Dodgers: Maeda and Ryu Will Have to Challenge Hill for Playoff Spot
By Evan Shin
Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu have been performing out of their shoes since the All-Star Break. With the postseason inching closer each day, what do the Dodgers do with them?
Assuming Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood take up the first three rotation spots in the playoffs, who gets the last one? The Dodgers‘ options are Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu. If the last two weren’t pitching so well, Hill would be the obvious choice. However, Maeda and Ryu are making cases for themselves to earn a playoff start.
Maeda has quietly amassed a fantastic year. Although he didn’t always have a consistent spot in the rotation, he’s third in innings pitched on the team. He’s also third in wins with 11 and third in WHIP at 1.11. On the year, he has a 3.88 ERA with 111 K’s. Up until yesterday’s start, he was undefeated after the break with a 1.98 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP over five starts.
His strikeouts were consistent as well, averaging one per inning. However, after five perfect innings, he unraveled in the sixth, finishing with a final line of six innings, five hits, four earned runs and seven strikeouts.
Maeda led the team in wins and innings pitched last season, but quite clearly ran out of gas by early September. By the time it was his turn to pitch in the postseason, his fastball and changeup had the same velocities, and he was done by the end of the fourth inning.
However, with Maeda seeing plenty of rest earlier in the season, he’s hitting his mid-season form now in late-August. His velocity is up, and he’s attacking the strike zone with command. If he’s able to perform like he’s been for the past two months, he will provide another right-handed arm in a predominantly southpaw rotation.
Unlike Maeda, Ryu’s win-loss record doesn’t do his performance justice. Ryu’s been unlucky with run support and has been matched up with the opposition’s aces more than anyone other than Kershaw. Still, he’s pitched just as well as Maeda in the second half of the season. Ryu owns a 1.55 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and is also averaging a strikeout an inning.
Another factor to consider with Ryu is his success in the postseason. In three starts between 2013-14, he owns a 2.81 ERA, going at least six innings in two of them and giving up only one run in those two starts. The ERA is inflated because of a rough first start against the Braves in 2013. If Ryu continues his solid outings and finds his 2013-14 form in the playoffs, he should get a start in October.
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At the beginning of the season, Hill was to be the number two starter behind Kershaw. Then, the resurgence of Alex Wood and acquisition of Yu Darvish happened, and Hill was pushed to fourth in the rotation. Injuries and flawed mechanics slowed Hill to a below-average start, but after a tweak has turned on the jets in the second half.
In July, he had a 1.45 ERA, and 40 K’s in 31 innings pitched. He lowered his ERA from 4.60 to 3.55. His August hasn’t produced the same degree of success, but he’s still been solid.
Hill’s double-edged sword is his ability to pitch with runners in scoring position. While it’s important to be able to work out of jams, in the postseason, it’s not the number of pitches that takes a toll rather the stress that goes with long innings.
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For Hill to go deeper into games, quick, easy innings are the key. What may help his case is his increase in strikeouts per innings. Since July 1, he’s reached at least eight strikeouts in six of his eight starts. Teams in the postseason highly seek swings and misses, and of the three pitchers here, he has the highest percentage of those.