The Los Angeles Dodgers ran away with the NL West last season despite facing injuries across their roster. Will the team’s starting rotation be able to stay on the field in 2017?
If one thing’s for sure in today’s age of baseball, it’s that you can never have too many starting pitchers. The Los Angeles Dodgers are very well-versed on that fact, having seen more pitchers take the mound to open a game over the past two seasons than any other team in the sport.
Heading into the new season, Los Angeles has eight different pitchers in contention for a spot in the rotation. Not a single one of them managed to throw more than 176 innings in 2016, with five failing to reach even half that number. Pitching depth is important, but the Dodgers could still be in trouble if their arms’ injury woes continue.
Clayton Kershaw didn’t break the 200-inning mark for just the second time in the past seven years. He enters Spring Training fully healthy and only 28 years old — right in the middle of his prime. However, since making his major league debut in 2008, no National League pitcher has thrown as many innings as Kershaw. The left-handed phenom isn’t considered fragile by any means, but the wear and tear of nearly a decade in the bigs takes its toll.
Fresh off inking a three-year, $48 million deal with Los Angeles, Rich Hill has some high expectations for the point he’s at in his career. He’s 36 years old, has never eclipsed 200 innings in a season and spent almost half of last season on the disabled list. While Hill’s performance over the past two seasons is certainly worthy of the contract, his ability to stay on the field is a huge question mark moving forward.
If there’s one starter aside from Kershaw that Dodgers fans should feel safe getting excited about, it’s Kenta Maeda. The Japanese native led the team in innings en route to finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year voting. While he did struggle down the stretch, Maeda’s a good bet to continue the success he had early on in the year. Having picked up a year of experience with the grueling everyday schedule that is American baseball, he should do much better handling the workload in 2017.
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Julio Urias is another wildcard that will undoubtedly see meaningful playing time this season. The Dodgers have an innings limit placed on the 20-year-old, which could push back his 2017 debut in order to give other starters a chance to prove themselves early on. Urias had an up-and-down rookie campaign, but his ceiling is as high as ever. It would be hard to imagine Los Angeles making a pennant run without Urias pushing his way onto the playoff roster.
Baseball has seen Hyun-Jin Ryu for all of four and two-thirds innings over the past two years, but not to be forgotten are his pair of excellent seasons prior to his string of injuries. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, they can’t expect anything out of Ryu until they see it. He’s suffered multiple injuries on the throwing-side of his body and has given the organization false hope of a healthy return before.
Scott Kazmir, Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy combined for 187.2 innings of work in 2016. Thirty-six starters across baseball pitched more innings than the three of them together, giving no indication as to whether any of them can stay healthy for the entire season. Kazmir and McCarthy find themselves on the wrong side of 30, while Anderson has managed just one season with more than 13 starts over the past six years. Like Ryu, the Dodgers really have no idea what to expect out of any of them.
The Dodgers have only seen two starters throw 200 innings once in the past five years. While Kershaw and Maeda may be able to reverse that trend, don’t expect too much out of the rest of the rotation until they start taking the mound every fifth day on a consistent basis.