Everyone knows what to expect from Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke on the hill. Brett Anderson has been great and surprisingly healthy this season for the Dodgers, but another pitcher has kept the Dodgers afloat despite season-ending injuries to Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy.
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In November, the Dodgers acquired Mike Bolsinger from the Arizona Diamondbacks for cash considerations. About a year earlier, they had done the same with Justin Turner of the New York Mets, and we all know how that worked out.
With the rest of the moves in the offseason, it seemed unlikely that Bolsinger would have much of an impact on the 2015 Dodgers. Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi had brought in Anderson and McCarthy to solidify the rotation behind Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu. They had also taken a waiver on pretty much every inexpensive starter on the market, including Scott Baker, David Huff and the then-injured Brandon Beachy. They were low-risk moves with little guaranteed money, and any quality innings they could give the Dodgers would be well worth it.
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Ryu won’t pitch in a game in 2015, and McCarthy will likely be out until next years’ all-star break after undergoing Tommy John surgery. They turned to Bolsinger and Carlos Frias to fill out the back of the rotation, and while Frias is currently on the DL, Bolsinger has shown that he absolutely deserves a starting spot on this team.
In 15 starts, Bolsinger has posted a 2.79 ERA and 2.78 FIP, both of which aren’t too far off the marks posted by Kershaw and Greinke. His xFIP, which indicates his FIP with a league-average 10.5 percent home run/fly ball rate, is 3.29. 15.9 percent of fly balls hit off him last year left the park, where only 5.1 percent this year have done so, which is really just one of the improvements Bolsinger has shown as a Dodger as opposed to his time in Arizona.
Bolsinger has already thrown 32 more innings than he did last year, and is giving up less hits and home runs per nine innings than he did last year. His walk rate is slightly higher and his strikeout rate is slightly lower than last season, but his .294 BABIP against shows that he’s not really getting lucky or flukey. His home run rate should regress to towards the average, but if he finishes the season with an ERA in the 3.00-3.50 range, he will still have been a steal. They bought him from Arizona expecting a spot starter, but Bolsinger has been phenomenal this year.
Among pitchers with at least 80 innings pitched this season, Bolsinger has the 17th lowest ERA (tied with potential future Dodger Johnny Cueto) and the 13th lowest FIP (tied with potential future Dodger David Price). These are two guys that many teams, including the Dodgers, are hoping to land for some top-10 organizational prospects in the coming weeks.
Both Cueto and Price are free agents at the end of the year, while Bolsinger won’t be a free agent until 2021 and won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2018.
I’m not saying the Dodgers shouldn’t still go after a guy like Price or Cueto, as Bolsinger hasn’t shown the ability yet to go deep into games. He’s only gone six or more innings in six of his 15 starts, and his numbers are much worse his third time through the lineup. The first two times through the lineup, Bolsinger has allowed a total of 13 runs and has walked 17 batters in 265 plate appearances. In Bolsinger’s third time through the lineup, he’s allowed 13 runs and walked 11 batters, in nearly 200 fewer plate appearances.
As Bolsinger progresses, he’ll have to show the ability to go deep in games to justify his appearance on stat leaderboards with guys like Cueto and Price. However, given the small price they paid to acquire him, the amount of team control, and his roughly $500,000 cost this season, Bolsinger might be the most valuable starter in the Dodgers’ rotation.