LA Dodgers: Is Walker Buehler The Team’s New Ace?

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – OCTOBER 09: Starting pitcher Walker Buehler #21 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers in the first inning of game five of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals at Dodger Stadium on October 09, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Clayton Kershaw dominated the National League through the 2010s as the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace, but is there a new sheriff in town?

For 10 seasons (2010-19) Clayton Kershaw had just about the best decade you could as a pitcher, producing 61.4 fWAR, leading the Dodgers to two National League championships in the process.

By no means is Kershaw a negative on the Dodgers pitching staff, but at 32-years-old, it can’t be expected that he can produce an 8+ fWAR season year in and year out like he was once capable of.

In 2017, the Dodgers promoted one of their top prospects to the majors in Walker Buehler and he has lived up to the expectations during his time with the big squad, putting up 8.1 total fWAR. This was due in large part to a strong 2019 where the right-hander had a 3.26 ERA, 3.01 FIP and 3.37 xFIP in 182.1 innings pitched.

Buehler was No. 3 on the team in fWAR behind National League MVP Cody Bellinger and pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is now with the Toronto Blue Jays after signing with them this winter.

With Ryu gone, Kershaw entering his latter years in the majors and the rest of the rotation likely comprised of veterans such as Alex Wood and prospects like Dustin May, Buehler who is now entering his third full season as a Dodger, has a chance to anchor the rotation.

It’s in his makeup

Buehler has the arsenal to be a force in MLB for years to come. The 25-year-old sports a premiere fastball, with its velocity ranked in the 87th percentile by Baseball Savant. His fastball spin is what makes the pitch so difficult to hit, ranking in the 93rd percentile. He mixes this in with a filthy curveball whose spin is ranked by Baseball Savant in the 96th percentile.

What this means in layman’s terms is that two of Buehler’s top pitches are upper echelon compared to the rest of the league.

The Kentucky native didn’t just turn into an ace in the making over night, however. Buehler was a first round pick by Los Angeles in 2015 and breezed through the system, appearing at four levels in 2017, his second full pro season, and topping out at the majors where he got a cup of coffee at the end of the year.

This is even more impressive when you consider the obstacles he has overcome. Buehler likely would have gone earlier in the 2015 draft out of Vanderbilt, but injured his elbow before the season and then underwent Tommy John surgery that August. The-then 20-year-old signed below slot and rehabbed his injury, ultimately not getting a crack at a full pro season until 2017.

The rest is history. On the mound, Buehler has a bulldog mentality, and has an opportunity to blossom into the next big starting pitcher in the Dodgers’ illustrious history of aces.

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