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2020 Dodgers in review: Walker Buehler

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“He just continues to pitch big game after big game for us,” Justin Turner said.

2020 World Series Game 3: Los Angeles Dodgers v. Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Cooper Neill/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Walker Buehler cemented his status as a big-game pitcher in 2020, a campaign that was shortened by both a pandemic and blister problems that required maintenance over the final two months of the season.

The four-month shutdown in between spring training and summer camp might have affected Buehler more than any other Dodger. With consultation from the training and coaching staffs, Buehler didn’t throw as much as some of his rotation mates during the interim, especially when it was still unknown when exactly the season might re-start.

The late start essentially made the start of his summer camp like the start of a normal, 6½-week spring training, which becomes an interesting lens through which to view Buehler’s 2020. Since he wasn’t stretched out as much as his rotation mates, Buehler’s debut came in the fifth game of the season, when he pitched 3⅔ innings against the Astros.

Buehler’s next three starts presented different struggles, allowing three home runs against San Diego, then walking four Giants, followed by allowing five runs against the Angels. Through four starts, Buehler had a 5.21 ERA and a 6.40 FIP, displaying none of his usual sharpness. But this also coincided with what would have been the end of spring training, had it began on the July 3 summer camp start date.

After that, Buehler was ready to take off, and it showed with 11 strikeouts in six strong innings against the Rockies. But the excitement was somewhat muted with the arrival of blisters on his right hand. After skipping a start, Buehler was effective again with five scoreless innings against Arizona on September 2, and was cruising to start against those D-backs six days later, until the blisters resurfaced in a five-run inning, and two home runs allowed.

Buehler was limited to simulated games at Dodger Stadium or the alternate training site at USC, until the final week of the season. His final tune-up was limited to four innings, as were his first two postseason starts. While he wasn’t lasting deep into games, the innings he was pitching were more than effective.

He allowed five runs in five postseason starts, with 39 strikeouts in 25 innings to go with that sparkling 1.80 ERA. Those strikeouts are a Dodgers record for a single postseason.

Shaking the rust off

Split IP H HR BB% K% ERA WHIP
Split IP H HR BB% K% ERA WHIP
1st 4 starts 19.0 13 5 11.3% 21.3% 5.21 1.263
Last 9 starts 42.7 29 4 8.2% 37.4% 1.69 1.008
First 4 starts, ending August 15, just over 6 weeks after the start of summer camp (the normal length of spring training) Final 9 starts include postseason

Buehler has allowed two or fewer runs in each of his last nine postseason starts, and owns a 2.35 career postseason ERA.

“He just continues to pitch big game after big game for us,” Justin Turner said.

2020 particulars

Age: 25

Stats: 3.44 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 42 K, 36 innings

Salary: $603,500

Game of the year

Buehler was excellent in Game 3 of the World Series, striking out 10 in his six innings, giving the Dodgers a series lead. But for his game of the year, we’re going with six days earlier, when Buehler was nails in keeping the Dodgers alive in Game 6 of the NLCS.

Down 3-2 to the Braves in the series but up 3-0 after the first inning, Buehler allowed three straight singles in the second to load the bases with nobody out, a precarious situation with the season in the balance. He settled down, striking out Austin Riley swinging and Nick Markakis looking, then got Cristian Pache to ground out to not only end the rally but keep the Braves scoreless. Joe Buck on the FS1 broadcast said of Buehler during the inning, “This is what an ace looks like.”

“It sounds very odd, but I’ve never felt that calm in a baseball game, maybe in my career, especially in a spot like that,” Buehler said after the win.

Buehler struck out six and walked none in six innings, tying his longest start of the season, helping the Dodgers to tie the series.

Roster status

Buehler has two years, 168 days of major league service time, and will be eligible for salary arbitration as a Super Two, among the top 22 percent in service time of players with at least two but not three years of service. MLB Trade Rumors’ projection average works out to just over $2.5 million for Buehler in 2021.