Yu Darvish will be wearing a different shade of blue this season after signing a 6-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. The Dodgers decided to move on from the All-Star pitcher they went all-in for at last season’s trade deadline in an attempt to stay under the MLB luxury threshold. With Darvish officially out of the picture, where does that leave the Dodgers’ rotation heading into Spring Training?
Pitchers and catchers reported to Camelback Ranch on Tuesday to officially kick off the 2018 season. Walker Buehler and Tom Koehler were among the few new faces in camp competing for a roster spot. Veterans like Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill got re-acquainted with their teammates. This season, the rotation for the Los Angeles Dodgers is relatively similar to last season’s spring rotation.
Kershaw will lead the rotation yet again and is in line to make a franchise record 8th consecutive Opening Day start come March 29th. Following Kershaw, Dave Roberts has a surplus of options starting with Rich Hill, Alex Wood, and Kenta Maeda.
That would leave the Dodgers with lefty-heavy rotation, a similar concern they had heading into last season. With only one right-hander penciled into the rotation, Roberts could use the fifth spot to balance the rotation. However, the fifth spot front-runner is another left-hander, Hyun-Jin Ryu. Walker Buehler, Brock Stewart, Ross Stripling, or Tom Koehler could potentially offer some balance, but none outside of Buehler seem like a logical fit.
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Stewart spent the majority of his season last year pitching as a reliever. He tossed 20 2/3 innings in 13 relief appearances compared to 13 2/3 innings in 4 starts. Stewart was more effective as a reliever, allowing only a .194 batting average compared to a .255 mark as a starter. Stewart’s overall numbers as a reliever were 2.18 ERA with an 8.2 K/9 and 2.71 K/BB. His overall numbers declined as a starter as he posted a 5.27 ERA, 6.59 K/9, and 0.83 K/BB. Stewart has been a starter throughout his minor league career, but if he’s fixated on making the big league roster, he provides more value pitching out of the bullpen.
Ross Stripling is another pitcher in a similar situation as Stewart. Last season only two of Stripling’s 49 appearances came as a starter. He was one of the more reliable relievers throughout the season for Roberts and was solid in the postseason. He’s bought into his role as a long relief pitcher, so there is no reason to change his role.
Tom Koehler is the newest player to throw his name on the list. The Dodgers signed him to a one-year deal because of the flexibility he brings to pitch in both roles. He’s been a starter for most of his six major league seasons, but he reinvented himself out of the bullpen. Last season, in 15 appearances as a reliever, Koehler posted a 2.65 ERA with an 8.25 K/9 ratio and .250 batting average against. No doubt the front office was interested in his pitching versatility, but Roberts made it clear that he was brought in to pitch primarily in relief.
That leaves the two logical options for the fifth spot Ryu and Buehler. Ryu is the more experienced starter, while Buehler is the next big thing coming out of the Dodgers farm system. Each pitcher comes with their concerns. Ryu, although he did start 24 games last season, has failed to stay healthy for a full season. Walker Buehler’s concerns are his innings being limited and inexperience in the big leagues.
If Dave Roberts going based on raw talent, the clear choice is Buehler for the fifth spot. But being that the Dodgers’ focus is on playing deep into October, I can see the front office saving Buehler’s innings for late in the season. Ryu is the front-runner for the fifth spot if he can have a decent spring training. The only issue with that is that he makes the Dodgers’ rotation lefty heavy.