Giants Sign Ross Stripling, Because You Can Never Get Too Much Rotation Depth

© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

What’s your dream car? Probably something fast and attention-grabbing, like a Ferrari. Or maybe you want some unusual but beautiful Italian or Japanese classic, so people know you know your stuff. Or maybe a Rolls-Royce, so you can drive around in isolated opulence like the god of luxury millionaires pray to.

Of course, you don’t actually want any of those cars in real life. You couldn’t afford to maintain them. You’d be too nervous to drive them in traffic or park them at the supermarket, lest the paint get damaged. To borrow a line from The Love Bug — which in addition to being one of the great sports films, is a classic San Francisco film — what you want is “cheap, honest transportation.”

The Giants know this. They’ve chased the odd Ferrari, and after losing out on Aaron Judge they’ve finally caught one in Carlos Correa. But their pursuit of pitchers has been more practical. They’ve watched Carlos Rodón walk away (at least for the time being). Instead, they’ve assembled a garage of useful starting pitchers, first by signing Sean Manaea on Sunday, then two days later inking right-hander Ross Stripling to the same contract: two years, $25 million, with an opt-out after this season.

These two moves give the Giants a rotation headed by groundball monsters Logan Webb and Alex Cobb, with plenty of depth besides. Webb leads returning Giants with 192 1/3 innings pitched in 2022. San Francisco has five other starters in the fold who threw between 110 and 150: Cobb, Manaea, Stripling, Alex Wood, and Jakob Junis. Plus Anthony DeSclafani is set to return to action this coming year after his right ankle exploded in April. And that’s just among the established big leaguers; Tristan Beck and Sean Hjelle are among the Triple-A arms who can come in to provide reinforcements.

That doesn’t quite look like the Mets’ rotation, for instance, but it’s a pragmatic acknowledgement of the realities of modern baseball: Five starters just aren’t enough anymore. Someone’s going to get hurt, someone’s going to lose a tick on his fastball, someone’s going to get the yips. If nothing else, the Giants have their proverbial bases covered.

But San Francisco’s two most recent acquisitions stand in contrast. As Kyle Kishimoto wrote earlier this week, Manaea is a pitcher who needs to bounce back from a disappointing 2022, particularly in the playoffs. To extend the car metaphor, he is a Jeep Grand Wagoneer in need of a new gearbox: Very cool, if you can get him working.

Stripling, on the other hand, is coming off the best season of his career; he threw 134 1/3 innings, and posted a 3.01 ERA, a 3.11 FIP and 3.1 WAR, all career bests. Stripling’s been a pretty well-known entity since breaking in with the Dodgers back in 2016, and if you’re familiar with his work, you’ll know his stuff isn’t that attention-grabbing. His fastball sits around 91-92 mph, which is not great, particularly for a righty. He’s not topping any leaderboards in movement or spin, either. So how is he doing it?

Well, Stripling is really only exceptionally good at three things. Two of them are keeping the ball in the yard and preventing walks. In 2022, among the 124 starting pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched, Stripling had the 29th-lowest HR/9, 12th-lowest HR/FB%, and the lowest BB%. If FIP were capable of experiencing human emotions, it would send Stripling flowers and stand under his bedroom window at night playing ballads on a nylon-string guitar.

Pitching is a marvelously complex art, whose mysteries are as numerous as they are inscrutable. But one thing we do know is that if you don’t walk anyone, and you don’t allow many home runs, you’re probably going to put up pretty good numbers overall. So it would seem to be with Stripling in 2022.

Beyond that, Stripling also became one of the best pitchers in baseball at getting hitters to chase. Of the 228 pitchers who qualified for Baseball Savant’s leaderboards in 2021 and ’22, Stripling’s 34.5% chase rate ranked 17th on a list that included lots of relievers at the top. That’s up from 24.8% in 2021, the fourth-biggest improvement in baseball.

He also revamped his pitch mix in 2022. The curveball that stood out as his best pitch toward the end of his Dodger tenure? Quite hittable since he got to Toronto, so he only threw it less than 9.7% of the time in 2022. His pedestrian fastball? Down from half his pitches in 2021 to about a third this season. He also threw 153 sinkers, a pitch he’d toyed with in L.A. but hadn’t used with any regularity before.

Once again, Stripling sought answers in the simplest place possible. He started throwing his best pitches — the slider and changeup — more frequently:

Ross Stripling’s Repertoire, 2021
Pitch Type Pitch% Run Value Chase% wOBA xWOBA
4-Seamer 50.9 4 22.7 .389 .383
Changeup 15.3 -6 38.6 .193 .269
Slider 18.4 4 24.8 .379 .357
Curve 15.4 4 15.5 .354 .237
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Compare those numbers to his 2022 stats:

Ross Stripling’s Repertoire, 2022
Pitch Type Pitch% Run Value Chase% wOBA xwOBA
4-Seamer 33.7 -3 29.1 .318 .353
Changeup 27.2 -2 47.4 .245 .239
Slider 21.9 -7 24.9 .236 .259
Curve 9.6 1 14.1 .470 .407
Sinker 7.5 -5 51.3 .262 .320
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Stripling started getting batters to swing at pitches out of the zone more as a result, which I think we can all agree is a good thing for him. His ERA plummeted, and now he’s back in California with $25 million in guaranteed money in his pocket.

Which, considering the handsome deals won by other mid-rotation starters, raises an obvious question: Why didn’t he make more?

Innings, is the short version. If you want to have a good time, build a time machine, go back three or four years, and tell the people of 2019 that Taijuan Walker and Jameson Taillon are both going to get big four-year contracts because their ability to throw 150 innings a year with regularity makes them unusually durable. (You might want to warn the people of 2019 about some other stuff that happened, too, but that’s less relevant for this article.)

But it’s true. For a mid-rotation starter, innings get you paid. And even by those modest standards, Stripling is not a particularly durable pitcher. He had just one IL trip in 2022, about two weeks for a strained glute and hip, but his injury history before that is checkered: oblique, flexor tendon, back stiffness and inflammation, toe inflammation, and so on. And even though he was basically healthy this year (who hasn’t needed a two-week recovery period from a sore glute here and there?), he started the season in the bullpen and wasn’t pitching into the fifth and sixth innings until mid-June.

Even accounting for his very swingman-y historical usage (104 career starts, 100 career relief appearances), Stripling has never been a high-volume pitcher. And two years and $25 million is what the Rangers gave Andrew Heaney, who is what Stripling would be if he were left-handed, had a higher strikeout rate, and went to a different land-grant university. This seems to be the going rate for a pitcher who was very effective when he pitched in 2022, but has historically not pitched very much.

Stripling might not be that exciting for Giants fans who wanted a Ferrari, but while he’s not flashy, he’s effective and affordable. There are worse things to be.





Michael is a writer at FanGraphs. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Ringer and D1Baseball, and his work has appeared at Grantland, Baseball Prospectus, The Atlantic, ESPN.com, and various ill-remembered Phillies blogs. Follow him on Twitter, if you must, @MichaelBaumann.

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EonADS
1 year ago

Ross Stripling is a Honda Accord in a world of muscle cars xD