We Need To Talk About The Dodgers Rotation

If you’re searching for a compelling National League division race, the only place to turn is the west coast. With the Nationals currently 7-1/2 games up on the second place Marlins and the Cubs sporting an even wider 13-game lead on the Cardinals, the one game separating the Giants and Dodgers at the top of the western division makes it the only intriguing race going. Given that the Dodgers are arguably the favorites to win the division and inarguably a playoff contender, I have what should be an easy question: Which five pitchers are currently in the Dodgers rotation?

Don’t wrack your brain too hard; it’s a trick question. There are the two pitchers who have been healthy all season, Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir, and then there’s Brandon McCarthy who returned to the rotation in July from his Tommy John Surgery. Beyond that it gets increasingly murky.

Julio Urias is currently in the rotation, but the now 20-year-old could be headed to the bullpen any day now in order to manage his innings workload. The last three cycles through the rotation have featured a start by tonight’s scheduled starter, Ross Stripling, but they also have Brett Anderson — who is rehabbing from his back injury and may make his 2016 debut this weekend — as well as deadline acquisition Rich Hill, who hasn’t pitched in a month due to what must be the nastiest blister in baseball. And, just for good measure, there’s also Bud Norris, who is scheduled to come off the disabled list next week. With all of these factors in play, it shouldn’t come as a shock that, as of Friday morning, the Dodgers have yet to announce their probable starters for any game beyond tonight.

While it’s a stretch to say the Dodgers rotation is unsettled by design, it is a natural byproduct of the rotation building strategy employed by the team heading into the season. It could be argued the Dodgers opted for quantity over quality or, perhaps more accurately, quantity over dependability, as they stockpiled starting pitchers with atypically high risk factors. In addition to the eight (!) starting pitchers mentioned in the previous paragraph, the team also currently has Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alex Wood on the disabled list with elbow injuries. Oh and some guy named Clayton Kershaw is on the DL, too. While the Dodgers don’t lead the league in starting pitchers used this season, they’re near the top of the list:

SP used

When (if) they add Anderson and Hill in the coming days, their total starting pitchers used will increase from 12 to 14 and push them even further up the list. Given the company they’ll keep at the top of the list — Atlanta and Cincinnati, yikes — this sounds like an awful development for a team that intends to compete. But, well, here’s the thing about the chaotic Dodgers rotation: It’s good?

The Dodgers are fourth in the major leagues in runs allowed per game, trailing only the three teams with the most celebrated rotations in the game: the Cubs, Nationals and Mets. Of course some of that success is attributable to a bullpen anchored by one of the best relievers in the game, Kenley Jansen, as well as the otherworldly performance put on by Kershaw prior to his injury. Let’s isolate the rotation and see how it stacks up both as a whole and after excluding Kershaw’s brilliance:

2016 Dodgers Rotation
2016 Dodgers IP ERA MLB Rank FIP MLB Rank K% MLB Rank WHIP MLB Rank
Rotation 634.2 3.90 6th 3.53 3rd 25.3% T-1st 1.18 3rd
Rotation w/o Kershaw 513.2 4.40 15th 3.98 7th 23.7% 2nd 1.29 8th

Maybe this is a function of me not paying close enough attention, but that strikeout rate absolutely floored me when I first saw it. I double and even triple checked to make sure I was seeing it right. How has a rotation with a revolving door of starting pitchers managed to post a nearly 24% strikeout rate after discarding Kershaw’s contributions?

There have been 35 pitchers in baseball this season to make six or more starts for a team and post a strikeout rate of 24% or better. Seven teams don’t have a single pitcher who matches that description; the Dodgers have seven — Kazmir, Kershaw, Maeda, McCarthy, Norris, Urias and Wood. The only other team with more than two pitchers in this group is the Cubs, who have three — Jake Arrieta, John Lackey and Jon Lester.

The not-so secret weapon for the Dodgers and their pitching staff that has gone unmentioned to this point is their catcher, Yasmani Grandal. So far this season, Grandal has more than lived up to his longstanding reputation as one of the game’s best framing catchers. Per Baseball Prospectus’ catching defensive metrics, only Buster Posey has added more runs than Grandal via framing this season. Does that explain the Dodgers’ prolific strikeout rates all on its own? Of course not. But a stellar defensive catcher can allow the Dodgers’ pitchers true performance level to play up.

What has made this particularly successful so far is that Grandal is not elevating the performance of replacement level pitchers. The key to the Dodgers “quantity over quality” strategy has been the quality of the quantity. Although it’s still too early to call this Dodgers strategy a success — we’ll need to reevaluate that after we first see whether this team ultimately does make the postseason and then what healthy arms they have to start in October — but as for right now, the plan is working out as well as could be hoped given the plethora of injuries that have decimated the team.





Corinne Landrey writes for FanGraphs and MLB.com's Cut4 site. Follow her on Twitter @crashlandrey.

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DirtySanchez2Seamer
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DirtySanchez2Seamer

I’m sure Jose De Leon would love to help with that if they would let him.

nenright
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nenright

I can’t wait till they call him up. He misses sooooo many bats, its crazy

CornDog9
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CornDog9

🙂