A couple of weeks ago, scrolling through Twitter, this particularly impressive statement came across my timeline, and it was eye-popping. It’s pretty well known that the Dodgers have been the best team in baseball since Andrew Friedman took over control of baseball operations, and while all phases of the game have produced well, the pitching staff has been the backbone of the entire team.
The Dodgers have been dominant on the mound, occupying the leaderboards in most pitching categories for the last five years or so, and this bit of information really puts this run into perspective.
The only four teams in all of American and National League history to hold opponents under a .280 OBP:— Codify (@CodifyBaseball) August 26, 2022
2019 Los Angeles Dodgers (.279)
2020 Los Angeles Dodgers (.273)
2021 Los Angeles Dodgers (.279)
2022 Los Angeles Dodgers (.270) pic.twitter.com/KCrlarOyRG
Though Wednesday, the Dodgers’ 2022 on-base percentage allowed is at .275 (still in that top 4)
Looking at the entire history of baseball, not only does this four-year run between 2019 and 2022 represents the lowest OBP allowed by a pitching staff, but each individual year is in the top four ever. No team ever has done it any better.
Now, does this mean that the Dodgers have the best four-year run of pitching of all time? Maybe, maybe not. It is one handpicked stat that lines up that way, and you can always nitpick different things, but that’s truly beside the point, which is that what this pitching staff has been doing is remarkable.
There are a few different aspects of this record-breaking run that should be touched on, and that’s what we’ll do right here.
You’re only as strong as your weakest link
There are a good number of aces around Major League Baseball. The Dodgers aren’t the only pitching staff with a one-two punch of the quality of Julío Urías and Clayton Kershaw. What makes this team so successful, and it has worked to a different level to the Tampa Bay Rays in recent memory as well, is the fact that they simply do not run many liabilities out there.
Every starter one through five, and even those that come in for spot starts in the midst of a run of consecutive games without a day off, or to fill in because of injury, every single one of them delivers a quality outing, even if not ace-like.
Did you know that the two worst seasons by a Dodgers starter with at least 10 starts since 2019 belong to that year’s Kenta Maeda, who had a 102 ERA+ and 1.074 WHIP, and Walker Buehler in this season with a 104 ERA+. David Price also had a 102 ERA+ in 2021, but a number of his 11 starts were of the bullpen-game variety.
The only Dodgers pitcher to make a decent chunk of starts and provide a below-league-average ERA in the past four seasons has been Ross Strippling who had a 5.61 ERA over 33⅔ innings and seven starts in 2020 before getting traded away.
This team’s ability to utilize their resources and maximize the quality of not only their 26-man roster, but the 40-man as well, is what puts this organization into perennial contention in the NL West, and it plays a role in the second point.
Quality depth makes up for the lack of overlapping
A four-year period is quite long, but not enough to provide such a diversity in terms of different pitchers with successful production, at least it shouldn’t be for most teams, but it is exactly the case for the 2019-22 Dodgers.
This period coincides with the return of Urías from shoulder surger, the establishment of Buehler as a front-line starter, and the beginning of a different Kerhsaw. Those three have clearly been the backbone of this whole pitching staff since then, but neither one of them has truly been a mainstay in all four campaigns.
Urías didn’t really start full-time until 2020, Buehler will now miss the majority of the 2022 season, and Kershaw while present in every season has also missed time consistently over the last two years, and will likely hover around 40 starts since the beginning of last year by the end of September.
In 2019, Rich Hill and Hyun Jin Ryu were the two most dominant pitchers on the staff. Granted, Hill only made 13 starts, but he had a 2.45 ERA, and Ryu led the team in both innings and ERA (182⅔ and 2.32, respectively).
Dustin May had an impressive rookie campaign, pitching to a 170 ERA+ in 2020, trailing only Kershaw’s 202 mark on the team.
Max Scherzer only had half a season with the team, but he was as great as anyone since MVP Kershaw in this Dodger uniform.
Tony Gonsolin has emerged as a Cy Young candidate in 2022, but even his previous form in the past two years had been well above average, and Tyler Anderson has been another great surprise.
Overall, all of these pitchers have contributed impressive numbers which ultimately add up to one of the elite staffs we’ve ever seen over the last half a decade.
A bullpen built on under-the-radar finds and high investments
Having the biggest budget in the sport helps in more ways than can be described, and one of them is the ability to invest heavily in the bullpen without jeopardizing or sacrificing other areas on the roster.
The bulk of the Dodgers’ pen has been built on two types of acquisition in recent years.
Big investments in established veterans via free agency.
The Dodgers have signed Blake Treinen, Joe Kelly, and Daniel Hudson in the past few years, and they all got significant contracts but didn’t really affect the team’s budget like it would with other mid-market clubs.
Even Craig Kimbrel falls into this fold because the Dodgers didn’t sell the farm to bring him on, and instead opened up room to play Gavin Lux every day by sending AJ Pollock to the White Sox.
Since Friedman has taken over the helm, the Dodgers have basically been allergic to trading valuable prospects for the big-name relievers.
Finding raw talent and developing it
Names like Phil Bickford, Alex Vesia, Dylan Floro, and perhaps the biggest success story of the bunch in Evan Phillips, have come onboard as relative unknowns and been able to absolutely flourish with a few tweaks to maximize what they can do well.
The Dodgers have managed to build sustainable success that looks almost impervious to injuries and setbacks. Nothing is infallible, but this operation is about as close as you can come to it in a baseball team, and it all starts and ends with quality depth, from your best starter to the bottom of your 40-man roster.