Stripling Follows Wood to Oakland in Bay Area Swap

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Oakland-for-now Athletics had themselves a roster shuffle on Friday, bolstering their pitching staff by adding right-hander Ross Stripling and officially announcing the addition of lefty Alex Wood. Wood joined the A’s on a one-year contract worth $8.5 million (with another million’s worth of incentives) after three years with the Giants. Now Stripling, too, is headed east across the bay, in a deal sending minor league outfielder Jonah Cox west to San Francisco (To make room for the pair, Oakland outrighted lefty Francisco Pérez and designated infielder Jonah Bride for assignment).

Wood and Stripling, who might have said something like “It’s not goodbye; it’s see you later” while packing up their lockers after the 2023 season, will be teammates for the fourth separate stint on three different California teams. They spent from 2016 to 2018 together on the Dodgers before Wood was dealt to the Reds, were reunited back in Los Angeles for the start of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season until Stripling was traded to Toronto, and then signed nearly identical two-year, $25 million free agent contracts with San Francisco a year apart from one another. Now, they’ll pair up again in Oakland and figure to factor into a starting rotation that was worth a league-worst combined 1.8 WAR in last season.

Both pitchers were available at a modest cost to the A’s after floundering in their only year together with the Giants. As Kyle Kishimoto wrote last week, Wood struggled to get hitters to swing at bad pitches and to miss whenever they did swing, falling to the 13th percentile in chase percentage and the 17th in whiff percentage. As a result, he struck out a lot fewer hitters and walked a whole bunch more. He also failed to stay healthy, with strains in his left hamstring and lower back sidelining him for the bulk of two months, and by late July, he was relegated to bullpen work as a sort of piggybacker and long relief option. He pitched better in this role, but it was far from what he and the Giants had hoped for when he signed his deal before the 2022 season. Still, Wood brings 10 years of big league service and a not-too-shabby 18.1 career WAR to Oakland, where he’ll try to right the ship.

The going rate for a guy you’re pretty sure you can slot into the starting rotation, but unsure quite what you’ll get when you do, seems to be between about $7 million and $14 million this offseason, depending on factors like youth, health, ceiling, and floor. The still-young Jack Flaherty and Luis Severino were on the high end of that spectrum, with the not-so-young James Paxton on the other end. At 33, coming off a pair of injuries, Wood found himself toward the lower end at $8.5 million. Stripling, meanwhile, opted in for the second year of his two-year, $25 million pact with the Giants before they traded him. San Francisco will cover $3.25 million of the $12.5 million he’s owed.

After a career-best 3.1-WAR season with the Blue Jays in 2022, Stripling struggled last spring, particularly with inducing swings outside the strike zone, before hitting the IL with a lower back strain for a month and returning to marginally more success in the second half of his season. (These guys do everything together.) While Stripling stayed around the same percentile range in fastball velocity, exit velocity, whiff percentage, barrel rate, and groundball rate, his chase rate took a free fall from 34.5% (the 93rd percentile) in 2022 to 26.1% (the 17th) in 2023.

Stripling From 2022 to 2023 (Percentiles)
Stat 2022 2023 Difference
Chase% 93 17 -76
Hard-Hit% 57 35 -22
K% 35 16 -19
Exit Velo 39 37 -2
Barrel% 18 16 -2
BB% 98 98 0
Fastball Velo 17 18 1
Whiff% 29 30 1
GB% 57 62 5
Pitching Run Value 87 18 -69
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

He felt the impact in that zone — after being worth -6.2 runs on the 435 pitches he threw in the chase zone in 2022, he was worth -14.0 on just 311 pitches in 2023, a drop from -1.4 per 100 pitches to -4.5. That was the fourth-worst run value per 100 pitches in the chase zone last season, after Connor Seabold, Alek Manoah, and … Alex Wood.

Worst-Performing Pitchers in the Chase Zone, 2023
Player Pitcher Run Value Pitches Pitcher RV / 100
Connor Seabold -15.3 313 -4.9
Alex Wood -17.7 371 -4.8
Alek Manoah -17.8 382 -4.7
Ross Stripling -14.0 311 -4.5
Joey Wentz -17.4 406 -4.3
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

But for Stripling, the trouble didn’t stop there. He had been quite strong over the heart of the plate in 2022, limiting hard contact enough to be worth 11.9 runs in 542 pitches, or 2.2 per 100. In 2023, it was the opposite: He was worth -10.8 in 361 pitches, or -3.0 per 100. There’s plenty that could have contributed to that — luck and random variation being on that list, too — but Stuff+ points to some stuff degradation in his four-seamer and his changeup that could be concerning. According to the pitch modeling system, Stripling’s Stuff+ for his four-seamer fell from 84 to 59, while his changeup fell from 117 to 94. Those pitches were hit hard in 2023 — opposing hitters posted a .374 wOBA against the fastball and a .359 wOBA off the change.

Stripling According to Stuff+
Pitch 2022 2023 Difference
Four-Seamer 84 59 -25
Sinker 55 47 -8
Slider 101 97 -4
Changeup 117 94 -23
Knuckle-Curve 116 119 3

It wasn’t all bad for Stripling last year. From June 28 to August 11, a 40-inning stretch between two IL stints, he made six starts and three relief appearances, walked just one hitter and stuck out 32. He posted a 3.38 ERA, 4.08 FIP, and 3.50 xFIP over that stretch. After a rough outing on August 16, he returned to the IL for another month.

It’s always worth cautioning against reading too much into one season’s worth of metrics, but Stuff+ is among the most reliable metrics available in small samples. If the stuff is the problem, that’s a tough prognosis for a 34-year-old whose fastball velocity and spin are both in the bottom quartile of the league. Still, Stripling joins Wood as the veterans on an otherwise inexperienced starting staff, with Paul Blackburn, JP Sears, and maybe Luis Medina rounding out the final three spots. Most of the projection systems we host on FanGraphs have Stripling contributing somewhere between 1.1 and 1.6 WAR to the A’s efforts — nearly as much as the entire rotation mustered in 2023.

That experience is part of what makes this a strange deal for San Francisco, whose starting rotation features even less tenure. The Giants have now traded both Anthony DeSclafani and Stripling, two of the three healthy players on their roster with an established track record as a starter. After ace Logan Webb, and with Alex Cobb and Robbie Ray recovering from surgeries until midseason, the rest of the rotation looks like recent free agent addition Jordan Hicks, who has pitched the bulk of his career in relief, and a trio of 2023 rookies in Kyle Harrison, Keaton Winn, and Tristan Beck. Those four have combined for 23 big-league starts.

Career Outings for Current Giants Starters
Name Starts Relief Appearances
Alex Cobb* 230 0
Robbie Ray* 222 4
Logan Webb 110 3
Ryan Walker 13 36
Jordan Hicks 8 204
Kyle Harrison 7 0
Keaton Winn 5 4
Tristan Beck 3 30
*Projected to begin 2024 on the IL

In return for Stripling, San Francisco acquired Cox, Oakland’s sixth-round pick from this past year’s draft who was playing for Oral Roberts University at the College World Series eight months ago. Cox hit decently well between rookie-ball and Single-A Stockton after the draft last year, stealing 20 bases in just 35 games. The 22-year-old wasn’t among Oakland’s top prospects in our latest update, from last year, though he did slide in at no. 29 on Baseball America’s preseason top 30.

The other part of the value proposition for the Giants is shedding most of Stripling’s payroll, though it all feels a little bit like letting a bunch of birds into your house to solve your mouse problem — now you just have a bird problem. The Giants have a little more money to spend on filling holes — and another hole to fill.

Chris is a data journalist and FanGraphs contributor. Prior to his career in journalism, he worked in baseball media relations for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.

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2 months ago

I really can’t read this without thinking of Dan Szymborski’s tweet about the two of them traveling around in a 1970s van solving crimes. (And the followup AI images of said van.)