Dodgers’ Starting Rotation Succeeding Unconventionally

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 06: Kenta Maeda
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 06: Kenta Maeda /

The Dodgers have the best starting rotation in baseball, but they have taken an interesting route to get there.

The Dodgers lead baseball with a 3.19 starter’s ERA and 1.14 WHIP, and that is with just seven innings or work from Yu Darvish. They even have the best opponent’s OPS allowed and a 9.11 K/9. They could have a legitimate seven-man rotation once Clayton Kershaw and Brandon McCarthy come back. Yes, they are that deep and talented.

But they have sure taken an unusual path to getting there. In a recent Statcast podcast, it was stated that the Dodgers were in the bottom eight of the league in letting their starters going more than six innings. This means that they are one of the teams that have their starters going six-plus innings the least.

According to ESPN, the starters have pitched the 12th most innings in baseball, which isn’t bad. However, that is skewed by Clayton Kershaw who, at the time of his injury, was one of the leaders in innings pitched in baseball. If you were to replace his 21 starts and Yu Darvish’s one start with 22 starts of the average innings per game of Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy and Brock Stewart have combined for, that number drops from 618.2 to 587 which would rank them 26th overall.

So you’d probably say that the non-Kershaw and Darvish starters struggle and get knocked around, can’t go deep into games because of pitch inefficiency and stuff of that nature. You can also say that the ERA is skewed by Kershaw. Well, none of that is true.

Save for his first inning from the last start; Rich Hill is dealing, as are Ryu and Maeda (as of late). Alex Wood seems fatigued but still has a 2.33 ERA. And they are all being pulled early strategically (even Kersh has been pulled early multiple times).

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Dave Roberts is trying to preserve their arms for the postseason. Hill, Wood, Ryu and McCarthy have injury histories to keep in mind. Plus they have all gone seven innings multiple times this season, so they have the ability to go deep. Also, as of late, the starters have started to go deeper more consistently than they did early on. But Roberts usually pulls each guy once he gets into the mid-80s and higher.

One reason is they get hit harder once the lineup turns around for the third time, which is only normal as the batters have seen the pitchers multiple times already. According to the podcast, OPS allowed through the first time up is .611, .699 the second and .800 the third time. Again, that only makes sense, so Dave Roberts is managing them based on hard evidence.

And when these guys are in the game they are extremely effective. From the top ten exit velocities allowed from starters, the Dodgers have five of them. This means LA has five starters that allow some of the softest contact (Rich Hill is #1) in the league. This is probably the biggest reason for their success.

And another reason as to why Roberts is comfortable pulling out his guys early is because he has a strong shutdown bullpen that he trusts to turn to. A good bullpen can mask the flaws of even the most mediocre of starting rotations. And if it can do that, it can make an actual good rotation, like the Dodgers’, look even better.

Next: Breaking Down This 50-Game Stretch

Roberts does not have to leave his starters out to dry because he can immediately go to the relief corps even at the slightest of worries. It’s a nice luxury to have.

This is how the games will be managed in October, so why not get a head start?