Remember when it was the middle of May and the Los Angeles Dodgers looked completely dead in the water with a 16-26 record? Yea, well they just won their sixth consecutive National League West title on Monday.
Baseball, man. There’s a reason why the regular season is 162 games long — or in this case, 163 games long.
The league has seen many young rookies break out during 2018, but with all the fuss (and rightfully so) about guys like Juan Soto and Ronald Acuña Jr., it was kind of easy to overlook what Walker Buehler has accomplished. After allowing just one hit over 6.2 scoreless innings against the Colorado Rockies to help clinch the division, Los Angeles’ young righty finished his rookie campaign with an 8-5 record, 2.62 ERA, 3.31 SIERA, 0.96 WHIP, 27.9% strikeout rate, 6.8% walk rate, and 3.3 fWAR.
His performance down the stretch as the Dodgers eventually punched their ticket to the NLDS has also been rather astounding. Since August 1st, only two starting pitchers have produced a lower ERA. You might have heard of them.
The opponent batting average mentioned above led the league since that time among qualified starters, as well.
That’s already some good company to be in, but it’s never a bad thing to be mentioned in the same breath as Clayton Kershaw (outside of being his teammate, of course).
Although this was a unique tiebreaker game due to the fact that both Los Angeles and Colorado had already clinched playoff berths, it was still important for obvious reasons. On the surface, trusting a 24-year-old pitcher with fewer than 200 career big-league innings seems like a bold strategy, but Buehler certainly answered the call.
Based off how his stuff looked in the swing-and-miss category, he’s ready for whatever else the postseason has to offer.
And heck, maybe manager Dave Roberts will use him as a pinch-hitter? Definitely not, but he picked a perfect time to record his first MLB RBI.
What’s most important, though, is what the young right-hander can provide on the mound moving forward. A crucial offering for the hurler will be his slider. After throwing it at just a 7.3% clip during a cup of coffee in the big leagues last season, that percentage has crept up to over 17.0% in 2018.
The results have been tremendous — Buehler’s slider has produced a 1.9% walk rate and 26.0% strikeout rate to go along with a .502 OPS and 42 wRC+ against. Opposing hitters have swung at it more than 73.0% of the time in the strike zone, yet still swing and miss at a 12.7% rate. It’s actually been one of the best in baseball with regard to FanGraphs’ pitch value metric, too. On a per-100-pitch basis, the 24-year-old’s 2.82 slider value is tied with Trevor Bauer for fourth-best among hurlers with 130 innings of work this season.
It hasn’t taken long for Buehler to become a crucial piece to the Dodgers’ rotation puzzle, and he’ll likely play a vital role in the organization’s attempt to reach its second consecutive World Series.
About Matt Musico
Matt currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book about how to become a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.