In what was largely viewed as a transition year, the Dodgers find themselves with the second-best record in the National League. The team is led by one of baseball’s best offenses with MVP-caliber performances from Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman. On top of that signings such as David Peralta and J.D. Martinez have exceeded expectations. However, the team’s pitching has been holding back the team.
While the bullpen has borne the brunt of the blame, things have turned around since the start of July. The team has the lowest ERA- of any bullpen in baseball. On top of that, they’ve thrown more innings than any other team in the top ten. Meanwhile, the rotation has the second-worst ERA- while throwing the sixth-fewest innings over that same time period as well. As a unit the rotation isn’t striking out a lot of batters, allowing walks and home runs more than the league average. In short, they need more than one pitcher to fix their rotations woes.
The Current Rotation
The current Dodger rotation has only four true starters with Clayton Kershaw currently on the IL. Unfortunately for the team, Kershaw has been far and away their best pitcher this season. After a hot start to his MLB career, Bobby Miller has cooled off considerably. Over his past five starts, Miller hasn’t thrown a quality start. On top of that, he hasn’t pitched into the sixth in any of those starts. Julio Urias is having a disappointing follow-up to his impressive 2022 campaign. His 4.36 ERA has been fueled by a career-worst LOB% as well as a large spike in his home run to fly ball rate.
To compound the team’s problems further, their next two starters rarely pitch five innings. Tony Gonsolin has never been known to go deep into games. However, he has paired it with excellent run prevention. While an 81 ERA- isn’t bad by any means, it’s hard to argue it holds that much value given that Gonsolin averages 5 innings pitched per start. Emmet Sheehan also averages the same 5 innings per start with a higher ERA.
The biggest need for this team is for someone to go deep into the games. Since the start of July, the team is averaging less than 5 innings pitched per start. Ideally, that means trading for more than one starting pitcher at the deadline who primarily can go deep into games. On top of that, the team can focus on getting pitchers with two different skill sets. This can allow the rotation to improve a lot of their subpar metrics.
On top of that they should prioritize infield defense as well. The current infield of Max Muncy, Miguel Rojas, Mookie Betts, and Freddie Freeman have combined for a -2 Outs Above Average and -2 runs prevented. Miguel Rojas, who is currently in AAA, is a huge defensive liability with a -5 runs prevent and -6 OAA. Muncy’s defense at third is a huge negative as well with Muncy putting up -3 runs prevented and -4 OAA. So a defensive-minded second or third baseman might go a long way in helping this team’s pitching woes as well.
With one of the best available starters in Lucas Giolito off the board to the Angels, Jack Flaherty is another name that has been linked to the Dodgers, and with good reason. He fills the other need the Dodgers have, and this limiting hard contact. He is in the 80th percentile of hard-hit rate and the 76th percentile of average exit velocity. The problem with Flaherty is obvious and may not be as fixable. His fastball has lost spin and movement, making an eminently more hittable pitch. On top of that, his 0.343 BABIP and 45% ground ball rate mean that he may not see much improvement either when coming to the Dodgers. However, his ability to eat innings may just be enough to help the team going forward.
The biggest hole in the team’s infield defense is their abysmal third-base defense. There’s one obvious name that the Dodger should be targeting, Jeimer Candelario. He has 6 Outs Above Average while putting up a 119 WRC+. While he is the best bat on the rental market, his defense is more important for the Dodgers. His being the best bat on the market also means that the Dodgers’ offense won’t be losing a step with him in the lineup. On top of that, his presence in the infield moves Mookie Betts back into right field which further improves the team’s defense. And improved defense can only help improve the team’s subpar left-on-base percentage, and thus their ERA.
An overlooked part of The Dodgers World Series run in 2020 was their defense and the starters. Several games were swayed by the team’s defense. Cody Bellinger’s catch against the Padres ended up being the difference in game 2. Justin Turner’s heads-up play during game 7 of the NLCS swung momentum in the Dodgers’ way after Blake Trenien found himself in a tough jam. Conversely, an overlooked part of the infamous 2022 NLDS is the defensive miscues that plagued the team in game 2 that led to 3 Padres runs for the game.
We don’t know who if anyone makes the crucial error like Trea Turner and Max Muncy did, and we also don’t know if anyone makes a crucial defensive play that saves the game. We also don’t know how Flaherty may perform if they make the playoffs with the Dodgers. What is known is that the team will be in a better chance to succeed in October, and as the Braves proved in 2021 overhauling an entire part of your team can lead to ultimate glory. The thing the Dodgers have fallen short of in every full season since 1988. The thing that would be so sweet for Dodgers nation to celebrate again.
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