After giving a starting eight in the field (as well as a few extras) last week, here’s a look at the Dodgers’ top pitchers of the decade. I went with the typical starting five and a closer, with another group of honorable mentions covering some of the other top performers.
This was a bit simpler than the position players, with really only one or two decisions to truly make. Much of it will be pretty obvious, but it is worth looking back through the numbers some of these guys put up during the decade.
Starting Pitcher 1
No pitcher in baseball has produced a higher WAR than Clayton Kershaw since the 2010 season. Responsible for 59.1 wins above replacement in his 294 appearances, Kershaw edged Max Scherzer’s 55.0 and Justin Verlander’s 53.8. That trio finished well ahead of the rest of the league, with Chris Sale significantly behind in fourth at 44.5.
Kershaw led the league while pitching in less games than his main competition, with Scherzer (319 games) and Verlander (321 games) the only two to pass the Dodgers’ ace in strikeouts as a result. Among pitchers with at least 600 innings pitched during the decade, Kershaw trails only one pitcher with a FIP of 2.26 and an xFIP of 2.86. To no surprise, Kershaw’s elite ability to avoid home runs throughout the decade helped lead to his strong FIP total. Using 600 innings as the cutoff again, Kershaw’s HR/FB (9.4%) ranked tied for 14th and his HR/9 (0.7) tied for fourth.
While he fell just short of leading in a handful of other categories, Kershaw’s 2.31 ERA topped the league even when dropping the innings cutoff to that 600 mark. Kershaw’s fastball ended the decade worth 177.6 runs above average and his slider 159.9, not only the highest marks of either pitch, but also standing as Fangraphs’ two highest totals for any pitcher using any pitch.
Like most of these breakdowns, these numbers might not matter to some given Kershaw’s struggles in the postseason. But he was without a doubt baseball’s best pitcher of the 2010s, highlighted by the three Cy Young Awards, his 2014 MVP award and his near perfect game against the Rockies on June 18, 2014.
Starting Pitcher 2
Despite throwing just 4.2 innings in the majors combined between 2015 and 2016, Hyun-Jin Ryu comes in as the Dodgers’ No. 2 starter with 15.1 WAR. That total was heavily influenced by his 2019 season that included a career-high 4.8 WAR, but Ryu’s first two seasons with the Dodgers alone would just about have qualified him for a spot in the decade’s rotation.
At 740 1/3 innings pitched, 125 starts and 54 victories, Ryu trailed only Kershaw among Dodgers pitchers during the decade.
Ryu’s changeup ranked 11th in all of baseball at 51.4 runs above average, with 20.1 coming in his debut 2013 season and another 21.5 this past year. Interestingly enough, those two years were when Ryu’s velocity was at its lowest points with an 80.1 MPH average in 2013 and 80.2 MPH average in 2019. Likewise, Ryu’s best two groundball rate seasons came in 2013 and 2019 as well.
Given his injury troubles, and the Dodgers’ decision to leave him off the postseason roster in 2017, Ryu only started eight postseason games during the decade. Finishing with a 4.05 ERA in 40 innings, Ryu’s numbers fluctuated significantly between series. With seven-inning shutouts against the Cardinals in 2013 and the Braves in 2018, Ryu also has an ERA above 7.00 in three others.
Starting Pitcher 3
He only needed three seasons to do it, but Zack Grienke’s 92 starts, 602 2/3 innings and 13.2 WAR finished fourth on the Dodgers for the decade. Holding a 2.30 ERA, Grienke actually beat Kershaw’s 2.31 for the lead among Dodgers’ pitching since 2010.
Not only valuable for his pitching prowess, Grienke won two Gold Gloves (2014, 2015) and a Silver Slugger (2013) while he was a Dodgers. Only Ryu’s changeup beat Grienke’s (31.0 wins above average) while the seasonal averages of the two came out about even. Similarly Grienke’s fastball trailed only Kershaw and Kenley Jansen (FanGraphs considers his cutter a fastball in its statistics).
Grienke started six playoff games in his three-year Dodger career, finishing with 41 2/3 innings (surprisingly more than Ryu) with a 2.38 ERA and 41 strikeouts. Though I can’t mention Grienke’s postseason numbers without remembering that one moment in 2015.
Starting Pitcher 4
I nearly moved him to a swingman role for this post, but Kenta Maeda still holds the third most starts for the decade (103) with 34 other appearances out of the bullpen. Throwing a slider ranking second on the Dodgers (50.5 wins above average in four seasons) and 20th in all of baseball among pitchers with at least 550 innings pitched, Maeda has been one of the Dodgers’ most consistent pitchers during his tenure.
Pitching in at least 29 games in all four of his seasons, Maeda’s 641 strikeouts rank fourth for the decade and his 9.6 WAR sixth behind five pitchers you’d expect and Chad Billingsly’s 9.7. Now consistently seeing relief appearances each year, a well-documented issue on this site, Maeda’s career numbers between the bullpen and as a starter are pretty similar.
In 546 2/3 innings as a starter, Maeda holds a slash line against of .227/.290/.386/.676 and a 3.92 ERA. While the ERA falls down to 3.19 in 42 1/3 innings out of the bullpen, the slash line is still just .219/.275/.381/.656. Unsurprisingly, the big difference came in K%, with Maeda’s striking out 34.5% of batters faced as a reliever to 25.8% as a starter.
Those results carried over to the playoffs. After starting three playoff games in 2016, allowing eight runs in 10 2/3 innings, Maeda has only appeared out of the bullpen in the postseason since. Those 21 relief appearances included 22 innings, four runs allowed and 27 strikeouts to just five walks.
Starting Pitcher 5
Already seventh in WAR for the decade at 7.9, Walker Buehler’s quick rise is similar to that of Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy on the position player side. It didn’t take long for the 25-year-old to shine at the major league level.
Buehler’s K% of 28.6 trails only Jansen and Rich Hill (29.1%), and reached 15+ strikeouts twice in 2019. For the decade, when dropping the innings requirement to 300 (Buehler’s thrown 329 innings so far), Buehler’s FIP and xFIP rank with the league’s best. Sitting at a 3.10 FIP and 3.32 xFIP, Buehler ranked 28th and 34th respectively out of 450 eligible pitchers. When cutting out his first 9 1/3 innings pitched in 2017, Buehler’s FIP drops even further to 3.02 moving him ahead of both Gerrit Cole and Scherzer (admittedly in a much smaller sample size).
Most impressively for Buheler has been his early success in the postseason. Already starting six games and pitching 36 1/3 innings, Buehler’s ERA sits at 2.72 with 44 strikeouts (including at least seven Ks in all six starts). A rough debut in the 2018 NLDS included five runs scoring in five innings against the Braves, but Buehler has now allowed just two runs in his past four postseason starts (24 1/3 innings, 29 strikeouts).
Many of Kenley Jansen’s best numbers have already been mentioned above.
Jansen is the only pitcher with at least 600 innings pitched to hold a lower FIP (2.26) and xFIP (2.53) than Kershaw for the decade while also pacing the league with a 37.6 K% with the same innings requirement.
Despite pitching significantly less innings (611 2/3 for the decade) Jansen’s “fastball” ranks at 140.5 wins above average, second in the league to Kershaw. Jansen’s 23.3% soft contact ranked third in the majors and his 15.7% swinging strike percentage easily beat out the next closest pitcher (Tyler Clippard, 13.6%).
And even with some forgettable postseason, Jansen’s 2.01 ERA and 70 strikeouts across 49 1/3 innings include nine of 13 series in which he did not allow an earned run.
Just like Kershaw’s place among starters, Jansen has effectively been the most dominant reliever across the decade and truly one of the best in recent history.
After Jansen’s 605 appearances during the decade, Pedro Baez’s 337 is second on the Dodgers. It hasn’t been fun to watch at times, and a 4.09 xFIP helps prove it, Baez finished the decade with a 3.03 ERA, amazingly eighth among Dodgers’ pitchers with 100 innings since 2010.
There’s really not much else to cover with Baez, and honestly some of his numbers are merely a result of him sticking on the roster for six years.
While Baez seemed to just get by year after year, Ross Stripling actually has some numbers that truly stand out. With an ERA of 3.51, a FIP of 3.60 and a xFIP of 3.49, Stripling’s numbers among pitchers with his inning total is impressive.
Striking out 377 in 387 innings, Stripling’s 20.2 wins above average on his curveball landed him among the major’s top 40. The xFIP ranked him tied for 54th out of 450 pitchers.
While looking through those numbers to see what excuse I could use to rank Stripling here, I stumbled across an interesting comparison to Stripling.
Not bad for a pitcher who has made about $2 million over the past four years.
He only pitched for two seasons in Los Angeles, but Hiroki Kuroda’s 7.2 WAR ranked eighth on the team in just 398 1/3 innings. Running a 3.46/3.50/3.53 ERA, FIP and xFIP, Kuroda easily provided a strong presence in the rotation for his short tenure.
Chad Billingsley’s previously mentioned 9.7 WAR ranked him fifth on the Dodgers for the decade and only four of the starters listed above beat his 90 starts from 2010 to 2014 (really through 2012 as he only started two games in 2013 before moving on to the Phillies in 2015).