Ross Stripling Continues to be the Dodgers’ Everything Man
March’s warm weather kissed the Camelback Ranch field in the early morning of spring 2016. The Dodgers were there, basking in Arizona’s comfortable spring training glow, simply doing what is expected of every spring training: preparing.
They worked hard to get ready for the long grind of the season but on that spring morning in 2016, Brett Anderson would arrive at the Dodgers’ 141 acre home away from home not to deliver the ball from the mound to the plate, but to deliver bad news.
Anderson had a bulging disk in his back, he needed surgery and he would miss the next five months of baseball.
“It’s bad luck,” then general manager Farhan Zaidi said of the injury.
It was bad luck because Anderson just signed a qualifying offer worth $15.8 million and would not get a chance to play for it until 2016 was already nearing its regular season end. That was the financial ‘bad luck’
Then there was the on-field “it’s bad luck.” The Dodgers were being tested and the test came earlier than anyone could have anticipated. They had a new manager running a team that was expected to win the division and the new manager would open his first campaign in the driver’s seat, metaphorically 25 feet behind the next car in the race.
His handicap was health. Brandon McCarthy was hurt, Anderson was a goner and Hyun-Jin Ryu was battling his ailing shoulder. However, Dave Roberts’ advantage was his depth.
It was a horse race to the new finish line. The Dodgers’ fifth starter spot was a door swung wide open, Carlos Frias and Zach Lee the assumed competitors in the race.
That was until an underdog emerged.
Ross Stripling was drafted by the Dodgers in the summer of 2012 with a business degree and a right arm with a reputation.
Physically, Stripling was a fifth-round pick with decent velocity and a wipeout curveball. He was known for his pitch command and commended for his strikeout abilities. He had a change-up that needed some work according to the initial MLB.com draft report.
Mentally, Stripling was already a major league staff ace. In his senior year at Texas A&M, he skipped his graduation to pitch for the Aggies. Instead of walking in cap and gown he sent opposing players walking. He threw a no-hitter.
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From no-hitting San Diego State University to the draft and from the draft back onto the diamond, the then 22-year-old Stripling took to the professional mound for the first time just weeks following his MLB draft selection.
The following year, 2013, Stripling rose from rookie ball to Double-A where he was a mid-season All-Star with the Chattanooga Lookouts.
Then, 2014 came, saw and conquered Stripling’s elbow. In Arizona, Stripling felt something wrong, the result was Tommy John surgery.
2016 would be his next spring training.
The Dodgers lost the keys to their car. They knew they put them down somewhere it was simply where that they couldn’t remember.
Zach Lee was one possible location and the Dodgers looked there. The results came up empty, Lee was not the right one, the fifth starter job remained open and the Dodger car remained idle.
Carlos Frias was the second guess. He was viewed as the most likely candidate to ignite the Dodgers’ engine but even he, with major league experience already under his belt, was not the right player. The car remained idle.
Farhan Zaidi was asked about looking outside the organization. “I have faith in our system,” he said succinctly.
Faith led to a phone call. The phone call led to a meeting. The meeting led to a job.
From Tommy John to Double-A, from Double-A to spring training and from spring training to the majors, Ross Stripling was the Dodgers fifth starter. He was called up.
“I’m here to help the team,” Stripling said to reporters. “I’m here to do whatever that takes. Whether it is pitching from the bullpen or starting, I’m here and I’ll do it.”
Stripling is opportunistic. He feeds on major league openings but not for himself. He works for his team and he knows that his value is wherever it is needed.
When Brett Anderson felt something in his back and whispers of an opportunity gently impacted the corridors of Camelback Ranch, Stripling’s role began.
His quest to being an All-Star caliber everything was commenced and his role was pitching’s version of super-utility hitting.
But, despite the rather constant inconsistency in Stripling’s role with the Dodgers, his success has been consistent and beyond serviceable. He has reached an All-Star game and for a moment in 2018, Stripling’s only reasonable active comparison was Max Scherzer.
Last May, after moving from the bullpen to the rotation, Stripling ranked in the league’s top five percent in almost every pitching category from strikes thrown percentage to FIP.
Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan created a metric that put Stripling’s month of May as the eleventh best isolated month by a pitcher since 2002.
However, this rapid rise to the top came after a month in the bullpen followed by multiple months and ultimate All-Star selection as a starter. Again, Stripling feasts on opportunities but he does it rather scientifically.
“Usually as a starting pitcher, you know you have to maintain your stamina, stuff, and execution over 85+ pitches, which means you have to somewhat pace yourself and save your best bullets for big situations,” Stripling said of his calculated role differences. “Out of the bullpen, it’s full go from the first pitch. You basically use maximum effort from the second you take the mound because of the short stint.”
In the short stints, Stripling has thrived dating all the way back to his debut as a major league relief pitcher.
Since 2016 and in 67 games pitched in not as the starter, Stripling has a 3.13 ERA with just 156 total bases surrendered in 109.1 innings.
His “just unleash” bullpen mentality creates such severe vertical differential between his fastball and knuckle curveball that Stripling’s stuff is incredibly confusing and works in multiple plains across the plate. In 2018, Stripling’s endpoint differential between his fastball and curveball hovered right around 20 inches or separation which ranked him amongst the top five percent of the league.
2019 appears to be another season where Stripling’s versatility will be put on display.
He was supposed to break camp as a reliever, was put in the rotation due to the reoccurring injury nightmare and is set to head back to the pen upon the returns of Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
And, perhaps more and explicable and rational than vertical break, Stripling adapts to like a color-changing chameleon changes colors to blend into its background. It’s simply natural. Both Stripling and these fancy tropical lizards know what they need to do to be successful so they master their craft and know perfectly how to adapt to each moment.
For the Dodgers, Stripling is invaluable. One day you have a front of the line starter, another day you have a setup man to pitch in front of Kenley Jansen and other days you have a long reliever. Regardless, Stripling is there.
So, on that warm summer morning in Arizona, when Brett Anderson fell victim to his injury and Ross Stripling jumped in to replace him, a pattern that became intrinsic to the young righty was born. Stripling is the Dodgers’ step up guy. He is their everything man. He is their next man up. Ross Stripling is one of the Dodgers’ most valuable pieces for it is many positions he can play.