By any metric imaginable, the Los Angeles Dodgers have one of the best starting staffs in baseball. And if we’re being honest, maybe one of the best staffs in recent memory.
As it stands, Dodger starters are first in baseball with a 3.15 ERA (nearly a half-run better than the second-place Washington Nationals) and they are third with an 18.6 WAR — all while throwing the fifth-most innings.
Of course, when that’s the case it’s no surprise to note that the Dodgers will do well in Cy Young voting this winter. It’s conceivable the team will have three pitchers receive votes.
But the award may be slipping away from Hyun-Jin Ryu after he easily was the favorite a month ago before hitting a few massive speed bumps.
Despite all of that, however, as the postseason looms, the reality is that when it comes to starting pitching, the Dodgers might have a problem. Who starts in Game 4 if and when it’s needed?
It wasn’t all that long ago Rich Hill appeared unlikely to be ready to start any games come the postseason. Then, Hill made his return and was expected to build up throughout September.
But Hill suffered another MCL strain in the first inning of his outing and while he’s scheduled to rejoin the rotation Tuesday, counting on him to start in the postseason may be ambitious.
SO, if Hill isn’t ready to go, what options are available to the Dodgers? While they probably wouldn’t need a fourth starter until the National League Championship Series, the good news is it’s not like the Dodgers are without options.
That’s true even if removing Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling and Julio Urias from the equation because each is poised for a role out of the bullpen.
The argument for: Urias offers a middle of the road option for the Dodgers. When Urias is on, he is a high-end Major League starter. He has all the stuff, doesn’t seem to lack confidence and he has been there before.
In eight starts this year, he has posted a better FIP than everyone but Walker Bueher, Dustin May and Ryu; Urias does have a slightly higher strikeout percentage than Buehler, although that’s somewhat tilted in his favor.
To be fully transparent, though, Urias hasn’t pitched more than three innings in a game since April 18. Granted, that still could mesh with the Dodgers’ willingness to take an unorthodox approach with their Game 4 starter.
The argument against: Urias hasn’t provided any sort of length and he’s one of the best three relief pitchers the Dodgers have. In 46.2 innings out of the bullpen, he has a 2.12 ERA while striking out nearly one batter per inning.
If you have other options in the rotation (and the Dodgers do), then it’s hard to imagine pulling Urias out of the bullpen.
The argument for: Including all the starters on the roster, there might not be anyone on the team with better stuff than May.
The way he makes hitters look is astounding — especially for a rookie with just four Major League starts under his belt. While some may have doubted whether 2019 was going to be May’s true breakout, it’s hard to imagine him not playing a role this postseason knowing what we do now.
That said, with someone as inexperienced as him it almost seems more risky to try and convert May into a reliever than to let him do what he’s comfortable with.
The argument against: On a team with World Series aspirations are you really going to trot out a rookie just a few years removed from high school and with merely a handful of MLB starts?
Let May get his feet wet in the bullpen — a place where his stuff might play up when he’s given the chance to throw as hard as he wants to. Think David Price in 2008 or even Brandon Woodruff of the Milwaukee Brewers just last season.
For a team in desperate need of help in the bullpen, why not let this kid run wild?
The argument for: The last of viable options, Gonsolin is another rookie who has shown he belongs in the Majors during his brief audition thus far. At 25 years- old, Gonsolin has a bit more life experience under his belt than May, and his stuff is less likely to be as explosive in relief.
His ceiling is probably higher than that of Stripling, but his floor is also lower given the unpredictability. Gonsolin’s argument here is simple: he’s probably the least valuable bullpen asset in the group.
The argument against: Gonsolin has just six career starts, and 12 months ago he wasn’t even on anyone’s radar as a top prospect. You don’t mess around in the playoffs with auditions, and so let Gonsolin have another year in the Majors next year before letting him loose in October.
Verdict If the bullpen is well-rested in the first few games, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise to see Urias start with the aim of just getting the team through three innings.
If he’s on? Let him run longer, otherwise, turn it over to a few other pitchers on this list to get you an inning or two.
The second option may shock some, but Gonsolin might be the Dodgers’ best option. Of all the pitchers outlined above, he seems to be seeing the most consistent action as a starter (or as a long reliever) and all of his appearances have been good.
While Gonsolin hasn’t lasted more than five innings, he’s also only allowed six runs over those five appearances (21 innings).
Of course, the Dodgers might just go with May (the highest ceiling of the bunch) and see what happens. Regardless, the options are far better than they might appear on the surface — which is great news for a team that needs some optimism in their pitching.