Dodgers: Will the Rotation Be Enough This Season?

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Clayton Kershaw
GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 22: Clayton Kershaw /

The Dodgers head into the 2018  season with options for the rotation once again, but will they be enough?

The Dodgers return the same rotation as 2017, minus Yu Darvish. They figure to have one of the better starting rotations once again; a season after having the best starting pitching ERA in baseball. And once again, it will be anchored by the face of the franchise, Clayton Kershaw.

For statistically being the best rotation, Los Angeles does not really have any ‘sexy’ options outside of Clayton Kershaw. With Darvish gone, they do not have a second ace. They do not have the allure the starting staffs of the Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, or even the Chicago Cubs for that matter, all have.

And it is easy to see why. As of right now, the safe money would be on to expect a five-man rotation of:

Clayton Kershaw

Rich Hill

Alex Wood

Kenta Maeda

Hyun-Jin Ryu

They will be backed up by Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, and eventually Julio Urias and Walker Buehler. Regarding the latter pair, we do not know when or how Julio Urias will return from his shoulder injury. And top prospect Walker Buehler will eventually make the transition into a starter, but he is expected to start the season in the bullpen.

From projected starters, no one jumps off the page other than the first name. None of the other four has the stigma surrounding them. But it does not have to be pretty. Results are results no matter how you get them.

Dodger fans know that the rotation has been the backbone for Los Angeles for years and one of the better ones in the game. But it feels like it does not get as much national attention or thought as other teams. I believe this is attributed to injuries, lack of innings (even when healthy), and lack of flair.

Now the question is whether or not these five guys can repeat their success and if it will be enough to make the Dodgers one of the top teams in the sport again. Will they be enough? My initial gut reaction is to say yes because it has been proven in the past that the Dodgers can get it done with this group of players.

But the thing holding them back is health or lack thereof. And while they have been able to get away with it the last two years, it is not sustainable. You can only fight lousy injury luck for so long before it eventually has serious repercussions.

Each guy listed is a good pitcher but carries question marks because of their injury history. 2016 and 2017 showed that even the most durable players, such as Kershaw, can have repeated battles with health. He has not cracked the 200-inning mark since 2015. And Rich Hill? Well, he is the poster child for “injury-prone.”

Before breaking out last year, Wood faced some injury problems. Even with his breakout season, he still went onto the DL multiple times. Ryu missed all but 4.2 innings between the 2015 and 2016 seasons. He still had trips to the DL in 2017 and was limited to 126.2 innings. The Dodgers have had to be cautious with Kenta Maeda because of the discrepancy in workload and rigor between Japan and the MLB.

In other words, you are going to get quality innings, but you will not be getting too many of them, relative to the rest of the MLB. If they were able to provide more innings, they would be getting more respect.

Rich Hill has performed as a bonafide ace dating back to his end-of-season stint with the Boston Red Sox in 2015. The problem is that it only spans just 275 innings across just 49 starts. Less than six innings per start and limited starts for that matter are less than ideal from your number two pitcher. An ace is an ace because he combines quality with quantity.

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So you have to take his absences into account, along with some regression from Alex Wood. Wood is bound to come back down closer to earth. He will still be a good starting pitcher, but an ERA over 3.00 seems more likely. And you have to see how he will hold up the whole season. He tired towards the end of the regular season last year, even though he only threw 150.2 innings.

Maeda and Ryu are huge question marks regarding what to expect. Will Maeda eventually find a place in the relief role he excelled in last October or will he stay a permanent starter? And Ryu was up-and-down with both health and performance.

So as it stands right now, the Dodgers have one (almost) guarantee in Kershaw and four question marks.

I am of the belief that the injury bug has to leave the Dodgers eventually and I believe it will be this year. Thus, the starting rotation gives me some confidence. It might not be the names you want to see, but they are capable of what they are asked to do.

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I have to believe that since Ryu has a full season under his belt post-surgery, it will only help. Alex Wood has now established himself and, like Ryu should also start to build up more strength and durability. Hill can only fight blisters for so long (right?). And I have to think that Maeda is getting adapted to the MLB. While they don’t have the flair, they should get the job done.