Dodgers: What Will it Take From the Big Three Starters to Win the West?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Clayton Kershaw
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 01: Clayton Kershaw /

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The 2018 Dodgers return mostly intact after coming within one game of their first World …

Yeah, yeah, yeah. We get it. Great team. Great players. Great front office. But three of those “great players” are going to have to step up just a bit more this season if this team wants to win a sixth straight Western Division crown and play deep into October.

Seven of the eight position players could be incumbents on Opening Day, with only left field currently up for grabs.

Barring a spring training injury, it would appear that the first 60 percent of the Dodgers’ 2018 starting rotation is firmly set in stone: Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, and Alex Wood.

Barring a spring training injury, it would appear that the final 40 percent of the Dodgers’ 2018 starting rotation is precariously written on paper: Kenta Maeda and Hyun-Jin Ryu, with Brock Stewart, Ross Stripling and even Walker Buehler vying for an every-fifth-day opportunity.

While the latter will play out during spring training, it will be the former that will dictate just how far the Dodgers advance in 2018.

Let’s start with the projections for the Big 3, averaging together those of Baseball Reference and Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections:

Kershaw: 27 starts, 171 IP, 15-5, 2.53 ERA, 0.95 WHIP.

Hill: 23 starts, 127 IP, 11-8, 3.47 ERA, 1.18 WHIP.

Wood: 24 starts, 141 IP, 11-7, 3.54 ERA, 1.21 WHIP

That’s a projected total of 74 of the team’s 162 starts, a 37-20 record with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP.

But let’s do some math. The projections above tell us there will be 88 remaining starts to be had by other starters.

Last season, the Big 3 combined for 77 starts, leaving 85 starts to the rest of the staff. Maeda added 25 starts in 2017, Ryu 24 and McCarthy 16. That left only 20 other available starts. Most Dodger fans would take that every day, and twice on Sunday.

But, with McCarthy gone and Ryu’s health always a question mark, the Dodgers will need more than the projected 74 starts from the top three in the rotation if they are to match last season’s 104 wins and World Series appearance.

Here’s some more math: The projections call for the Big 3 to win 37 combined games in 2018. Where will the other 67 wins come from if the Dodgers are to reach 104 again?

Last season, the Big 3 totaled 45 wins, meaning the rest of the staff was only responsible for 59 wins.

Both Baseball Reference and ZiPS tend to be fairly conservative with their projections, so expecting 45 wins again out of the Big 3 isn’t a stretch.

The front office decided to stand pat this off-season, choosing to not re-sign Yu Darvish or go after free agents like Jake Arrieta or trade possibilities like Chris Archer.

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Instead, the Dodgers are banking on Kershaw being Kershaw, Hill being Hill and Wood being (2017 pre-All Star Game) Wood.

The front office let relievers Brandon Morrow (6 wins in 2017) and Tony Watson (2 wins) leave via free agency, though that wasn’t an extraordinary number of wins lost. But it was enough to cause some concern.

This is where the Big 3 will need to morph into the Gargantuan 3.

Last season, L.A. got 72 wins from a total of seven different starters (three other starters didn’t record a win in 2017) and 32 wins from a total of 13 different relievers (nine other relievers didn’t record a win in 2017).

That’s better than 2-to-1, a number the front office would gladly take again in 2018.

But, for the Dodgers to battle for the best record in the National League or the best overall record, it might take closer to 50 wins from the Big 3 (think: Kershaw 19, Hill 15, Wood 16).

The fragile nature of starting pitchers is such that even the greatest trios in baseball struggle to get to 50.

Last season, only Cleveland’s trio of Carlos Carrasco, Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer (53 combined wins), Washington’s Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez (46 wins), and Arizona’s Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray and Patrick Corbin (46 wins) had more wins than the 45 of the Dodgers’ Big 3.

Boston’s Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, and Rick Porcello racked up 45 combined victories last season, the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, and John Lackey recorded 39 wins, and Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton and Brad Peacock totaled 38 wins.

Next: Dodgers spring has started with more questions than answers

That’s some rarified air in which the top of the Dodgers’ rotation resides.  The Dodgers once again will have the offense to make a winner out of any starter on any given day. The lineup depth can turn late-inning deficits into wins for relievers.  The Dodgers will find a way.  The Big three doing their jobs just makes it a whole lot easier.