Gavin Stone leveling up for Dodgers, but still has one thing to work on

Los Angeles Dodgers v New York Mets - Game Two
Los Angeles Dodgers v New York Mets - Game Two / Adam Hunger/GettyImages

After some wonkiness in the first month of the season, the Dodgers' pitching is slowly becoming the team's biggest strength, as the lineup continues to be top-heavy and struggle with runners in scoring position from top to bottom. Yoshinobu Yamamoto is getting into more of a groove as co-ace, Tyler Glasnow has been consistently excellent, and the bullpen has seemed to stabilize considerably over the last few weeks.

But a huge part of the rotation's success is thanks to Gavin Stone, who is having just about the best possible follow up to a disappointing debut season. Last year, he pitched 31 innings and started four games for a 9.00 ERA. He allowed 24 runs in those four starts and another four in six innings as a long reliever.

This season, he stepped back up to the rotation after an injury to Emmet Sheehan and has been operating as a solid No. 3 starter since then. His latest outing against the Mets on Tuesday was his best so far; he pitched seven innings and only gave up three hits and no runs, while walking none and striking out seven.

However, one part of his game doesn't match up very well with the rest of his improvements: his strikeout numbers.

Gavin Stone's improvements have been key for the Dodgers, but he still needs to improve his strikeout rate

Stone's fastball is in Baseball Savant's 83rd percentile and has yielded a .229 batting average against this season while averaging 94.5 MPH, and it's right behind his changeup in the number of strikeouts it's racked up. However, he's still only got 6.47 K/9, and his whiff rate is in the 44th percentile. Compare that to perhaps his closest counterpart in Bobby Miller (currently rehabbing after a shoulder injury) who has a 13.89 K/9 through the three starts he's made so far this season, and Stone pales next to him.

It's an imperfect matchup — Miller is mostly a fastballer who can hit 98 MPH on his four seamer while Stone mixes pretty evenly between his fastball, changeup, and sinker — but Stone's K/9 isn't even much better than James Paxton's 5.37, whose slower fastball has resulted in more strikeouts than Stone's.

Stone's future as a Dodgers starter is likely to become dubious as soon as Miller is ready to return, but if he could get those strikeout rates up as a high-leverage long reliever out of the bullpen, he could have a fantastic argument to be the Dodgers' No. 4 or 5 guy when Paxton leaves the team at the end of the season.