There’s very little doubt that the Dodgers have among the deepest pools of pitchers to choose from when building their everyday starting rotation, if there is such a thing these days. Yet, with all the depth at almost every single level of the organization, many who follow the team closely wonder if the quality of starting pitching is good enough to perform successfully through the entire regular season and into the playoffs.
Sure, the postseason is still a full four months away, and the final product certainly needs time to shape itself and blossom. But considering the talent that’s already on board, there’s a cluster of questions which arises when breaking down the rotation individually.
The numbers don’t lie, particularly when looking at the numbers as a group. Before Thursday evening’s game against the Cardinals, the Dodgers don’t only have the third-best starting pitching ERA in the National League, but at 3.57, they have the fourth-best in all of baseball. In addition, their 1.22 combined WHIP and .693 OPSA are also both good enough for third in the bigs — sure signs of a very successful rotation.
Until now, there’s been somewhat of a subtle strategy by the management crew of incorporating a rest period for several of the starters by utilizing the very handy 10-day disabled list. The new 10-day concept has been especially useful for the Dodgers — starting pitchers can be placed on the 10-day DL to miss only one start, rather than two or more scheduled starts when placed on the old 15-day variety. Even the simplest of injuries, like a bruised hip, a sore shoulder or a tight hamstring, have already helped Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Kenta Maeda take quick breathers and perhaps save a little gas for the stretch run of the season. However, in the long run, it remains to be seen how successful this strategy will be, just because a fully rested rotation isn’t exactly the same as a very effective one. Already, some folks are arguing that these 10-day “breaks” are taking the pitchers out of their respective grooves, eventually seeing them return with a little rust in their arms. Whatever the case may be, October is definitely a long ways off.
As far as the individual pieces go, it’s quite easy to make generalizations. Despite his postseason track record, any general manager in baseball wouldn’t hesitate to choose Clayton Kershaw to spearhead any playoff rotation. But while there’s certainly some solid talent beyond Kersh, the sample sizes are either too small or a bit on the unique side to make any type of educated guess over the long haul.
Besides having no clue at all when a potential blister could surface, 13-year veteran Rich Hill has only four seasons under his belt as a full-time starting pitcher. To boot, he has only made four postseason appearances over his lengthy career, leaving many wondering if he even has the nerves to respond to playoff pressure. When he’s in a groove, he’s definitely among the top three starters on the Dodgers, however, it wouldn’t be a smart bet to depend on his health as autumn approaches.
McCarthy is in a similar situation. Everybody knows where his throwing potential stood pre-injury, but it’s difficult to say how well his new UCL will hold up over the course of a full season. Before his own stint on the disabled list, Alex Wood appeared to be a completely new pitcher with increasing velocity and aggressiveness, as his 6-0 record and his 1.69 ERA opened plenty of eyes around the Dodgers’ camp. Nevertheless, like Hill and McCarthy, Wood does have a history of injuries and hasn’t withstood an injury-free season in almost two years.
The same can be said about Ryu’s injury history. And we don’t know much about Maeda, except that many teams shied away from the righty during his free agency because of health issues, plus the fact that he nearly ran completely out of gas during the playoffs in 2016. Lefty Julio Urias has a ton of upside, but it’s just impossible to tell how long he’ll need to harness his talent and dominate at the major league level. And then there’s still Scott Kazmir, too.
All that being said, there’s obviously several crapshoots involved which could conceivably create a very fine rotation down the road, but at the same time, could leave the front office scrambling when the trade deadline approaches in July — it’s still too early too tell. But there’s one thing that fans know for sure — with a healthy No. 22 in the picture come crunch time, almost anything is possible.