What does the future hold for Ross Stripling?

On April 8th, 2016 Ross Stripling had one of the greatest debut games as a pitcher in LAD history when he held the Giants to ZERO hits while recording twenty-two outs.  More was made about the fact he wasn’t allowed to go for his no-hitter than about the fact the Dodgers had found another jewel for the rotation.  That was because Ross was already twenty-six and no one thought he was going to be a long-term piece for the Dodger rotation. That piece was already reserved for nineteen-year-old Julio Urias who was just biding time in AAA until the Dodgers brought him up.

Ross would make eight starts between April 8th and May 19th and most were unforgettable except for a gem he threw in his 6th start at Toronto where he gave up only one hit while getting eighteen outs. His 7th and 8th starts found him giving up nine runs in nine innings and he gave way for what was supposed to be the future.  On May 27th, Julio Urias at the tender age of nineteen made his major league debut and unlike what Ross Stripling did, it was a forgettable start and ranked as one of the worst Dodger debuts in their long history.

Even though Ross Stripling had thrown a seven-inning no-hitter in his debut and Julio Urias had struggled in his debut, all eyes were on Julio Urias not on Ross Stripling and Julio stayed in the rotation until July 4th.  Both Ross and Julio were in the rotation in August and while Ross was just filling in, the hope was the Julio was getting ready for the postseason.  That didn’t turn out well for Julio and the Dodgers but that is another story.

Ross Stripling finished 2016 in the bullpen and given his splits as a starter/reliever it looked like that would be where his future would lie. In fourteen starts in 2016, Ross had an OPS against of .741. As a reliever in eight games, it was a stunning .598.

2017 found Ross making only two starts for a combined five innings. Ross pitched in 47 games as a relief pitcher and for most of those games was very good.  Of those 47 games he gave up zero runs twenty-eight times, and one run only twelve times.  The other seven games are where he struggled giving up nineteen runs in just nine innings.  At this point, I had assumed his job as a relief pitcher seemed etched in cement.

Headed into this season Ross Stripling was a forgotten piece as part of the rotation with many pieces seemingly in front of him but baseball has a funny way of working things out. I have always believed that timing is just as important as skill in how a player progresses in the major leagues. Some players never get the right timing and as such can never shake a label that is applied early in their career. Ross Stripling took advantage of his timing when he was given a spot start on May 6th and given he wasn’t stretched out, the team was simply hoping for the minimum but Ross delivered the maximum giving them twelve outs and zero runs.  Dave Roberts and company liked what they saw enough to keep Ross in the rotation, and game after game he has delivered, so much so that he has been the Dodgers best starting pitcher in 2018.  The numbers speak for themselves, as he has already garnered 2.4 fWAR, has a K% of 28%, and a measly walk rate of 3.6%.

So, what is Ross Stripling? Is he a pumpkin? Is he a good pitcher who can hold up the back end of a rotation? Can he be the middle relief bridge for the bullpen and give the Dodgers a weapon they didn’t know they had? Is he a late bloomer and all the metrics support the idea that he could something akin to …………Corey Kluber?

First off, why is Ross having such success?  This was Jeff Sullivan back on June 6th after just six starts:

There’s no one single explanation for Stripling’s rise. He’s added some bulk to improve his durability. He’s gained more experience, and more familiarity. As the anecdote goes, Stripling is now throwing his curveball as hard as he can, as opposed to trying to guide it. And Stripling is a four-pitch pitcher, who can locate all four pitches. His slider and curveball in particular have become great weapons. Stripling’s K-BB% against lefties last year was 14%. Now it’s double that number.

I will shed a little light on Stripling’s fastball/curveball combination. He throws over the top, so his fastball generates rise, with very little run. That also means his curveball is a true 12-to-6.

Rob Friedman tweeted this beautiful overlay of how devastating his curveball is.

The bottom line seems to be that Ross Stripling is a four-pitch pitcher but that his curveball is one of the best in the game right now.

As of July 11th Ross Stripling ranks with the best among NL starters:

  • He ranks fifth in strike out % at 29.1%
  • He ranks 1st in walk rate % 2.4%
  • He ranks 1st in Strikeout / Walk ratio at 12.29. For context, Thor is way way way back at 5.85
  • He ranks 1st in Walks per 9 innings at .85.  Uh, that means he walks less than one batter every nine innings.

All of the stats above came from the advanced splits from Fangraphs.

Let’s us now look at those questions again.

Is he a pumpkin? I’m going to say no, that his success is now over thirteen starts, that he has proven his repetiore plays big, and going forward he is going to be a dangerous weapon for the Dodgers. My main concern right now is that Ross is a past Tommy John patient and only threw seventy-four innings last year after throwing one hundred innings in 2016. He is at 84 innings right now. If was to remain the rotation for the rest of the year and get fifteen more starts of at least six innings each we are looking at around 174 innings which would be one hundred more than he threw last year.

Is he a good pitcher who can hold up the back end of a rotation? At the very least, I think Ross could continue to be a solid piece in any rotation, including one that has postseason aspirations.

Can he be the middle relief bridge for the bullpen and give the Dodgers a weapon they didn’t know they had? If the Dodgers decide to utilize him in this way in 2018 once the rotation is filled up, it is very possible he could be that guy.

Is he a late bloomer and all the metrics support the idea that he could something akin to …………Corey Kluber? Before you say I’m going off the rails, let us provide some content. Corey Kluber did not pitch a successful season in the major leagues until he was 27 years old. He exploded on the scene at the age of 28 with a devasting curveball and has continued to master the American League for the past five years.  It is not out of the realm of possibilities that Ross Stripling could be something akin to Kluber. It is doubtful, as we are talking about one of the top five pitchers in all of baseball over the past five years, but it is possible, and I’m not exactly out on the limb here by myself.

From a recent Rotowire column on pitchers to target for the 2nd half of 2018, we get this quote from Derek VanRiper:

Skeptics could argue that the Dodgers might see him the way the Astros see Brad Peacock, but the optimists could look at him like another late-20s surger from a few years back and comp him to Corey Kluber.

Heck, I thought Ross was a middle of the run middle relief pitcher and wasn’t even happy he was given a spot in the rotation until I paid attention to his pitching which has blown me away.

It does seem however that the spectrum for Ross Stripling runs from a good back-end starter to a weaponized bullpen piece, to a number two, or even gasp, a number one. That is coming a long way in half a season for someone who was an afterthought bullpen piece back in March and big reason why the Dodgers have another shot at a World Series.

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