The Dodgers head into 2020 with a surplus of questions surrounding their starting rotation, but Walker Buehler is not one of them.
With the departure of Max Scherzer in free agency and Clayton Kershaw out of the picture for the time being (more on that later), Buehler is now the unquestioned ace of their pitching staff, and 2022 is shaping up to be a defining year for his young career. The 27-year-old is fresh off of a Cy-Young-worthy campaign and, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, should be considered among the top ten pitchers in baseball.
Olney came out with his offseason starting pitcher rankings, and Buehler made the cut as the 6th best starter in baseball, according to industry evaluators. There are so many reasons that Walker deserved to make this list, but this is what Olney had to say regarding his ranking:
With a month to play in the 2021 season, he appeared to be the front-runner for the NL Cy Young Award, but with Wheeler, Scherzer and Brandon Woodruff setting an absurdly high bar, Buehler wound up finishing fourth. But Buehler is 27, and it stands to reason he will move up this list and perhaps win one or more Cy Young Awards in his career.
Last season, Buehler was lethal for hitters when he got ahead in the count — opponents batted only .138 in those situations, with a .238 slugging percentage, and only seven homers in 323 plate appearances.
To say that 2021 was the best year of Buehler’s career is an understatement. He finished the season with a career-high 33 starts and a career-low 2.47 ERA across 207.2 innings pitched, which was yet another career-high. If the Dodgers are going to have the same type of regular-season success in the new year, it will largely be due to another monster season by their new ace.
The burden won’t fall on Buehler alone, as fellow starter Julio Urías just missed the top 10 and was listed as an honorable mention. Free-agent Clayton Kershaw was also just outside Olney’s top 10 starters, and he would be another great piece to the puzzle if he returns to Los Angeles.
One thing is for sure – Walker Buehler is no longer a rising star. He has firmly planted himself in the conversation for the best starter in the game, and the best is yet to come.