Although the outfield was cleared up in the Cincinnati deal, the amount of arms vying for a spot not just in the starting rotation, but on the 25-man roster, remains a problem that requires a solution. The Dodgers are currently carrying 22 pitchers on the 40-man roster, and while some pitchers can be assumed to be roster spot longshots, a decent amount of the pitchers have legitimate cases to be on the Opening Day roster.
Something else that is important to note is the Dodgers’ prospective free agency moves that could be made prior to Spring Training. The Dodgers’ pursuit of Cleveland Indians starter Corey Kluber has been well-documented and he has yet to be moved. An acquisition of that caliber would obviously be a welcome addition to the roster and the rotation, but would create even more of a roster crunch.
As it stands, 11 of the 22 pitchers are viewed by the organization as long-term starting rotation options, which only makes the waters murkier when trying to figure out what the Opening Day rotation could look like.
Let’s take a look at the Dodgers’ current options as we head into 2019:
SP Walker Buehler
Some around the game believe that Buehler has already surpassed Clayton Kershaw as the Dodgers’ ace, and they might be right. Across 137 1/3 frames, Buehler posted a 2.62 ERA, 3.21 DRA, and 3.04 FIP, all ace-level marks. Buehler may be in for some regression, as his typically unsustainable .241 BABIP was the third-lowest mark for any MLB pitcher with over 125 innings pitched. However, a 50% ground ball rate and 2.4 BB/9 mark bode well for the youngster. Expect another big year for Buehler, but keep the expectations realistic for the sophomore hurler. Who knows, Buehler could be in the Cy Young conversation this season if all goes well.
SP Clayton Kershaw
Once the consensus best pitcher in the game, it is no secret that Kershaw has regressed. It has come to the point, however, that Kershaw may be underrated in comparison to what Dodger fans think of him. Kersh still managed to put up fantastic numbers, even though there were numerous reasons for concern. Kershaw posted a 2.73 ERA, 3.11 DRA, and 3.19 FIP over 161 1/3 frames.
The two major concerns with Kershaw were the drastic decreases in strikeouts and velocity. It is safe to say that the primary reason for Kershaw’s decrease in strikeout rate is a by-product of a drastic drop in swinging strike rate (14.1% to 11%) which is quite possibly a by-product of the velocity decrease. Kershaw’s average fastball velocity dropped by a frightening 1.8 MPH, from 92.7 to 90.9 MPH. A few weeks ago, it was reported that Kershaw’s focus in the offseason would be to regain that lost velocity. If he can get anywhere close to the mark he used to be at, the Dodgers could potentially boast two Cy Young candidates at the front end of their rotation.
SP Hyun-Jin Ryu
What a comeback. The season Ryu had in 2017 was respectable, but the half-season that he pitched in 2018 was like that of an ace. A 1.77 ERA, 2.45 DRA, and 3.00 FIP were all the best marks on the staff, even though Ryu didn’t quite have the reliability. Overall regression should be expected, but Ryu proved that he still has it in him to be a solid number 3 starter which is probably the most likely outcome for his 2019 campaign. This winter, Ryu re-upped with the Dodgers, signing for the $17.9 million qualifying offer. He is one of four Dodgers that has a virtual lock on their rotation spot.
SP Rich Hill
D. Mountain’s time as the Dodgers’ number two is officially over. Hill regressed in 2018, not dramatically, but just enough to warrant some doubt. Across 132 2/3 innings, he held a 3.66 ERA, 3.92 DRA, and 3.93 FIP. These are wholly respectable numbers especially when shown next to spectacular 2.8 BB/9 and 10.2 K/9 marks. Hill consistently ranks amongst the highest in spin rate on his fastball and curveball, which keeps him fully relevant as he heads into his age-39 season and final season of his contract. Hill is the clear number 4 in a loaded rotation. Let’s just hope that age does not catch up to him this season.
SP/RP Kenta Maeda and SP/RP Ross Stripling
One of these two pitchers should win the fifth starter job out of camp, and it appears Maeda may have the early edge. Maeda made 39 appearances for Los Angeles in 2018, with 20 of those coming as a starter. Maeda was slightly better as a reliever on the surface, but when taking a closer look at the numbers, Maeda was slightly better starting games. This is what Maeda’s breakdown looked like in 2018:
Starter: 107 2/3 IP, 3.85 ERA, .233 BAA, .700 OPS, .301 wOBA, 10.6 K/9, 3.3 BB/9
Reliever: 17 2/3 IP, 3.57 ERA, .265 BAA, .747 OPS, .326 wOBA, 13.2 K/9, 1.5 BB/9
Total: 3.81 ERA, 2.78 DRA, 3.22 FIP
For comparison, this is what Ross Stripling’s All-Star season looked like with 21 of his 33 appearances coming as a starter:
Starter: 106 1/3 IP, 3.39 ERA, .261 BAA, .740 OPS, .316 wOBA, 10.1 K/9, 1.4 BB/9
Reliever: 15 2/3 IP, 0.57 ERA, .220 BAA, .597 OPS, .261 wOBA, 9.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
Total: 3.02 ERA, 2.94 DRA, 3.37 FIP
The battle for the fifth starting spot could be the most talked about in camp or it could have been internally decided upon already. The outputs of Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling were fairly similar, but at this point, it appears that Maeda may be the best option for the rotation. Due to a majority of Stripling’s big-league workload coming from the bullpen, it will be a seamless transition and he could prove invaluable in a multi-inning relief role.
SP Julio Urias
Urias is now healthy and remains a huge part of the Dodgers’ future plans. Dave Roberts recently outlined the 2019 game plan for his usage and stated that he will be worked out as a starting pitcher. At what level, we will soon find out. Urias could find his way into the rotation with a strong spring or if the Dodgers opt for a six-man rotation, which seems like a fantastic choice considering the rotation’s injury history collectively.
Urias made his journey back to the big leagues and performed on the game’s biggest stages of the NLCS and the World Series. Through 104 1/3 innings of work in his big-league career, Urias has racked up 102 strikeouts, with marks of 3.71 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 3.40 FIP, and a 3.79 DRA. Fans were overjoyed when Julio hit 97 on the gun in a September relief outing, and they had every reason to be. To overcome such a serious shoulder surgery was in itself impressive and the sky remains the limit for the 22-year-old. A healthy Julio Urias will no doubt be an integral piece to the puzzle as the Dodgers hope to reach the World Series for a third time in a row.
RP Caleb Ferguson
Ferguson made three spot starts for the Dodgers and was pretty dreadful in them. The Dodgers did not lose faith in him, however, as he emerged as arguably the best left-handed weapon out of the bullpen. As a reliever, Ferguson posted respectable numbers across the board, with a 2.35 ERA, .231 BAA, .667 OPS against, with a solid strikeout rate at 11 K/9 and an amazing 1.4 BB/9. Although Ferguson is viewed by the organization as a future rotation piece, he shouldn’t log any starts unless major injuries make it necessary.
SP/RP Yadier Alvarez
Originally signed by the Dodgers out of Cuba in 2015 for a lofty $16 million signing bonus, Alvarez has yet to live up to the pay check, largely due to an absurd lack of control. Across two levels in 2018, Alvarez posted some brutal numbers: 4.23 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 10.1 K/9 (which has been the norm for him), and a 7.2 (!) BB/9. To say that Alvarez lacks control is an understatement, but with the Dodgers having such a large investment in him, they put him on the 40-man roster last month. He could make a few spot starts for the big league club if he can show some polish and work his way to Oklahoma City at some point.
SP Dennis Santana
Dennis Santana made one start for the Dodgers at Coors Field and it resulted in him being injured for the remainder of the 2018 campaign. Santana remains among the Dodgers’ top starting pitching prospects and is on the 40-man roster. He could see a spot start or two but is basically a lock to begin the season with Oklahoma City.
SP/RP Brock Stewart
It seems like Stewart has been bounced back and forth between LA and OKC for the entirety of his career, and it is because he has. Stewart has never really maintained a safe spot on the 25-man and this year should be no different. He has posted a career line of a 4.84 ERA, 5.51 FIP, and a 5.03 DRA, basically worthy of being asked out of his 40-man roster spot soon. Regardless of his performance, Stewart has more big-league experience than the likes of Santana and Alvarez and could garner some innings simply because of that fact.
Personally, I am a firm believer that the Dodgers should utilize a six-man rotation, at least to start off next season. There are simply too many capable arms on the roster to not take advantage of it. Using this idea will create a natural innings cap on Julio Urias and could keep the veterans fresh down the stretch.
Obviously, the offseason has yet to reach its end and many starters are available in both free agency and the trade market. Only time will tell what the starting rotation shapes out to be, but one thing we can be sure of. The current list of options represent a formidable group, more than capable of leading the Dodgers to the promised land in 2019.
[button link=”https://www.dodgersnation.com/3-remaining-needs-for-the-dodgers-cp1085/2018/12/28/” type=”big” color=”red”] 3 Remaining Needs for the Dodgers[/button]