By: Chris Larson
It wasn't even two months ago and the Los Angeles Dodgers were nearly buried for good in the standings and many thought that they were out of the race altogether. After all, the Arizona Diamondbacks had went on an incredible run and seemed to have the division under lock, the Colorado Rockies were playing well, and the San Francisco Giants continued to find ways to win even without their two main starters, Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.
Fast forward to just three weeks ago and you will find that the Dodgers have played themselves right back into the race and are relevant once again. Going into play today, the Dodgers currently sit in second place in the NL West with a 36-32 record and are 2 and 1/2 games back of first place, with a +57 run differential, the best run differential in the division. Amazing considering the number of injuries they experienced right from the get-go and the fact that Clayton Kershaw hasn't been healthy for a majority of this season.
However, when injuries happen to any team, it's time for the depth on that team to step up and that's exactly what has happened for the Dodgers. One piece of that depth is right-handed starting pitcher, Ross Stripling aka Chicken Strip, a nickname he coined himself during last year's Players Weekend. In his third year in the big leagues, Stripling has a 1.76 ERA over 66.1 innings of work so far with 78 strikeouts, a 2.41 Fielding Independent Percentage (FIP), and a 2.5 WAR. Over the three seasons that Stripling has pitched in the big leagues, he has a 3.29 ERA over 240.2 IP with a 1.17 WHIP and a strikeouts-per-9 rate of 8.5. Impressive for someone who doesn't get talked about that much and many viewed as "just another depth piece."
Within Stripling's pitch repertoire is a fastball, slider, curveball, and changeup. Here is a chart showcasing Stripling's usage on all four pitches over the last three seasons:
As seen from this chart, Ross Stripling has nearly doubled how much he is throwing his changeup (6.5% last season compared to 11% of the time this year), is throwing his slider less often (34.7% in 2017 compared to 30.2% this season), and hasn't seen that dramatic of a change in how often he's throwing either his fastball or curveball. In addition, the velocity on all three of Stripling's pitches during the last three seasons, has remained virtually the same, as indicated by the chart below:
One of the biggest reasons behind Ross Stripling's success this year has been his ability to increase the amount of time that his pitches are thrown for strikes and the ability to leave runners on-base when it matters the most. According to FanGraphs, Stripling currently has a left on-base percentage of 88.7% as well as a strikeout-to-walk percentage of 28.1%. Looking at the rest of the league, among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings this season, Ross Stripling is tied with, Jaime Barra of the Los Angeles Angels, for second place in left on-base percentage and ranks third, in all of baseball, in strikeout-to-walk percentage, behind two elite starters - Max Scherzer and Gerrit Cole.
Furthermore, taking a look at another analytical stat, known as SIERA (Skill-Interactive ERA), Stripling also ranks quite well. SIERA attempts to determine whether or not a starting pitcher's ERA should be higher, lower, or identical to what it actually is and tries to answer the question: how well did the starter actually pitch? Using the same criteria from above, among starting pitchers who have thrown at least 40 innings this season, Stripling ranks, second behind only Max Scherzer, with a 2.47 value. Considering that the league average SIERA is 4.12, Stripling is doing quite well and should be able to keep it up for the next few seasons, as he is right in the middle of his peak.
Beyond those things, another valuable trait about Ross Stripling is that he has the ability to stay in the game not one or two times through the opposing teams batting order, but three times and can still remain quite effective during that third time through. Here is another chart to showcase to add substance to this part of this discussion:
If you want to keep going on and on about how great Ross Stripling is and the value he provides to the Dodgers, you could. Not only is he a starter, he can also be used as a reliever. He is terrific against both left-handed and right-handed hitters and has proven that he can hang with the best of them. Clayton Kershaw still might be on the Dodgers roster, but the Dodgers might have found their next ace and someone completely capable of keeping them relevant in the postseason conversation, even during seasons like this one, where it seemed like the team was completely buried, two months ago, only to experience a resurgence and return to being a threat to remain in the race until the very end.
Ross Stripling might not be a favorite to be a sleeper NL Cy Young Award finalist either, but he certainly deserves it based on everything mentioned above and more. After all, when you basically help carry your team through a rough stretch, like Stripling has, you deserve something significant.