To the casual observer, the Los Angeles Dodgers pitching staff has been a disappointment this season. So far, seven different pitchers have started for the team, and that doesn’t even include $16-million-a-year-man Scott Kazmir.
What’s more, four of the starters have an ERA of 4.35 or higher. Rich Hill, the Dodgers’ presumed No. 2 starter, has been disastrous to the tune of a 5.14 ERA and an average of less than five innings per start.
Kenta Maeda — the team’s second-most dependable starter from last season — has been so ineffective (4.70 ERA) that he’s been relegated to the bullpen. Though, Maeda did turn in an encouraging spot start on Sunday.
Julio Urias — the wunderkind that dazzled in 15 starts last season — yielded a 5.40 ERA in five starts for the Dodgers this season and got sent back down to Triple-A Oklahoma City.
He’s since been put on the disabled list and shut down due to shoulder inflammation. When Urias will resume throwing or return to pitching is unknown.
And, yet, the Dodgers have the best ERA in the Majors entering play on Monday.
Among starters, the Dodgers are tied for the second-best ERA (3.55). They and the Houston Astros are behind Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitchers (3.50 ERA) by a slim margin.
Among bullpens, the Dodgers have the fourth-best ERA (3.11). The Cleveland Indians (2.56 ERA), Boston Red Sox (2.80) and New York Yankees (3.04). If not for a disastrous performance Sunday, the Dodgers’ standing would be all the better.
So, how have they done it?
Obviously, things begin with Clayton Kershaw. He’s the only Dodgers pitcher not to miss a start this season. While averaging almost seven innings per outing, Kershaw has pitched to a 2.23 ERA. That’s admittedly average by Kershaw’s standards, but still good for second-best among qualified starting pitchers.
The three-time Cy Young Award winner has 105 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 97 innings over 14 starts. The key thus far in 2017, however, has been the two names that come next on the list: Alex Wood and Brandon McCarthy.
In 10 starts this season, Wood has a 2.08 ERA. If taking into account his two relief appearances, Wood’s ERA is an even more impressive 1.90. What’s more, his 10.5 strikeouts-per-nine-innings is superior to Kershaw’s mark (9.7).
What’s fascinating about Wood is that we always knew this was in there. The question was simply whether it would ever come out. Still only 26 years old, Wood made 35 starts (plus 31 relief appearances) for the Atlanta Braves from 2013-14 and posted an ERA under 3.00 — good for 4.2 WAR.
The second key to the Dodgers pitching staff this season has been McCarthy. He’s another whose talent has always been there, but whose production (or physical health) has never matched up.
In 11 starts this season (tied for second-most on the team), McCarthy has a 3.14 ERA. That’s thanks to nine starts with two earned runs or fewer. McCarthy’s ERA is on track to be the best of his career.
Beyond the aforementioned trio, though, the starting pitching has been pretty rough. So, is the overall success sustainable?
The first question is whether Wood and McCarthy can maintain their current pace. It’s hard to imagine Wood will keep stride with Kershaw for an entire season. But I don’t believe an ERA under 3.00 is unreasonable at all. As for McCarthy, his current pace is absolutely sustainable.
But what about the others? What can the Dodgers expect from Hill, Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu or Urias? This is obviously the tougher question of the two, but with a list of four names (five if you could Kazmir) and a need for only two to step up, it seems like the Dodgers are in good shape.
Of course, there’s always the possibility with the Dodgers of a trade happening. So we may not even know what this group will look like a couple months from now.
Regardless, the good news is that despite a mostly disappointing start, the Dodgers pitching is on pace for the team’s best ERA since 2013.