With the trade deadline quickly approaching, the Dodgers are in the market for a pitcher (or two). That’s no secret. One thing that hasn’t been talked about a lot, though, is the workload of Dodgers’ ace Ross Stripling.
Stripling, in his third full season, has already eclipsed his MLB career-high (100) in innings pitched (104), and he threw just 74 1/3 innings last year while pitching almost exclusively out of the bullpen (plus another 3 1/3 innings at Oklahoma City). In 2016, he threw 100 innings with the Dodgers and 19 2/3 in the minors. FanGraphs has him projected to end the season with 141 innings pitched. His professional high in innings pitched is 127 2/3, which he did in 2013 (his first full pro season). His high in college, coincidentally, is 125 2/3 innings, which he did in 2011 and 2012. So if you add his 2012 college innings and pro innings, his career-high for innings in a calendar year is 161 2/3. This was before he underwent Tommy John surgery back in 2014.
Stripling’s no stranger to throwing this many innings so far, but we’re almost in uncharted territory with him. Despite that, there hasn’t been much talk about moving him to the bullpen to conserve his arm and effectiveness a bit.
“So when I got pulled against the Cubs after five (innings), there were talks that there could be a time we limit innings but never got any specifics or a set number,” Stripling said. “And it only came up in one (conversation) and then never again. And nothing about the bullpen either.”
This was around the All-Star break, so things could change. They could also change because there are pitchers coming back from injury (Hyun-Jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, Julio Urias), some who are improving (Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill) and some who have been relatively consistent this season (Clayton Kershaw, Alex Wood).
The Dodgers, with Stripling, might have seven legitimate starters. And while they’ve gone to a 6-man rotation of late, there’s no way they go to seven. So, this presents a conundrum.
While he’d probably not admit it, the workload could be starting to take a toll on his production and velocity.
Most of his numbers are trending the wrong direction. That’s not surprising if he’s starting to fatigue a bit. But just because he may be fatiguing now doesn’t mean it’ll continue the rest of the season.
If the Dodgers were to acquire a starting pitcher before tomorrow’s non-waiver trade deadline, perhaps Stripling moves to the bullpen to lessen his workload. If they don’t, well, he could probably either use a bit of a break or a shift to the bullpen.
Still, Stripling views himself as a starting pitcher, though he’d be OK with moving to the bullpen if it were just temporary.
“I certainly understand it being hard to expect me to keep my stamina for 175+ innings when I have never done it,” Stripling said. “So far, so good, though. I’d gladly go back to the bullpen as long as it’s worded as a temporary thing with the intent to keep starting in the future. Just feel like I’ve earned that, I guess.”
“I don’t necessarily think I should be on a limit but just with our track history of doing it, I wouldn’t be surprised if I find myself with one. At the end of the day, I’m 28 years old, though. I’m not Urias or Buehler, so that comes into play, too. Might as well let me go.”
As long as the results are there, I’m sure the Dodgers would. Recently, they haven’t been. Still, this is a good “problem” to have for the future.
Stripling has been one of the unsung heroes of this season. His moving from the bullpen to the rotation when a bunch of starters went down had the potential to not go as well as it has so far. But the fact Stripling has been as good as he has been for as long as he has been as a starter has allowed guys like Kershaw, Hill, et al to work through injuries and/or performance struggles. For now, perhaps a move to the bullpen would help everyone involved. The Dodgers would gain a good relief option while opening up a spot in the rotation for Ryu or a trade acquisition. And when spring training 2019 rolls around, Stripling should contend for a spot in the starting rotation. With a heavy workload this season and an offseason to prepare, he should be able to handle the rigors of a starter’s workload come next season.
For now, though, Stripling will continue to do whatever is asked of him. Soon, that might mean pitching in relief.