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How the Dodgers turn castoff pitchers into stars

Everyone knows the Dodgers are great with numbers — but just how great are they, after all? Take a look.

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92nd MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard Photo by Alex Trautwig/Getty Images

It’s no secret that the Dodgers are dedicated to player development, from Low-A all the way to World Series champs. One of their biggest tools is a hard-working analytics department — one of the largest in baseball. As a result, the team has earned a reputation not only for using sabermetrics, biomechanics, and video analysis to help players improve, but it’s also known for turning castoffs into stars.

Dodgers pitchers have especially benefitted from this uncanny ability to transform players.

“The Dodgers do a good job of finding out what you do well and utilizing that — a lot,” All-Star starter Clayton Kershaw told Tyler Kepner of the New York Times. “There’s certain organizations that do pitching really well... I think everybody does it a little differently, but it seems like the Dodgers find somebody’s strength that might not be seen on paper, but if you dig a little bit, you see that this guy’s got some ability.”

Part of that comes from willingness and trust on the parts of both the front office and the players to try new approaches, starter Andrew Heaney said.

So, just what have the Dodgers’ pitchers and analytics wizards been up to? Here’s a look at some of the new things, both large and small, that pitchers have leveraged to get results since joining the Dodgers.

Blake Treinen

The Update: Manager Dave Roberts describes Blake Treinen’s slider as “death on hitters,” but that wasn’t always the case. Treinen worked with pitching staff to change his grip, walk through data to perfect the pitch’s sweeping shape, and learned to identify the best situations in which to use it.

The Result: Treinen’s slider now has quadruple the horizontal break as before. That, combined with his stellar fastballs, gave him a 1.99 ERA and 85 strikeouts over 72 13 innings in 2021.

Mitch White

The Update: In July, Mitch White worked with Dodgers pitching staff and strength and conditioning coaches to reconnect with his lower body strength.

“When we get the report breakdown and look at it,” said assistant pitching coach Connor McGuinness, “you’re (asking) is there something very significant? Is it noise? Is it real? Is it smoke? Where are we at with it, and what’s the lowest-hanging fruit? Could we implement it quickly? And honestly, it was a simple adjustment that he had gotten away from in his previous start.”

The Result: White went from giving up six earned runs in five innings against the St. Louis Cardinals to taking a no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies into the sixth inning in consecutive appearances. His fastball got a full mile per hour faster, and his sinker — which he threw more often against the Rockies than in any previous start — seemed to thoroughly flummox the offense.

Yency Almonte

The Update: Yency Almonte once had one of the worst sliders in baseball, according to Baseball Savant. After joining the Dodgers, Almonte studied video of his slider at its best — a well-located pitch with 16 inches of horizontal movement — and worked to replicate it more consistently. He, McGuinness, and pitching coach Mark Prior also utilized TruMedia, a company that uses Statcast data to thoroughly analyze a pitcher’s entire arsenal.

The Result: Almonte had a 7.55 ERA with the Rockies before being outrighted off the roster last year. In 23 games for the Dodgers this season, Almonte’s ERA is down to 1.40. He’s gotten rid of his fastball entirely, and his new sinker (with a two-seam grip instead of one) now has above-average vertical and horizontal movement.

Tony Gonsolin

The Update: Tony Gonsolin’s All-Star appearance was well deserved. With the help of retired pitchers and front office members Joel Peralta and Brandon Gomes, Gonsolin has improved his splitter each year since his prospect days, gaining nearly a foot of vertical movement on the pitch over the course of his career and dropping its speed and spin rate. Gonsolin has also leaned less heavily on his fastball (thrown 40% less often) and picked up his breaking ball a bit more.

The Result: Gonsolin has a 2.02 ERA over a career-high 93.2 innings pitched and owns an 11-0 record, the best in the National League. Oh, and did we mention he’s a 2022 All-Star?

The Future of Dodgers Pitching

Another player destined to benefit from the Dodgers’ way with numbers is Bobby Miller, the Dodgers’ first-round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft.

“Pretty much anything you want to know, like spin direction, spin axis, spin rate, whether it’s vertical break, horizontal break, release height — all of that they can provide for you in any of your bullpens or game reports,” Miller said to SportsNet LA. “It’s pretty helpful.”