Old, New, Blue and Ryu: The Dodgers’ Over-30 Pitchers

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(Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY Sports)

(Editor’s note: TBPC would like to welcome Ben Kirst to the site’s writing team. Despite spending most of his life in Western New York, Ben is a lifelong fan of the Dodgers, and his writing experience has included coverage of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, Canisius College hockey, University at Buffalo basketball and various D-3/high school sports. He managed, edited and wrote for Buffalo.com for seven years. He also contributed to USCHO.com for three years and The Dunkirk (N.Y.) Observer for another four. Hopefully, Ben will tolerate all of our antics here at TBPC and continue to contribute many insightful articles in the future. Feel free to give him a follow on Twitter @BK77.)

“Time takes everybody out,” Rocky Balboa said in Creed. “Time’s undefeated.”

Sly Stallone quotes aside, the Los Angeles Dodgers, as currently constructed, aren’t an old team. Second baseman Chase Utley (39) remains unsigned for now. Graybeard first baseman Adrian Gonzalez (35) and outfielder Curtis Granderson (36) signed with the Mets and Mariners, respectively. The exile of free agent outfielder Andre Ethier (35) and discarding Franklin Gutierrez (34) bring down the roster age, as well.

The staff has also been trimmed of old arms. Pitchers Brandon McCarthy (34) and Scott Kazmir (34)  are gone. Reliever Tony Watson (32) and starting pitcher Yu Darvish (31 ) are still on the market.

Even with those departures, there is still some age on the hill (particularly 37-year-old Rich Hill). Seven Dodger hurlers on today’s 40-man roster on the wrong side of 30.

Three more — Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda and Pedro Baez — hit 30 this spring. 

Kershaw should be great, as usual — as long as his back doesn’t act up.

Maeda was a lights-out middle reliever in the 2017 postseason — a role he earned because he struggled to reach the fifth inning and keep the ball in the park all season long.

Pedro Baez — well, we all know what happened.

So while the Over-30 crowd has talent, experience and a track record of success, they are not necessarily sure things (well, except Kershaw and Kenley Jansen). Let’s take a closer look at the other thirtysomethings slated to pitch for the Dodgers this spring.

Rich Hill (37)

RHP Rich Hill was hot, cold and injured in 2017. The Dodgers won six consecutive Hill starts from July 1 through August 5, but the old man of the staff lost four in a row during L.A.’s horrid late summer swoon (that first loss was the infamous imperfect game against the Pirates on August 23). He also missed a month with blister issues.

Hill finished the campaign 12-8 with a 3.32 ERA and gutted his way through 8.2 World Series innings, most notably his five-strikeout, one-run performance in must-win Game 6.

What can we expect? Hill pitched 135.2 innings in 2017, his most since 2007. There have only been 199 instances when a Major League Baseball pitcher over the age of 35 logged more innings.

Baseball Reference pegs Hill to win 11 games and toss 139 innings in 2018. That seems about right. His average fastball is under 90 mph, his stamina is questionable and he has trouble against lefties.

Regardless, Hill’s fine control and nasty curve make him tough to hit for a solid five innings almost every time out. Let’s hope the blisters don’t bother him too much this spring.

Josh Fields (32)

The righty remained one of the MLB’s tougher middle relievers in 2018, striking out 60 in 57 innings while notching a 148 ERA+ and 0.965 WHIP. He won five games and saved a pair, too.

Fields did surrender 10 HRs, a rate of 1.6 dingers per nine innings. He got smoked for two bombs in his lone World Series appearance.

What can we expect? Fields’ FIP spiked to 4.18, up nearly a full percentage point from 2016 (3.26), thanks to his trouble with the long ball. His HR/FB rate jumped to 14.1%. That’s a little concerning.

Fields has notched two seasons — 2013, his rookie year in Houston, and 2017 with the Dodgers — in which he’s suffered serious home run damage. The good news: he bounced back with a great spring training and a fine season in 2014.

Will he do the same in 2018? How much mental damage did that Game 2 meltdown do?

Fields has a new contract and he’ll need to be solid. He’s made the adjustment before; let’s hope he can do it again.

Tom Koehler (31)

Koehler, a righty with Marlins roots, posted a 1-5 record in 12 starts with a 7.92 ERA in Miami before he was traded to the Blue Jays in August.

Life was a little better north of the border — Toronto moved Koehler to the bullpen, and in 17 innings over 15 appearances, he struck out 18 and posted a 3.22 FIP (compared to 6.91 in Miami).

He gave up only one home run while slinging for the Jays, compared to 15 in 55.2 innings for the Marlins).

Not amazing, but a solid end to what had been a nightmare season.

What can we expect? Koehler’s not going to be Alex Wood, Part II, unfortunately.

Let’s be honest,” Daniel Smith of Fish Stripes wrote in December, “Tom Koehler was never more than, or expected to be more than, a mid- to late-rotation arm for the Marlins in his four full seasons with the organization before 2017. His best year came in 2014, when he went 10-10 with a 3.81 ERA over 32 starts, and even that production was slightly below league average (3.74 ERA that season).”

Koehler throws a 93 mph fastball that he mixes liberally with a slider and slow cutter. He’ll likely fight for a spot as a middle-innings guy, supporting a Dodgers’ staff with only two current starters — Clayton Kershaw and Wood — who averaged over 90 pitches per start in 2017.

Edward Paredes (31)

The Dominican lefty leans heavily on his slider and threw 8.1 innings of relief in 10 games in 2017. He did strike out 11 and allowed zero walks. All three of Paredes’ earned runs came in a single appearance against the Rockies on Sept. 7, a 9-1 L.A. loss.

What can we expect? Paredes is on the current 40-man roster and, with Tony Watson, Grant Dayton and Luis Avilan gone, the Dodgers need lefty relievers to complement newly-acquired reliever Scott Alexander and 2017 midseason pickup Tony Cingrani.

Is Paredes the answer? Maybe?

“Edward, I didn’t know him from Adam before February,” Dave Roberts told J.P. Hoonstra in September, “but in spring training he did some things and I saw him a little bit and I liked it. Put him in some tougher spots. I like the way that his AB is uncomfortable for the left-handed hitter. I like his slide. He can really spin the baseball.”

Kenley Jansen (30)

What an offseason! A three-week vacation. A new mansion in Palos Verdes. Spotted by TMZ at a Lakers game with Matt Kemp. A custody battle. Hanging out with Eric Dickerson at the Rams’ playoff game.

Well-deserved adventures after a 41-save season in 2017. Jansen posted a 1.32 ERA and 0.75 WHIP, earned five wins and finished fifth in NL Cy Young Award voting (and number one in ESPN.com’s Cy Young Predictor, for what that’s worth).

What can we expect? He’ll be fine.

Hyun-Jin Ryu (30)

The oft-injured Ryu pitched one game in 2016 after missing the entire 2015 season. Unsurprisingly, the big lefty had an up-and-down return to the rotation in 2017.

Ryu recorded a 5-9 record with 116 strikeouts in 126.2 innings. He made it to the sixth inning just six times in 24 starts. 

Ryu was drilled by left-handed batters in 2017, allowing a .962 OPS and .354 BABIP.

There was a midsummer stretch, however, when the South Korean southpaw was suddenly very good. Ryu posted a 2.36 ERA while striking out 45 batters in 49.2 innings over nine starts from July 24 through Sept. 17. He completed five full innings in all but one of those games, and the Dodgers won six of them.

His four-seam fastball topped out at 94 mph in 2017, up two miles per hour from his sole 2016 outing. Progress!

What can we expect? Ryu was definitely an improved pitcher in the second half last season. Consider:

  • His ERA fell by over a run (4.21 to 3.17)
  • He allowed eight fewer home runs (15 vs. 7) in 18.2 fewer innings (72.2 vs. 54)
  • Opposing hitters’ OPS dropped by .142 (.850 vs. .708)
  • Nine of the 19 runs he allowed over his final 11 starts came in two rough outings (6 ER in a loss to Arizona on Aug. 30, 5 ER in a loss to Colorado on Sept. 29)

Ryu was left off the postseason roster in 2017. He is a free agent after the 2018 season. Health, pride and another shot at a jackpot should keep Ryu engaged.

Adam Liberatore (30)

 Injuries to his groin and throwing arm limited Liberatore to just four games in 2017. The lefty was a fairly effective reliever in 2015 and 2016, tossing 72.1 innings over those two seasons with a cumulative 3.73 ERA.

What can we expect? Questions about his health. When all of Liberatore’s parts are in working order, he’s a serviceable middle reliever who is tough on lefties (.494 OPS vs. LHB in 2016). If all goes well, he can help keep the load off of fellow LHPs Tony Cingrani and Scott Alexander.

 

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7 thoughts on “Old, New, Blue and Ryu: The Dodgers’ Over-30 Pitchers

  1. Hi Ben. Let me join Keith in welcoming you. With regard to a pitcher’s age, I’m not sure that means as much as the amount of pitches he’s thrown in his career or previous injury history. Scherzer and Kluber are both over 30. if the Nats or Indians want to get rid of them, I’d be happy to have them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks guys! Glad to be here. Jeff, I agree that age is sometimes just a number. I would argue, however, that Scherzer and Kluber are exceptions to the rule that player peaks tend to come to an end around age 30 (I live in DC and love watching Scherzer, believe me, I’d love to see him in blue, too). Alex Speier wrote a good article about this in the Boston Globe a few years ago, which included this note:

    “For starting pitchers, the golden years come earlier. The greatest number of starting pitchers worth 2.0 WAR or more congregates around 25 and 26, which represent more than 10 percent of the starters who have been that valuable since 1984. The performance of pitchers at age 24 and 27-29 has been close enough to that peak to suggest a view of a starting pitcher’s prime as running from the ages of 24-29.

    That doesn’t rule out the idea of a pitcher in his 30s excelling. Prime years aren’t necessarily a pitcher’s or hitter’s best years. But they do represent the years in which, all things being equal, a player is most likely to make his greatest impact.

    The divide between the performance of players in their mid and late 20s compared with their 30s has been stark when looking at the period of 1984-2014. But there is evidence to suggest it’s become even greater over the last decade or so.”

    Here’s the full piece: https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2015/01/02/what-baseball-player-prime-age/mS39neFWm4hrVukT6lSYuK/story.html

    Anyhow, while 30 doesn’t mean a pitcher falls off a cliff, I do think it means the window for optimal performance is closing faster, and something to keep a close eye upon, in my opinion.

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    1. Interesting. I wouldn’t want to be Andrew and Farhan when Kershaw opts out after this season. If they could leave emotion out of it, they might decide against but, assuming he has a fairly normal Kershaw year, the fans would burn down the stadium if they let him walk. Maybe the D’backs will manage to dump Greinke’s contract and then swoop in to sign Kershaw. 🙂

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      1. Maybe since Petey Baez wasn’t converted to a pitcher later in his career, he’ll have less mileage on his arm when he’s in his early 40s, and he’ll be a staple in the Los Angeles relief corps well past the year 2025.

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      2. How do you think the new pitch clock will affect Pedro’s career on a scale from ending it to making him a better pitcher?

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