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Dodgers pitching is worse than usual, and there’s no quick fix

Or “The fanbase needs to wait for Daniel Hudson to come back.”

Los Angeles Dodgers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

If the 2023 Dodgers have a failing, it’s that their pitching has been dreadful away from the confines of Dodger Stadium. People tend to overuse words like dreadful, awful, and terrible, but you will find that these adjectives sadly do apply in this very specific circumstance.

Neither the starters nor relievers have been immune, with the former group looking like a hospital ward with all the injuries and the latter looking like a generic, flat store-brand cola, which we have not become accustomed to having when all we have had for the past couple of years is Classic Coke (or Pepsi or Dr. Pepper, if you want to ruin this analogy).

The Dodgers rank 29th in the majors with a putrid 5.70 earned run average on the road. Only the off-Broadway-production-of-Major-League that is masquerading as the Oakland Athletics is worse, with a road team ERA of 7.05.

Admittedly, just seven teams (Braves, Astros, Twins, Rangers,Yankees, Rays, Pirates) have team ERAs on the road below 4.00. Considering that the median team ERA on the road is 4.29, some allowances can be made for the Dodgers’ collective pitching performance on the road. But one dives deep to see just how bad it has gotten, the statistics are quite ugly.

Twenty-five pitchers have pitched for the Dodgers on the road in 2023. Nine have a road ERA under 4.00, including non-pitcher Luke Williams; only three of those low-road-ERA pitchers — Shelby Miller (2.03), Brusdar Graterol (2.30), Clayton Kershaw (3.97) — have pitched more than five games.

Everybody else though? Woof (and yes, we are going to ignore poor Jake Reed and his no-good, terrible, very bad day where he earned his 81.00 ERA).

  • Victor Gonzalez (4.00, 10 games)
  • Evan Phillips (4.22, 12 games)
  • Alex Vesia (4.91, 8 games)
  • Andre Jackson (5.68, 5 games)
  • Caleb Ferguson (6.35, 13 games)
  • Justin Bruihl (6.48, 7 games)
  • Yency Almonte (6.75, 19 games)
  • Julio Urías (7.61, 5 starts)
  • Phil Bickford (8.10, 14 games)
  • Wander Suero (8.10, 4 games)
  • Nick Robertson (9.00, 2 games)
  • Noah Syndergaard (10.96, 6 starts)
  • Michael Grove (13.06, 3 games)
  • Gavin Stone (18.00, 2 starts)

As is known, the Dodgers have elected to go with a matchup model in the bullpen rather than nominate a closer. Does nominating Evan Phillips to serve as the closer fix the Dodgers’ woes on the road? No, because he has not been perfect either and one would run the risk of repeating 2022 NLDS Game 4. If one has forgotten that game, he was saved for a situation that did not arise as the game effectively ended before he pitched, rendering his appearance moot. Moreover, Phillips cannot fix the starters.

On June 10, even Dave Roberts stated to Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register that the team’s lack of a designated closer was not the source of the team’s pitching woes:

“I think there is a little bit of too much emphasis on the dedicated closer,” Roberts said Saturday. “There were a lot of people calling for (Craig) Kimbrel to be gone last year … and having a dedicated closer, saying it wasn’t helpful to our ‘pen.

“You have to peel back individual performance. And I think that individually, guys are not pitching to their capabilities.”

I agree — everybody needs to pitch better, especially on the road.

As for the starters, I would expect Urías, Grove, and Stone to improve and figure it out or at least not be as bad. The Noah Syndergaard experiment, which would be a really cool name for a progressive rock band, is likely being moved off-site to Arizona or just outright ending soon. Eric has gone into great detail about that sad situation previously.

Normally, I would make a “modest proposal” essay using Baseball Trade Simulator to brainstorm some ideas to tide us over until Andrew Friedman and company do something. But, unfortunately, I cannot do that act this time for two reasons.

The market is currently not open for business

It is June. No one is truly eliminated yet and looking to sell outside of (possibly) the Royals, the Athletics, the Nationals, and the Rockies. If the answer to the Dodgers’ problems is on any of these four rosters, I argue one is asking the wrong question.

Apart from Scott Barlow of the Royals, is there anyone on the Kansas City roster that the Dodgers would want? Considering the relatively record parity in baseball right now, why would the Royals accept anything other than a king’s ransom for their closer?

The same line of thought applies to the other teams, except Washington is trying to rebuild so they will likely not trade now-cornerstone pieces like Josiah Gray, the Athletics are terrible and the Rockies are run terribly and unlikely to trade within the division.

But what about the White Sox? They are terrible. The Dodgers could get Anderson at shortstop AND Liam Hendriks. Problem solved!

As has been discussed in depth, the Dodgers do not need Tim Anderson, especially with Mookie Betts splitting time in the infield. Liam Hendriks has been an elite reliever over the past few years. He also has just returned to playing after undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

So why not just write up something proposing a trade for pieces of the White Sox roster? Well, considering that everyone is going to likely be trying to make a deal, unless the front office in the Southside is incompetent, they will be inflating the price. But for our purposes, there is another issue.

ERROR — Does not compute

Because Hendriks has only just returned, the algorithm of BTV has some pretty wacky ideas of what would constitute a fair trade for Hendriks that no rational, logical general manager should make. For example:

Phil Bickford for Liam Hendricks as a valid trade...a minor overpay by the Dodgers.
Technically, the BTV algorithm would see a trade of Phil Bickford for Liam Hendricks as a valid trade...a minor overpay by the Dodgers.
Courtesy of Baseball Trade Values

If the front office for the White Sox approved this hypothetical trade of Bickford for Hendriks, they should be fired — full stop. No one, outside of a video game, would consider this trade fair with all due respect to everyone involved.

Like most things, the BTV algorithm is a tool that can only interpret data and frankly, this situation with Hendriks is unusual, to say the least. If anything, this situation should underscore a theme that the team should embrace for this year. And as if the universe knew I was writing this essay, Hendriks has just returned to injured list with elbow injury.

To paraphrase the estimable words of Carlos Santana, the Dodgers should let the children play. If it is a matter of where, then one would turn to Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens.

Music puns aside, while the bullpen has been especially rocky as of late, help is on the way from the organization. Remember Daniel Hudson is likely to return soon...ish, and at the very least the closest to returning as he’s a little more than a week into his rehab assignment. Jimmy Nelson is two games into his rehab assignment, too. The Dodgers also recently signed former closer Ken Giles and former high-leverage reliever Ryan Braiser. . Alex Reyes is out for the year with an additional shoulder surgery. J.P. Feyereisen and Blake Treinen could, at least theoretically, return before the end of the regular season.

State of Play

While walk-off losses are less than ideal, especially if seen in person, one would be wise to temper expectations. No, these Dodgers are not winning 111 games. Yes, it is possible that the Diamondbacks may win the division. But that does not mean that this team is not worth your time and attention.

It may seem harsh but there are enough interesting or exciting prospects either making their debut (see: Miller, Bobby; Outman, James; Vargas, Miguel; Robertson, Nick, etc.) that poor performance in the bullpen will likely not be tolerated for long. People can be replaced.

As for the starters, the only starter from opening day that has not gone on the injured list this year is Clayton Kershaw. The last two years he’s started 22 times each year, averaging 124 innings. Kershaw has already made 13 starts so far in 2023, while throwing 76⅓ innings. I am hoping that Kershaw will continue to take the mound every fifth (or sixth) day for the duration of the season.

If anything, the next month should be interesting with the regular off days giving the Dodgers options on how to best deploy their starting pitching. Whether that pitching starts performing better on the road, where I see them, is an open question, which will work itself out in short order.