Dodgers: Is Will Smith to blame for LA’s rotation struggles?
Entering play on Sunday, the Dodgers’ rotation has struggled over the last few weeks. Is Will Smith to blame for the LA’s rotation struggles?
The Dodgers are once again in the midst of a September struggle. While some of it is on the offense, LA’s big three in the rotation of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, and Walker Buehler have all struggled lately and Will Smith is starting to get some blame for their struggles.
David Vassegh was the first to bring up that the rotation troubles could be linked to Smith, and Dave Roberts also told reporters recently that there is a learning curve that comes with Will Smith. To further investigate how the big three in the rotation have done pitching to Will Smith, here are the stats pitching to each catcher for Hyun-Jin Ryu:
Austin Barnes catching: 13 innings, 2.08 ERA, 0 walks, .240 average allowed
Russell Martin catching: 116 2/3 innings, 1.70 ERA, 15 walks, .223 average allowed
Will Smith catching: 26 1/3 innings, 5.81 ERA, 8 walks, .306 average allowed
One thing to note here is how many walks Ryu has issued with Will Smith catching. He has walked 8 batters in only 26 plus innings, yet with Russell Martin getting the bulk of his starts, Ryu has issued just 15 walks over 116 plus innings. Hyun-Jin appears to have gotten some bad luck with Smith catching as evidenced by his .357 BABIP when Will starts at catcher.
Clayton Kershaw has also hit a wall lately (and kicked a cooler) with Will Smith as the club’s primary catcher. Is this coincidence or does Smith factor into Clayton’s rough patch? Here are Kershaw’s stats when each catcher starts with him on the mound.
Austin Barnes catching: 104 innings, 3.03 ERA, 18 walks, .209 average allowed
Russell Martin catching: 13 innings, 2.08 ERA, 1 walk, .250 average allowed
Will Smith catching: 42 innings, 3.43 ERA, 17 walks, .255 average allowed
Much like Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kershaw has walked far more batters with Will Smith behind the plate. His BABIP with Smith catching is also very high at .320. With Barnes behind the plate, Clayton has gotten away with a very low BABIP of .249. The problem when Smith catches for Kershaw and Ryu has been a high number of walks. Not exactly the catcher’s fault for that.
Last up in the rotation’s big three is the young flamethrower Walker Buehler. Walker has been inconsistent for most of the season and here are his statistics with each of LA’s catcher behind the plate:
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Austin Barnes catching: 97 innings, 2.41 ERA, 13 walks, .216 average allowed
Russell Martin catching: 3 innings, 15.00 ERA, 1 walks, .357 average allowed
Will Smith catching: 55 1/3 innings, 3.58 ERA, 12 walks, .231 average allowed
Just about every inning Walker Buehler has thrown this season has come with Austin Barnes or Will Smith behind the plate. Just as the case was with Kershaw and Ryu, Buehler has walked way more batters per inning with Will Smith behind the plate. Which of course leads to a higher ERA despite a minimal difference in batting average allowed.
In conclusion, Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Walker Buehler have all pitched worse with Will Smith catching them. It is not Smith’s fault however, as the higher walk rates show that each pitcher has had control issues during Smith’s starts. Is that the catcher’s fault? No. It does mean that the big three have regressed lately while Smith has been the Dodgers’ primary catcher.
Whether it’s fatigue or just a rough stretch for each pitcher, they have a few weeks left to get back in sync for the postseason. While there is going to be an adjustment period for them to get used to Will Smith catching them, Smith has been up since late May, so it has already been a few months of catching each starter. Ultimately, Will Smith is not to blame for the rotation’s recent struggles.