By Rob Friedman aka “Pitching Ninja”
FOX Sports MLB Analyst
With 106 wins through Sept. 26, the Dodgers have been the best team in baseball this season.
Despite their pitching staff being bitten by multiple injuries, losing ace Walker Buehler and navigating injured list stints for many others, including Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, Brusdar Graterol and Blake Treinen (as well as not having the electric Dustin May for most of the season ), they’ve had arguably the best pitching staff in the game. The Dodgers lead MLB with a 2.83 team ERA and 1.05 team WHIP and have held opponents to a league-low .208 opponent batting average.
Dominant pitching is typically essential to a long postseason run. Do the Dodgers have the pitching to take home a World Series trophy this year? Let’s dive in.
Clayton Kershaw: Still An Ace
At 34, Kershaw doesn’t throw as hard as he used to, with an average fastball velocity of 90.7 mph this year (down from a peak of 95 mph in 2008), but he remains outstanding, relying on precision and deception instead of overpowering velocity. Kershaw leans much more on his slider now, throwing it 43% of the time. That slider is an elite pitch, with a .201 batting average against and a 37% whiff rate.
This slider is so effective because it tunnels well off Kershaw’s fastball, taking the same path to the plate as his heater and then diving to the dirt, leaving the hitter swinging at air. Even though Kershaw’s fastball velocity is no longer elite, the slider causes the fastball to “play up” because the tunneling effect leads hitters to make a late decision about whether to swing.
Here’s an overlay of Kershaw’s fastball and slider:
Of course, Kershaw also has his gorgeous “Cooperstown” curveball, one of the prettiest pitches in baseball. He has a 43.1% whiff rate on the pitch this season. Not even the great Shohei Ohtani is immune to its charm from him.
Kershaw’s fastball, slider and curveball combo is a nightmare for hitters. Here’s a three-pitch overlay that shows how well Kershaw repeats his mechanics from him and how those pitches interact to form a Bermuda triangle for batters.
Yes, Kershaw has had some well-documented postseason struggles, but his experience and pitching artistry will be an important part of any Dodgers playoff run.
Julius Uriah: Underrated ace
Urías has been pitching at an incredibly high level all season. He has an NL-leading 2.25 ERA combined with an ERA+ of 185 (meaning he’s been 85% better than the average pitcher) and a 17-7 record.
Urias’s curveball is a real sweeper and averages more than 16 inches of horizontal break. This home-plate view shows just what hitters are dealing with when facing that wicked curveball.
You can see why hitters are hitting just .202 against his curveball.
Urias also features a dirty changeup with a 30% whiff rate and slugging percentage of just .309.
Urias’ fastball is also an elite pitch. He has a batting average against of .179 with his fastball, and it ranks ninth in run value this season among fastballs.
Tyler Anderson: Quirky mechanics, outstanding results
Anderson’s quirky lower-half mechanics remind me of a dog’s leg when you scratch the “spot”:
Those mechanics can really mess up a hitter’s timing, a bit like the front-leg pause in Kershaw’s windup. Anderson’s changeup also can frustrate hitters and is one of the best changeups in the game among starting pitchers, with a .175 batting average against and a 36.2% whiff rate. It’s ranked as the second-best changeup in baseball (behind likely Cy Young winner, Sandy Alcántara’s fantastic change piece).
This changeup was flat-out mean!
Tony Gonsolin: Effective, but is he healthy?
Gonsolin was to contend for the NL Cy Young for most of the season until his forearm injury in August. He has a 2.10 era this year with a 0.86 WHIP and features a splitter that is among the most unhittable pitches in baseball.
The cat man’s splitter held opponents to a .115 batting average against and is ranked as the No. 1 splitter in baseball in terms of run prevention.
The big question is what Gonsolin’s postseason role will be as he works his way back from injury. My guess is his innings for him will be limited as he builds back up from his time on the IL, perhaps limiting his role for him to three or four innings in postseason games. He’ll be a factor, but how much of a factor will depend on how quickly he’s able to get back to pre-injury form.
Andrew Heaney: Living it up
When healthy, Heaney has been a solid option as a starter for the Dodgers, sporting an impressive 13.5 K/9 and 3.06 ERA. Due to his arm slot from him, Heaney lives up in the zone with his fastball and gets a lot of swing-and-misses with his fastball/slider combination.
One knock against Heaney is that because he lives up in the zone with his fastball, he is vulnerable to the long ball. He’s third on the staff in home runs allowed, despite throwing only 64 innings this season.
Dustin May: Code Red X-factor
When healthy, May (nicknamed Code Red) has undoubtedly the best stuff of any pitcher on the Dodgers’ staff.
Don’t just take my word for it: Listen to Kershaw.
May’s four-seam fastball and sinker touch 100 mph with incredible movement; his sinker can run 20 inches or more.
Check out this eye-popping movement:
May also has a cartoon-like breaking ball that has approached 3,500 revolutions per minute — and he has thrown more 3,300-RPM breaking balls than any other starter in baseball, despite not pitching for most of the year while coming back from Tommy John surgery.
The combination of May’s sinker and slider make for some of the best pitching overlays you’ll ever see.
May’s command can be his undoing, as command struggles are to be expected from a young pitcher coming back from Tommy John. May’s postseason role is a bit uncertain, given that he went on the IL late in the season due to lower-back tightness. Unlikely to be a starter in the postseason, he can certainly be a weapon out of the bullpen.
With legendary closer Craig Kimbrel struggling in his role, the Dodgers’ bullpen has a few questions at the end of games.
Evan Phillips has been outstanding coming out of the pen, with 1.22 ERA in 2022. Phillips’ slider has been nasty all season, holding opponents to a .153 batting average and sporting a 41.3% whiff rate.
He also has a wicked cutter that he uses mostly against lefties, holding them to a .161 batting average.
Alex Vesia is also a solid option in the bullpen, with a 2.26 ERA. Vesia relies mostly on a fastball/slider combination that can be lethal to hitters.
Another exciting thing about Vesia on the bump is that he turns into an electric factory after a big strikeout. I love it!
Brusdar Graterol is only 24 years old but seems like he has been a postseason fixture forever. He has battled through injuries this season but still is filthy. Check out the movement on this 100 mph sinker!
Expect Graterol to have a big impact in the postseason.
Blake Treinen won my Filthiest Pitcher of the Year award in 2021, and his ridiculous stuff looks like it comes straight out of a video game. The big question: Will he be healthy enough to have a significant role in the postseason, seeing as he has been injured most of the season?
Yency Almonte is also working his way back from the IL and might be a factor in the postseason. Almonte has a 47% whiff rate on his slider in 2022 and threw one of the nastiest sliders of the year.
The Dodgers’ pitching has been stellar all season. Will they have enough healthy firepower to win it all?
We’ll find out soon!
Rob Friedman is an MLB pitching analyst for FOX Sports whose work has been featured on many Major League Baseball broadcasts. Follow him on Twitter @PitchingNinja.
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