This is the second part of a two-part series where we assign mid-season grades to the Dodgers players. Part one broke down the position players, and this article will look at LA’s pitching staff so far in 2021.
Below, we give each key starting and relieving pitcher a grade and break down how they’ve done so far this year.
Team’s Starting Pitching Grade: A
The Dodgers starting rotation was considered to be a big strength coming into the year and so far, they’ve been just that. The group ranks 1st in baseball in ERA (2.94), 1st in WHIP (1.02), 4th in FIP (3.49), 1st in BAA (.206), and 1st in K/BB (4.47.) You could argue that they have three aces on their staff, and each guy has pitched like one. Losing Dustin May for the season was a big blow, but the return of Tony Gonsolin from the injured list helped minimize that impact.
The second half of the year may be a bit more challenging for the Dodgers though. They recently put Clayton Kershaw on the IL with forearm inflammation, and they may be without Trevor Bauer for a while. Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, and Tony Gonsolin will likely all reach career high in innings pitched as well.
Individual Player Grades
Clayton Kershaw: B+
In his 14th Major League season, Clayton Kershaw is still putting up really good numbers. Sure, the prime years of Kershaw may be gone, and his fastball velocity will probably never return to what it once was. But even a “diminished” Kershaw is a fantastic option, especially considering he no longer needs to carry the weight of being the only true ace on the staff.
With increased use of his slider, Kershaw has reinvented himself a bit over the last couple of years. Over 18 starts this season, Kershaw is 9-7 with a 3.39 ERA. He also has a 10.7 K/9, which would be his best mark since 2015. His 2.8 WAR leads all Dodgers pitchers and it’s good for 9th best WAR among all ML starters this year. The Dodgers are hoping his recent injury isn’t too serious and that he’ll return to the rotation soon.
Walker Buehler: A
Buehler is having another great year and has developed into one of the premier starting pitchers in the game. He stands at 9-1 and has a 2.36 ERA, which leads all Dodgers’ starters this year. He also leads the league with 15 Quality Starts. The only concern for Buehler may be his innings this year. He’s already pitched 114 innings and will blow past his career high of 182 well before the end of the year, assuming he stays healthy.
Trevor Bauer: A-
Before being placed on administrative leave by MLB, Bauer was having a good first year with the Dodgers. He was 8-5 on the year with a 2.59 ERA, 1.003 WHIP, 11.5 K/9, and his 14 Quality Starts trails only Buehler. Those numbers aren’t quite on par with the numbers from his Cy Young campaign last season, but they’re still very good. Of course, the big story now is not Bauer’s on-field performance, but what is going to happen with the ongoing sexual assault investigation against him. Needless to say, his “grade” is only based on his on-field performance.
Julio Urias: B-
Riding a dominant performance in last year’s postseason, Urias came into this year hoping to carry that success over to the starting rotation. He’s shown some flashes of greatness, mixed in with some bad starts as well. He leads baseball in wins with 11, but has a fairly mediocre 3.64 ERA on the year. His numbers may not be indicative of how good he’s been at times this year, but Urias could definitely improve his consistency. The fact that he’s the Dodgers’ fourth starter just shows how deep their rotation is. One positive for Urias has been his ability to limit walks. His 5.17 K/BB rate is the 9th best in baseball.
Team’s Bullpen Grade: B-
The Dodgers bullpen hasn’t been fantastic by any means, but they have done a fairly decent job this season. They sustained injuries to players like Joe Kelly, Brusdar Graterol, Corey Knebel, and now Jimmy Nelson just to name a few. The team’s bullpen depth has definitely been tested so far in 2021. Their relievers currently rank 7th in baseball in ERA, 10th in WHIP, 7th in FIP, 5th in BAA, and 21nd in K/BB.
To say there was some concern around Jansen coming into this year would be an understatement. But he has responded well, posting a 1.24 ERA and converting 21 of 23 Save opportunities. Opposing hitters are only hitting .125 against him, which is the best on the team among relievers. However, Jansen is also walking hitters at a career high pace (5.45 BB/9) and striking them out at a career low (10.16 K/9.)
Another area of concern that’s been highlighted this year is Jansen’s usage on back-to-back games. He seems to struggle in those situations, and Dave Roberts has tried his best to avoid using Jansen in consecutive games. How that will work late in the year and/or in the postseason, could be something to watch for.
Blake Treinen: B
Treinen is having a solid year and on pace to put up better numbers than he did last season. He has a 2.70 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, and 10.31 K/9. He has one of the lowest walk rates among team relievers (6.6%) and he’s also been one of Robert’s primary set-up guys late in games.
Joe Kelly: B-
After missing over a month to start the year, Kelly struggled to find his footing. He ended May with a 9.00 ERA but has righted the ship since then, lowering it to 3.68 on the year. His current 1.09 WHIP and 3.21 FIP would be career bests for him and he leads Dodgers’ relievers in K/BB this season (4.33.)
Victor Gonzalez: C
Gonzalez pitched very well last season and was a key part of the bullpen in the postseason. He hasn’t been as good this year, however, and his walk rate has increased significantly. Gonzalez has still been effective against left handers, holding them to a .185 Avg and .505 OPS on the year.
David Price: C-
After sitting out the 2020 season, Price entered this season without a defined role. Some thought he might start in the rotation but he ended up coming out of the bullpen, a role he hadn’t taken on regularly since his rookie year in 2008. Price’s numbers haven’t been great this year. Among Dodgers relievers with at least 20 IP, Price ranks last in ERA (3.80), WHIP (1.73), FIP (4.62), BAA, (.326) and K% (18.6.) He’s served as an “opener” a few times this year and still can eat up multiple innings in relief, which is always beneficial.
Jimmy Nelson: B+
Forced to miss the 2020 season with a back injury, Nelson wasn’t even guaranteed a roster spot coming into this year. But once he earned his spot, he’s been outstanding for the Dodgers and one of their most reliable options so far this season. He leads Dodgers relievers in K/9 (13.5), FIP (1.71), and WHIP (0.87.) He’s also second in ERA (2.14) and BAA (.129.) Nelson was placed on the IL recently with a lumbar strain, but he should return sometime soon after the All-Star break.
Those are my thoughts. If you agree or disagree, leave a comment below. The Dodgers kick off the second half of the season on Friday in Colorado. Walker Buehler gets the ball against Anthony Senzatela.