When the 10-day DL reemerged into our collective consciousness, the idea was relatively simple. Teams wanted to maintain roster flexibility while also protecting their players from “gutting it out” through lingering injuries that might not warrant missing two full weeks of the season. A secondary function of the new, abbreviated DL has unearthed itself over the first half of the season. The shorter DL trips have allowed teams to manipulate the traditional five-man starting rotation, and nobody has gamed the system quite like the Dodgers.
Left-hip contusion. Blister. Soreness in left (non-throwing) shoulder. Another blister. Hamstring Tightness. Left-shoulder inflammation. Right-knee tendonitis. Sore foot. More blisters (probably).
Dodgers’ starting pitchers have made eight separate trips to the DL, citing injuries more commonly associated with a seniors’ nine-hole golf league than a major-league pitching staff. As it turns out, it’s a good idea to give extra days off to starters that have been pegged as injury prone. Even with numerous trips to the DL, the Dodgers are the only team in baseball to have six pitchers make 12 or more starts (the Mariners have gotten starts from 13 different pitchers, which doesn’t really fit in here, but just… wow). The Dodgers’ rotation ranks third in baseball with a 3.83 DRA, trailing only the Nationals and Diamondbacks. They also lead the league in WAR from starting pitchers, which is not necessarily fantasy-centric, but impressive nonetheless.
Let’s dig in a little deeper to see how each starter has been performing, and determine how the extra rest could affect their stats and fantasy value for the remainder of the season.
You know what you’re getting from Kershaw at this point. He’s giving up a few more homers, sure, but he’s striking out nearly 11 batters per nine innings while surrendering fewer than two walks per nine. Additionally, Kershaw has remained largely above the fray when it comes to skipping starts (wouldn’t you want the best pitcher on the planet pitching as much as possible?), so the six-man-rotation does not alter his status much, if at all. He’s still the King Lord of Pitch Mountain.
It’s an age-old question that has stumped the greatest minds of our time: How many whiffs could a Wood-chuck chuck, if a Wood-chuck could chuck whiffs)? (I’m so sorry.) Actually, we have an answer: it’s 13.5 percent (tied for seventh-best swinging-strike rate in the league). The 26-year-old lefty has been downright filthy, throwing harder than he has since his rookie year in 2013. He’s also throwing his changeup more frequently, which has been basically an automatic out pitch, getting whiffs nearly 18 percent of the time and ground balls at a 62 percent clip.
There’s obviously a lot to like with Wood. The 1.67 ERA is awfully sexy, and his 76 cFIP places him among the league’s elite. Having said that, there could be some slight regression in the second half. Wood has given up only two homers in 80 2/3 innings. Quick math tells us that comes out to a hilariously low 0.2 per nine innings. While Wood has displayed extreme ground-ball tendencies, that number very likely will increase somewhat as the season progresses. In addition, Wood is stranding over 80 percent of his baserunners, which is eight percentage points above league average. That’s not a crazy number, but it still could see some movement back toward the mean.
Even with some regression baked in, Wood should be a stud for the foreseeable future. The skill level has never really been the question for the lanky lefty, and the occasional skipped start could be just what the doctor ordered, quite literally. Even at 150 to 175 innings, Wood should provide elite rates with enough strikeouts to make up for the fewer innings. The time to invest was probably a couple of months ago, but I would still be comfortable paying a pretty penny to acquire the second-best lefty hurler in the Dodgers rotation.
Wood’s 2017 is eerily like Hill’s cumulative 2016. Hill’s 2017, on the other hand, hasn’t been great. Despite a decent 3.69 ERA, the 37-year-old is walking more guys than ever and surrendering long balls at his highest pace since 2009. Also, there are blisters.
While Hill’s numbers haven’t been stellar overall, he has been a lot better lately. In the lefty’s first eight starts, Hill walked nearly six batters per nine and struck out a batter per inning, en route to a 5.15 ERA. In his past four starts, he tweaked his mix, leaning more on his fastball and throwing the “heater” in over half of his offerings. The results have been fantastic, as Hill has averaged over 12 strikeouts to only two walks per nine innings with a sparkling 1.73 ERA. Or, in other words, he has looked like the best version of Rich Hill again.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before. It’s all about injuries with Hill. I have almost no confidence that Hill will remain healthy for the remainder of the season, however with the new six-man rotation the Dodgers are ostensibly trotting out, the extra rest could do wonders for Hill and his blister-riddled fingers. If Hill can maintain some semblance of his most recent rejuvenation (how many rejuvenations of Hill are we up to now?), he’s a guy to target for the stretch run, especially if his current owner is a little squeamish about his injury history coupled with his slow start.
Maeda was the clear No. 2 starter for the Dodgers for most of the 2016 season and now he’s maybe No. 4 on the staff. That, right there, is the fabled rotation depth. The 29-year-old import hasn’t enjoyed the same success this year as he did in his inaugural campaign, and has even struggled to the point where the team has used the right-hander out of the bullpen (although it’s just as likely this was a preservative measure). In 78 innings Maeda has been roughly league average across the board, a far cry from the 4.4 WAR hurler he was just a season ago.
One of the biggest differences in Maeda’s profile has been the inability to draw contact on pitches outside of the zone. A season ago, he got hitters to make contact on pitches outside of the zone around 61 percent of the time, right around league average. This year, hitters are only making contact on 53 percent of such offerings, almost nine percentage points below league average. Typically, these swings result in weaker contact and easy outs, and the lack of such contact almost certainly has played a role in Maeda’s inflated ERA.
The good news, however, is that a lot of Maeda’s peripherals are similar, if not better than they were last season. He’s getting whiffs on 13.5 percent of his pitches and still is striking out around a batter per inning. He also has enjoyed recent success keeping his slider in his back pocket, opting to throw more fastballs. The extra rest could be beneficial for Maeda, as it more closely resembles the pitching schedule that he thrived with in Japan. The price for acquiring Maeda might be as low as it will get, and while there is injury risk, he could be a strong candidate for a productive second half.
Guess what? McCarthy has made 14 starts. That’s great! His velocity is back to pre-TJ levels and he has shaved nearly three walks per nine from his disastrous 2016 line. The strikeouts seem to have dried up, however, with the veteran right-hander opting to induce weak contact. He is doing so by relying on his cutter more than any season since 2013. While the pitch only gets whiffs at around a league-average rate, hitters can’t square it up, leading to a paltry 79 mph average exit velocity, a number comfortably below league average.
Despite having success this season, McCarthy’s profile leaves me lukewarm moving forward. His 3.12 ERA is great, but a 4.07 DRA indicates that trouble could be on the horizon. If he starts getting even a little unlucky on balls in play, things could get out of hand quickly. McCarthy is a great story and an excellent follow on Twitter, but I’m staying away for fantasy purposes.
After tossing only 4 2/3 innings since 2014, Ryu has been a nice comeback story, providing right around league average production in 72 2/3 innings. He’s striking out a few more guys than he has in previous seasons, but he’s also giving up nearly 10 hits and a whopping two dingers per nine innings. Ryu could potentially benefit from throwing his changeup a little more frequently, as the pitch has had great success baffling hitters to the tune of a .240 batting average and 20 percent whiff rate. There had been rumblings about using Ryu as a long man out of the bullpen, however his reticence and weird reverse platoon splits could keep that plan from coming to fruition. While it’s nice seeing him healthy, Ryu is probably only usable in deep, deep leagues or NL-only formats.
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