Know the Dodgers: Dominant top 3 leads tough pitching staff

The Dodgers have the 14th-highest fWAR among pitching staffs in MLB at 15.9, but they have the second-best ERA. In this case, trust the ERA.

 

I say this because the top three starting pitchers the Braves will see in the NLDS all have an ERA of 3.00 or lower. It doesn't matter what metrics you use, all three are just plain good.

 

It starts with Clayton Kershaw, arguably the best pitcher in baseball. His ERA since becoming a full-time starter in 2009: 2.79, 2.91, 2.28, 2.53, 1.83. FIP: 3.08, 3.12, 2.47, 2.89, 2.39. Strikeout percentage: 26.4, 25, 27.2, 25.4, 25.6.

 

The keys to Kershaw's success are his secondaries and command. He's throwing fewer fastballs each year (60 percent this year) while increasing his breaking ball usage. This is because his breaking balls are so good. He's throwing the slider 24 percent and curveball 12 percent. Unlike many left-handed pitchers, Kershaw doesn't use much of a changeup - again, because of the breaking balls.

 

If you start sensing a trend here, it's because there is one. Kershaw's breaking balls generate some of the highest whiff/swing rates between the two teams. His slider induces a swinging strike on 41 percent of swings, and his curveball produces 38 percent. The slider's whiff/swing rate has been at least 41 percent in every season, which is pretty incredible. I'll go deeper into Kershaw's profile this week.

 

The Braves will face another former Cy Young winner the next day in Zack Greinke, who has a 2.63 ERA and 3.23 FIP in 177.2 innings. The reason for the lower innings total is Greinke broke his collarbone in April and missed a month. The injury obviously didn't slow him down.

 

Greinke has a 20.6 percent strikeout rate and 6.4 percent walk rate, both close to his career averages. His lower ERA is partly the result of a .276 BABIP and lower home run total, both of which have dropped his ERA compared to his peripherals and held his fWAR back some. But regardless of the ERA, Greinke is a very tough pitcher capable of throwing six pitches for strikes.

 

Hyun-Jin Ryu is expected to start Game 3 for the Dodgers. The left-hander is making his stateside debut after signing a six-year deal worth $36 million over the winter. He has been everything the Dodgers had hoped, earning a 3.00 ERA and 3.24 FIP in 192 innings.

 

Ryu has a strikeout percentage nearing 20 percent while limiting walks to 6.3 percent. He doesn't get strikeouts or swinging strikes at the rate of Kershaw or Greinke, but he keeps the ball on the ground at a 50 percent clip and avoids hard contact well. He's a true lefty who relies on a fastball/changeup combination while mixing in sliders and occasional curveballs.

 

A fourth starter who might be a factor is Ricky Nolasco. The Braves are familiar with the right-hander from his Marlins days, but he has produced one of his best seasons between Miami and Los Angeles, recording a 3.70 ERA and 3.34 FIP in 199.1 innings. Nolasco is getting more strikeouts and swinging strikes while maintaining a solid walk rate.

 

The back of the Dodgers bullpen is led by closer Kenley Jansen, who has had a career year at 25 years old, recording a 1.88 ERA and 1.99 FIP with a 38 percent strikeout rate. Jansen throws a dynamic cutter nearly 90 percent of the time with a whiff/swing rate of 30 percent, which is extremely good for a cut fastball. He sits the pitch around 92 miles per hour.

 

Ronald Belisario and Paco Rodriguez are two back-end guys who will face the Braves in higher-leverage situations. Belisario has a 3.97 ERA and 16.3 strikeout percentage in 68 innings. Rodriguez is a left-hander capable of success against both sides of the plate. He has been dominant against left-handed batters in his short career, including a .185 wOBA against, but it's also just .269 against right-handed batters.

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