Dodgers @ Rockies April 3, 2021: Buehler vs. Gray

The Dodgers are now tied with the San Francisco Giants and Colorado Rockies at 1-1 with their 11-6 win yesterday. They trail the San Diego Padres in the NL West by one full game already. Everything is bad. Walker Buehler will make his first start of the season, facing off against the right-handed Jon Gray.

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5:10 P.M. Denver
2B Lux (L) LF Tapia (L)
SS Seager (L) CF Hampson
RF Taylor SS Story
CF Bellinger (L) RF Blackmon (L)
1B Muncy (L) 1B Cron
LF Pollock 2B McMahon (L)
3B Ríos (L) 3B Fuentes
C Barnes C Nuñez (L)
P Buehler (R) P Gray (R)

Today is the first big lineup shift for the Dodgers. Mookie Betts will have the day off and will be replaced by Chris Taylor in right field. Taylor will bat third, and Gavin Lux will slide up from hitting eighth to the leadoff position. Justin Turner will also have the day off, with Edwin Rios getting his first start of the season at third base. Austin Barnes will start at catcher today after cutting his hand in the season opener. I’ll touch on it more later, but it’ll be interesting to see how Dave Roberts splits time between Will Smith and Barnes this season.

Prior to the season, Max wrote an in-depth piece about framing issues Smith had in 2020, but mentioned that “hitting the way he has historically and if his framing improves, it’ll be hard to justify a 50/50 split”. Smith went three for four yesterday with two doubles, coming off a spring where he posted a 1.008 OPS. Spring stats don’t matter if they’re bad, but if they’re good and I need to find a way to make a point, then they’re relevant. I don’t make the rules. Smith now has a .952 OPS and 23 home runs in just 93 career games. The Rockies will run out the same lineup as yesterday with the lone change replacing Chris Owings in center field with Garrett Hampson.

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Here’s how Buehler and Gray match up based on their limited 2020 seasons.

Neither Buehler or Gray had particularly strong seasons, both dealing with injuries at different points of the year. Gray was inconsistent the whole season, losing two full ticks on his fastball before he was placed on the IL with right shoulder inflammation. Buehler was sidelined with a blister on and off all season which was difficult to control and had to be managed throughout the postseason as well. Gray made one start against the Dodgers in 2020, allowing four runs on seven hits through 3.2 innings.

Neither pitcher performed to the best of their abilities, but Buehler was much stronger in his limited outings and also dominated in the Dodgers’ World Series run. In the postseason, Buehler was the strongest pitcher on the team, posting a 1.80 ERA over 25 innings while striking out 39. He made five starts, three with Smith catching him, and twice with Barnes. In his three starts with Smith he went 13 innings while striking out 22 and posting a 2.77 ERA. He had a 0.75 ERA while pitching to Barnes, allowing just one run over 12 innings while striking out 17.

Here’s how Buehler has performed with those two behind the plate in his career.

Clearly it appears that Buehler has been just as successful with Smith behind the plate as he has with Barnes. The sample size for 2020 is incredibly small and can likely just be ignored, and the postseason is also a completely different environment and likely depends more on how Buehler was feeling that day and the opponent he was facing. It’s possible that the plan is something along the lines of Barnes catching for Buehler and Clayton Kershaw, with Smith catching all the other days. We simply don’t know enough about that right now, and this is something that can be reassessed in a few weeks.

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Roberts confirms that he’s just giving guys days off which the team has the depth to handle.

It’ll be interesting to see how this goes for Corey Seager and his upcoming free agency, because while he has the ability to put up some ridiculous numbers this year, the biggest factor in his next contract is likely showing that he can stay healthy for an entire season. Playing something like 140 games this year could be in his best interest moving forward. Just another situation to monitor.

Let’s see how long the Dodgers can manage to hit like this and remain .500. The team has 31 hits, eight more than the next closest team, but is still one of the few without a home run. For a team that hit nearly two a game last year, you can expect to that to change soon.

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First pitch is at 5:10 PM PT on SNLA.

About Allan Yamashige

Allan Yamashige
Just a guy living in Thousand Oaks, CA who happens to love the Dodgers and statistics. Hated baseball practice as a kid, but writing about adults doing baseball is alright.