Sunday, December 10, 2023

Uncustomed Heroes of 2023: Dodgers


You can win 100 games, but if you wanna be the last team standing, it generally helps to have some healthy pitchers.

The Dodgers did not have a single starter go all 33 games this year. Their entire rotation was made up of people who got injured for at least 8 or so games this year, and or were brought up to salvage things when everyone else was getting injured, or, worse, people who are healthy and pitching well but do something genuinely awful and may never pitch again. At a certain point, even the Yankees were laughing. Going in, you at least knew they'd be without Walker Buehler, but all of Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin, Michael Grove, Noah Syndergaard and Clayton Kershaw joined him on the IL at some point this year, and no matter how impressive Freeman, Betts, Muncy and Martinez were this year, it was always going to come down to the pitching. And in the postseason, it certainly did. 

The goal for 2024 is to ensure that there aren't as many injured pitchers clogging the roster. Which would be a lot easier to complete if they didn't just sign someone they know won't pitch until 2025 to a multi-year deal yesterday. But regardless.

Dustin May, prior to the injury, was having another solid season, with a 4-1 record, a 2.63 ERA and 34 Ks in 9 starts. Then, as is routine, May got injured. In May, no less. And the entire rest of the season would be played without him. That means that thanks to the COVID season, and three straight years of injuries, Dustin May has started a total of 34 games since coming up in 2019. For comparison's sake, Rich Hill has started 105 games in that period, and he's 43. 
2024 Prediction: UH, PITCHES MORE THAN 10 GAMES THIS YEAR. That is the bar. 2020 is the frigging bar. And even then I'm like 'well I'm not sure'.

Chris Taylor has been a utility helper for the Dodgers since 2017, and while his peak era of production wrapped up around 2021, he's still useful in a number of ways for these teams. Not only was he still a strong defensive piece at multiple positions, but he had 15 home runs and 56 RBIs, which is not bad at all for a utility man. 
2024 Prediction: Taylor is plugged into a starting role for a large portion of the year due to a big injury, and he continues to display why the fans love him so much.

The Dodgers began the year with some gambles at starting positions, to make up for a few departing guys. One that I think they were banking on more than they should have was Miguel Rojas, who was traded after playing a foundational role in the last half-decade of Marlins teams. Rojas was plugged into shortstop, and while he's still incredible defensively, his .236 average did stick out compared to Trea Turner's strong work the previous year. It's something they'll need to think about as Rojas goes onto the final year of his contract in LA.
2024 Prediction: Another excellent defensive season that the Dodgers ride out, though don't be shocked if an upgrade gets some plate appearances at SS late in the year.

The other gamble was former Diamondbacks outfield mainstay David Peralta, who'd been something of a disappointment for the Rays the previous stretch. Peralta would be making up for the loss of Cody Bellinger, who just needed to get away from LA in order to get his groove back. Meanwhile, Peralta hit .259 with 102 hits, 55 RBIs and 7 homers in 133 games, which was solid, if more suited to the lower third of the lineup. To his credit, though, Peralta's 2023 was his best defensive season to date.
2024 Prediction: Will fill a similar late-lineup role for someone else. Honestly, watch it be Houston.

As I'd predicted during the 2020 playoffs, Brusdar Graterol has become an extremely useful bullpen piece for the Dodgers. Though he's yet to eclipse Evan Phillips in the depth chart, Graterol still led the bullpen in innings with 67 and in ERA with a shocking 1.20. Graterol is a very careful, not-especially-strikeout-reliant reliever who just doesn't let many balls pass, and his 2023 was his best achievement to date.
2024 Prediction: Sets higher marks for himself in strikeouts, and possibly vies for an ASG gig.

The biggest shocker of this team might have been the Dodgers' pitching staff's ability to bring Ryan Brasier back, as they have with countless pitchers long thought washed up. Brasier was a hit both in Japan and in Boston, and was part of that excellent ninth inning platoon for the Sox during the end of the 2010s, but in the past couple years Brasier had looked cooked. The Sox cut him, the Dodgers picked him up, solved the problem and in 39 games in LA, Brasier had a frigging 0.70 ERA, and only 3 earned runs. He did give up a run during the NLDS, but he still struck out 3 D-Backs batters around that.
2024 Prediction: Well it can't be nearly as good as that, can it? What if he returns to his old system in Anaheim and does alright for himself?

For a year and a half, the Dodgers have been playing an infuriating game of peekaboo with Ryan Pepiot. Here's what they do every time: they bring him up suddenly to replace an injured pitcher, have him pitch one or two decent outings, and then immediately bring him back to OKC. And then repeat like 2 weeks later, and then back. I get it, he's a big prospect and they're limiting his innings, but I feel like they've been so afraid to break Pepiot that they're not giving him the MLB rollout he should be having. Also, Pepiot was injured for half the season, which may or may not have been the result of the Dodgers playing Oklahoma Flight Roulette with him. Still, in 8 appearances this year, Pepiot held a 2.14 ERA, 38 Ks and a 0.762 WHIP. 
2024 Prediction: Dodgers, either shit or get off the pot with this guy. I say they do keep him up for a bit, but don't be surprised if they either trade him or yank him back down again if he doesn't immediately soar. [Update 12/14: WELL, THAT WAS QUICK...]

In the midst of the war zone of starters, the Dodgers took a risk on Lance Lynn, who'd been struggling in Chicago. As luck would have it, the pitching coaches figured out what was wrong with Lynn as well, and Lynn pitched beautifully for LA, going 7-2 with a 4.36 ERA and 47 Ks in 11 games. The postseason did not go as well for him, and his shellacking by the D-Backs offense did eventually lead to an early elimination for LA.
2024 Prediction: A lower-key but still consistent year with his old friends in St. Louis. 

The other flyer the Dodgers took at the deadline was picking up Amed Rosario, who'd underwhelmed in Cleveland as a replacement for Francisco Lindor, in exchange for Noah Syndergaard, who'd struggled to keep runs down with his arm very much cooked. Rosario finally looked confident again for the Dodgers, improving his infield play in a reduced role and hitting .256 with 18 RBIs and 32 hits in 48 games.
2024 Prediction: I don't think he's gonna be trusted to start immediately, but given a smaller market with lower pressure he could finally find a niche.

Coming Tomorrow- Some larger pieces of a mostly-unknown Giants team that almost made it happen.

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