Over the past decade, the Los Angeles Dodgers have had no shortage of stars come through and call their city home. Since the early 2010s, one pitcher in particular has stood out as one of the game’s best. Clayton Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and former-MVP, is undoubtably a future Hall of Farmer and is one the greatest pitchers of this generation and of all-time.
Kershaw has stood as the ace on a team that is a perennial contender, but as he shifts over towards his later years, a teammate of his has emerged as one of the most dominant arms in baseball. Walker Buehler, currently having the most consistely outstanding season of his young career, is only 26-years-old, but has already make it clear that not only is he is here to be great, but he’s getting even better.
Buehler, born in Lexington, Kentucky, attended Vanderbilt University, where he won a College World Series in 2014 prior to being taken late in the first round of the 2015 draft. Many teams, despite knowing his potential, passed on Buehler due to his past injury history and a run-in with Tommy John surgery.
He fully recovered, and even on an innings limit, rocketed through the minor leagues before debuting at the major league level in September of 2017. After a solid debut, he struggled a bit. In eight 2017 games (9 1/3 innings), he allowed eight earned runs and wasn’t included on the postseason roster for a squad that fell just short of winning the World Series.
In 2018, however, Buehler was a bright star. He had one of the greatest seasons ever by a Dodger rookie starting pitcher, and didn’t bow down to the spotlight in multiple important starts. He dominated the Rockies in Game 163, shut down the Brewers in Game 7 of the NLCS, and put himself into the history books with an electric performance in Game 3 of the World Series.
Buehler then started Game 1 of the 2019 NLDS — he was magnificent — and got the ball in a pivitol Game 5. While LA ended up losing the ballgame in extra-innings due to a bullpen collapse to end their season earlier than anticipated, Buehler combined to allow only one earned run over 12.2 innings.
In 2020, Buehler made it clear that he was Major League Baseball’s premier big-game performer, tossing five stellar outings in which he allowed only five total earned runs. He struck-out 10 in his lone World Series start, and his team went on to win their first championship in 32 years.
Now that he’s got a ring, Buehler and his team certainly aren’t satisfied. As they enter August of 2021, they look to repeat as champs. Meanwhile, Buehler is also striving to win his first Cy Young award, and has been verbal about the positive impact that his teammate Kershaw has provided him.
Buehler is dynamic, unpredictable, and overpowering. His four-seam fastball, ranking near the top of the league in spin rate, sits near 97mph, but can reach triple digits when he really throws it hard. He’s got a confusing cutter that simulates his fastball, but drops a bit of velocity and moves to his glove side — into a lefty, away from a righty. He’s got a solid slider that similarly moves glove side, and throws a very sharp breaking-ball that keeps hitters off-balance. To make things even more difficult for opponents, his newly incorporated changeup sits around 91–92mph and moves the opposite direction of his breaking stuff. Buehler’s continued to throw the changeup more often each start, and has seen positive results. His command is terrific, and his ability to throw strikes and limit walks without allowing much damage is among the best of any arm in the game.
Through 21 starts in 2021, Buehler is top-10 in ERA (2.31), wins (10), WHIP (0.91), BAA (.193), and is top-20 in strikeouts with 131. He was selected to the National League All-Star team for the second time in his career.
He has continued to elevate his play when needed most, and has taken his game to the next level this season. In a ballgame on June 26th, 2021 where the Dodgers were no-hit by the Cubs, Buehler received his first losing decision since 2019. He is 10–1 in ’21, and has played an integral role in keeping LA in the playoff race.
For a team that, when healthy, has the deepest and most talented rotation in Major League Baseball, Buehler is the number one. He is the guy who is the best bet to succeed in a demanding spot, the guy who can put a ball-club on his back, and the guy who is baseball’s best young pitcher.