The Dodgers lost two starting pitchers this offseason, with Tyler Anderson departing for the Angels and Andrew Heaney signing with the Rangers. Both lefties got two-year deals with their new AL West teams, leaving some openings in the Los Angeles rotation.
Let’s take a look at what L.A.’s starting rotation would be if the season started today. We won’t worry too much about rotation order, because there’s no practical difference between starting on Opening Day or the day after. We’re just talking about who’s filling the slots.
Group 1: The Sure Things
Urias has had back-to-back excellent seasons, going 20-3 with a 2.96 ERA in 2021 and 17-7 with a league-leading 2.16 ERA in 2022. After never throwing more than 79.2 innings in a big league season, he’s thrown 185.2 and 175 in the last two years, respectively, and is the only starter on the team who hasn’t missed a start to injury in that time. Urias has established himself as the team ace.
It was almost three lefty starters the Dodgers lost this offseason, but thankfully, Kershaw chose to come back for a 16th season in Dodger blue. Kersh has missed about 10 starts in each of the last two seasons and hasn’t had a full healthy season since 2015, but when he’s on the mound, he’s excellent. He posted a 2.28 ERA in 126.1 innings in 2022, lowering his career ERA to 2.48, the best of any starter in the live-ball era. As long as Kershaw is on the team and healthy, he’s a lock for the rotation.
Los Angeles signed Syndergaard to start, so he will start. Obviously, when it comes to pitchers, there’s no such thing as a “sure thing” simply because health can always get in the way, but if Thor is healthy, he’ll start the season in the rotation. But he’s also only on a one-year deal and has contract bonuses for innings pitched, so they won’t continue to run him out there in the unlikely event that he’s terrible. The hope, though, is that they can help him harness some of the stuff that made him one of the most intimidating pitchers in baseball, and they’ll give him every chance to do that.
Group 2: The Pretty-Sure Things
Gonsolin was a deserving All-Star in 2022 and a legitimate Cy Young contender until a forearm strain cost him most of the last six weeks of the season. Before the injury, the righty was 16-1 with a 2.10 ERA in 128.1 innings. Gonsolin had never averaged even five innings per start in his big-league career, but he averaged 5.6 innings in his 23 pre-injury starts in 2022 and seemed to have turned a corner. The only reason he’s not in the “Sure Things” category is because of the forearm issue. We assume it’s behind him, but we can’t be sure until we see him on a mound.
May seemed to have found something in 2020 and 2021, when he combined for a 2.62 ERA in 79 innings. Unfortunately, only 23 of those innings came in 2021, when he blew out his elbow in his fifth start and underwent Tommy John surgery. May returned late in the 2022 season, but his results were hit-and-miss and he went back on the IL with lower back tightness. Like Gonsolin, health is one of the reasons May isn’t on the “Sure Things” list, but he has the added issue of unsureness about his effectiveness coming back from surgery.
Group 3: Ready in Reserve
Pepiot pitched in nine games, seven starts, for the Dodgers in 2022, and while he wasn’t bad — his 3.47 ERA was good for a 122 ERA+, meaning he was 22% better than league average — he wasn’t nearly as efficient as L.A. would have liked. He averaged just under 4.5 innings per start, and his 27 walks in 36.1 innings just had him throwing way too many pitches. Pepiot averaged 20.3 pitches per inning, and he’ll need to get that under control to become a legit big-leaguer. But he’s ready to fill in if necessary, and he wouldn’t be the first pitcher to struggle in his first season before finding later success.
Grove made six starts for the Dodgers in 2022. He wasn’t great, posting a 4.60 ERA and an even worse 5.16 FIP. At this point, he’s kind of the definition of a warm body who can be called up to pitch if someone needs a break and it happens to line up with Grove’s scheduled day to pitch in the minors. He can be better than he was last season, but he’s unlikely to ever be more than a decent fifth starter.
Jackson has never started a game in the big leagues, but he’s been almost exclusively a starter in the minors. He can start in a pinch, but scouts seem to think his changeup — which is excellent, but it also his only excellent pitch — might play better in relief. But he has starting experience and is on the 40-man roster, which means he’s an option to start.
Group 4: Hoping to Make Things Interesting
Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone
I could write about these two separately, because they’re definitely separate pitchers with different repertoires, but their role on the Dodgers’ pitching staff is identical. Both moved from Double-A to Triple-A last season, both are top prospects in the organization, neither is currently on the 40-man roster, and both figure to be ready for the big leagues at some point this season. Some of it will depend on how the big-league rotation does, but a lot of it will be in their hands. If Miller and/or Stone dominate at Triple-A and look good doing it, L.A. will need to make room for them at some point.
Group 5: Not Likely
Bauer is currently in the organization, so we have to mention him. All indications are that the Dodgers will part ways with Bauer, one way or another. If they don’t, he’ll have a chance to be in the rotation, but between the changes to sticky stuff rules and the fact that it will be 20 months since he’s thrown a competitive pitch, there’s no guarantee he’d even be very good. (Bauer only made two starts after the sticky stuff crackdown in 2021, so it’s a tiny sample, but his ERA was 2.45 before and 3.75 after.)
There you have it. The Dodgers have ten pitchers to fill five rotation slots, and the top five are pretty clear if they are all healthy. L.A. could opt for a six-man rotation for at least part of the season, using one of the “Ready in Reserve” guys or bringing in another starter from outside the organization. But the top five are pretty set at this point.
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