Walker Buehler Injury

Dodgers star hurler Walker Buehler underwent Tommy John surgery and a repair to his flexor tendon this afternoon, according to announcements from the team and Buehler himself (h/t to Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic). The team had previously announced that Buehler would miss the entirety of the 2022 season due to elbow surgery, though it was unclear whether or not he would require a full UCL reconstruction.

A timetable for Buehler’s recovery has not been provided by the team, but the news is still devastating. A Tommy John procedure will obviously cost him far more than the remainder of this season. It’s now hard to envision him returning at any point in 2023. Recovery from Tommy John surgery can take up to 14 months, and given Buehler’s past, that time frame is likely to be extended.

After being selected in the first round of the 2015 draft, the right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery. He missed the rest of that season and almost all of the next year recovering, playing only three games toward the end of his rookie year. Now he must endure yet another drawn-out period of recovery.

Buehler is now widely recognized as one of the best pitchers in the sport, despite having undergone multiple surgeries. The Vanderbilt product has a 3.02 ERA in 638 1/3 MLB innings, striking out a quality 27% of batters faced against a meager 6.3% walk percentage.

Between the years 2018 and 2020, he maintained an ERA of 3.44 or lower each year, which helped him garner two All-Star nods. Buehler picked up a fourth-place finish in NL Cy Young balloting last year — his highest finish to date — after eclipsing 200 innings with a sparkling 2.47 ERA.

Buehler’s strikeout rate had dropped to a career-low 21.2% through 12 starts in 2022, which was not his best season by any stretch of the imagination. Not coincidentally, he allowed more than four earned runs per nine innings for the first time in his big league career, with opponents bizarrely teeing off on a fastball that had previously been one of his better offerings.

Although Buehler’s fastball remained in the mid-to-high nineties, as usual, he left an early June outing due to elbow discomfort, delaying any attempts to restore the pitch’s spin and overall effectiveness. That was identified as a flexor strain, and the team announced last week that he would need surgery because rehabilitation had failed.

Walker Buehler

Illness or not, Buehler would have played a significant role on the team the following season. With his participation now appearing highly unlikely at any point, the Dodgers are expected to make a strong push in the offseason to improve their starting rotation. Following his one-year contract that he signed this past winter, Clayton Kershaw will be a free agent.

The team would be happy to have Kershaw back if he changes his mind, but the future Hall of Famer hasn’t made any decisions yet. The Dodgers will also have to replace free agents Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson.

Next year will be the last time that MLB star pitcher Julio Uras is eligible for arbitration. Tony Gonsolin has continued his smaller-sample excellence through a career-high 22 starts this season, and flamethrowing Dustin May has recently returned from his own Tommy John rehab to join the Dodgers.

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With three spots in the rotation filled, young pitchers like Ryan Pepiot, Gavin Stone, and Bobby Miller may be able to contribute right away. Despite the abundance of internal options, the Dodgers have been actively stockpiling pitching depth in recent offseasons.

The Dodgers are expected to be active in the upcoming offseason, adding to their strong collection of young in-house arms by either re-signing one or more of Kershaw, Anderson and Heaney or by pursuing external free agents.

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Although Buehler will spend the season on the 60-day injured list, he will need to be carried on the 40-man roster during the offseason. He will have over four years of service time by the end of this season, making him eligible for an arbitration raise above this year’s $4.25M salary.

The Dodgers are likely to tender Buehler a contract and pay his salary for next year in the hopes of having him return to the mound for the 2024 season because he has two more arb-eligible years.

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