Dodgers Dugout: The curious case of Walker Buehler
Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell, and as long as the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t make the playoffs and Brusdar Graterol doesn’t have to pitch to the Mets in the postseason, everything should be fine.
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The distressing news in Dodgerland over the last couple of weeks has been the poor pitching of Walker Buehler.
Buehler had the shortest outing of his career on Saturday during a 9-4 loss to the New York Mets. He pitched 2 1/3 innings, giving up five hits, five runs, two homers, while walking two and striking out three.
On April 25, Buehler pitched a shutout against the Arizona Diamondbacks, throwing 108 pitches. Let’s take a look at his outings since then, with his season ERA, to that point, after that game:
May 1 vs. Detroit, five IP, six hits, no runs, one walk, five strikeouts, 92 pitches, 2.12 ERA
May 8 at Chicago Cubs, seven IP, four hits, one run, two walks, six strikeouts, 98 pitches, 1.96 ERA
May 13 vs. Philadelphia, five IP, nine hits, five runs, one walk, three strikeouts, 82 pitches, 2.81 ERA
May 18 vs. Arizona, five IP, six hits, two runs, two walks, four strikeouts, 91 pitches, 2.89 ERA
May 24 at Washington, six IP, six hits, three runs, two walks, three strikeouts, 92 pitches, 2.91 ERA
May 30 vs. Pittsburgh, six IP, seven hits, four runs, one walk, seven strikeouts, 93 pitches, 3.22 ERA
June 4 vs. NY Mets, 2.1 IP, five hits, five runs, two walks, three strikeouts, 65 pitches, 3.84 ERA
In that span, Buehler has pitched 36 1/3 innings, giving up 43 hits, 20 runs, 11 walks, with 31 strikeouts and an ERA of 4.71. Not the stuff aces are made of. Of all pitchers who threw at least 34 innings (the amount Buehler threw) in May, Buehler had the third-worst ERA, ahead of Chris Bassitt and Patrick Corbin.
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He has lost command of his pitches. The Dodgers gave him a 4-1 lead against the Mets and the chance to win the first three games of the series. Buehler couldn’t do it and the Dodgers ended up with a split. What is going on?
“I’m trying to figure this out,” Buehler said. “I don’t like this any more than the next guy.... It stinks to put your team in a hole after they score four runs for me. It’s more of the same frustration.”
Dave Roberts: “Obviously, I know Walker’s frustrated. He’s competing his tail off. It was one of those things that when you’re going through it, things aren’t going your way, guys hitting great pitches.
“He’s going to work it out. He’ll figure it out. I have all the confidence in that.”
Of course, what else would Roberts be expected to say? He’s going to back his guys, and he’s right to do so. And in all likelihood, Buehler will put it all together at some point, maybe soon.
Here is what is going to be interesting, though. If all goes well with their rehab assignments, Clayton Kershaw and Andrew Heaney could be back in the rotation soon. Mitch White figures to get bumped back to the bullpen when either Kershaw or Heaney are ready. But what happens when the other is back in the rotation? The easy answer a couple of weeks ago was to put Tyler Anderson back in the bullpen. But it’s hard to do that now because of the way he has been pitching. Tony Gonsolin has been just as good as Anderson. That leaves Buehler and Julio Urías, and it seems unlikely either of them go to the bullpen. A six-man rotation? A convenient injury for someone to get a break? It will be interesting to see.
I posed the question to our Dodgers beat writer Jack Harris. Here are his thoughts:
“This is one of those good problems for the Dodgers, but a tricky decision nonetheless. Not only might they have six starters all deserving of a rotation spot, but starting on June 20, MLB’s 13-pitcher limit goes back into effect for all teams’ rosters — meaning, in order to carry a six-man rotation, the Dodgers would have only seven pitchers in the bullpen.
“As of now, when Kershaw and Heaney are both back, I think the team would be willing to use roll with six starters, as long as everyone is pitching well. After all, if you are getting six-plus strong innings on a regular basis from your starters, the workload will be lessened for the bullpen. The Dodgers could also rotate relievers in from the minors when needed in that scenario, too.
“If the team does elect to return to a five-man rotation, I think Anderson is still the most likely candidate to return to the bullpen, back in the long-relief/bulk-inning role he had at the start of the year. But his emergence in the last couple weeks has certainly made that potential a much tougher decision. Entering the year, we wondering if the Dodgers would have enough reliable starting pitchers. Suddenly, they might have too many.”
Poor Edwin Ríos
You have to feel bad for Edwin Ríos. He had a solid 2020 (.250/.301/.645), homering at an unbelievable rate (eight homers in 76 at-bats, or one every 9.5 at bats). Only 25 players in history have averaged a homer in fewer than 10 at-bats in a season. Of course, Ríos was well short of the number of at-bats needed to qualify for that list, so let’s not get carried away. In 2021, he tried to play through a shoulder injury, went four for 51 (with a homer of course) but finally had to have season-ending shoulder surgery. He was back at 100% this season, hit well in limited playing time off the bench, then stepped in effectively when Max Muncy went on the injured list. Ríos was hitting .244/.293/.500 with seven homers in 86 at-bats (one every 12.3 at-bats) when he strained his right hamstring running to first base during Thursday’s game against the Mets. He was put on the IL and will be out a “handful of weeks” according to the Dodgers.
As Roberts put it: “Part of the tendon or the muscle came off the bone.” That doesn’t sound pleasant at all.
To replace Ríos on the roster, the Dodgers brought up Eddy Alvarez, who was hitting .304/.430/.500 for triple-A Oklahoma City. He was playing short, second and left in the minors. Not all at the same time.
Alvarez is one of only six athletes to win a medal in the Summer and Winter Olympics. He won silver in 2014 in short track speedskating, and silver in 2021 in baseball.
Also, Kevin Pillar went on the IL after breaking his shoulder. He will have surgery this week and is unlikely to return this season. He was put on the 60-day IL, which created room on the 40-man roster for Alvarez.
With the team trailing 9-4 going into the top of the ninth on Saturday, Roberts brought in Zach McKinstry to pitch. Unfortunately the rules say that you have to be leading or trailing by at least six runs in order to bring in a position player to pitch. Mets manager Buck Showalter noticed and asked the umpires for clarification. After checking with New York, they told Roberts he had to bring in an actual pitcher.
“It’s an oversight on my part,” Roberts said. “Once it was brought to [the umpires’] attention, they were on it, too.” The rule is new this season.
And why bring in a position player when trailing by five runs? “It’s more of looking at what we have in the probability to win that game to save in order to win the series,” Roberts said. “I’m still trying to manage to win a series and not just keep the game close.”
The Mets series
Graterol came into the Mets series with an ERA of 2.95. He gave up three runs Saturday in the 9-4 loss. Not to be deterred, he came into Sunday’s game to start the eighth inning with the Dodgers leading 2-1. He gave up three runs again, and the Dodgers lose 4-3. He exits the Mets series with an ERA of 4.81. Daniel Hudson pitched Thursday and Friday, but not Saturday. It would have been nice to see him in the eighth inning.
“There’s just inconsistent command,” Roberts said of Graterol. “It doesn’t matter how hard you throw. You still gotta command the baseball, and he’s just not.”
This brings up another point that has been written about here in the past: The importance of not just looking at ERA when discussing a reliever, but also his IRS%, which is short for Inherited Runners who Scored percentage. For example, a reliever comes in with the bases loaded and two out. He gives up a triple, then gets the final out. His ERA that outing is zero, but did he really pitch well? No. His IRS% is 100, the worst you can do. A high ERA is a good sign that a reliever is pitching poorly of course. But a low ERA can be deceiving.
In the eighth inning on Sunday, left-hander Alex Vesia came in to pitch with two out and a man on first with the Dodgers trailing 3-2. He walked Luis Guillorme and gave up a single to Tomás Nido to put the Mets up 4-2. He then got the final out of the inning. Vesia’s ERA for the game: 0.00. But did he really pitch well? No. His IRS% is 100 for the game, and that tells the real tale. And that run became very important when the Dodgers scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game instead of win it.
That brings us to Craig Kimbrel, who has been, to be polite, ineffective as a closer lately. He pitched a solid ninth Sunday, but gave up a double to J.D. Davis to lead off the bottom of the 10th, which allowed “ghost runner” Pete Alonso to score. Kimbrel does not get charged with an earned run or an IRS for that.
Since May 16, Kimbrel has a 6.75 ERA.
After the misery of the Pirates series, most Dodgers fans would have gladly accepted a split of the Mets series. But that was about as demoralizing a way to split a series as possible.
Dodgers IRS% this season
The NL average is 35.5%. The Dodgers as a team are at 26.1%.
Daniel Hudson, 0 of 5 inherited runners have scored, 0%
Phil Bickford, 0-4, 0%
Yency Almonte, 0-3, 0%
David Price, 0-3, 0%
Craig Kimbrel, 0-2, 0%
Mitch White, 0-2, 0%
Justin Bruihl, 0-1, 0%
NL average, 35.5%
Alex Vesia, 3-7, 42.9%
Brusdar Graterol, 5-12, 42.7%
Evan Phillips, 3-6, 50%
Reyes Moronta, 1-1, 100%
How are Dodgers hitting when it really counts this season? Let’s take a look at the late and close stat. A late and close situation is when the game is in the seventh inning or later, and the Dodgers are either leading by one run, tied, or have the potential tying run on base, at bat, or on deck.
Trea Turner, .565, 13 for 23, two doubles, six RBIs
Eddy Alvarez. .500, one for two, one RBI
Mookie Betts, .409, nine for 22, three doubles, two RBIs
Hanser Alberto, .375, three for eight, one double, one RBI
Gavin Lux, .350, seven for 20, two doubles, three RBIs
Justin Turner, .304, seven for 23, four doubles, one homer, six RBIs
Chris Taylor, .304, seven for 23, one double, one triple, two RBIs
Freddie Freeman, .250, five for 20, one double, one RBI
Will Smith, .188, three for 16, two homers, five RBIs
Cody Bellinger, .167, four for 24, one triple
Edwin Ríos, .167, two for 12, one double, three RBIs
Max Muncy, .143, two for 14, two RBIs
Austin Barnes, .143, one for seven
Kevin Pillar, .000, 0 for 3
Team, .295, 15 doubles, two triples, three homers, 32 RBIs
The NL average is .235. The Dodgers lead the NL with their .295 average. Next is San Diego at .257. Cincinnati is last at .184
Next we’ll look at batting with two out and runners in scoring position, where you need a hit to drive in the runners.
Eddy Alvarez, 1.000, one for one, one RBI
Freddie Freeman, .353, six for 17, one triple, seven RBIs
Trea Turner, .348, eight for 23, two doubles, one triple, 11 RBIs
Mookie Betts, .286, six for 21, four doubles, one homer, 12 RBIs
Chris Taylor, .263, five for 19, one triple, seven RBIs
Edwin Ríos, .250, three for 12, two homers, seven RBIs
Justin Turner, .250, six for 24, four doubles, one homer, nine RBIs
Cody Bellinger, .235, four for 17, two doubles, one homer, six RBIs
Gavin Lux, .211, four for 19, one double, five RBIs
Hanser Alberto, .167, one for six, two RBIs
Max Muncy, .158, three for 19, one double, three RBIs
Will Smith, .143, two for 14, one double, four RBIs
Austin Barnes, .143, one for seven, one double, two RBIs
Kevin Pillar, .000, 0 for 1
Team, .250, 16 doubles, three triples, five homers, 76 RBIs
The NL average is .243. The Dodgers are eighth in the NL with their .250 average. Cincinnati leads at .283. Arizona is last at .172
These names seem familiar
A look at how players who were with the Dodgers last season are doing this season for other teams (through Sunday):
Matt Beaty, Padres, 37 at-bats, .108/.175/.189, 7 OPS+, on IL with a shoulder injury
Josiah Gray, Nationals, 6-4, 4.71 ERA, 57 1/3 IP, 47 hits, 28 walks, 63 strikeouts
Kenley Jansen, Braves, 3-0, 3.80 ERA, 23 2/3 IP, 16 hits, eight walks, 33 strikeouts, 14 saves
Joe Kelly, White Sox, 0-1, 9.53 ERA, 5 2/3 IP, eight hits, six walks, eight strikeouts, on IL with hamstring injury
Corey Knebel, Phillies, 2-4, 3.52 ERA, 23 IP, 19 hits, 11 walks, 21 strikeouts, nine saves
Sheldon Neuse, A’s, 167 at-bats, .228/.291/.305, 79 OPS+
AJ Pollock, White Sox, 125 at-bats, .216/.242/.344, 68 OPS+
Albert Pujols, Cardinals, 87 at-bats, .207/.324/.368, 101 OPS+
Zach Reks, Rangers, 22 at-bats, .227/.227/.273, 46 OPS+, back in minors
Keibert Ruiz, Nationals, 153 at-bats, .255/.327/.346, 98 OPS+
Dennis Santana, Rangers, 2-2, 1.40 ERA, 19 1/3 IP, nine hits, three walks, 10 strikeouts, one save
Max Scherzer, Mets, 5-1, 2.54 ERA, 49 2/3 IP, 36 hits, 11 walks, 59 strikeouts, on 15-day IL with strained left oblique
Corey Seager, Rangers, 203 at-bats, .232/.299/.424, 109 OPS+
Yoshi Tsutsugo, Pirates, 113 at-bats, .177/.281/.257, 56 OPS+, on the 10-day IL
Andrew Vasquez, Blue Jays, 0-0, 9.00 ERA, six IP, six hits, three walks, six strikeouts
Tonight: Dodgers (Mitch White, 1-1, 4.79 ERA) at Chicago White Sox (Michael Kopech, 1-2, 2.20 ERA), 5 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020
Wednesday: Dodgers (Tony Gonsolin, 6-0, 1.59 ERA) at Chicago White Sox (Johnny Cueto, 0-2, 2.92 ERA), 5 p.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020
Thursday: Dodgers (*Tyler Anderson, 7-0, 2.59 ERA) at Chicago White Sox (Dylan Cease, 4-2, 3.39 ERA), 11 a.m., SportsNet LA, AM 570, KTNQ 1020
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