Orioles @ Dodgers July 4, 2016: Dissecting the Rotation Mess

Today the Dodgers will welcome the first-place Orioles to Dodger Stadium for the first time since 2004. The Orioles lead the competitive AL East, but they’re an odd team. The Orioles have reached first on the backs of their offense, which is third in wRC+, behind only the Red Sox and Mariners. They lead baseball in home runs with 128. Mark Trumbo is leading all of baseball (in this homer-heavy offensive environment) with 24. Chris Davis is tied for seventh with 21 dingers. Manny Machado has added 18 of his own. If there’s good news, it’s that since the Orioles are in a National League park, they’ll need to play Trumbo on defense to get his bat into the lineup. The Dodgers have fond memories of Trumbo’s defensive prowess, such as his wall-climbing escapades in Australia.

6:10 p.m. PT
Los Angeles
CF  Jones  2B  Utley
2B Schoop  SS  Seager
3B Machado  3B  Turner
RF Trumbo  1B  Gonzalez
1B Davis  CF  Thompson
C Wieters  RF Puig
SS Hardy  C Grandal
LF Rickard LF  Venable
Gallardo (R)
Urias (L)

The other good news is that the Orioles’ pitching staff has some deep flaws. As a whole, they’re just about league-average by ERA- and FIP-. However, those numbers have been buoyed by their excellent bullpen, and their starters have been atrocious. The Orioles’ starting pitchers have managed a 117 ERA- as a group. To put that into context, that’s about halfway between Scott Kazmir and Chris Hatcher‘s mark. Tonight’s starter, Yovani Gallardo, has an ERA of 5.77 to go with a FIP of 4.75. Then again, the Orioles have made this formula work for a few years now.

Today may be a holiday, but that doesn’t mean that the pre-game press conference was dull. First and most important is that the Dodgers announced that Hyun-jin Ryu will be activated to start on Thursday. We can put concerns about velocity aside for a few minutes to remark about how nice it will be to see Ryu pitch his first game in 21 months. It wasn’t guaranteed that he’d be able to come back at all, and for awhile, it seemed like he wouldn’t be able to. Shoulders are difficult.

What remains unknown is what impact Ryu’s return will have on the rest of the rotation. Dave Roberts mentioned the possibility of a six-man rotation, but that seems like a very bad idea if it goes more than one time around. The Dodgers have been playing with an eight-man bullpen for most of the season, since no starter other than Clayton Kershaw is going deep into games. Scott Kazmir hasn’t pitched in the seventh inning since mid-May, Julio Urias can’t go past 90 pitches, Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu will be on pitch counts, Bud Norris hasn’t been reaching the sixth or seventh much even in his recent hot streak, and Kenta Maeda is still adjusting to a five-day schedule. If the Dodgers go to a six-man rotation, they’ll still probably need the eight-man bullpen, which would result in them carrying a 14 man pitching staff. That’s not a good plan.

Instead, this may be seen as an opportune time to get Julio Urias some of the rest that the Dodgers were hinting at a few weeks ago, or just moving him to the bullpen for the rest of the season. I’d rather move Norris to the bullpen (or off the roster) in a vacuum, but Urias has now pitched 74 innings this season not counting tonight’s start, and is just 13 short of his career high. Today’s start will knock that down into single digits. Nobody outside the organization knows what Urias’ innings limit will be, but now that the rotation is bursting at the seams, it may be the right time to take action.

Happy Fourth of July everybody. Enjoy the ugly uniforms.

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About Daniel Brim

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Daniel Brim grew up in the Los Angeles area but doesn't live there anymore. He still watches the Dodgers and writes about them sometimes.