The Dodgers should use tandem starters on Maeda days

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 09: Kenta Maeda #18 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch during the second inning of the spring training game against the Seattle Mariners at Camelback Ranch on March 09, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
GLENDALE, ARIZONA - MARCH 09: Kenta Maeda #18 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch during the second inning of the spring training game against the Seattle Mariners at Camelback Ranch on March 09, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images) /

The Dodgers have been a well-oiled machine to kick off 2019. Their batting is a dangerous operation spearheaded by Cody Bellinger and the pitching, especially the rotation, has been near flawless. But, the Dodgers’ rampant success has left pockets of abundances on the roster.

It’s a great problem to have. The Dodgers are a team expecting nothing less than getting back to the World Series for a third straight year and their roster is good enough to have players stuck between jobs. It is a testament to the sheer strength of the team.

But, with a little bit of extra talent on the roster, the Dodgers have an opportunity to maximize every player in some untraditional roles. A Ross Stripling-Kenta Maeda tandem pairing every fifth day is arguably the most intriguing.

The tandem starter has been an off and on attempt at pairing two pitchers every fifth day to either serve the combined role of being one starting pitcher or putting two guys out there to cover nine innings. In any case, tandem starters are two starting pitchers pitching in the same game.

Now, in most attempts at this, the system has failed because teams try pairing every pitcher with a second starter thus requiring extra arms in the bullpen to cover innings on days where one or both of the pitchers have a bad day.

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But, in the Dodgers case, the tandem starter would come into effect every day and would accomplish a few things.

First, Ross Stripling is a starting pitcher without a starting role.

Over the last year and a half, he has rather emphatically proven his worth in the rotation along with his sheer value as a starting pitcher. Since the start of 2018, Stripling ranks 16th in the majors in ERA+ as a starter. That sandwiches him right between Zack Greinke and Corey Kluber.

But, Stripling has also proven his value and ability to pitch from the bullpen. Last year, it was his early season dominance as a reliever that even gave him a chance to pitch from the rotation.

However, in 2019 the Dodgers are, at least for right now, pitching at full capacity. Hyun-Jin Ryu is nearing a return, Rich Hill just came back from a knee issue and Clayton Kershaw is well underway this year.

Those back from the injured list names combine with Maeda and Walker Buehler to create a starting rotation and just like that, Stripling and Julio Urias are luxury relievers with the ability to start a game here and there.

Hence, Stripling and Urias (although Urias is though because he is on an innings limit) fall under the luxury player category and Maeda might just be Stripling’s match made in heaven.

Maeda is a solid pitcher. He gets the job done and his stuff, although spotty, is above average and effective.

It’s early still, but, Maeda ranks in the top 22 percent of the league in curveball spin, the top two percent in exit velocity and the top four percent in hard-hit percentage. He’s been really solid.

But, using what is admittedly still a very small sample size, Maeda has a hard time once he gets past the fifth inning. Maeda’s bread and butter come within the first five frames and the team’s best shot at getting ahead comes in that time frame.

Yes, it’s early into 2019 but Maeda’s splits have always trended in the direction of “his first five innings are his best innings.” Since signing with the Dodgers and making his debut in 2016, Maeda has a 5.35 ERA when pitching after the fifth inning and a 3.62 ERA in innings one through five.

So, that alone is step one of the tandem process. Maeda pitches five innings, no more and no less, every fifth day. Stripling follows.

Stripling, although not as dramatic as Maeda is obviously more effective in his first few innings than he is another time through the order and later into an outing.

In his career, when batters face Stripling for the first time in a game they are hitting just .236 off him with mid-.600 OPS’s.

Pairing his dominance right out the gate with Maeda’s five-inning fierceness could build something incredibly effective for a few reasons.

Reason one: Stripling and Maeda could single-handily cover one day of the rotation and shut the bullpen down. It would be like an extra off day every week for the pen.

Reason two: the Dodgers would essentially be extracting the best of Stripling and the best of Maeda to create nine very strong innings.

Worth mention, by the way, this idea of “x pitcher is better before the sixth inning” is a rather blanket statement phenomenon. It happens to every pitcher and very few get better as they get more tired and hitters have a chance to see their stuff. However, Maeda is a more extreme example of that split and Stripling is a starting pitcher playing from the bullpen. Their pairing just works.

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So, every fifth day Dave Roberts has an opportunity to save bullpen arms and maximize his excellent roster. A Maeda and Stripling pairing is one of many ways he can do that but, at the moment it may just be the best.