Dodgers Nation Round Table: 2021 Season Predictions – Pitching
Pitchers and catchers report today and the Dodgers’ quest to repeat gets underway in earnest in about 6 weeks. While I’ll never tire of watching the World Series documentary, Backstage Dodgers and replays of the final pitch of the season, I think we can all agree that it’s time to get this show on the road. Baseball, we need you!
To get the discussion going on the baseball season ahead, the Dodgers Nation team brings you our first round table of 2021 where we look at our sometimes bold, but never boring predictions.
This edition focuses on pitching.
Question #1: Thoughts on who should be and will be the Dodgers’ Opening Day starter?
Gail [@GJOH29]: I recently posed this question to our Dodgers Nation readers on Twitter, and wasn’t surprised that the majority of the responses came back in favor of franchise legend Clayton Kershaw taking the ball on Opening Day.
Looking for some material for a future @DodgersNation piece.
Fill in the blanks: The Dodgers Opening Day starter should be ________ and will be ________.
(Assume same health as at the end of 2020 season) #Dodgers
— Gail Johnson (@GJOH29) February 12, 2021
He missed starting both 2019 and 2020 due to injury, so I say that 3rd time’s the charm. It should come as no surprise to anyone that it is my opinion that as long as the man wears a Dodgers uniform, he should be handed the ball on Opening Day.
Daniel Palma [@Daniel_Palma96]: There is only one correct answer to this question, and that is Mr. Clayton Kershaw. With his time in Dodger blue potentially coming to an end after the season, it’s only right that he is given the honor of taking the mound on April 1st at least one more time.
Tim Rogers [@SDDodger]: Kershaw earned it. Last year he was excellent.
AJ Gonzalez [@AJontheguitar]: Kershaw. That said if he’d rather skip the Coors effect (the Dodgers open the season on the road in Colorado) who could blame him? Just kidding he would never do that. Kershaw it is.
Brian Robitaille [@BriRobitaille]: In my opinion, Opening Day starters are more about symbolism than anything else. It’s not like deciding a game one starter for a playoff series. So, with that in mind, it’s got to be the GOAT, Mr. Clayton Edward Kershaw.
Eric Eulau [@EEulau]: Kershaw in a normal year. Definitely Kershaw this year considering this could be his final Opening Day start with the Dodgers. Also, seeing Kershaw pitch Opening Day would be a welcome signal of normalcy after a bizarre 2020.
Question #2: Who will lead the team in K’s?
Gail: If Walker Buehler stays healthy all season, and I like that his contract incentivizes him on starts, I see him edging out Trevor Bauer in this category. I like the idea of some healthy competition within the pitching staff, and I see the addition of someone with Bauer’s talent lighting a fire under Buehler that he may have been missing the last few regular seasons.
Daniel: Trevor Bauer has been one of the league’s most durable pitchers over the past few seasons. While I don’t believe the team will honor his request to start every 4 days, I do believe that he’ll make his scheduled starts for most (if not all) of the season. Combine this with his 11.4 strikeouts per 9 innings over the past three seasons, and you get the recipe for quite a few punchouts.
Tim: Bauer will probably lead in innings pitched and strikeouts.
Brian: Given his track record with K’s, it’s hard to pick against Trevor Bauer.
AJ: if Buehler pitches a full season, it’s going to be Buehldog. Count on it. If not, probably Trevor Bauer.
Eric: Buehler’s been a trendy NL Cy Young pick the last two years after his breakout 2018, but didn’t meet regular season expectations in 2019 or 2020. Bauer and David Price joining the mix for 2021 will help push the ultra competitive Buehler to the next level. It will be close, but Buehler will edge out Bauer for most strikeouts on the staff.
Question #3: The Dodgers made a lot of changes to their bullpen over the winter. Do you see a clear closer other than Kenley Jansen emerging from the mix?
Gail: I know it’s too early to tell how our arms will fare over the course of a (most hopefully) 162-game season, but I did like the way the bullpen was managed during the playoffs. Doc stopped risking the team’s championship hopes out of a perceived loyalty to Kenley. I see a bullpen by committee working well this season with no assigned closer. Sadly, I think our days of relying on Kenley in the big moments are behind us.
Daniel: This may be my heart speaking, but I would love to see the Dodgers give Graterol more opportunities to close out games. His pitches are electric, and he has the bulldog mentality needed to be successful in that role. I do believe that Kenley will be given the opportunity to keep his role to start the year, but it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll perform in year 12.
Tim: I am against having a single closer. Even if the Dodgers do employ Jansen as closer, he should not close on consecutive days. Until the 2020 postseason, Doc has treated Jansen different from other pitchers, to the detriment of the team. Use Kenley and any other pitchers by matchups and working towards their strengths.
AJ: Modern problems require modern solutions. Closer by committee, and never let Kenley close two days in a row. There’s no reason for it, and it would not serve well the team, or Kenley Jansen. Brusdar Graterol needs to get experience to improve his K rate, and I’d like to see him used a lot in the highest leverage situations. Sometimes, that’s not the 9th inning.
Brian: It really depends on what kind of performance we see from Kenley Jansen. Despite his struggles the last couple of years, he’ll still undoubtedly be trusted to close out games to start the season. With that said, I think Dave Roberts will definitely have a shorter leash on Jansen this year and I wouldn’t be surprised to see other relievers get occasional opportunities in order to keep Jansen’s usage down. Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol stand out as the likeliest candidates to replace Jansen in the closer role if he happens to struggle.
Eric: SportsNet LA’s Jerry Hairston floated the idea of Julio Urias becoming the full-time closer after the Trevor Bauer signing and it’s a very intriguing idea. After closing out NLCS Game 7 and WS Game 6, Urias proved he can handle pressure and deliver in high leverage situations. However, I would guess the front office and manager Dave Roberts utilize a committee approach after Kenley’s annual spring struggles.
Question #4: This is likely an impossible answer to predict, as we all know the Dodgers manage their pitching staff in a way that there has rarely been a set 5-man rotation for longer than a week over the last several seasons, but how do you see the rotation lining up, at least out of the gate? Obviously, we have no choice but to assume ‘end of 2020’ health for everyone in this scenario.
Question #5: True or False: The Dodgers allow any one of their pitchers go through the order a third time.
Gail: Even though I saw every game played in 2020, I was still surprised to read today that the Dodgers went through the entire regular season last year without any of their starters getting through the order three times. It will be interesting to see how the team manages this approach this season with Trevor Bauer, who went through the order 3 times in 39 games over the last 3 seasons, which was tops in baseball. I think the answer here is “True”, but it’s going to take some sort of lights-out performance to make it happen, like Kershaw’s gem in Game 2 of the NLDS last year.
Daniel: True. This answer isn’t even just about Trevor Bauer, who as Gail said, has accomplished this feat in 7% of his starts over the past three seasons. The Dodgers have an abundance of electric starting pitchers, and any one of them could go into the 7th or 8th inning when they’re feeling it. With a full 162-game slate ahead, I am willing to bet that at least one starter will have that kind of performance during the regular season.
Tim: They will. As the season gets longer the pitchers get stretched out. Kershaw might get to do it once or twice. I see, by June, that Buehler and Bauer will do it a few times.
AJ: I don’t see why not. Kershaw always has been able to, provided the right situation. Bauer is known for pitching long, and when Buehler is “on,” there’s nobody like him late.
Brian: I sure hope so, so I’ll say True. They have the arms to do it, no doubt. And as much as Roberts has a new school mindset that aligns with going to the bullpen early, I have some faith that he won’t pull a Kevin Cash type bonehead move and remove one of his stud arms when they’re cruising in a game. That’s the hope, at least.
Eric: A full 162-game season means a larger margin for error as opposed to the 60-game season format. I think Roberts will roll the dice at least a couple of times when one of the three aces (Kershaw, Buehler, Bauer) is dealing.
The season is upon us, people! It’s time to start thinking 24/7 about your Los Angeles Dodgers! Continue this conversation in the comments below… how do you think the pitching staff will fare in 2021?
NEXT: Dodgers Face Steep Luxury Tax With $260 Plus Payroll, Should LA Look To Shed Salary With Trades?
It’s amazing that people are even considering Jansen as a closer. Try him early in the season and if he can’t cut it, then send him down to AAA. Seriously doubt that his velocity will increase this year- it’s been steadily trending down. He’s just going to be throwing out bp to the opposing teams.
Beyond opening day (which is often about fan-fare especially if it were to be a home start, which it isn’t this yr.) choice of the number one starter is often about size of contract. I don’t think we are paying Baur to be a number three starter as the season settles in. Look for the Dodgers to expect more out of Trevor by moving him up in the rotation. They will likely want to protect Kershaw and Buehler a bit by moving them to #2 and 3 respectively. I think there is interest in alternating arm-sides as well…Baur, Kershaw, Buehler, Price, Gonsolin (?)…If Kenley is not right we will definately see Urius out of the pen more. Recent club behavior makes me think they will want to limit May’s innings a bit this season as well. There is a lot more to setting a starting rotation than who’s more talented than whom. Whatever we do, we need our top three starters to have gas left in the tank in September and October.
Jansen is not a closer. Everybody knows that except the manager.
With Price having sat out a year, I bet they alternate he and either May or Gonsolin; whomever is not in the 6-man rotation. As the year goes on, and he proves he’s back at full strength, then he pitches every sixth day. I also expect Kershaw to get an occasional day off. Even split starts with May and Gonsolin. This many high quality starters is absolutely un-heard of!
As for the bullpen, Roberts learned (finally!) and it will be closer by committee….