The Los Angeles Dodgers have a deep roster, which is great, but it can certainly make some players unsure of what their role is going to be as the seasons progress.
Kenta Maeda spent time as both a starter and reliever last season, appearing in 39 games and starting 20 of them.
It’s a pretty crowded field, especially when you also throw in Hyun-Jin Ryu, who spent most of the season injured but still made 15 starts.
There are a lot of viable options for the rotation next season, and it appears that Dave Roberts has already developed a vision for how the rotation will look at the start of the 2019 campaign.
Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Roberts has said that Maeda is going to begin next season in the rotation.
Given that there are five players who got more starts than Maeda last season, and assuming Roberts is going with a typical five-man rotation, this endorsement of Maeda essentially means someone who got more starts than Maeda last season is getting bumped.
Stripling seems like the most obvious casualty since he has been utilized as an option out of the bullpen when the roster is healthy.
He made the All-Star team last season as a starter, but his experience out of the bullpen makes him the most likely to be moved back to the pen next season.
Stripling didn’t start a game until April 30 last season, so there’s the precedent for him not being viewed as a primary starting pitcher when other options are healthy.
It’s also pretty safe to assume that Ryu is going to have a spot in the rotation at the beginning of the season as well, given that he accepted the $17.9 million qualifying offer.
Ryu had a 1.97 ERA in the regular season and started four postseason games, so there are certainly more reasons beyond financial to suggest he’s going to start next season in the rotation.
With the inclusions of Maeda and Ryu, that means that two of the pitchers who ranked in the top five on the Dodgers in starts last season won’t be starting next season in the rotation.
Kershaw and Buehler are obviously going to be in the rotation and with Stripling the most likely to go back to the bullpen, that leaves either Wood or Hill out of a rotation spot to begin next season.
It becomes even more complicated when factoring the role of Julio Urias into the equation, who pitched in seven postseason games after missing much of the 2018 regular season after shoulder surgery.
Urias is probably going to be on some type of innings limit next season, and it’ll be really interesting to see how the team ultimately utilizes him.
There are trade rumors surrounding Wood right now, and there is definitely a market for a pitcher who has a 3.29 career ERA and is only going to be 28-years-old next season.
Hill might be a bit harder to move via trade, given that he’s going to be 39 next season and due about $18.67 million for 2019.
The Dodgers have a talented but crowded starting pitcher group, and the final spot in the rotation between Wood and Hill is likely going to come down to which one gets traded away.
In terms of what to do with Maeda, it’s probably best for him and the team to pencil him in as a starter instead of a reliever.
He has a lower ERA and WHIP out of the bullpen compared to as a starter, but he has a lower batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage against as a starter in a bigger sample size.
Maeda has the stuff and the resolve to face a batting order multiple times, as batters have hit just .238 against him in their second plate appearance with him as a starter.
Stripling has a better ERA, WHIP, batting average against, on-base percentage against, and slugging percentage against as a reliever in his career compared to as a starter.
It’s probably the right decision for Roberts to put Maeda in the rotation for next season, and it’s going to be really interesting to see if Wood gets traded.
Assuming everyone is healthy on Opening Day, the rotation is most likely going to feature Kershaw, Ryu, Buehler, and Maeda in some order.
The final spot is going to depend on if Wood and/or Hill get traded. Stripling has the proven versatility to be wherever he’s most needed, whether that’s in the rotation if there’s not an obvious alternative or in the bullpen if there is a viable option to start ahead of him.