It’s 2020 and the Dodgers have still just made one offseason acquisition. Maybe that’s all that’s coming this offseason even though there’s still plenty of time until Opening Day.
But with the loss of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill, and also finishing second in the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes, it appears they might be getting ready to lean on some of their pitching depth from years past (Ross Stripling, Julio Urias) and a couple of prospects (Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May). So, let’s take a look at Mr. Stripling.
Stripling, 30, was an All-Star back in 2018 when he was one of the unsung heroes of that Dodger team in the first half. He finished the season with a career-high 122 innings and pitched to a 3.02 ERA, 3.44 FIP, 2.99 xFIP and a 22.7 K-BB%. Those are all really strong numbers for any non-ace pitcher. He pitched in just 90 2/3 innings last season, but was still solid: 3.47 ERA, 3.47 FIP, 3.58 xFIP, 19.7 K-BB%. He missed time due to a neck and bicep issue. He returned to the Dodgers late in the season and appears to be fully healthy for the 2020 season.
Looking at Stripling’s numbers, there are some interesting things to take note of.
Did you know Stripling pitches better against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters? It’s true!
As you can see, he fares much better against lefties. It’s a little strange because he doesn’t seemingly have a true out-pitch, let alone a pitch that allows him to have better results against lefties. Coming up through the minors and early in his pro career, he was fastball-curveball-slider guy. His curveball was his best pitch and is still quite effective, but the change — no pun intended — came when he embraced his changeup.
In his rookie season (2016), Stripling threw just 157 changeups, good for a 9.96% usage rate. He threw it even less frequently in 2017 — 6.72 percent. It had always induced a fair number of whiffs, but he has upped the usage — and whiff rates — in the last two seasons.
Sure, the wOBA has increased with more usage, but so have the whiffs. Still, a wOBA in the .230s against opposite-handed hitters is nothing to sneeze at. He now has more confidence in the pitch at the expense of his slider, which isn’t a bad thing.
Stripling threw his slider 34.39 percent of the time in 2017. That number dipped to 26.17 percent during his All-Star campaign. Ever since ’17, when FanGraphs had it at 6.9 runs above average, it has been worth -0.5 runs above average over the last two seasons. Part of the problem is both-handed hitters are hitting it with more authority.
In his career, 14 of his 49 home runs allowed have come on the slider. Considering he has thrown his fastball (22 homers allowed) 951 more times in his career than his slider, that’s not a great endorsement of the pitch. Plus, it hasn’t really passed the eye test for me. It has more of a cutter shape rather than a traditional slider, and since the velocity separation between the fastball and slider isn’t terribly high, it’s easier for hitters to adjust to the slider than, say, the changeup, which has gotten better over the last couple seasons.
With the Dodgers potentially getting ready to lean more on Stripling, the fact that he has been consistently solid and has shown signs of improvement in specific areas could mean good things. Of course, the workload is going to be something to monitor, seeing as he has made 61.8 percent of his MLB appearances out of the bullpen. He has gotten to 100 or more innings just twice, so don’t expect him to be a 150-plus inning guy in 2020. That’s partly why some (me) are concerned about the Dodgers losing parts of their quality starting pitching depth. If injuries crop up or Stripling or the other young guys falter, that’s going to put a lot more pressure on Walker Buehler (no problem), a less-effective Clayton Kershaw and an enigmatic Kenta Maeda.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Dodgers acquired some form of starting pitcher before the start of the season, only because of the quartet of Gonsolin, May, Stripling and Urias. But the fact that Stripling is a cerebral guy, who has embraced the data provided by the front office and has done everything he has been asked, leads me to believe he could be a quality starter for the Dodgers next season and for years to come. The fact that he handles lefties so well should behoove him going forward.