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Looking at a thinned out Dodgers’ rotation in 2023

The Dodgers don’t quite have the same depth of yesteryear

MLB: Spring Training-Los Angeles Dodgers Workouts Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

The Dodgers enter the 2023 season without the same allure of invincibility of previous campaigns. This is still a formidable team, but with an off-season marked by key departures, and the Padres getting Fernando Tatis Jr. back, and full years out of Juan Soto and Xander Bogaerts, the expectation is for a tighter race to the NL West crown.

In every which way you slice it, the skepticism, or to better put it, the dampened expectation, comes from a hit the Dodgers have taken in depth.

One of the key points which have led to the success of this organization over the last decade or so is the ability to churn out serviceable contributors to offset even the biggest of injury hits.

Take last year for instance. Tyler Anderson wasn’t even in the rotation to begin the year, but flourished after receiving a spot following the injury to Andrew Heaney, and the cases like that are many.

Nevertheless, the rotation in 2023 seems more mortal than it has been in recent years. As we said it above, the group is still formidable.

  1. Julio Urias
  2. Clayton Kershaw
  3. Tony Gonsolin
  4. Dustin May
  5. Noah Syndergaard

Next in line already in the 40-man roster: Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove

Highly-touted prospects who could make an impact: Gavin Stone & Bobby Miller

If you look at this group without the skewed goggles of Dodgers’ rotations of previous years, it is just a very good rotation. Urías is coming off a Cy Young-caliber campaign and has firmly established himself as an ace.

Kershaw showed with his 2.28 ERA, and sub-1.00 WHIP that while he may not be his former self, he’s still nearly an ace-level pitcher. However one would be almost naive to expect a season without significant missed time from the future Hall of Famer, with his recurring back issues.

Tony Gonsolin is coming off a career year, but the fact ZiPS — by far the most favorable system on the right-hander — projects him with a 3.54 ERA and no volume bump in innings, illustrates that there is plenty of skepticism about his ability to sustain his 2022 level of run prevention especially when so much of his success is tied to the splitter,

There’s a separate article to be written about our expectations for the Cat Man in 2023, but suffice it to say, he is better than most No. 3 starters in baseball, apart from maybe a certain division rival.

Dodgers starting rotation

2015 3.24 (2nd) 3.40 (3rd) 16.3 (3rd)
2016 3.95 (6th) 3.65 (2rd) 14.6 (4th)
2017 3.39 (1st) 3.74 (3rd) 15.0 (5th)
2018 3.19 (2nd) 3.42 (2nd) 16.4 (4th)
2019 3.11 (1st) 3.52 (2nd) 20.5 (2nd)
2020 3.29 (2nd) 4.11 (8th) 5.1 (8th)
2021 2.93 (1st) 3.33 (2nd) 20.5 (1st)
2022 2.75 (1st) 3.59 (7th) 16.0 (4th)
MLB ranks Source: FanGraphs

Dustin May’s stuff was there last year, and now it is a question of getting the command back on track. May is probably the one who can swing the pendulum here. If he fulfills his potential and gets through a full year with no hiccups, May could carry this rotation from very good to all-world, as it has been in the past.

Noah Syndergaard is not the same pitcher he was before the injuries, and it’s unfair to expect him to be, but hope still remains that the Dodgers can work their magic with him, and experience a similar success albeit with a completely opposite profile that it had with Anderson last season. There is certainly more potential to work with, here.

Perhaps the biggest bullet point is the absence of ready-made names to step in over the course of the season, and the inevitable injuries it will bring.

Ryan Pepiot is the only name with any sort of intrigue, and his first stint in the big leagues last season left no one convinced by his ability to consistently hit the strike zone to have any sort of sustainable success in the majors. Pepiot is still young and has the raw stuff to succeed, but right now there isn’t much in the way of actionable data to back him up as an every-fifth-game man for a World Series contender.

Michael Grove and Andre Jackson are the other two names on the 40-man who could step in for a spot start but are firmly behind Pepiot on the pecking order, until further notice.

Bobby Miler managed to pitch his way into Triple-A at the end of 2022, making four starts at that level. Miller’s fastball will touch 100 mph, as he’s proven he can sit in the high 90s deep into games. Complementing that heater, Miller’s slider, changeup, and curve are all promising, with the latter still a work in progress, and despite the fact, Miller isn’t on the 40-man, smart money for the Dodgers is on him and Gavin Stone as the better options to join the rotation and make a real impact, in case of an injury.

Stone may not have the velocity or size of Miller, coming in only at 6 foot 1, and sitting 92-96, but his changeup is a more advanced secondary than anything Miller will throw at you. A pitch developed after Stone joined the Dodgers’ system, the changeup has been the big carrying tool for the 2020 draftee.

Pepiot is likely to get the first crack at a start in case something happens early in the season with the five starters, but Miller and Stone are the names to watch for continued success, and both are likely to make their big league debut in 2023.

The team down south

One of the things that has set the Dodgers apart from the pack in recent years, has been the high-end pitching, throughout the entire staff, but heading into the 2023 season, the expectation is for a very close race with the Padres. PECOTA at Baseball Prospectus has the Dodgers on top, while FanGraphs — using a combination of ZiPS and Steamer — projects San Diego to win the division.

One of the reasons for this proximity is the rather symmetrical parallel between the two rotations. Blake Snell found himself in the second half of last year, pitching to a 2.19 ERA over 14 starts mostly shelving the changeup which had been a problem for him in recent years, and Yu Darvish experienced a resurgence, finishing eighth the NL Cy Young vote.

Musgrove rounds out the big three, establishing himself as one of the best pitchers in the NL since moving to San Diego, a model of consistency with a 3.06 ERA in 362⅓ innings and 1.082 WHIP in two years with the team.

As Eric mentioned in the Padres season preview, the problem lies in the backend of the rotation, with Nick Martinez, Michael Wacha, and Seth Lugo set to split the workload after Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea were less than impressive with a combined 4.68 ERA last season.

One may argue that between Kershaw’s recurring back problems that almost certainly will require some time on the shelf throughout the year, and Gonsolin’s unimpressive projections, the Padres have a slight edge in the big three.

However, even with diminished depth, in comparison with recent years, the Dodgers carry more upside at the backend, particularly with Dustin May, who has the stuff to pitch like a frontline starter, if he gets his command in check, whereas the Pads don’t really have that name.

At the same time, Michael Wacha was sneaky good last year (3.3 bWAR, 3.32 ERA, 127⅓ IP in 23 starts). Whereas the Dodgers are expecting to extract more out of Syndergaard and his 1.255 WHIP, and 103 ERA+ in 2022.

With both teams boasting powerful offenses, the pitching staff that produces the most may just be the difference maker in this division, and it is hard to find a discernible gap between these two rotations before the year.

Rotation quality is still there, margin for error is thin

Going back to last year, we also looked at Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson with a healthy dosage of skepticism, and they went on to pitch at a very high level, but:

  1. Both had better track records. Anderson as an established innings eater, and Heaney with plus stuff that could never quite be maximized over a full year.
  2. Before the Walker Buehler injury, they were expected to basically fill one rotation spot, maybe two depending on how you viewed Gonsolin coming off a season of shoulder injuries.

This Dodgers’ success is predicated on among other things, its ability to extract more than most organizations out of certain names, and they are likely to do that again in 2023, but this rotation is a little more fragile than it has been in recent campaigns.