The Dodgers cut into their surplus of starting pitching when they sent Brandon McCarthy to the Braves along with Adrian Gonzalez and Scott Kazmir. The Dodgers still have a surplus of starting pitchers.
The Dodgers will head into spring training with a starting rotation that has three spots cemented for sure. Those three spots will belong to Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Alex Wood. For the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, the Dodgers will let Kenta Maeda, Walker Buehler, and Hyun-Jin Ryu battle it out to see who wins the spots. The Dodgers could also let some other young pitchers compete for a starting rotation spot, like Brock Stewart and Ross Stripling.
The highest upside arm that the Dodgers have for the back end of the rotation is Walker Buehler. Buehler has wipeout stuff and reaches the upper 90’s to go along with a hammer curveball. Buehler made his big league debut this year appearing for 9 1/3 innings. While his 7.71 ERA is nothing special he did strike out 12 batters in those nine innings and gained valuable big league experience.
The issue Walker Buehler faces for the 2018 season is if the Dodgers will try to limit his innings like they did for Julio Urias. Buehler already had Tommy John surgery once and the most innings he has thrown in his professional career are 98 innings which he threw this season between the minor leagues and the big leagues. Buehler could get the Julio Urias treatment where the Dodgers try to hold him to 150 innings or less for the entire season. If he is setup with a limit the Dodgers could use him out of the bullpen to begin the season or keep him in Triple-A to keep his starts short.
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In an ideal world, Walker Buehler would throw 180-200 innings in 2018 while winning rookie of the year honors but the chances he reaches over 150 innings are slim to none. The Dodgers will most likely figure out a way to keep his innings down. The most innings Julio Urias had thrown in a season is 87 innings before he threw 122 innings between Triple-A and the major leagues in 2016. As the Dodgers witnessed with Urias, there is no guarantee of avoiding injuries by limiting a young pitcher’s innings. Buehler is older than Urias by two years but he has is lighter despite being two inches taller.
While it’s anyone’s guess how the Dodgers will handle Buehler in 2018, the smart bet is that he will not break spring training as part of the Dodgers’ rotation. The Dodgers will most likely go with Kershaw, Hill, Wood, Maeda, and Ryu to start the season until injuries start to occur to some of their starting pitchers. Buehler has the potential to be a lights-out reliever given his stuff but the Dodgers would be wise to let him start games in the minor leagues to stay in his routine for starting games. This will make the transition easier when the Dodgers do bring him back up and insert him into the rotation.
Regardless of what the Dodgers choose to do, they have a very special young pitcher in Walker Buehler. While the Dodgers won’t sign a big money starting pitcher this off-season they have a pitcher whose stuff is just as good if not better than any of the free agents in Walker Buehler.