In 2019, the Los Angeles Dodgers finished with an MLB-best 3.37 ERA. They also paced the league in 2020 (3.02), 2021 (3.01) and 2022 (2.80).
Things, however, started going downhill last season, and they finished with the 13th best ERA in the league at 4.06. Even with their traditionally deep farm system, the Dodgers couldn’t withstand the injuries (Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Dustin May, etc.) and unexpected situations (Julio Urias) without paying the price.
The team’s struggles on the mound were part of the reason the front office went on a spending spree this offseason. That, and the fact that they lost a postseason series against an inferior Arizona Diamondbacks team that happens to play in the same division a year after losing to the San Diego Padres in the playoffs.
The Dodgers went to work and beat out the the Chicago Cubs, Toronto Blue Jays and others to sign free agent Shohei Ohtani and right-handed Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto to mammoth contracts; then traded for and extended right-hander Tyler Glasnow.
Ohtani won’t be in the 2024 rotation because of injury, and Yamamoto is so talented and composed that nobody is really expecting him to disappoint. The one pitcher who can make or break the Dodgers’ season, or at least their pitching plans, is Glasnow.
How Glasnow Increases the Ceiling
If Glasnow can pitch 120-130 innings at the level he showed while donning a Tampa Bay Rays uniform (3.20 ERA, 12.19 SO/9), the Dodgers staff will surely be in great shape. However, if he gets hurt or struggles to show his usual form, LA will probably have to re-think its plans.
The Dodgers have plenty of pitchers to replace Glasnow’s innings, but among options to play this year, no one has his sheer stuff. Not even Yamamoto. This is a move that will help in the regular season, but was probably made with the playoffs in mind.
When he is healthy, few pitchers are as dominant as Glasnow. He boasts a high-octane fastball with elite spin and extension, an elite curveball that ranks among the very best in baseball, and a very solid slider.
If you are a hitter and Glasnow reaches two strikes in the count, you might as well start walking towards your dugout. Whether he goes with the high fastball or with a curveball/slider down in the zone, chances of making contact are minimal.
The problem is that good health is usually hard to come by. His career high in innings pitched is 120, achieved last year with the Rays. He underwent elbow surgery in the summer of 2021 and missed most of 2022. Then, before the start of 2023, he suffered a Grade 2 left oblique strain.
With Glasnow, you take the good with the bad. What’s the bad? The fact he can’t be counted on for even 150 innings. The good? Well, there is a lot of “good”, and a myriad of metrics and advanced stats prove just how dominant he is.
Even with just 120 innings pitched, Glasnow had the 16th best total raw value among MLB pitchers in 2023 at minus -17.0. Raw value measures command, velocity, bat-missing ability, contact quality, and several other factors to assign a value to each pitch.
In the case of pitchers, lower is better for both total raw value, a cumulative stat; and RV-, a rate stat used to compare performance relative to the league average (100).
In terms of (RV-), Glasnow ranked fifth in MLB among those with at least 120 innings with a 71.
Elite Stuff and Unique Usage Patterns
All three of his primary pitches missed bats at an above-average rate. His four-seamer had a whiff+ of 126 (fantastic for the specific pitch type), the slider was at 125, and the magnificent curveball ended up at 178. Glasnow’s curveball ranked 24th in the majors among pitches that were thrown at least 400 times with a RV- of 42.
Whiff+ measures how good a pitcher is at generating swings and misses relative to the league average of 100. In this case, higher is better, and Glasnow was tied for fourth in baseball with a 137 whiff+ overall.
The right-hander is not afraid to go with the heat in any count. The four-seam fastball is the pitch he throws the most often at 44.2%. The slider is next (34.2%) and the curveball is third at 21.3%, per 2023 TVL data.
One thing that caught our attention is that he uses the curveball, arguably his best offering, as a weapon to attack. When he is ahead of the count, he goes to it 40.8% of the time (his most frequently used pitch in that situation). If he is behind, the usage of the hook goes all the way down to 2.9%.
When the count is even, he goes with the curve 11.3% of the time. Shockingly, if the count is full, he uses his fastball or slider exclusively: no curveball.
The recipe was good enough to give him a 3.53 ERA (2.91 FIP) in 120 frames with 162 strikeouts. Perhaps the Dodgers will try to convince him to throw more curveballs, but stuff-wise, he has everything to succeed in LA.
The Makings of a Dominant Staff
Glasnow will be joining an incredible talented staff in Los Angeles. The plan appears to run a six-man rotation for a variety of reasons: the former Rays right-hander, as stated, has never cleared 120 innings in a season.
Couple that with Yamamoto’s transition to MLB (pitchers have more rest days in Japan), Walker Buehler’s limited workload – he is returning from elbow surgery – and Bobby Miller’s development, and the ingredients are there to deploy a staff with six men.
Right now, those six starters are projected to be, in no particular order: Glasnow, Yamamoto, Buehler, Miller, Emmet Sheehan, and potentially another acquisition (Shane Bieber of the Cleveland Guardians or Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox?). It’s possible, additionally, that the Dodgers bring back 10-time All-Star Clayton Kershaw on a one-year deal in free agency and hope he’s ready to return from his own injury in the second half.
Hurlers such as Michael Grove, Gavin Stone, Landon Knack and Ryan Yarbrough can be relievers or make the occasional spot start, and there will also be bullpen games if needed.
That top four is particularly enviable to MLB teams: Glasnow is elite even though not particularly durable, Yamamoto posted a 1.21 (!) ERA in 164 innings in the NPB last year and has everything you look for in a pitcher in terms of stuff and command. Buehler has a 3.02 career ERA and Miller had a very solid debut campaign with a 90 RV-.
Besides Glasnow, Dodgers fans will have their eyes on his new teammate. Yamamoto has won three straight Pacific League MVPs and three consecutive Eiji Sawamura awards (the equivalent of the Cy Young in Japan) and boasts a career 1.82 ERA in the NPB.
He combines top-end velocity (he sits in the mid-90s and can reach upper-90s territory with relative ease) with elite command (just 28 walks in 164 innings in Japan in 2023) and a wide array of secondaries that include a curveball, slider, cutter and nasty splitter:
All things considered, the package seems to guarantee that the Dodgers will enjoy top-notch, ace-like performance from Yamamoto for years to come.
To think that this staff could have Ohtani, Yamamoto and Glasnow healthy and pitching by 2025 is almost unfair for the rest of the league.