CINCINNATI — No team loses more high-impact starting pitchers than the Los Angeles Dodgers. However, neither team consistently shoots that well. It is part of life in blue.
“I was at the Sandy Koufax statue ceremony last week, and he talked about how, when you put on this uniform, there’s a lot of pitching legacy with the Dodgers,” manager Dave Roberts said here Tuesday, before a game with the Cincinnati. Reds. “And I think when you have Clayton Kershaw here, the bar is very high. So the expectation when you get on the mound for us is higher.”
Kershaw, who missed a few weeks with a lower back injury, is back on his way to the Hall of Fame. The arms around him keep changing, but the results remain the same. Dodgers starters led the majors in ERA through Wednesday, at 2.62, despite missing out on a decorated five-man rotation from 2021.
At various times last season, the Dodgers used Max Scherzer, Trevor Bauer, Walker Buehler, David Price and Dustin May. Those pitchers made 77 starts for a team that tied a franchise record with 106 wins. They’ve all left the rotation.
Scherzer signed with the Mets. Bauer was suspended for two years in April for violating baseball’s domestic violence policy. Buehler had elbow surgery this month for a flexor tendon strain and his return is uncertain. Price is a middle reliever. May is recovering from Tommy John surgery.
For the Dodgers, though, it’s just a chance for others to shine. Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson combined to go 17-0, helping keep the team atop the NL West in a virtual tie with San Diego. Both starters could be All-Stars for the first time next month.
“I feel like they never rule anything out here,” said Anderson, a left-hander who signed with the Dodgers after six years with four teams and a 4.62 ERA. “Some teams, if you try things, they don’t really like to try new things. While they’re not afraid to try new things here, they also know how to weed out the stuff that doesn’t work.”
Anderson, who signed a one-year, $8 million deal, tweaked his best pitch, the changeup. He is now the slowest of his type among qualified NL pitchers, at 79.2 miles per hour, according to Fangraphs, which helps his normal fastball play.
Gonsolin made a concerted effort to throw more strikes this season, while using his splitter more than any other NL starter. Teams have largely discouraged pitchers from using that field, for fear of injury, since its heyday in the 1980s. But Roberts thinks the splitter should return, and Gonsolin could give it a showcase if he starts the All-Star Game. at home next month.
“That would be great,” said Gonsolin, a ninth-round draft pick by the Dodgers in 2016. “Having it at Dodger Stadium would be great. It would be amazing to be a part of that environment, to have that opportunity if it happens.”
Andrew Heaney, who returned from a shoulder injury last weekend and all but ruled out his trade, has a 0.59 ERA with 23 strikeouts and four walks in three starts. Heaney signed a one-year, $8.5 million deal after struggling last season with the Angels and Yankees.
“Throw your best pitches more often,” Heaney said. “That makes a lot of sense to me.”
Heaney, like Anderson, had a history of mediocrity for multiple teams; in eight seasons, his ERA was 4.72. Yency Almonte, setup man for his fourth setup, has been successful in emphasizing plumb lines over all four seams. Another reliever, Evan Phillips, had a 7.26 ERA for three teams and a 2.43 mark since the Dodgers claimed him last August.
“We still have to compete; It’s not like we walk up to the Dodgers and they sprinkle some fairy dust on us and all of a sudden we are who we are,” Phillips said. “We all have talent, and I think we are just challenged to bring out the best in ourselves. And in a room like this, when you’re surrounded by Hall of Famers and All-Stars left and right, everyone cheers.”
Kershaw, 34, finished last season on the disabled list but returned for one year and $17 million. He’s been with the Dodgers for 15 seasons, long enough to witness his last losing mark (80-82 in 2010) and his return to the kind of pitching dominance that defined Koufax’s prime in the 1960s. .
“The Dodgers do a good job of finding out what you do well and using that, a lot,” Kershaw said. “There are certain organizations that pitch very well. We are one of them. Cleveland is one of them. Tampa Bay is one of them. I think everyone does it a little bit differently, but it seems like the Dodgers find strength from someone that maybe you don’t see it on paper, but if you dig a little bit, you see this guy has some ability.”
This is the sixth straight season the Dodgers have the lowest ERA in the NL, at 2.90 through Wednesday. Heaney said the cohesion between departments in the team’s vast coaching and front office structure made it easier to implement changes.
“There’s an opening to being able to say, ‘Let’s try something different,’ and the guys aren’t looking forward to it,” Heaney said. “There’s a trust, like, ‘Okay, they won’t bring this to me if they don’t believe in what it could unlock.'”
General manager Brandon Gomes pitched for Tampa Bay under Andrew Friedman, who left to run the Dodgers’ baseball operations department in 2014. The raw data hasn’t changed much since he played, Gomes said, but teams have found more ways to apply them.
The old idea that players will generally follow their established patterns, that they will play with the back of their baseball cards, as the saying goes, no longer applies.
“There are different paths to player development, and not just in the minor leagues,” Gomes said. “The development of major league players is also happening.”
The Dodgers could add more depth in the second half, with May, Danny Duffy, Tommy Kahnle and Blake Treinen possibly returning from various injuries. The Dodgers are spending a combined $6.725 million this season on Duffy and Kahnle, and if neither returns, they can afford the risk. His bets on Heaney, and especially Anderson, are already paying off.
Such a portfolio distinguishes the Dodgers. The team has a payroll of about $260 million, according to Spotrac, just below the Mets for richest in the majors.
“Between how well they find guys raw and their ability to spend money, at the end of the day, if you spend money, you get good players and good players win games,” Kershaw said. “I don’t care how the other teams think they’re going to do it, that’s how you have a good team, it’s being able to do that. If you’re not going to spend any money, you might have a good year or two. But you have to have good players, and good players cost money.”
The Dodgers’ big spending — for players like Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Trea Turner and others — is top of mind. But his success developing players in the majors may be saving his season.