As Dodgers enter offseason, young starters provide foundation for rotation

NLDS-Game 5-Los Angeles Dodgers vs Washington Nationals

By Jon Weisman

In 2015, the combined total of big-league starts by Jose De León, Brock Stewart, Ross Stripling and Julio Urías — not to mention Kenta Maeda — was zero.

This year, the four traditional rookies amassed 38, with Maeda good for another 32. Nearly half the starts for the 2016 National League West champions came from brand new Major Leaguers, with the team going 40-30 (.571) in those games, compared with 51-41 (.554) in games started by veterans.

Just to clarify for the paranoid: Over the coming offseason, the Dodgers will scour the trade and free-agent markets (which includes midseason acquisition Rich Hill) for starting pitchers that might bolster the 2017 rotation.

At the same time, this year’s rookie quintet already puts Los Angeles a step closer to alleviating the reliance on quantity in recent seasons (16 starters in 2015, 15 in 2016).

2016 NLCS Game 5---Chicago Cubs vs Los Angeles Dodgers“Starting-pitching (depth) is something when we came in two years ago, that is probably the thing that worried us the most,” Dodger president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Monday. “The only way to really have it with quality is to have really good young prospects that are at the Triple-A level and really knocking down the door to get to the Major League level. We didn’t have that in ’15. We definitely had that this year, and we relied on quite a few of them.”

Urías, of course, is the marquee name among the 2016 rookies, finishing his maiden season with a 3.39 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings and only five homers allowed. By comparison, a slightly older Clayton Kershaw had a 4.26 ERA and 4.08 FIPin his 2008 debut.

“In his first stint, (Urías) struggled a little bit, as you would expect from a young pitcher coming up in the middle of a pennant race,” Friedman said. “The maturation, the ability to make adjustments from start to start, is something that often you see guys take more time to be able to put in play. So there were a lot of very encouraging things. Obviously, he was a big part of our success this year, and we were able to build him up in a way that was extremely helpful as we look forward.”

Friedman said that Urías would probably be under some kind of workload restriction in 2017, but he made a key developmental step this season. The same could be said for Stripling, who pitched exactly 100 innings after coming back from Tommy John surgery, and Stewart, who rose all the way in 2016 from Single-A ball to shutting out the Cubs over five innings August 28.

San Diego Padres vs Los Angeles Dodgers

Then there’s De León, who at the end of his Triple-A Oklahoma City season was almost as dominant as Urías had been before his Dodger debut. Having just turned 24, De León had a 1.56 ERA in August while averaging seven innings per start, striking out 45 and walking two.

“I think we’re getting to the point that we have a number of young guys who have put themselves in position to compete for a job next year,” Friedman said.

Maeda isn’t green like the rest, though he’ll still be under 30 in 2017. According to Dodger manager Dave Roberts, Maeda suffered at the end of the year from the overall toll of his first Stateside campaign, which hindered his execution come playoff time.

2016 NLDS Game 3---Los Angeles Dodgers vs Washington Nationals

“I thought Kenta had an outstanding season,” Roberts said. “To transition how he had to and adjust, I can’t say enough about what he did. … He’s a very tough competitor and doesn’t scare off.”

Though he has more big-league experience than the aforementioned five, Alex Wood will still only be 26 — with a 3.40 career ERA as a starter — when next season begins. In his final 10 appearances of 2016, Wood had a 2.52 ERA, 12.4 strikeouts per nine innings and a 6.0 strikeout-walk ratio.

That gives the Dodgers a half-dozen arms with a foothold in the Majors, before you even begin mixing in the true veterans who went through health issues to varying degrees this year — from ace Clayton Kershaw to Scott Kazmir (who can opt into free agency if he chooses), Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu.

2016 NLCS Game 3---Los Angeles Dodgers vs Chicago Cubs

Kershaw came back from 2 1/2 months on the disabled list with a disk herniation to pitch a career-high 24 1/3 postseason innings, including his National League Division Series-clinching save. The precocious, prodigious talent has one more under-30 season left.

“He feels good, talking to him today,” Friedman said. “All of our guys have exit physicals and conversations with trainers and doctors. … I don’t expect it to be anything that is newsworthy. He ended the year and felt good.”

Arizona Diamondbacks vs Los Angeles DodgersThough one could complain that development never comes fast enough when your team hasn’t won a World Series in 28 years, the Dodgers are on the right track.

“I think that a great by-product of the cultural change and shift we saw on the Major League side with Doc (Roberts) and his coaches is to be able to provide that soft landing spot, that environment where guys can come up and thrive and not be afraid to compete — and be put into positions to succeed,” Friedman said.

“That part is critical. If you don’t have that environmental piece, it’s very difficult on a contending team to bring young players up and continue to get the most out of them.”

15 Comments

Let’s hope the injury bug flies away and we have better luck in the postseason..

I know you said it in passing Jon, but they will most certainly need a true number 2, for the whole year, next year. I don’t think Hill is that guy. But I do like what these youngsters showed this year, and believe Urias will eventually be that number 2 (maybe even a number one when Kershaw let’s go of that mantle).

One of the young lions could well be that BIG #2. I don’t mind not having one of those–ala Greinkie–if we have four starters behind Kershaw who can go more than five innings a game. I don’t think the abilities of the youngsters are in question. The question–and this was a problem for Maeda–is whether they have the stuff to get that far into the game. If they don’t, we’re going to have another bullpen collapse like we did a couple of times during the season and during the NLCS because they will necessarily be overworked. I don’t fault Dave Roberts for that–he’s the manager of the year, no question. But he has to have better horses to ride.

The FO needs to acquire another ace-level pitcher, such as what Zack Grienke was to us. Considering how awful the FA pitching market is this year, it appears that a trade might be the only way to do that. Urias and perhaps Deleon will hopefully get to that point someday, but it probably won’t be in 2017. I’m still flabbergasted that they stupidly signed Maeda to an 8 year contract. Don’t really get that.

I have zero faith that this FO is going to spend the money to even retain Turner and Jansen, much less take on the money it would take to get another ace pitcher in here. I think these guys in the FO are so wrapped up in their saberstats and computers that they often try to outsmart themselves by acquiring a lesser player that the nerd machines say will be a better value than a more accomplished and expensive place. Meaning, what we really needed last offseason was Grienke, Price, Cueto, Lackey, or Miller; instead we got Kenta Maeda.

Same thing seems to be true with hitting: we need a big bat that is good against lefties. Will they pay to go get one? I doubt it.

This FO seems to be remarkably cheap considering that this is LA and the payroll is so high. Of course, the bulk of the money was signed by the prior administration. I am expecting this team to turn into a Tampa Bay Rays-level payroll in the next few years as the saber guys try and fail to outsmart everyone, and that will be a shame.

You know, you’re typing on a “nerd machine” right now.

Yeah, but I’m just a fan. I’m not trying to build an MLB roster.

Every single MLB team uses sabermetrics. Every single one. Of those 30 teams, the Dodgers finished in the top four. The only NL team to beat them, the Cubs, is a sabermetric organization to the nth degree. They also use scouting and personal observations, just like the Dodgers do, but the Cubs are absolutely at the forefront of progressive thinking in baseball.

It’s fine to critique individual choices, although for example, the incentive-based Maeda contract is universally seen as one of the most club-friendly value deals in ages, and he was by any measure more valuable than Greinke this year. Find me anyone who still thinks the contract Greinke signed was a good deal right now. Unfortunately, no team is perfect. You try to make the most good decisions that you can.

It’s also the same front office that hired the manager that you seemed to concede (in another comment) did a good job. Anyone else could have hired that manager, but this group did. Why that doesn’t count for you, I have no idea.

It also doesn’t seem to have occurred to you with the highest payroll in baseball for four years running might actually limit how front office spends, rather than encourage it to spend more. “Remarkably cheap?” Fine, go ahead and pretend a $200 million contract has no effect on a budget.

But most of all, I’m really just struck by how there can possibly be people in 2016 who blame “the saber guys,” when there’s no organization that doesn’t fully embrace them. Maybe Arizona, I suppose. Perhaps you would have preferred the Diamondbacks’ 2016 season to the one the Dodgers just had.

There is no war between sabermetrics and scouting any more. It’s over, even if you don’t realize it.

I would take Greinke back in a trade if some of his contract is paid for by the D’Backs

Michael Green – It might interest you to know that the entire guaranteed amount of the Maeda 8 yr contract is less than what the Dbacks paid Greinke for just 2016. Furthermore Maeda had three more wins and an ERA almost a run lower (I’m purposely sticking to old school stats here). I’ll be happy to have our front office any day as opposed to what LaRusso’s gang did to Arizona baseball.

Sorry, my last comment was meant for smithj874

“Every single MLB team uses sabermetrics.” Yes but most of them temper it with Baseball sense, unlike the Dodger FO.

Please list for me all the teams that temper it with baseball sense better than the Dodgers.

I would agree that the front office sometimes seems like they are trying too hard to prove they are brilliant. However, overall I believe they have done a fine job and like where the LAD are positioned right now. I didn’t believe Jansen was a must have until the postseason. I am a believer that he needs to be resigned now though. I feel there are two things we really need. 1. A 2nd base upgrade. Utley ran out of gas and shouldn’t be an everyday player imo. Maybe a trade with some of the outfield mess and a minor leaguer for some 2nd baseman with speed? #2. A dominant setup man. I agree this year we were seriously lacking a #2 starter, but believe the quantity of quality youngsters will overcome that need next year.

Couple thoughts….First, lets not get too carried away, remember this was a rebuild year. Albeit funner than most rebuild years. Anything beyond a winning record and player development should be considered a bonus. Same goes for next year, whether dodger fan wants to admit it or not. I look for more of the same in regard to free agency. They aren’t likely to aggressively pursue a #2 starter, or any significant contract for that matter. They already have a #2, they just arent positive who it is yet. Player development. Besides, theyre clearly more than 1 or 2 pieces away from championship caliber. You could plug Pedro Martinez & Craig Biggio into that nlcs roster, and we would still be watching the cubs this week. If hill commands #2 sp money, he will be playing elsewhere. Pitching is the reason for dodger fan to get excited about october baseball, but not before 2018. Then when they need 1 or 2 pieces, they buy them. And we all know they will, we’ve seen them do it. Trade acquisitions more likely for now. This team projects to compete 2-3 years down the road, and I personally think ownership has to like what they see to this point. A well constructed plan, showing clear progress. It was fun guys, now time to get back to the rebuild.
Second, i dont want to be the bad guy but i will. maeda is a solid 4th starter at best, lets be serious. his numbers this year may have looked like a possible 3, but keep in mind this was his first tour. very average stuff, in my opinion. the fact he throws it lefthanded is the primary reason we know his name. stamina still has to improve vastly, adjustment period is over.

Kershaw/Seager. how great are these two. Throwback style, future HOF’ers. next?

Extremely well said. That’s why this year pleased me more than other past years, they weren’t even supposed to win the division, let alone get 2 games away from WS. Although I think a prime Pedro would have helped, mainly think of beating Nats in 3 or 4 games, thus no need for Maeda in game 1 of NLCS, and maybe game 1 is a win, and they’re up 3-0?
Anyway, Hill is not a number 2 for a full year (at least you can’t count on him being one). Urias should be in 2018 or 19, but not 17. So I think it’s more important to re-sign Turner and Jansen, take your chances with 2017, and then go for it in 2018 and beyond.

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