The Dodgers were a juggernaut. They are every year it seems like. Last year, however, things went sideways on the pitching front. The starting rotation didn’t just falter, it fell completely apart. After a grueling campaign filled with decimation by injury and lackluster performances, little was left to stem the tide. The dam burst and they were sent home by their division rivals in the playoffs. A miserable end to a once-promising season.
Their front office looked upon what was left and knew reinforcements to the rotation would be necessary. They signed Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a star already made, eager for his chance to shine in the world’s top league. They traded two highly-touted rookies to the Rays for Tyler Glasnow and promptly signed him to a five-year extension. They made an investment the likes of which the sport has never seen into a player worthy of the same description, though Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch until 2025. The team recently brought back franchise legend Clayton Kershaw, though he’ll be returning toward the middle of the season, and in a quieter signing, they picked up veteran lefty James Paxton on a one-year deal as well.
It’s not like they were starting with nothing either. Bobby Miller and his absurd velocity will be in the rotation, now with a year of major league experience under his belt. Walker Buehler will be making his long-awaited return. Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin will be back eventually as well. They still have Ryan Yarbrough too. Not to mention their endless assembly line of top prospects.
All of this is to say that a rookie who didn’t make much noise during his first taste of the big leagues could get lost in the mix. Emmet Sheehan deserves better than that. He’ll have to scratch and claw for a rotation spot, but he has the talent to work his way there. Let’s talk about what he has to offer.
Sheehan’s fastball is in line with the kind you’ll see with a lot of top prospects. He throws it hard, 95.4 mph on average, maxing out at 98.8. While not quite exceptional, this is solid velocity for a starter. It should be noted that it came with some slight fluctuations, but I’m attributing that to the wear and tear most rookies deal with, which should straighten out once he’s more used to the rigors of an MLB season and workload.
His fastball comes from a low arm slot and release height at 5.4 feet off of the ground. Despite this, he gets 15.6” of IVB with 11.1” of arm-side run. The release, combined with the vertical movement, gives the pitch excellent riding life. Its VAA of -4.07 degrees is exceptionally flat and its VAAAA (Vertical Attack Angle Above Average) of +0.27 degrees separates it somewhat from the average pitch of its ilk. This theoretically should lead to whiffs, and we’ll get into why it didn’t later on. This pitch is a solid foundation, even if it hasn’t quite played like it for him yet.
Sheehan’s primary slider was solid for him last season. It’s a hard, tight gyro breaker. It comes in at 87.1 mph on average, with 4.1” of IVB and 2.6” of glove-side movement. It’s a great pitch, the classic pairing to a rising fastball. It racked up a 43% whiff rate and 39.8% chase rate, both marks well above average. It gets there almost entirely on being a great pitch in terms of stuff, as the locations leave a bit to be desired. The good news is that he rarely leaves it in hittable locations. As you’d expect, this led to pitiful results for hitters when they actually managed to make contact. The bad news is that he simply does not throw it in the zone enough and semi-frequently misses too far out of the zone to tempt hitters into swinging. It speaks to the quality of his slider that it performed as well as it did despite this issue.
Sheehan’s changeup is unique, already something going in its favor. He does an excellent job separating it from his fastball, throwing it just 82.9 mph on average, a full 12.5 mph off his heater. Adding to that is the depth of the pitch, averaging a mere 4.3” of IVB, 11.3” away from his fastball. As a bonus, the pitch also fades 16.9” to the arm-side. All of these create an excellent movement profile that leads to a lot of really awkward and silly-looking swings.
However, it’s not a perfect pitch. It spins on an axis with a pretty extreme separation from his fastball. That can hurt the deception of the pitch somewhat so it may lack a bit in chases. It’s relying a lot on the shape to baffle hitters and get them to miss it. Lesser changeups wouldn’t be able to perform this way. Sheehan’s, however, was his best pitch last season. It had an absurd 47.6% whiff rate and wasn’t hit for damage either. He threw it primarily to lefties but showed that he wasn’t afraid to mix it in to right-handed hitters either. It’s arguably his best pitch, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of it.
This last pitch is more speculative than the others because he only threw 40 of them last season. It’s substantially slower than his other slider at 79.3 mph but with -1.4” IVB, and 17.1” of horizontal break. Its lack of velocity is less than ideal but it has enough movement that it can still elicit some whiffs from right-handed hitters. I’d actually like to see more of it— another pitch he could throw to righties would be very welcome.
What Does He Do Next?
Sheehan is a pitcher with remarkable stuff; three distinctly plus pitches with a fourth that’s worth throwing as well is a great foundation for a pitcher to have. There are some things to clean up but that’s true of the vast majority of rookie pitchers. He throws his fastball too much, and I firmly believe it will perform better and get the whiffs it should once he stops throwing it 60% of the time. This excessive usage has diminishing returns; hitters can sit on it and adjust to it when it’s better-than-a-coin-flip odds that they’re getting a heater. I want to see that number shrink closer to the low 40s. He can fill the void left there with more of his other great pitches.
After that, the other fix has to be to his command. He’s got to get his slider closer to the zone. He should probably throw it to lefties more as well. Diversifying his arsenal beyond just fastball-changeup to opposite-handed hitters could go a long way toward his success against them. I don’t want to harp on the guy— I think he’s a promising arm with a bright future in this league. Every pitcher has their bumps and flaws when they come up, that’s the nature of the game. He may have a hard time getting a chance right away in that stacked Dodgers room, he might start the season in the bullpen or AAA. But, when opportunity inevitably knocks, I think he’ll seize that chance and break out.