Player Profiles 2020: Los Angeles Dodgers Starting Pitchers

Michael Ajeto analyzes the Los Angeles Dodgers rotation for 2020 with in-depth player profiles. Pitch breakdowns, projections, and nicknames included.

Throughout the winter months of the offseason, the Pitcher List staff will be creating profiles for every fantasy-relevant player for 2020. Players will be broken up by team and role through starting pitchers, bullpen, lineup, and prospects. You can access every article as it comes out in our Player Profiles 2020 hub here.

These profiles will also be featured as an eBook exclusively for those signed up for PL+.

 

Dodgers At A Glance

Spearheaded by the best pitcher of the 2010s in Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers boast what is perhaps the deepest rotation in baseball. Kershaw looks to continue to defy the notion that he can’t have success with a fastball that sits at 90 to 91 mph. Walker Buehler will try to prove to Alex Fast that he’s the fifth-best starter in baseball. Julio Urias will dip his toes into a full-time starting gig. David Price will try to prove he’s more than a salary dump. Alex Wood will attempt to recover what he lost when he left the Dodgers.

That’s (not) all folks! Dustin May is going to be solid, but is he going to miss bats? Can Ross Stripling earn a spot? Is Jimmy Nelson healthy? And then there’s Tony Gonsolin.

 

Clayton KershawLocked Starter

Nickname: TATIAGA

 

2019 In Review

Kershaw just posted his first ERA over 3.00 since 2008, his rookie season, and he only pitched 107.2 innings that year. Oh, and while it was over 3.00, it was only 3.03. Kershaw, as you know, has been absolutely incredible for a decade now. His fastball velocity is declining, and so is his swinging-strike percentage, but he has done everything he can to remain one of the best starting pitchers in baseball.

 

Fastball (44% usage)

I’ve got our first set of bad news. Given that Kershaw had a 6.9% swinging-strike percentage on his fastball in 2018 and 2019, isn’t it a little fishy that his fastball pVAL was 0.2 in 2018 and 13.9 in 2019? Yeah, I think so too. Let’s take a look at why that is.

Fastball, 2018: .400 wOBAcon, .396 xwOBAcon, .312 BABIP

Fastball, 2019: .325 wOBAcon, .359 xwOBAcon, .224 BABIP

On one hand, he’s Clayton Kershaw. On the other hand, his 2018 numbers look a lot more reasonable than his 2019 numbers. I will note that historically run a low BABIP and wOBAcon/xwOBAcon on his fastball, but as we get to increasingly mediocre fastball velocities, I become more skeptical of his ability to continue to do this.

In other words, his 2019 numbers aren’t far from his 2015 to 2018 averages, but his 2018 is inflated. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

 

Slider (39% usage)

It’s not as dominant as it once was, but Kershaw’s slider is still going strong. Its 49.9% O-Swing rate is as high as it’s been since 2014, and his zone rate is 40.3% with a 19.9% swinging-strike percentage. You know what that means: It’s a Money Pitch.

There are some warning signs, though. His .412 xwOBAcon is easily the highest it’s been since 2015. He was just fortunate that his slider had a .362 wOBAcon. It’s weak contact percentage was lower than ever, too, at 62.8%, and perhaps most troubling, its barrel rate was elevated at 8.0%.

His slider already showed signs of slipping in 2018 in terms of swinging-strike percentage — although it did well from a contact management perspective — so I’m a little concerned. Especially because we could see Kershaw’s fastball velocity fall below 90 mph.

 

Curveball (17% usage)

His curveball got hit hard in 2019, too. Its saving grace, once again, was his .389 wOBAcon, but opponents put up a .450 xwOBAcon and .259 BABIP on it, suggesting it is potentially a candidate for regression. Its 9.5% barrel rate was also elevated.

 

2020 Outlook

That’s three out of three pitches that could potentially regress next season, and Kershaw is only going to lose velocity. I hope I’m wrong, but this feels like the year that things start to unravel for him. Now, he’s still Clayton Kershaw. So for him, that just means he becomes more mortal — not that he’ll become bad, or even average. I should note that it’s entirely possible that I’m overreacting too. I’m going to go with a 3.40 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, and 26 K%.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 3.75 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 23% K rate in 150 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 2.75 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 30% K rate in 200 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Clayton Kershaw 2020 projection:

3.30 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 26% K rate in 170 IP

 

 

Walker BuehlerLocked Starter

Nickname: Ferris

 

2019 In Review

Buehler doesn’t have a Gerrit Cole fastball, nor does he have an offering like a Justin Verlander slider. What he lacks in one pitch, he makes up for with a full repertoire of offerings. Buehler was dominant for the second year in a row, posting a 3.26 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 29.2 K%.

 

Fastball (60% usage)

Buehler has a ton of moving parts between his 2018 fastball and 2019 fastball. His active spin rate dropped from 87.3% to 84.6%, which coincides with a reduction in vertical movement from 10.35 to 9.81, and a lowering of his average vertical fastball location too. Notably, we can see that his fastball was missing a ton of bats when elevated or to his arm-side in 2018. Then we saw all of those deep red zones become less red in 2019 because of the aforementioned changes. He added some arm-side run to his fastball, which could either be superfluous movement, or a mere side effect of his reducing active spin rate.

Of course, so many negative changes have repercussions. Correlation is not causation, and so while his swinging-strike percentage plummeted from 12.5 to a still-great 10.4, his fastball only diminished from a 34.4% CSW to 34.2%, due to an uptick in called strikes. Nothing to be worried about here, but the swinging strikes are preferred.

 

Slider (14% usage)

Buehler’s slider was fantastic in 2019, with a 46.4% O-Swing rate, 39.0% zone rate, and 18.2% swinging-strike rate. While those numbers are improved from 2018, his slider CSW actually reduced from 31.2% to 27.4%. This is one likely reason for his pVAL dropping from 7.7 to 2.8, despite throwing it more.

 

Cutter (13% usage)

By CSW, Buehler didn’t really improve with his cutter, as it only increased from 28.9% to 29.2%. However, he used it much more as a putaway pitch than he did in 2018. That’s an encouraging development.

In terms of pVAL, Buehler had no chance for his cutter to match its production in 2018. That’s because his wOBAcon in 2018 was an obscenely low .238 (with a .363 xwOBAcon). It was much better in 2019.

 

Curveball (12% usage)

It was encouraging to see Buehler lean on his curveball more as a putaway pitch, too. But, despite this, its pVAL fell from 1.5 in 2018 to -2.1. That’s because of his batted-ball misfortune. Buehler’s curveball’s xwOBAcon — while elevated at .395 — was substantially lower than his .483 wOBAcon. That explains the discrepancy in pVAL despite actually being improved (for the most part). His CSW dipped ever so slightly from 30.1% to 29.7%, but that’s statistically insignificant.

We’ll take the improvements in O-Swing rate (27.8% to 37.0%), zone rate (38.4% to 41.9%), and swinging-strike rate (10.3% to 16.9%). He added an inch of horizontal movement, but I’m not sure if that played a role.

 

 

2020 Outlook

It’s hard not to love what Buehler brings to the table. I’m interested to see how his secondary pitches continue to develop, but also to see what’s going on his fastball — its decrease in swinging-strike percentage feels significant. In any case, he’s still a dominant pitcher, and there’s not much reason to think that he can’t continue wrecking his opponents as he’s been doing for two years. My money is on a 3.30 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 28 K%. (AKA, pretty much what he did in 2019.)

 

Realistic worst case projection: 3.60 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 27% K rate in 180 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 2.60 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 30% K rate in 210 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Walker Buehler 2020 projection:

3.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 29% K rate in 200 IP

 

 

David PriceLocked Starter

Nickname: Barker

 

2019 In Review

We haven’t seen a healthy season from Price since 2016. A wrist injury took him first out of the final two months of the season, a season that was going on spectacularly for the first seventeen starts to the tune of a 3.16 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 28% K rate. Four more starts followed with 20 earned runs, possibly affected by his health, and now we’re not sure what to do. Will we see the return to being a proper workhorse that produces across the board, or will we be served another middling, lost season?

 

Fastball (52% usage)

Price splits his time between sinkers and four-seamers, though the latter certainly excelled more than the former. His four-seamer returned an impressive 11% SwStr rate despite its first season below 93 mph and finding the zone 58% of the time. He saved it for deeper in counts, and batters looking for off-speed or even the sinker were hit with a strong offering up in the zone.

His sinker was the goon of his repertoire, doing its best to earn strikes as it took the biggest beating. Its .275 BAA allowed did Price few favors, helping return a 121 wRC+ that set a career mark. It wasn’t the precise sinker we’ve seen in the past from Price, and we may see him steer away from the pitch a little more in 2020.

 

Changeup (26% usage)

This is Price’s Money Pitch — 44% O-Swing, 41% zone rate, 19% SwStr rate last year — but its feel wasn’t quite where he wanted it to be. He hung the pitch a bit too often, allowed a startling .266 ISO despite a career .131 mark, and, at times, flat out lost the pitch during starts.

It was unlike Price, though the overall performance, save for a handful of games, fit in line with the plate discipline marks above. Expect a whole lot of changeups in 2020 in any situation.

 

Cutter (19% usage)

This cutter gets the job done with a ~50% zone rate and is often used to steal strikeouts against right-handers (35% strikeout rate!), nipping the outside corner when expecting a changeup out of the zone or fastball inside.

It’s not an overwhelming No. 3 pitch, though. Think of it as a crafty pitch that gets Price strikes and needs his changeup to step up if he’s to be dominant across a season.

 

Curveball (3% usage)

Every so often, Price features this hook, and it did shockingly well across its small sample last season (I’ve seen plenty worse from rarely used pitches!), but it’s not a significant offering to consider when assessing Price.

 

2020 Outlook

Price has the tools to be a ratio-focused volume arm with a touch of strikeout upside. His cutter adds to the strikeout ability with its sneaky backdoor locations, while his bread-and-butter of four-seamers and changeups maintain the high ceiling… as long as the velocity doesn’t continue its freefall.

Cutting his sinker usage should help in the long run, and let’s hope he makes fewer changeup mistakes in 2020. Maybe his wrist injury had something to do with it.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.30 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 23% K rate in 100 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.20 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 27% K rate in 200 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant David Price 2020 projection:

3.70 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 24% K rate in 160 IP

 

Alex WoodLocked Starter

Nickname: The Chucker

 

2019 In Review

Alex Wood got lit up in 2019 — his 5.80 ERA, .447 xwOBAcon, and 2.78 HR/9 are unsightly. He obviously isn’t as bad as he was in 2019, but it’ll be interesting to see how much he has actually declined, if at all, since his initial departure from the Dodgers.

 

Fastball (50% usage)

Wood has a low-velocity, low-spin fastball, but it has great active spin. It’s never been a swing-and-miss pitch for him, but he’s accumulated a 29.2 pVAL with the pitch over his career, so suffice to say it’s an important pitch for him. It’s a pitch that he can elevate for whiffs, but he generally keeps it down and to his arm-side. Despite his rough year, he graded out really well by Command+, which is obviously encouraging.

We only have so many examples of it, but I don’t know why he doesn’t throw a four-seam fastball since he has such great active spin. But if he’s going to keep limiting contact like he always does, don’t fix what isn’t broken, I guess?

 

Changeup (25% usage)

Wood’s changeup was fantastic from 2017 to 2018, and then he struggled with it in 2019. By CSW, it’s been a fantastic pitch. His years of 29.3% and 29.9% changeup CSWs may be gone, but the 22.6% he put up in 2018 is attainable. It still separates well from his sinker in terms of vertical movement.

CSW aside, it’s historically been his best pitch at inducing weak contact. Other than avoiding getting his sinker demolished, we’re going to want to see his slow ball inducing weak contact again.

 

Curveball (25% usage)

In terms of CSW, Wood’s curveball has declined, but it’s still good. His 30.6% CSW in 2019 wasn’t far off from what he’s produced previously. By pVAL, it’s been his best secondary pitch over his career, although his changeup is perhaps equally important. His curveball has the tendency to get hit hard, and it got absolutely destroyed in 2019, with a .532 xwOBAcon.

 

2020 Outlook

Wood wasn’t good in 2019, but, odds are, he didn’t just forget how to pitch at the age of 28. This is a fantastic signing by the Dodgers and it’ll be interesting to see if he can get back into his groove. I’m thinking a 3.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 20 K% can be done.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.30 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 18% K rate in 90 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 24% K rate in 170 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Alex Wood 2020 projection:

3.80 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 21% K rate in 140 IP

 

Julio UriasLocked Starter

Nickname: The Kid

 

2019 In Review

It’s hard to know the true talent level of Julio Urias because we’ve mostly seen him as a reliever. With the current state of the Dodgers’ rotation and with him having some experience under his belt, it’s time for him to get a chance to start every five or so days. Over his career, he’s posted a 3.66 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, and 23.8 K% as a starter. He’s coming off of a 2.49 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, and 26.1 K% campaign as a reliever with a few starts thrown in.

 

Fastball (61% usage)

He threw his fastball an awful lot in the bullpen, but that number will likely come down some as he tries to avoid predictability and issues in the third time through the order. Urias’ fastball has great velocity and spin, but its active spin is really poor. Overall, his fastball is really straight a la Corbin Burnes (I know, yikes), but it also ranks in the 64th percentile in rise according to QOP Baseball.

To get a sense of what his fastball will look like as a starter, we can just pull from his pitches that he threw as a starter. Duh. Over his career, he has a .372 wOBAcon, .337 xwOBAcon, and 9.0% swinging-strike percentage, all of which are very good.

It seems like he shouldn’t have an issue, but I thought the same thing about Burnes.

 

Slider (17% usage)

As a starter, his slider has underwhelmed over the years, at least as a swing-and-miss pitch. It induces really weak contact, but, even combined with his numbers as a reliever, his 31.3% O-Swing rate, 36.2% zone rate, and 12.1% swinging-strike percentage are pretty lackluster – and so is its 13.9% CSW. It does have a 3.2 pVAL, though.

 

Changeup (16% usage)

His changeup’s 19.0% CSW isn’t great either, but it’s better than his slider’s, and 19.0% is much more reasonable, relative to other starters’ changeups. As a starter, Urias has a .251 wOBAcon, .311 xwOBAcon, and 18.2% swinging-strike percentage with his changeup. Paired with his fastball, it has a great velocity differential and also gets a lot of horizontal separation from his fastball since it’s so straight. I think this is going to be his main weapon.

 

Curveball (6% usage)

Smells like a get-me-over pitch, through and through.

 

2020 Outlook

I have some hesitance with Urias. There’s the super straight fastball, as well as the fact that I’m unsure if any of his secondaries are going to take a step forward and help take the pressure off of his fastball (which is by no means a sure thing to be effective). His curveball sure isn’t going to be the pitch. I’m envisioning a 3.80 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, and 23 K%. I could be way off, though.

 

Realistic worst-case projection: 4.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 23% K rate in 120 IP

Realistic best-case projection: 3.00 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 28% K rate in 150 IP

 

Nick’s reluctant Julio Urias 2020 projection:

3.50 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 25% K rate in 140 IP

 

Ross StriplingFringe Starter

Nickname: Geller

2020 Outlook

I’m not as enamored with Stripling as everyone else seems to be. I like him just fine, and I really like watching him pitch, but his fastball is good enough, not good. And none of his breaking pitches are overwhelming to me. He’s perfect in his current role.

 

Jimmy NelsonFringe Starter

Nickname: Never Full

2020 Outlook

Remember that one time Jimmy Nelson looked like a straight-up ace? Yeah, me too. That was crazy. A lot of that based was on his sinker, but his curveball looked like it was developing really nicely that year. I’m super skeptical about his health, and then he’s got to shake off the rest, but Nelson showed flashes of being a potential ace in 2017.

 

Dustin MayFringe Starter

Nickname: Gingergaard

2020 Outlook

Despite his plus velocity, May seems more like a contact management guy than someone who’s going to get a ton of whiffs and strikeouts. Of course, he’ll get those too, but his sinker-cutter combo is underwhelming to me. Until I see his breaking pitch or changeup develop, I’ll remain skeptical. Though, I do think he’ll be good — he’s just limited.

 

Tony GonsolinFringe Starter

Nickname: Zappa

2020 Outlook

The fastball hasn’t been as advertised, but so far so good with his splitter and slider. I see him as more of a multi-inning guy that bounces between the rotation and bullpen. If his fastball clicks (as it’s supposed t0) and his command is serviceable, I may be more excited about him.

 

Nickname explanations:

Clayton Kershaw: TATIAGA. He is The Ace That Is Always Gonna Ace. I hope he keeps the nickname for a long time.

Walker Buehler: Ferris. From “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” of course.

David PriceBarker. Bob Barker = the classic host of “The Price Is Right.”

Alex WoodThe Chucker. He throws baseballs and you have to wonder, how much Wood would a woodchuck chuck?

Julio UriasThe Kid. He’s been around for so long and he’s just 23.

Ross StriplingGeller. Ross Geller from Friends.

Jimmy NelsonNever Full. I feel like we’re always chasing a full Nelson season and we won’t get it again.

Dustin MayGingergaard. It’s what they call him due to his hair.

Tony GonsolinZappa. He looks just like Frank Zappa.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Michael Ajeto

Michael writes about the Mariners at Lookout Landing, while doing other analysis here at Pitcher List. You can follow Michael on Twitter @dysthymikey, or you can not.

2 responses to “Player Profiles 2020: Los Angeles Dodgers Starting Pitchers”

  1. Avatar Slappy says:

    Hey Michael,

    Great stuff, except…I need to grab a couple of pitchers in an upcoming Strat draft and was thinking about Urias and Lamet, but neither get glowing reviews in your 2020 reviews. My other choices are likely to be Canning, McKay, Gallen, May and Urquidy. Who’d you suggest? Which of these guys have the highest ceilings AND the least amount of risk to get there?

    Also, I’d like to grab 1 or 2 more SPs late, among these: Alex Young, Elieser Hernandez, Felix Pena, Adrian Houser, Austin Voth and Tony Gonsolin. Who stands out?

    thanks!

    • Avatar Blue Crew Beatdown says:

      I would go with McKay and Hernandez. McKay had a better rookie season than some of his stats imply. I would point to his 25.9% Strikeout Rate, with just a 7.4% Walk Rate. Also, he struck out 56 in 49 innings, which is a good sign for a pitcher getting ready to enter his prime. I am not claiming CY candidate, necessarily, but his rookie year was definitely a good foundation towards one in the future… I just wish he threw a little harder.

      As for Hernandez, he also had more strikeouts than innings pitched, and pretty similar stats across almost twice as many innings… So it seems like both 24 year olds will likely get better and better over the next couple seasons, and I think Mckay will have a solid year for sure this year…Hernandez still needs to lock in a rotation spot.
      I know that you didn’t ask for my opinion, and I am no professional, so take my advice with a grain of salt. I am picking up Hernandez in my keeper league.

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