Dodgers’ starters have picked up slack, again, without Clayton Kershaw

Photo: Stacie Wheeler

When Clayton Kershaw came out of a game against the Braves at Dodger Stadium on July 23, the collective gasp from the greater Los Angeles area was almost deafening. The same gasp was made last year when after his June 26, 2016 start against the Pirates.

Last season, the Dodgers were 37-24 from the time Kershaw went out until he came back on Sept. 9. This season, the Dodgers have been even better without Kershaw: 22-5. It might not be completely fair just look at the records, but for all the hand wringing that goes on about the Dodgers’ pitching staff as a whole, they have baseball’s best throwers.

Let’s look at the starting pitching, because people are always up in arms about the fact they don’t go deep into games. Here are some interesting numbers since July 24:

  • 2.81 ERA (best in MLB; 3.21 2nd-best)
  • 4.06 FIP (6th-best in MLB)
  • .285 wOBA (best in MLB; .292 2nd-best)
  • 1.08 WHIP (best in MLB; 1.19 2nd-best)
  • 17.1 K-BB% (3rd-best in MLB)
  • 5.7 IP/GS

The FIP is a little ugly because they’e been bitten a bit by the home run ball, but it’s still a top-10 mark over the last month. The total number of innings pitched is 7th-fewest in baseball during that time, but the quality of the innings have been better than any other team.

On the season, the Dodgers are averaging 5.63 innings per start. Through this time last season (date and number of games played), they were averaging 5.45 innings per start. The rotation is actually getting more outs, which means the bullpen is being taxed a little less. It may not seem like a lot, but the rotation this year has gotten roughly 126 more outs than it did last season. That means guys like Pedro Baez, Josh Fields and others aren’t needing to record those outs. It adds up over the course of a season.

Here’s the individual breakdown of the Dodgers’ starters since Kershaw went down.

Player ERA FIP K-BB% wOBA IP/GS
Darvish 2.50 4.24 25.0 .298 6.0
Hill 2.93 4.70 21.9 .275 6.1
Maeda 2.86 3.31 23.2 .236 5.6
Ryu 1.54 2.76 14.1 .247 5.8
Wood 3.09 4.47 14.8 .314 6.4

Hyun-Jin Ryu has been on a bit of a roll, as has Kenta Maeda. Yu Darvish‘s numbers are a bit skewed (and made up of just three starts), while Hill’s non-FIP numbers are great (too many dingers). And I wrote about Alex Wood just the other day.

The addition of Darvish and Hill’s resurgence paired with Kershaw’s return should make a formidable 1-2-3 in the postseason. I hesitate to include Wood because we don’t know how he’s going to come back from his latest nagging injury. If the velocity returns to the 92-93 MPH range (consistently), then he’s definitely getting a start in a 7-game series. If not, perhaps he goes to the bullpen and is a relief-ace type — and his velo might play up a tick or two if he’s only going out there for a couple innings at a time.

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It’s absurd to say the Dodgers are a better team without Kershaw. They aren’t. On the flip side, they’ve more than held their own without Kershaw the last two seasons. In 2016, folks thought Kershaw going out might spell the end of their season. It didn’t. This season is a bit different since this team is rolling as no other team has in recent memory, but it was still a bit of a gut punch at the time.

Kershaw is slated to start for the Dodgers on Saturday. The Oklahoma City Dodgers, that is. I’m eager for him to come back to the LA rotation, but I get the cautious approach. This will be the first Triple-A appearance of Kershaw’s career, which is a little crazy to realize, but he should just need the one start with OKC before he comes back.

The last five weeks of the season will be tuning up for the postseason. There will be open competitions for bullpen spots among many, many pitchers. Expect to see some starters got to the ‘pen for a tryout. Expect starters not to go too deep into games in September — I’d be surprised if many pitchers threw more than seven innings in an outing. With roster expansion coming a week from today, there will be plenty of arms — those who don’t project to make the postseason roster — to pick up the innings slack without taxing the likely postseason arms.

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For as long as I can remember, the Dodgers have always had great pitching. It has been the hallmark of this organization. And even when they lose the best pitcher in a generation for an extended period of time in back-to-back years, they’re still at or near the top of the pitching leaderboards.

If I’m anxious, eager and ready for October, I can’t imagine how the players feel right now. Especially those who have been on the cusp with this team in recent years. The Dodgers have the pitching to match up with anyone in the game, and if they win it all, it’ll be because of the arms, not the bats.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler
Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin' Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He does contracts and depth charts for FanGraphs and is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a one-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, California, and has yet to be shot.