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Punting April: The Dodger’s Early Season Strategy

Well March games too, but you get the point. It’s about ten days until opening day and the Dodger’s two best starting pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler have yet to throw a single inning in Cactus league play. To be fair, Walker Buehler is slated to start on Tuesday against the Indians at Camelback Ranch but this is extremely concerning.

Of all the players, it’s the pitchers especially the starters who need the entire six weeks of spring training to build arm strength and be prepared for the regular season. That’s what the exhibition season is for. With Kershaw and Buehler having thrown no innings up to this point, it’s almost impossible for either of them to be ready for opening day, or for April baseball in general for that matter. Kershaw’s streak of eight consecutive opening day starts looks to be in jeopardy. (Update) The Dodgers are finally announcing Kershaw will start the season on the injured list.

The question we have is why neither pitcher has thrown in a game this spring? It’s fair to assume, that both starters are legitimately hurt. We do know that Kershaw was reported to have early spring shoulder inflammation, but Buehler’s situation was a bit murkier. There was no evidence that Buehler was hurt at all. Although reports indicated he did not “feel right” when camps first opened. Strangely that’s what Kershaw reported as well.

Sure Kershaw had some shoulder soreness, but it’s common for many pitchers to feel sore at the beginning of spring. Most of them rest for a few days, get back on the mound and pitch through it. If Kershaw’s shoulder issue was serious, the club would have ordered an MRI. I don’t think Buehler was ever injured. Considering he’s making the start on Tuesday versus Cleveland, gives us the impression that he is healthy.

I have a working theory. The Dodgers have decided to not pitch their two best starters in order to “save” them for later in the season. On paper this makes some sense. After all, the baseball season is long. The Dodgers are trying to keep guys healthy, rested and keep the innings down on their two best arms. An Innings limit could prevent further injury, and prevent the Dodgers from losing one or both hurlers during the stretch drive. Both pitchers have had extensive histories of injuries. Kershaw has had chronic back and shoulder problems. Buehler had Tommy John surgery a couple of years ago.

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I don’t like it. Here’s the problem with this strategy. It’s weak, conservative and sends the wrong message to the rest of the National League. The Dodgers, two time defending National League champions are giving off the appearance that their two best starters are not strong enough to open the season. Management is giving the message that April baseball is not important.

The Dodgers tried something like this to a lesser degree last year, and it didn’t work either. Guys were rested in April. Hot bats were benched in favor of lesser hitters. The Dodgers played meek and conservative last year with constant platoons and scheduled rest and it nearly sank their season. The club started out 16-26 and appeared like they were headed for disaster.

Thankfully that didn’t happen. Some may point out that the strategy worked because the Dodgers not only won the National League West, but captured their second consecutive pennant and World Series appearance. Just because the Dodgers barely won the division by the skin of their teeth and then made it to the World Series doesn’t mean the strategy was a good one.

Things could have been so much easier for the Dodgers. Of course not having Justin Turner and Corey Seager healthy was a huge blow, but again things didn’t have to be that hard.

My opinion has always been that no matter what time of season you always put your best players on the field. You put your best lineup out every single day. That’s how you win more than you lose. Of course guys need rest and there will be injuries throughout the season. But April games count just as much as August, or September games. If the Dodgers had gotten off to just a respectable start last season then there would have been no need for a game 163. They would have won the division easily. Let’s see if the Dodgers take April (and March) baseball seriously this time around, or if they will punt again.

Scott Andes

Scott Andes: Longtime writer and Dodger fanatic

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Scott Andes
Scott Andes: Longtime writer and Dodger fanatic

61 thoughts on “Punting April: The Dodger’s Early Season Strategy

  1. I, personally do not believe in the “save them for the season” theory. Heck, these pitchers are pampered, and they only have to pitch every 5-6 days. I think handling them with kid gloves only increases their chances for injury. Pitchers have to get into a routine, a consistant routine develops strength and mechanical consistency, which leads to less strain on the arm. Limited and/or irregular use could cause a pitcher to over-throw and over-compensate for mechanical flaws, thus more prone to injury.

    Just my personal opinion.

    1. Blue
      RIght on target. Last year I said the same thing. The Dodgers don’t need less work. They need more work. Saving a player has never worked. I remember the Marlins tried to save a pitcher for about a whole season and ended up the player never was as good as he had been. I think his name was Johnson but not sure.

  2. Thanks CT,

    One other thing I think is worth mentioning. When a pitcher is in a groove, he is not putting much strain his arm. Delivery is fluid and effortless. This is where pitch counts and innings limits should be thrown out the door. Forget the lefty/righty specialists or closer. A pitcher in a groove can pitch 120-130 pitches, and a complete game, without hurting his arm.

    1. Tell that to FO and Roberts. and because of the way they handle the pitching, Dodgers think they must carry 8 relievers, thereby playing with a short bench. Remember because of that short bench how Roberts ran out of position players by the 7th inning in several games?

  3. Made it to California. Got to listen to a little of Dodger talk on KLAC. Bit news was Seager definitely the opening day SS. Kike locked up the 2B job, CK and Buehler ruled out for opening day start. CK will open the season on the IL. Between Urias and Ferguson as to who will take Cingrani’s spot in the pen. Urias will be limited to about 110 innings this year. But the biggest news is Trout signing a 430 million dollar 12 year deal to stay an Angel.

  4. Don’t think there’s any reason to deviate from what’s worked.

    The team will be “saving” players all season long. Why not? I honestly can’t think of one reason not to pay attention to load on arms, legs, brains….

    Not one.

  5. I have to agree with Scott as far as what he said here:
    “The Dodgers played meek and conservative last year with constant platoons and scheduled rest and it nearly sank their season. The club started out 16-26 and appeared like they were headed for disaster.

    Thankfully that didn’t happen. Some may point out that the strategy worked because the Dodgers not only won the National League West, but captured their second consecutive pennant and World Series appearance. Just because the Dodgers barely won the division by the skin of their teeth and then made it to the World Series doesn’t mean the strategy was a good one.
    My opinion has always been that no matter what time of season you always put your best players on the field. You put your best lineup out every single day. That’s how you win more than you lose. Of course guys need rest and there will be injuries throughout the season”
    One cannot argue too much here about what took place, but with that said CK and Buehler need to be ready to go before they are just thrown out there. But I see perhaps similar offensive issues that may surface again to begin the season. But WSS

    1. Yep,,,,Ol Matt Kemp had a little to do with keeping them above water. He was their best player in the first half. Only one pitcher had double digit wins, Hill. That is not going to make it every year.

  6. Dodgers are playing with dynamite, last season it almost blew up in their hands as they were forced into a game 163. If the West is really that weak, should it have had to come to a game 163?

    The rule changes that are coming in 2020 will actually force the Dodgers away from their Friedman tragedies,
    err I mean strategies, which will actually work to the Dodgers advantage. Pretty sad when you team has to be saved from itself.

  7. The West does not look like it will put up much of a fight this year. Only the Dodgers are projected to be over .500. It won’t always be this way of course, but it looks like a relatively easy road to the playoffs. And if projections are correct, the Dodgers should have home field in the NL playoffs. They won’t if they should make it to the World Series again of course. And a superior team with a better DH and home field will no doubt be favored.

    93 wins. Sounds about right. If I had to take an over or under I would go with 92. I say the Division will be wrapped up by Elephant Appreciation Day, though some may disagree with that assessment. Difficult to know who will still be standing in September and what the team might do at the deadline. Kershaw projected with 3.2 WAR on one site. Hope so, but I kinda doubt it. Until we know what’s actually wrong with him there can be no accurate predictions. His medical records appear redacted. The “he will be ready for Opening Day” sounded like bullshit from the moment it was said.

    1. Just about every announcement from this FO sounds like bullshit to me.

      I think 90 wins is the max for this team, I probably would take the under on that number too, if I were betting.

      I have watched the last two ST games on MLB, this team just does not hit much. Really poor entertainment value, very hard to watch an entire game, I found myself switching channels often. Like I said before, this team generates zero buzz. Get more buzz from contact high in Badger’s living room, LOL

    2. Concur about a superior AL team in the WS and that MLB still has 2 separate rules for each league concerning the DH is beyond me. It’s totally ridiculous. And totally agree with that BS about CK being ready for Opening Day.

  8. Pluses this spring. Barnes and Kike have been hitting and fielding well. Turner looks in mid season form. Baez, Garcia, Urias, Hill, Maeda, Ryu and Jansen all pitching very well. Gonsolin looks like at some point he could be a huge piece of the puzzle. Defense has been pretty good, and Muncy even looks decent at first. But Pederson, Muncy, Taylor and Martin are not really hitting well at all Pederson is back to his old striking out stuff. Muncy has not hit any HR’s this spring at all after hitting a bunch last year. Kike beat Taylor out for the starting 2B job. Bellinger is not really hitting much. Pollock has actually heated up some over the last few games. Verdugo has not been impressive, but he has 4 doubles and is hitting .250 this spring. Miller has looked really good, but I do not see a spot for him on the 25 man unless they carry 13 position players, which they are not going to do. Season opens next week…it is crunch time. Seager plays his first game tonight. Brewers signed Fields.

    1. Miller could be on this roster but they must rid themselves of one of those many other LH hitters. I agree also that instead of 8 relievers, they SHOULD carry a position player instead. As I mentioned to Bluefan4Life, with them being a position player short because of the extra reliever I recall many a game last year where Roberts used up his bench late in the game due to all the platooning and L-R-L-R match ups

  9. Some players have been putting up decent numbers, but there just seems to be a lack of offensive balance. I would call it an “LA Pothole Lineup”… seems they string a couple of hits, then come the pop ups, force outs, and KO’s, and back to zero. RISP…. hmmm, that sounds familiar, does’nt it?

    The other problem is the ever changing “Elevator Lineup”. Who knows who is going to play, and where in the lineup they will be. The players cannot find an identity…. today he is a cleanup hitter, tomorrow, he is leading off, the next day batting 8th, the following day, benched. Diversity is great in some businesses, but not in baseball. Baseball, you have to play your best hand. Make the players left on the bench hungry to get into the lineup, don’t just throw them in cold, and expect them to instantly produce. If they are practicing hard to get opportunity to play, they will be ready to perform when called upon.

    Hard to develop an exciting, powerful lineup…. same old song, season after season. Overall, a very boring offense.

    Added note, I do not believe anything the FO announces.

    1. I think it will be Roberts’ approach to present a team oriented offense. Obviously there are some players that should, and will, get more at bats but most of this squad is interchangeable. Does it really matter if it’s Taylor, Hernandez, Pederson or Freese up there? Barnes or Martin? All these guys project about the same. None of them are All Stars so spreading the at bats by matchups will be the ecumenical strategy. Turner will need days off, Seager might too, no doubt Pollock will get days off. We’re gonna have several players with between 400-500 at bats and none with 600. Ok, maybe Bellinger. That’s how I see it anyway. It’s worked before, and in a subordinate Division there is no need to push ambiguous strategies. Roberts has a winning hand before the ante is on the table. We be in the drivers sear here. Cruise control all the way to October.

    2. Bluefan, that ‘elevator lineup’ is so true it’s not funny! If anyone wonders why when it mattered the most (In the WS) Dodgers came up short and flat, your post here gave info to a HUGE reason why .

  10. Well, Badger,

    It has been proven the last couple of years that the everchanging unstable offensive lineup has worked for the NL West and NL title, but just cannot match up to the AL teams.

    FO has said they would shy away from too much platooning, but like I said, I do not believe anything they say, and I do not see much change in the offensive structure of this team, from years past.

    Let’s just hope for the best. ?

    1. The DH Rule clearly favors AL teams in inter league matchups. Add to that advantage there are 3 AL teams that are just better than any NL team and that adds up to the AL getting home field and being favorites. That’s not going to change any time soon, but eventually will. By then the Padres may be favored to win it all.

      As for what any front office says .. who would believe it? Don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.

      1. More on front office bullshit:

        We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.

        Joan Didion

        I think that sums it up perfectly

      2. Badger, I have been saying that about the DH being in one league and not both for a while now.
        And correct, the top 3 AL teams are far superior to any NL team INCLUDING THE DODGERS being an unfair advantage for years! One reason is that they don’t have rosters full of platoon type players who can only compete against one hand of a pitcher.

  11. Yes, DH clearly favors AL. I do not like the DH. Wish they would get rid of it.

    Definitely gives the AL an unfair advantage in WS. Also employs players that should have hung up their cleats long ago. IMO, if you can’t play defense, them you do not belong on the field, period.

    Further more, I have not been too inpressed with the way the Dodgers have utilized the DH in the WS the past couple of years. Unfamiliar grounds for them.

    1. DH will be in both leagues in the next 3 years…bet on it….Manfred wants it and the players will go for it.

    2. Bluefan, the fact that this DH scenario has gone on for this long being in just one league is a detriment to this game IMHO. However, the AL WILL NEVER EVER AGREE to get rid of it so I simply hope that the NL adopts it so THAT BOTH leagues are playing on a familiar playing field so to speak.

  12. FanGraphs ranks teams by strength at Catcher.

    The good news, the Dodgers are at #3.

    The bad news, the Brewers are #1, with old friend Grandal.

    Now, Grandal’s streakiness was so irritating it almost drove me to drugs, but he is a top catcher that the team will miss.

    1. They may miss his oWAR but I think you may be the only fan that misses him Bluto. I sure won’t miss his passed balls and his lack of blocking skills. I think most will be just fine with our receiving corps. They are both bottom order hitters, but, somebody has to hit there.

      I have changed my mind on the DH Blue. I’m just tired of watching the pathetic at bats from pitchers. They clearly don’t care anymore and neither do organizations so save us the agony of having to witness it and adopt the DH. I’m betting the vendors don’t want it because everyone makes their beer run when pitchers are up. Better hurry though, it’s going to be a quick at bat.

  13. Let’s just have 9 fielders and 9 batters, that should solve everything. Football comes to the MLB, YIKES

  14. True Blue,

    YIKES s right. Offensive and defensive teams…. OMG!
    Problem is, there are a lot of crazy fans who would buy into that.

    1. Some may be in here. I really laugh at people complaining about having to see a pitcher at the plate. I think it is awesome to see a pitcher bat, might keep him a little more reluctant to bean an opposing batter. Plus, the game is much more strategic to manage if a pitcher has to remain in the game or be pulled depending on game situations. Hey, if we get too little offense let’s eliminate a defensive position, if we get too much offense, let’s add a rover position on defense. There are all sorts of stupid ideas that can be employed, it doesn’t make any of them the right thing to do, but if people are that shortsighted or easily discontented, what the hell. Maybe we should experiment with making the bases only 60 feet instead of 90 feet apart, because I am tired of seeing slow catchers have to run the bases.

      1. Specious arguments all. None of what you suggest as possible change has any merit but the DH has been successful. Laugh all you want, but it will be in both leagues soon because it’s time has come.

        1. Just cause everyone is doing it, doesn’t make it right.

          If everyone is jumping off a cliff are you going to jump? (that ones for you Mom R.I.P.)

          1. I’ve jumped off several cliffs. One was 70’ over the St Croix River. That was exciting. But not everyone was doing it.

            As for right or wrong, that has little to do with decisions by MLB. If it makes business sense they’ll do it. Fans will accept whatever baseball decides because that’s what fans do.

          1. I think MLB knows that Paul, and will eventually adjust. And, they will follow Japan’s lead with a 28 man roster, and 25 available each game. It just makes sense.

  15. It’s time for aluminum bats in the MLB, hell all leagues from college down to peewees are doing it.

    1. Well…

      Aluminum bats, your previous idea, would seriously endanger pitchers and make me fear for their safety.

      1. RF means Restricted Flight. Metal bats could be made with the same coefficient of restitution as ash bats.

  16. Well True Blue,

    They said Trout will make $61,000 for every plate appearance….

    Kershaw, if he manages to make at least 25 starts, will make $1,240,000 per start.
    What wil rhe pitch limit be in soft toss? Maybe 40? So, $31,000 per pitch?

    How crazy is that?

    Machado, how much will he make per “Smirk”??

  17. …Machado will make about $18,500 per smirk, figuring he will “Smirk” at least 5 times a game.

  18. I have a better idea for those that can deal with the awfulness of seeing a pitcher take an at bat.

    Only have 4 hitters on each team. 4 of the position players are the designated batters for the whole team. Then all those poor hitters are eliminated and the game becomes tolerable for those that can handle the insufferable issue of having to see a less than good batter take some at bats.

    God, what the hell is this world coming to?

    “Don’t be such a baby!” — Monty Python sketch

    1. I dunno.

      I feel like I’m missing a joke with all of True’s ideas.

      Are you serious or joking?

      The Python quote maybe implies a joke? But, I can’t tell.

      1. You’re serious, right?

        anybody see those awful at bats by the Dodgers starting pitcher, May? Oh sure he got some good basehits, but they don’t count he’s a pitcher.

        Okay, pay attention Bluto, I’ll throw ya a softball. Hey Brutus, I think it is time for the MLB to only have hitters hit off a batting T, eliminating pitchers altogether from the game. ( Wink Wink Nudge Nudge Brutus, hope you can understand this now, GEEZ! What the hell is this world coming to?)

        I think it is time for me to take a break from this place, the level of _________ from ______ ______ posters, is more than I can handle.

        1. If the league intends to adopt the DH, pitchers won’t take the time to work on hitting.

          Something else to consider in this debate: in the old days, when pitchers actually cared about not embarrassing themselves at the plate, pitchers got a lot more at bats than they do today. e.g. – in his first 12 years Don Drysdale got 1200 plate appearances. In 11 years Kershaw has 743. Drysdale hit 7 home runs one year, 29 for his career. Kershaw has hit 1. Drysdale worked on his hitting, as did most starters who were starting as many as 40 games and pitching as many as 320 innings. Today’s pitchers are gone after 5-6 innings. Why work on hitting when you are only up maybe 3 times a week?

          I don’t take Blue’s suggestions seriously. He’s being ridiculous to make a point.

  19. Badger,

    I don’t think any Dodger pitchers take BP seriously. They get lucky, once and a while with a SAC or base hit. They should be experts in bunting, and they are not. Regular lineup should also bunt more and strive for good situational hitting.. They take batting practice like they are in HR Derby mode.

    1. I of course meant True Blue, not Blue.

      Pitchers should know how to bunt. No excuse for that. But if you know you will have maybe two at bats during your turn on the mound, wouldn’t you at the very least want to make good contact? Kershaw at least looks like he cares. Ryu and Maeda have a clue. But not many do.

  20. Chargois sent to the minors. I knew he was not making the cut. Garcia pretty much a lock. Corey looked ok, a little rusty in the field, but 2 ribbies in his first game. Urias had his worst spring appearance, but was not helped by the defense. Allie throws bullets…..needs better control.

  21. Another alternative to the DH is to just let the 8 position players bat. This is probably better for the game overall than the DH.

    Problem is the players union, but they might go for it in conjunction with other tweaks in the system like tweaks with the luxury threshold rules.

  22. Alana Rizzo sez:
    Looks like either Ryu or Hill for Opening Day.

    Pedro Moura sez:
    Dave Roberts estimated Austin Barnes will catch 60% of the time and Russell Martin 40%. Barnes has had a nice spring after regressing in 2018.

  23. Having a DH for the Dodgers at this time is moot…would this DH strikeout less based on strikeouts from all batters on the team.

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