Going into the off-season many fans called for upgrades to the starting pitching for the Dodgers. Instead, they couldn’t sway Gerrit Cole or Madison Bumgarner to sign with them. Then, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill signed contracts with other teams. This left the Dodgers down two starting pitchers from 2019. To counteract those losses the Dodgers signed both Jimmy Nelson and now Alex Wood to lower value contracts as they are both coming off some injuries and rough patches.
So #Dodgers starting rotation depth chart looks like this:
RHP Walker Buehler
LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Kenta Maeda
LHP Julio Urias
RHP Jimmy Nelson
LHP Alex Wood
RHP Ross Stripling
RHPs Dustin May/Tony Gonsolin
— Bill Plunkett (@billplunkettocr) January 13, 2020
This article will take a look at the 2020 starting pitching candidates and there are a good number of them.
These two are sure things for the starting rotation.
The new ace of the Dodgers is Walker Buehler. He may not get the Opening Day start but everyone knows he is elite and only getting better. His performance in the playoffs in 2019 should have cemented that he is the true ace of the Dodgers by now. I look forward to him taking another step towards greatness in 2020.
Despite not being the pitcher he used to be (a true all-time great) Clayton Kershaw is still pretty darn good. He finished 8th in the Cy Young voting while giving up only 145 hits in 178.1 innings. He also struck out 189 while only walking 41 batters. His big issue was the long ball as he gave up 28 home runs, a career high. Kershaw continues to work through the loss of some velocity but I expect him to have another very good year.
These are pitchers that could get a lot of starts but are also quite good (possibly better) as relievers.
The best relief pitcher the Dodgers had in September and the postseason of 2019 was Kenta Maeda. For the 2020 season, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has said that Maeda will be a starter, at least to begin the season. His big problem is that left-handed batters hit him a lot better than righties.
Friedman hammered that fact home during a postseason exit interview in October.
There will definitely be the possibility for Kenta to earn a starting role for longer, and potentially into October, and I think a lot of that gets to just commanding the baseball a little bit better against left handed hitters.
Righties slashed .158/.219/.316 (AVG/OBP/SLG) while lefties slashed .247/.324/.427. If Maeda wants to avoid going to the bullpen again in the postseason two things must happen; he is better against lefties and the bullpen doesn’t need him.
Kenta Maeda, Pitcher on Pitcher Crime.
Nasty Slider…looks sheepish, nods like he shouldn't have done that to a fellow pitcher…and then, next pitch, throws another nasty slider. ?
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 9, 2019
In 2018 Ross Stripling helped carry the Dodgers for the first half of the season as a starting pitcher while sitting at 93-94 MPH. He made the All-Star team, pitched in it when he admittedly should have taken a break, and soon after lost velocity and effectiveness as he was tired. In 2019 he never regained that velocity. If he can, he could be a big factor in the starting rotation. If not he will probably be a spot starter and a key arm in the bullpen.
The Young Guns
It is expected that this group of pitchers will be on some type of innings limit in 2020. Depending on the pitcher, it will probably be between 120 and 150 innings. Any of these guys could turn into an ace-type pitcher over then next two seasons.
Julio, May, and Gonsolin all have 120-130 IPs tops this season. LAD gonna out depth everyone again while protecting the future. – 2 cents –
— Clint Pasillas (@realFRG) January 13, 2020
The 2019 season was probably one that Julio Urias would like to forget. He was off to a good start, despite being on an innings limit. However, the large and self-inflicted cloud of a Domestic Violence arrest and suspension negatively impacted the season. He did prove to be effective as either a starter or as a reliever for many parts of the season. I actually thought he could be a key arm in the bullpen but the Dodgers kept jerking him back and forth between starting and the bullpen, even through September. It does look like he will go into 2020 as one of the starting pitchers.
The top pitching prospect for the Dodgers is Dustin May. He started the 2019 season in Double A and ended it in the bullpen for the Dodgers in the postseason. He enters the new season as a 22 year-old with a lot of expectations. Fortunately, he will get plenty of opportunities to prove himself, either in the Majors or AAA. I would expect him to make a large impact on the season for the Dodgers even with the innings limit.
Of the rookie pitchers in 2019 for the Dodgers, Tony Gonsolin probably had the most impact. He had two huge starts against the Yankees and the Cardinals and either he or Stripling should have started game 4 in the playoffs. Gonsolin will turn 26 in May, so the time is now for him. I’m a big fan of him as a future closer but if he turns out to be a standout starter I would not be surprised either. The number of starters puts him at a disadvantage going into 2020 but he will be an impactful arm in 2020.
Tony Gonsolin, Nasty 87mph Slider…and Sword. ?? pic.twitter.com/qJw4DhmjPj
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 6, 2019
Low Risk, High Reward Gambles
The surprising news that Alex Wood has signed with the Dodgers is a big positive. Yes, he had an injury-filled 2019 and wasn’t very effective then he did pitch. However, he’s not too far from being a pretty good starting pitcher. With the innings limits that the Dodgers will have on their young pitchers, I expect Wood to throw 120-150 innings if he stays healthy.
Remote trainee, FA @Awood45 coming to the end of his on-ramp phase with his first 80+% intent day off the bump.
On ramp areas of focus:
-getting accustomed to weighted ball training and drills
-cleaning up arm path
Alex has absolutely crushed this on ramp. Dude is a warrior. pic.twitter.com/jM6XdOyXQU
— Rob Hill (@Berticushill) November 22, 2019
He’s been working at Driveline and caught the eye of Rob Hill there. It just so happens that the Dodgers just brought on Rob Hill as an organizational pitching coordinator.
The 2017 version of Jimmy Nelson was really good until he wrecked his shoulder sliding back to first base. The last two seasons have been injury-plagued with very little success on the mound. Nelson is an even bigger risk than Wood but he could be a good one with a bit of luck. He could also end up in the bullpen (3.31 ERA in 12 career relief appearances).
I like this gamble a lot.
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) April 10, 2019
Given that there are already NINE legitimate starting pitching candidates there probably isn’t any further room. However, pitching prospects like Mitchell White, Dennis Santana, Caleb Ferguson, and Josiah Gray could get a start or two. Most likely, they would get work in the also crowded bullpen if they are not in AAA.
After losing Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill I was worried the Dodgers were putting too much faith in their younger starting pitchers like Urías, May and Gonsolin. The innings limits for those guys were my biggest fear. Now, by adding Nelson and Wood, they have NINE starting pitching possibilities and that will allow some proper management of the pitchers on innings limits.
I’m not convinced that this is a rotation that can pound through the playoffs. However, the expected improvements of some of these pitchers gives some hope. Let’s also remember, the depth in the Major League roster along with a deep farm system could allow the Dodgers to make a key mid-season trade for another ace-type starter.