Coming into the season, folks wondered about Walker Buehler for a number of reasons — the most prominent being his innings restriction.
It was reported back in spring training that the official/unofficial number would be somewhere in the 140- to 150-inning range. This being his second full year back from Tommy John surgery, that’s more than a fair number.
Well here we are in the middle of August and Buehler is sitting at just 81 1⁄3 innings at the MLB level and 16 innings in the minors. The fact that he has missed time with injuries has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise, if that makes sense.
If Buehler hadn’t missed time with the microfracture in his rib, he’d be a lot closer to his innings limit than he is right now. And, oddly enough, the rest prevented the Dodgers from needing to implement a midseason shutdown or throttling his workload, much like they did with Julio Urias in the past. I’m glad they didn’t have to do that, but I’m also not exactly thrilled Buehler was hurt. It’s a double-edged sword.
Since Buehler has fully returned to the rotation (after the poor relief outing against the Cubs), he has been really good: 3.10 ERA, 4.64 FIP (inflated by six home runs allowed in 29 innings), 20.7 K-BB% and a .302 wOBA against. Even with the homers allowed, those are some solid numbers.
On the season — and he just turned 24 at the end of July — he has a 3.32 ERA, 3.36 FIP, 20.2 K-BB% and a .274 wOBA against. The MLB-average for ERA, FIP, K-BB% and wOBA are 4.16, 4.16, 13.6 and .315. He has been much better than that in every aspect. Buehler is truly showing why he was a composite Top 15 prospect in baseball coming into the season.
Not only is he pitching well, his limited workload should have him in line to make some postseason starts, should the Dodgers make it to the playoffs. FanGraphs depth charts projects him to throw 39 more innings this season, which would give him a total of 136 1⁄3 on the season. If his limit truly is as high as 150, he should be able to make a start or two in October. The only issue I could foresee is the Dodgers having too many healthy starters for October. I know that’s highly unlikely because baseball, but let’s see how Buehler might fit into a postseason rotation:
- Clayton Kershaw (obvi)
- Rich Hill
- Walker Buehler
- Alex Wood
- Hyun-Jin Ryu
- Kenta Maeda
- Ross Stripling
It’s pretty obvious that Maeda and Stripling will pitch out of the bullpen in a postseason pitching staff, mostly because they’re more versatile and have already been moved to the ‘pen. And since there’s no need for a No. 5 starter come the playoffs, that leaves one spot for Buehler, Ryu or Wood.
Wood pitched well in the playoffs last season, but he seems like the most obvious guy who would go to the bullpen in this scenario. Ryu is going to have trouble pitching out of the ‘pen because he needs extra time to get loose, and Buehler is, frankly, too good to waste as a reliever (also, he hasn’t taken well to the role in the pros).
We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here. The Dodgers are 1 1⁄2 games out of a playoff spot and are not guaranteed anything. But if they do make it, they could have a fireballing, young starter to use, which is something they haven’t had in years past.
The future is really bright for Buehler. He could anchor the Dodgers’ rotation for years to come. For now, he could be the wild card in October, but the bats have to get going first.