Who Will Be the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Ace This Season?

Armed with an endless amount of pitching in their organization, which Dodgers hurler will emerge as the ace in 2024?

Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - MARCH 17: Shohei Ohtani #17 and Yoshinobu Yamamoto #18 of the Los Angeles Dodgers look on during the singing of the national anthem prior to the 2024 Seoul Series game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Kiwoom Heroes at Gocheok Sky Dome on Sunday, March 17, 2024 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

With no less than 14 starting pitchers on their 40-man roster, the Los Angeles Dodgers have no shortage of options as their staff ace.

Half of their best choices currently occupy their five-man starting rotation. The other half are waiting in the wings on the injured list. 

Eight games into the 2024 campaign and it’s apparent Los Angeles will have a place in the postseason. Will their ace emerge in time for October? Or is he already taking the ball every five days for Dave Roberts?

Who’s Not The Ace For the Dodgers?

Of the nearly dozen starters receiving service time with the Dodgers this season, Tony Gonsolin is the only big leaguer who we won’t see in 2024. The All-Star in 2022 finished with a 2.12 ERA that season, better than teammate Julio Urías’ league-leading 2.16 ERA. However, injuries kept Gonsolin from qualifying for the ERA title.

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The 29-year-old opened 2023 on the injured list with an ankle sprain before cruising through seven starts with a 1.77 ERA upon his return. He struggled mightily over the next three months, hitting the injured list with right elbow inflammation. Less than two weeks later, the decision was made for Gonsolin to undergo Tommy John surgery to resolve the issue. He’s not expected to return until the 2025 campaign.

Dustin May is in a similar boat. Posting a 2.93 ERA over a 113.2 innings between 2019-21, May was beginning to look like the next young ace for the Dodgers. Surgery to repair UCL damage curtailed that outlook. 

He made 15 starts between the end of 2022 and the start of 2023, but a right forearm strain led to surgery from team physician Dr. Neal ElAttrache. May should return this summer, but all signs point to Los Angeles being more delicate with his second return from elbow surgery. Besides, with eight other options remaining, a place in the bullpen this season may be a safer option for May.

Top pitching prospect Nick Frasso is out for the year following shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in November. Acquired in a shrewd acquisition at the 2022 trade deadline from the Toronto Blue Jays, the Dodgers elevated the fourth-round selection into a top 100 prospect within a year.

Remember Shohei Ohtani the pitcher? In addition to a designated hitter and lightning rod for conspiracy theorists, the Japanese superstar may play some outfielder later this season before returning to the mound in 2025. He also went under the knife last year, though the details of that procedure — along with other details surrounding the 29-year-old — are unclear.

Who’s Lacking The Ace Pedigree?

Nearly half the teams in Major League Baseball would love to have the likes of Gavin Stone, Emmet Sheehan, Landon Knack and Kyle Hurt in their system. You could probably find 10 clubs that would be thrilled to have them in their starting rotation right now.

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Despite the intrigue with this quartet of starting pitchers, none have extensive big league experience.

Sheehan leads this group with 60.1 innings pitched. When Los Angeles dealt with a similar situation regarding injuries to their rotation, Roberts and company called upon the 2021 draftee to skip Triple-A in order to make his big league debut.

Sheehen twirled six no-hit innings in his debut against the San Francisco Giants, but the league caught up to him immediately after. He was introduced to Oklahoma City after seven more games with a 6.68 ERA and returned after three contests in the Pacific Coast League.

The 24-year-old finished strong in ‘23, striking out 10 Rockies over six frames before being included on the postseason roster. Sheehan had potential to battle for the fifth-spot in the rotation this season before missing all of spring training with a sore shoulder. He was moved to the 60-day IL on Sunday.

Stone has the next most experience for this foursome without fame. Once Bobby Miller debuted last season, Stone was seen as the organization’s best pitching prospect, according to MLB Pipeline. 

The fifth-round pick in 2020 spent most of 2023 at Triple-A having relative success in the hitter-friendly PCL. Of the four starting in the OKC Dodgers rotation last year, Stone’s 4.74 ERA led the way. More impressive is the fact that the other three were nearly a decade older than the 24-year-old.

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Now 25 and serving as the no. 4 starter for Los Angeles, Stone has an opportunity to make a name for himself as a dependable mid-rotation arm capable of missing bats at a high rate. In his first start of 2024, Stone struck out six in five innings, allowing three runs on seven hits and one walk during the Dodgers comeback win over the St. Louis Cardinals on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball. 

Hurt, also acquired in an overlooked deal that appears questionable from the Miami Marlins standpoint now, is waiting for his opportunity in Los Angeles. He’s made three appearances with the club so far for a total of 6.2 innings.

In the minors, various injuries limited him to 52.0 innings between 2021-22. Finally healthy in 2023, Hurt broke out by striking out 152 batters in 92.0 frames, good for a 14.9 K/9 rate, best in all of the minors for those with as many innings. He earned the Dodgers’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award in the process. Soon to be 26-years old, Hurt may be a better candidate for the bullpen given his short track record as a full-fledged starter.

Another 26-year-old from that talented college pitching class of 2020 is Knack. He was likely the runner-up to Hurt last year for best arm in the farm system. Knack combined to throw a 2.51 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. He doesn’t have as gaudy strikeout numbers as Hurt, but he is able to induce weak contact courtesy of his sharp command.

The James Paxton Tier

Six names remain in the hunt for the Dodgers ace: Tyler Glasnow, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Miller, James Paxton, Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw

Through this point in their careers, Paxton has earned the second most money for his craft of that group. The 6-foot-4 southpaw spent his first six years with the Seattle Mariners, posting a 3.42 ERA during a time in which that meant something in the American League as NL pitchers benefitted greatly from not having to face a DH.

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A high-profile trade to the New York Yankees produced a 15-6 season in 2019 followed by a 2020 that was cut short due to a left flexor strain. Seattle welcomed him back with open arms in 2021, but Paxton’s left forearm suffered a strain, limiting him to 21 pitches before his season was over. From there, he went to the Boston Red Sox where his tenure included a rehabilitation from Tommy John surgery in 2022 and a 4.50 ERA across 96.0 innings in 2023.

A fractured spring training with the Dodgers made it seem probable Paxton would miss time to start the season and suffer through another injury plagued campaign. Though he didn’t make the trip to Korea for the Seoul Series, he started L.A.’s fifth game back in the U.S. Five scoreless innings against Giants on Monday night was a nice opening for the 35-year-old.

Which 25-Year-Old Will Emerge As An Ace?

Before turning to a trio of veterans hitters that will ultimately lead the list of best candidates to become the Dodgers’ ace, there are two 25-year-olds going back-to-back in the rotation: Yamamoto and Miller.

When Yamamoto turned 18, he turned pro and spent the next seven years in NPB. In the process, he simultaneously won three consecutive MVP Awards and three consecutive Sawamura Awards as the best pitcher in Japan.

Miller, born seven-and-a-half months after Yamamoto on the other side of the globe, was graduating high school at 18, playing Division I baseball at Louisville and traveling the U.S. as parts of two-plus seasons in the minors.

Because of these different paths to the Majors, Yamamoto will make roughly $9.2 million this year as part of his record-breaking $325 million deal; Miller will receive $750K, slightly more than the rookie minimum.

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Yamamoto offers a four-pitch mix that includes three plus-pitches: a mid-90s fastball, splitter and curve. There’s a cutter and sweeper in the arsenal as well, but only the cutter has been unveiled through his first six innings and two starts with Los Angeles.

Miller is in the same place with his offerings, albeit a different combination. The fastball can touch 100 mph, his changeup just shy of 90 mph that will drop and he sports a slider with outstanding horizontal movement. A sinker, which is more of a two-seam fastball, and curve further expand his options.

Miller’s Statcast page has a lot more red — or categories in which he’s above average — than Yamamoto so far. In Miller’s rookie campaign, when he went 11-4 with a 3.76 ERA, comes with comparisons to reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Gerrit Cole and 20-game winner Spencer Strider in regards to velocity and movement of his pitches. When reviewing his batted ball profile, Miller is most similar to Cole’s runner-up in Sonny Gray last season.

The small sample size for Yamamoto can’t give us the same correlation to other noted aces in the game just yet. His fastball run value is in the 96th percentile after 40 pitches and his 7.7-inch drop on his curveball has been well above average so far. Command has been strong with only one walk to the 26 batters he’s faced. The former Orix Buffalo has surrendered zero home runs through his 6.0 innings.

Verdict: Miller is the sneaky pick here, especially if you consider yourself a baseball hipster that likes to be a bit of a contrarian. Could the man who was passed over for 28 other players in the 2020 MLB Draft really be better than the greatest pitcher Japan has ever produced? It’s much more possible than you might think.

The Aces (But Not When Injured)

Tyler Glasnow. Walker Buehler. Clayton Kershaw.

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Call them the Three Amigos if you’d like, but these starters are no clowns pretending to be gunslingers. They are the genuine article when it comes to pitching.

The only ability they haven’t mastered: availability.

Since the start of the 2020 season, this group has missed a lot of time.

Kershaw has made 78 starts during those four seasons. A total of 54 pitchers have made more starts than him over that span. While Buehler led the league with 33 starts in 2021, he’s made 53 between 2020-23, tied for 125th. Glasnow, at only 48 starts, has seen less action than the semi-retired Mike Minor, who hasn’t played in a professional game since Sept. 2022.

While Glasnow has looked strong in two starts so far — not to mention a ridiculously dominant 10 innings of work in spring training — he’s a long way from proving he’s a durable starter. He’s never made 22 or more starts in a season and his career-high for innings pitched is 120 in 2023. Including his 11 innings from this season, the 30-year-old has thrown only 283 since 2020. (You know who just made 22 big league starts and has thrown 336.2 competitive innings in that span despite losing an entire season to the pandemic? Bobby Miller. I digress.)

Like with Yamamoto, the Dodgers are betting heavily on Glasnow to be a player worthy of a significant paycheck among the highest in the game. You might thinking back to such failed projects as Noah Syndergaard and Mat Latos over the past decade. But for every one one of those, there’s a Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, Alex Wood and Rich Hill who had great success.

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The biggest difference with all of these examples and both Glasnow and Yamamoto is that those reclamation projects were all on short-term deals. For L.A. to go all in and guarantee nearly half a billion on this pair suggests they’ll both be able to sustain their ace-hood. (We can discuss whether Ohtani is the ace of the staff in 2025 in, well, 2025.)

Buehler is a free agent after this season. For the organization to play it cautious with the 29-year-old at the end of 2023 and keep him from rushing back from a second Tommy John surgery might suggest the Dodgers won’t allow the Excel Sports Management client to leave Southern California without a competitive offer and long-term extension.

A career 3.02 ERA during his six seasons with Los Angeles, Buehler finished third in the NL Rookie of the Year Award behind two absolute mega-stars: Ronald Acuña Jr. and Juan Soto. He received Cy Young Award votes in two of his next three seasons, finishing fourth during his last healthy campaign in 2021.

His numbers in the postseason are even better. In 15 starts between 2018-21, he posted a 2.94 ERA in 79.2 innings, including a victory in Game Three of the 2020 World Series.

Buehler is approaching a return. He made his first rehab start on Opening Night for the OKC Dodgers. He can spend as many as 60 days rehabbing since the elbow surgery can allow L.A. to request for a second 30-day rehab window should everything not progress during the first 30. The results in Triple-A were less than stellar and his fastball sat below his career average, but this isn’t abnormal and no one is concerned from the Dodgers.

Truth be told, there’s still no rush to get Buehler back into the rotation. His presence — as an ace and not just a starter — is more needed for October than during early season series against the Toronto Blue Jays or Miami Marlins. Such cushion bodes well for Buehler reclaiming his dominance over opposing hitters in ’24.

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Then there’s future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw. Last we saw the 210-game winner, he was absolutely bewildered following the worst start of his career. Game 1 of the NL Division Series against eventual league champ Arizona was the first domino to fall in another quick exit for Los Angeles in the postseason. Pulled in the first inning following six earned runs. No one wants to end on that note.

Given the chance to hang up his cleats and enjoy retirement following a career that’s earned him nearly $300 million, he opted to have shoulder surgery and get back in the trenches with the Dodgers.

When Kershaw returns at some point mid-season, the goal will be getting back to form and preparing for another shot at the Commissioner’s Trophy. Though he hasn’t made 25 or more starts since 2019, he’s still been one of the best starters in the sport. Since 2020, his 2.67 ERA has been bested by only Jacob deGrom (2.12) and Justin Verlander (2.46).

The question at hand is whether or not he’ll be able to be himself again. If you’re a betting man, you have to know that he will. Kershaw won’t need to lead the staff in the same way when he was winning three Cy Young Awards in four years. Instead, he’s going the route of Roger Clemens in 2006-07. However, Kershaw is much younger and has had a much less volatile career that The Rocket.

When healthy, the Three Amigos are all aces. They occupy three spots in the top 13 of best Game Score Averages over the past four seasons (min. 40 starts). With only Kershaw completely on the wrong side of 30, there’s simply no reason to think they’ll be any less when healthy enough to ascend the bump.


The last time the Dodgers had a starting pitcher other than Kershaw win the National League Cy Young Award was Orel Hershiser in 1988. Coincidentally, that was the last 162-game season the franchise won the World Series.

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Winning that award is not a prerequisite to being an ace, let alone for winning a World Series. Oftentimes, the Cy Young Award winner never even reaches the Fall Classic. (Verlander recently won a ring and the trophy in 2022, but that hasn’t happened in the NL since Randy Johnson in 2001.)

It’s not hyperbolic to think there’s a stronger chance that five of their starters become aces this season than none of them do. The evidence supports one extreme over the other.

Past success can be a good indicator of future success, which suggests Buehler and Kershaw will be the Dodgers best ace when the calendar flips to October. Now we just wait for their returns and watch them get to work.