SP Walker Buehler, Los Angeles
9 starts, 51.1 IP, 2.63 ERA
Buehler, who turns 24 in July, was one of the Dodgers’ most consistent performers this season until he went down with a microfracture in his rib cage earlier this month.
The Dodgers’ former top prospect is striking out nearly 9.5 batters per nine innings and has paired it with a minuscule walk rate (1.93 BB/9). In fact, Buehler currently sits eighth in the NL with a 4.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Buehler – with a heater that hovers at 96 mph – ranks third in the NL in average fastball velocity, and is capable of touching 99 on the radar gun. Opponents are batting just .180 off the pitch so far this season. He ranks second among rookies with a 1.7 WAR, just ahead of Juan Soto’s 1.3 and slightly behind Brian Anderson’s 2.1.
Soto didn’t get called up until May 20, and now has his own playing time issues with Bryce Harper, Adam Eaton, and Michael Taylor also vying for outfield time. But in the NL Rookie of the Year race, Buehler won’t be able to build a case based on playing time, though he could return to the mound sometime next week.
Because of his youth and injury history, Buehler is already approaching his career-high in innings pitched for a season. In 2017, he threw 98 total innings across four levels of the Dodgers organization. This year, Buehler has tossed 64.1 innings in Triple-A and the majors. He might not be long for the rotation if the Dodgers ponder a shutdown scenario.
Despite their rookie status, Soto and Buehler are two of the best players on otherwise underperforming teams. Comparing pitchers to outfielders is apples to oranges, but the RoY vote could come down to whoever is still playing come September.
In that situation, Soto seems like a better bet to both remain healthy and earn consistent opportunities late in the year.