Urias Needs An Opener

Urias in 2020 So Far….

2-0, 3.67 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 24/10 K/BB, 6 Games Started, 27 IP

7 of 11 Earned runs allowed in the first inning this year.

At a glance, these stats are almost exactly what you would hope your 4th starter produces over a year, minus the first inning…

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But long time Dodger fans will remember the hype surrounding Urias as a 19 year old prospect. He even drew serious praise from Kershaw in his prime.

(Kershaw on a 20 year old Urias being sent up and down)
https://www.mlb.com/padres/news/clayton-kershaw-understands-julio-urias-plan-c222511672

The Pedigree

He was the most hyped Dodger prospect behind Corey Seager in 2015 and 16. Some even made the case for him being ranked as the Number 1 Overall Prospect in Baseball. (It was Corey Seager in the end).

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But he would settle for being ranked Number 4 overall in 2015. The most prized LHP in the class. Only players ahead of him were Buxton, Seager, and Gioloto respectively. He was ahead of names like Gallo (6th), Glasnow (7th), Moncada (8th), Trea Turner (11th), Aaron Judge (17th), and Blake Snell was even 41st.

Snell of course went on to win a Cy Young, yet scouts were (maybe still are) almost positive Urias would have a higher ceiling.

He had three above average pitches. A fastball at 70/80. His curve was graded a 65/80 and his change was rated 60/80. As well as 60 on his overall control.

He made his way all the way up to AAA, OKC Dodgers as an 18 year old. He was about 9 years younger than the average AAA player.

In 2016 he would make his Major League debut as a 19 going on 20 year old.

He pitched 15 starts, 18 games total, and went 5-2 to a tune of a 3.39 ERA. Even with his many demotions and promotions he looked exactly as advertised. And that was with a very tight leash with management. The Dodgers were extremely careful with Urias.

What Changed

However, unfortunately for them and Urias, he would need season ending surgery in 2017. He wouldn’t come back until well into the 2018 season.

And it was a rough comeback. Urias was pretty much eaten alive at every level besides Rookie ball. Still he made his way back to the Show for 3 regular season appearances in 2018 and 37 in 2019.

In 2019 he thrived in his bullpen role, coming out for relief 29 times to go with 8 starts. He went 4-3, had 4 saves, a 2.49 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, and hit a career high 79.2 IP in a single major season. However, as a starter his ERA was 3.26. As a reliever it sat at 2.01.

So 2020 Urias…

We’ve trusted Urias to rebound for a while, and we still do. The stuff still seems to be there. However, we think he may be best used differently.

https://baseballsavant.mlb.com/savant-player/julio-urias-628711?stats=statcast-r-pitching-mlb

He starts his 7th game this year today but a pattern has already formed this year. Urias plain out sucks in the first inning.

He has an ERA of 10.50 to start the game. Again 7 of his 11 earned runs have come in the 1st inning. Aka on average he is giving up more than a run in first innings this year.

Hitters are hitting .357 against him in the first. His WHIP is a disgusting 2.33. He has given up 4 walks to go with 10 hits (3 of which left the yard). He also somehow has 9 strikeouts in the first. And oddly enough he does better when he’s behind in the count so far.

Our best guess is that Urias is struggling with control early in his games. Whether it is psychological or if he needs to work more on control pregame the fact remains that he is giving up almost all of his damage. Right now number 3 and 4 hitters are OPSing 1.248 and 1.246 respectively against him.

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The OBP for the top 5 batters against Julio go .250 (1st), .333 (2nd), .533 (3rd), .400 (4th), .308 (5th). This isn’t exclusively in the first, but it shows that top of the order is getting on, and the middle of the order is driving them in.

So we say give Urias an opener, maybe a Caleb Ferguson, who can keep an offense at bay to start the game. If they can pitch the first 2 innings, Urias could easily bridge the gap to Jansen in good games.

There’s no guarantee that starting Urias later would help him avoid crowded base paths early on, but with the amount of talented starters on this roster, it’s time to figure out if Urias really has the chops to start right now.

If an opener doesn’t help, maybe he’ll thrive in the bullpen once more.

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