As Spring Training has been moving along, many have been wondering how the Dodgers’ starting rotation would shape up. Some were wondering if Walker Buehler or some other depth starter would supplant Hyun-Jin Ryu from the #5 spot. Others spent time speculating how the rotation would line up behind Kershaw. Even though it is not surprising, the shape of the rotation was announced today:
The #Dodgers opening rotation is essentially set. Kershaw, Wood, Kenta, Hill and Ryu.
— AlaNNa Rizzo (@alannarizzo) March 18, 2018
And there you have it Dodgers Nation. Like we said above, it isn’t surprising at all how the rotation looks. The one point of interest is swapping Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda. But that is likely due to a couple factors. First, Maeda is likely to pitch more innings, so placing him at #3 is logical. And secondly, sandwiching him, a righty, in between all those lefties makes the most sense.
This Rotation’s 2017 Performance
Last season, the Dodgers starting rotation had a 16.7 fWAR – good for 5th in the Majors. However, they led the Majors in ERA, WHIP, and ground-ball percentage. Not to bad for a team that only saw Clayton Kershaw eclipsing 150 innings. The combined fWAR of the five current members of the rotation above was 13.2 fWAR.
Their Spring Training Performance Thus Far
Remember when talking about Spring Training, especially pitchers, you have to take their stat-line with a grain of salt. Indeed sometimes pitchers look better than they are because they are facing less skilled opposition. And sometimes their lines look worse than they actually are because they are more working on mechanics, getting pitch counts up, and/or working on some of their secondary or new pitches. Here is how the starting five is doing so far (stats through Sunday, March 18):
- Clayton Kershaw: 5 starts, 14.2 innings, 0.00 ERA, 19 strikeouts, 4 walks, 13 hits. So far so good for Kershaw. He is looking every bit the ace we know him to be. Nothing new there.
- Alex Wood: 3 starts, 7.1 innings, 4.91 ERA (4 ER), 9 strikeouts, 3 walks, 6 hits. Wood is also looking very solid, and his last start was especially encouraging: 4 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 5 K. He should slide in nicely behind Kershaw again as the #2, and hopefully get more innings under his belt in 2018.
- Kenta Maeda: 3 starts, 7.1 innings, 2.45 ERA (2 ER), 8 strikeouts, 2 walks, 5 hits. Maeda is looking sharp and ready for the season already. His 2016 was a rousing success, and while 2017 was still good, it was a step back. After an outstanding playoffs he looks to build on that success.
- Rich Hill: 3 starts, 7.1 innings, 8.59 ERA (7 ER), 9 strikeouts, 0 walks, 9 hits. This is where I begin saying, “pay no attention to that ERA”. In all honesty. Hill has never been good during Spring Training. The most important thing to look at are his walks and strikeouts. And right now those zero walks looks really good against 9 strikeouts. He is getting strikeouts on his fastball, which is good, and he is getting his curveball over for strikes.
- Hyun-Jin Ryu: 2 starts, 5.2 innings, 14.29 ERA (9 ER), 4 strikeouts, 4 walks, 9 hits. Ok, so I know it’s really hard to get excited about Ryu’s stats, but remember it’s Spring Training. To Dodger fans, they should be most excited about this one fact: Ryu’s velocity is back. What made Ryu so stellar in 2014-2015 was the fastball-changeup combo. Now he is once again hitting 91-93 MPH consistently this Spring. Which should excite everyone.
Projections for 2018
Projecting player performance in the pre-season is a risky business. It can certainly make writers look like geniuses or absolute fools. Either way, you look at players’ past performance, the stage of their career, their Spring Training health and performance, and using projection models try to discern how they will do in the next season. So, here is what you can expect from our starting five in 2018 per two of the most reputable projection models: ZiPS and Steamer.
FanGraphs ZiPS model is projecting our starting five to have a 15.3 fWAR (Kershaw – 6.0; Maeda – 3.1; Wood – 2.6; Hill – 2.1; and Ryu – 1.5). As for Steamer, it is a bit more conservative at 14.3 fWAR (Kershaw – 5.8; Hill – 2.6; Wood – 2.5; Ryu -1.8; and Maeda – 1.6). The biggest difference is how the two projections look at Maeda.
For ZiPS Maeda will make 27 starts to the tune of a 3.52 ERA. Whereas Steamer has Maeda making only 23 starts to the tune of a 4.16 ERA. Both have him striking out right around 8.75 to 9.00 batters per 9, and walking around 2.30 to 2.40. It boils down to which Maeda you believe is the real Maeda: the 2016 or 2017 version. It seems safe to actually fall somewhere in the middle (around 2.5 fWAR at a 3.75 ERA).
As for the remainder of the rotation, it all seems pretty fair. Though I believe both models are too conservative on Kershaw. I believe Kershaw will be able to get back to 200 innings this year and will post another low 2.00, or even sub-2.00, ERA. If he does that, his fWAR should be north of 8.0.
One other interesting point to note is how each model sees Walker Buehler. ZiPS says Buehler will pitch in 36 games (19 starts; 93.7 innings), with a 3.84 ERA, and 1.5 fWAR. Steamer says he will only pitch in 23 games (8 starts; 61.0 innings), with a 3.21 ERA, and 1.3 fWAR. Both definitely believe Buehler will contribute as a starter, but it is a safe bet he will transition to the bullpen down the stretch.
All told, the Dodgers starting rotation for 2018 looks every bit as solid as 2017’s. And they are likely to improve as well. Dodgers fans can rest easy knowing our starting pitching this year will be in good hands.
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