Reevaluating Walker Buehler: Is He A 2020 Bust In Waiting?

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We all know that Walker Buehler is among the best starting pitchers in the game, but his value is quickly plummeting as the start of the season grows near.  While other pitchers appear ready to go 5-6 innings from the outset, the Los Angeles Dodgers have handled him with kid gloves during “Summer Camp”.  As MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick recently reported:

Along with Walker Buehler, Dustin May will pitch in a simulated game during Wednesday’s voluntary workout, and manager Dave Roberts said it is “certainly a possibility” that they will piggyback in the fifth game of the season, July 28 in Houston.  May is already built up to five innings and will pitch that many on Wednesday. Buehler is scheduled to pitch three innings on Wednesday.

If Buehler is only going to go 3.0 IP on Wednesday and he’s likely not starting until the fifth game of the season, we are talking about him not getting up to 5.0+ IP until August 2, at the earliest (in what would be his second “start”).  With a few scheduled days off the Dodgers could also conceivably shuffle the rotation, pushing his first “full start” to a few days later.  In a season that’s only 60-games, if he’s not up-to-speed until Game 15 or 20 just how valuable will he be?

Our original projection called for 74.0 IP over the short season, but that also assumed he’d be among the first 2-3 starters used by Los Angeles and stretched out from Day 1.  Now going at the back of the rotation, he could lose one start and also is going to lose some innings early in the year.  Suddenly the projection goes from 74 IP down to 64 IP, and that means a drop in counting stats.  You also have him losing the advantage of other pitchers, as early in the season pitchers are generally more ready than the hitters.

After the change our projection goes to:

64.0 IP, 5 W, 3.52 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 72 K (10.13 K/9), 18 BB (2.53 BB/9)

Those are still highly impressive numbers, but they are a step backwards from our original projections.  No longer are they better than Shane Bieber or Stephen Strasburg or a host of others.  Instead they are similar to our projections for Carlos Carrasco (3.49 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 75 K over 67.0 IP), dropping Buehler from our #5 starting pitcher down to #13 (and you could argue that he could get even fewer innings).

Is Buehler still a pitcher we want to own?  Absolutely, but it also will be difficult to trust him for the first two weeks of the season.  After that he should operate as one of the elite, but losing two weeks of a ten week sprint has to send the overall value spiraling.

Sources – Fangraphs, MLB.com

Make sure to check out all of our Updated 2020 preseason rankings:

PositionLast Updated
Catchers07/06/20
First Basemen07/20/20
Second Basemen07/07/20
Third Basemen07/08/20
Shortstops07/10/20
Outfielders07/13/20
Starting Pitchers07/14/20
Relief Pitchers07/12/20

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