AnalysisNL West

Trying to Fix a Broken Rotation

The 2021 Dodgers were in a unique position to start the season – they had too many starting pitchers. Following the signing of Trevor Bauer, the team had three legitimate aces which would occupy spots 1-3 in the rotation. While Tony Gonsolin, David Price, Dustin May, and Julio Urias would battle for the last two rotation spots. Now a little past the midpoint of the season, the Dodgers face a dilemma with the starting rotation following Dustin May’s Tommy John surgery, Clayton Kershaw being out until August with forearm inflammation, and Trevor Bauer being on administrative leave due to ongoing legal issues. There are now two large holes in the rotation that need to be plugged, and at least for the time being, the team has not done a good job of patching those holes. Which leaves only one question: What now?

The team’s rotation issues have been on full display for the baseball to see during the first two games of their four game series against the San Francisco Giants. In game one on Monday Tony Gonsolin went three and third innings forcing the bullpen to pitch the remainder of the game. Sherfy, Alexander, and Bickford managed to keep the deficit at one as the offense struggled that night, but things unraveled quickly as the Giants scored four runs off Victor Gonzalez in the seventh effectively putting the game out of reach. On Tuesday, Darien Nunez acted as the opener and struggled immediately allowing a double to Wilmer Flores, who then scored on Alex’s Dickerson’s two run home run, and then gave up a walk for good measure. Josiah Gray made his MLB debut to mixed results. He struck out 7 hitters over four innings, but he did allow three home runs for a total for four runs allowed. On top of the bullpen game that took place on Sunday the team has used 14 different pitchers to get through 28 innings, as those three games have essentially been bullpen games. The team ERA in these games has been 5.46 which would be the second worst in baseball. Even disregarding the ERA, which may ultimately be the result of a small sample size, this approach is not sustainable for any amount of time, especially for the minimum of two to three weeks that it make take for Clayton Kershaw to return from his injury. This is due to the fact that the Dodgers bullpen has been pretty beat up with players such as Edwin Uceta, Corey Knebel, and Jimmy Nelson all currently on the IL. Likewise, players like Scott Alexander, Garrett Cleavinger, Brusdar Graterol, Victor Gonzalez, and Joe Kelly have spent time on the IL and an increased workload can only exacerbate this issue. One or two injuries can quickly wreck the bullpen depth and ultimately lead to an implosion of what has been a top ten bullpen this season. During these next few weeks it’s important to see if Gonsolin and Price can go deeper into games saving a couple of critical innings a game for what is surely to be a heavily taxed bullpen.

Seemingly the best option at this point would be to look outside the organization to find a suitable starter to plug one, or both of the holes in the rotation. Many fans have been clamoring for Max Scherzer, especially after a 2-8 stretch for the Nationals that has seemingly knocked the team out of playoff contention. However, the price for Scherzer may be too high to pay, especially for a half-season rental who will probably not be on the team after 2021. There is one player on the market that could not only help the rotation in 2021 but 2022 as well. That man is Detroit Tiger Matthew Boyd. Boyd is currently on track for his best season so far, posting a 3.44 ERA with 7.13 K/9 while posting by far the lowest home run to fly ball rate of his career. While it seems unlikely that Boyd will pitch in July, as he is still working his way back from the tendinitis and inflammation that he has been dealing with since early June, he is still a name worth keeping an eye on as he can slot into the rotation as early as August. While Boyd will not ease the workload for the team during the aforementioned two to three week period in which the bullpen will have to deal with a lot of innings, it doesn’t mean that it’s a solution that should be immediately dismissed. Boyd seems like the type of pitcher who would come to the Dodgers and immediately unlock a new level to his game. The thing that suggests this the most is Boyd’s high chase rate (85th percentile) and low whiff and strikeout rates. On top of that he can fill in for Dustin May in 2022 as May recovers from Tommy John surgery. More immediate solutions are buy-low candidates such as the Angels’ Dylan Bundy and the Twins’ Michael Pineda as someone who can come in and eat innings for the team.

This upcoming stretch for the Dodgers may end up being the most important stretch of the season. The team has two starters, Julio Urias and Walker Buehler, who can go six innings consistently. Meanwhile, the bullpen will be expected to carry a heavy load with two relievers currently slotted in the rotation and a heavy workload on the days that Tony Gonsolin pitches. Of course, an injury to any pitcher would be extremely devastating at this moment. Still, an injury to any of the key arms, whether in the rotation or to a player like Kenley Jansen or Blake Treinen, may crush any chances the team has of catching the Giants for the division lead. Regardless of whether a big trade chip like Max Scherzer or Matthew Boyd ends up plugging the holes in the rotation or it’s a homegrown piece like Josiah Gray, the adversity that the team is facing with its pitching staff is the kind of thing that proves whether the resiliency the team showed during the postseason run in the Texas bubble was legitimate or if the World Series title was truly a Mickey Mouse ring.

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