(5 of 26) Dodger 2021 Rankings: Walker Buehler

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Highlights

  • Buehler’s Projections
  • Buehler’s 2020
  • What’s Changed?

2021 Projections

  • 4.0 WAR
  • 10-4, 3.11 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 189 K, 39 BB
  • 27 GS, 150.1 IP

Buehler’s 2020

  • 0.5 WAR
  • 1-0, 3.44 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 42 K, 11 BB
  • 8 GS, 36.2 IP

Buehler arguably had his worst year last year simply because he was dealing with blisters almost the entire season. He averaged less than 5 innings a start which is why he only won 1 game despite his solid 3.44 ERA. Other than that the biggest issue came from Walker allowing home runs at a higher rate.

His groundball % has steadily gone down since his 2017 debut. We think this is why his ERA has ticked up every season his groundball outs go down. His strikeout rate just slightly ticked down, but his walk rate shot up a full extra walk per 9 innings. His K/BB ratio was the worst it’s been since his 9+ innings in 2017.

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All that being said, Buehler did show signs of improving despite the issues that most likely came with the blister. He had a career low WHIP at 0.95 largely thanks to a huge drop off in OBA from .223 to .178. This had the trickle down effect of decreasing his OPS against down to .600. The only scary part about this is that his BABIP was well below his career average meaning it’s possible hitters were just unlucky against Buehler.

Statcast wise Buehler has been trending down in just about everything involving how hard he’s been getting hit. So much so he ranked in the bottom 5th of the league in average exit velocity. But thanks to a continued improvement in spin rate his whiff % continues to rise. It seems as if batters are giving up on killing Buehler with base hits and using the walk and slug approach against him.

We think the proof is in Buehler’s launch angle increasing from 9.5 in 2018 all the way to 19.5 in 2020. Batters were under his pitches and cause a fly ball % at a much higher rate than all his other seasons.

He seemed to adjust well though and was back to ace form by the postseason. He started 5 games and pitched a 1.80 ERA along with a 1.20 WHIP. He struck out 39 batters in just 25 innings and won his last two starts as the pressure built up. His worst starts were his first 2, but gave up only a combined 3 runs in 8 innings.

What’s Changed?

  • Blister Ball
    • Obviously, blisters are now a concern for Buehler
    • May have an effect on innings per outing and possible trips to the IL
    • May change his pitch mix if they find one pitch is the main cause
  • Deadened Ball
    • MLB is rumored to be deadening the “juiced’ ball of the past few seasons
    • This would be good for Buehler who is getting hurt by HR disproportionally in his outings
    • He has possibly the best defensive outfield in the game behind him if the balls start staying in Dodger Stadium again
  • Goodbye Changeup, Hello New Pitch Mix
    • He never used it much (<5%) but he dropped the changeup from his pitch mix
    • He also decreased his slider usage going from his 2nd most used pitch in 2019 to his least used pitch in 2020
    • His curveball took the leap up to his second most used pitch to set up his various fastballs
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  • Crowds Will Be Back
    • This is hard to be analytical with, but Buehler seems to feed off crowds
    • He’s better at home in every single year of his career
    • (granted that includes 2020)
  • Full Season
    • Buehler got better as 2020 went on
    • His monthly ERA was down from the 4’s in July and August to 1.54 in September
    • Factor in his 1.80 ERA in the postseason and Buehler was clearly trending up the more he pitched
  • He Had His Lowest 1st Pitch Strike % Ever
    • In 2018 and 19 Buehler got ahead of batters roughly 65% of the time.
    • In 2020 it dropped below the league average of 60% all the way to 58.5%
    • Hence the increase in walks, and shorter outings
    • Buehler was battling from behind almost 7% of the time more than usual

Over/Under

  • 4.0 WAR
    • Under

Extrapolating his 2020 performance to his projected 2021 would only come out to about 2.5 WAR. Buehler would have to stay healthy all year, go deeper into starts, and improve from last year to make over 4 reasonable.

  • 10 Wins
    • Over
    • This is more speaking about how good the Dodgers offense and bullpen is behind him.
  • 4 Losses
    • Over
    • When Buehler gives up runs, they tend to come in bunches
  • 3.11 ERA
    • Under
    • We think Buehler is going to sneak back under 3
  • 1.04 WHIP
    • Under
    • We think Buehler is going to go back to walking less batters
  • 189 K
    • Under
    • It’s more we don’t see him pitching enough innings
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  • 39 BB
    • Under
  • 27 GS
    • Under
  • 150.1 IP
    • Under

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