age 23, but less so than in past years. Urías appeared in only 37 games due to a domestic violence suspension but fared well when he was on the field. He posted a sparkling 2.49 ERA and a 3.39 DRA. His first half was a lot better than his second half, but inconsistencies in his roster placement could have contributed to that. He is a virtual lock to be a #3 starter if given the ball every fifth day.
Big Red might be the biggest piece to the puzzle for the Dodgers in 2020. If he takes a Buehler-esque step forward, the Dodgers will be in an excellent spot. May made 14 appearances (four starts) for the club, racking up 32 strikeouts over 34 2/3 innings with a 3.63 ERA. That ERA is inflated by two bad performances as he was transitioning from the rotation to the bullpen. He has tremendous upside as one of the game’s top prospects and the hope inside the Dodgers’ front office is that he can deliver on that upside in as soon as 2020. If all else fails this season, the bullpen might be his home for just this year.
Kenta Maeda seems to be the Dodgers version of ‘ol’ reliable’. He has done everything they have asked him to do, including moving to the bullpen during postseason runs. He holds an excellent 3.15 career DRA and is averaging 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings since he came to Los Angeles in 2016. He might be the Dodgers’ most underrated pitcher. At 31 years old and on a cheap deal, he is a lock for return on their investment.
Chicken Strip could very easily be dealt before the season begins. He is a valuable asset — a number four type of starter who eats innings, is versatile, and under club control for a few seasons. He could be a building block in a deal for a Francisco Lindor, Mike Clevinger, or Mookie Betts. He is almost as underrated as Kenta Maeda is. In fact, Stripling’s career DRA is 3.21, or somewhere around 20th amongst starting pitchers since he came into the league. He might seem like a number-five starter to you, but he simply is not based on his production.
Gonsolin really pitched well in 2019 and was robbed of a spot on the postseason roster. He pitched to the tune of a 2.93 ERA across 11 appearances (six starts). He might initially be placed in the bullpen in 2020, but could very easily find his way to the starting rotation before the season ends. It would almost be an expectation. If Gonsolin can return value at the level of a number four starter in 2020, he is a very valuable asset.
Look forward to more Caturdays next season.
The only pitcher on this list to not have pitched in an MLB game yet, Gray seems poised to be a star. There is something about him that makes scouts and fans salivate and pray for the day to come soon where he pitches on the mound at Chavez Ravine. In 2019, Gray finished the season with the Tulsa Drillers at the Double-A level and fared well. He averaged about a strikeout per inning across 39 1/3 frames while putting up a great 2.75 ERA. In 2020, he should progress to Triple-A Oklahoma City quickly and could be on the major league roster in September — possibly in a 2019 Gonsolin/May hybrid role. All eyes will be on him as the year progresses as he heads to the hitter-friendly OKC environment.
The Dodgers have a bright future and a solid present. Any addition of help would strengthen the rotation — think Mike Clevinger or Noah Syndergaard — but as presently constructed, there are no real flaws outside of their collective inexperience. The Dodgers would be fools to expect ace production of their rookies, but it could happen with ease.