When the season began, if you would have said that Matt Kemp and Max Muncy would be the Dodgers two best hitters and best All-Star candidates among position players, you would have been laughed at. The Dodgers already had Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Cody Bellinger, Chris Taylor, and Yasiel Puig. Besides, Kemp was viewed as overweight and washed while no one knew who Max Muncy was.
But here we are, Matt Kemp is a starter in the Midsummer Classic, and Max Muncy has 20 HR in 200 at-bats along with the best OPS in the National League with a minimum of 200 ABs. Who would have thought?
But they are not the only ones. If you would have thought that Ross Stripling would be the Dodgers’ ace, that may have sounded even more absurd because of Clayton Kershaw and the fact that Stripling started out the season in the bullpen after residing there in 2017.
But here we are, again. Welcome to the near-unbelievable. Yet another hidden gem uncovered.
Stripling started the season off in the bullpen before injuries caused Dave Roberts to shift him to the starting rotation. At one point, the Dodgers were without 80% of their Opening Day starting rotation, with Alex Wood being the lone survivor, but even he was not very productive. It was a patchwork rotation that was fronted by (the team’s top prospect at the time) Walker Buehler, but his rise was not shocking. What he was doing was expected from him, at least somewhat.
But Stripling was viewed as nothing more than a fill-in starter, to help keep the patchwork rotation strolling along. But he asserted himself as something more. He became the band-aid to the bleeding that the Dodgers desperately needed, giving Los Angeles two guys they can depend on. Then Buehler went down, but Stripling kept chugging along. All the way to All-Star consideration, missing out on the original All-Star roster being considered a snub and being the best performer on baseball’s second-best rotation (regarding ERA).
In 89.1 innings of work this year, he has a 2.22 ERA, 1.075 WHIP, and 103 strikeouts and just 13 walks. 103:13 or a 7.92 K: BB ratio, which would be 16th all-time if he were to finish the season with it. And as a starter, he has 86 strikeouts to just seven walks in 74 innings. That’s “Clayton Kershaw at his peak” status. A spike in strikeouts has been arguably the most significant surprise of his game this season, as it’s been for Kenta Maeda this year. He has an elite 28.6 K% and pairing that with a minuscule 3.6 BB% is an excellent formula for success.
His last 11 starts have seen him go at least five innings while completing at least six innings in seven of them. And for a guy who pitches in a ballpark that is considered “pitcher-friendly,” he is actually better on the road, where he has a 2.09 ERA, 1.034 WHIP, and 10.9 K/9.
The question is now whether he can keep this dominance up. He probably will not be able to keep up this kind of production and be in Cy Young consideration, but he is a genuinely good MLB starter. He commands, mixes, and sequences four good pitches well.
With runners in scoring position, hitters have just a .332 OPS against Stripling. He’s stranded 89.6% of runners this year. And, in 59 plate appearances that are considered “high leverage,” the right-hander has a .358 OPS against him.
His 2.74 FIP, along with a wide variety of other metrics, shows that he is not getting fortunate but legitimate; in fact, he has an above-average batting average of balls in play off him, indicating he might be getting a slight bit unlucky. His usage rate of each pitch has kept hitters off-balance, and when they put bat to ball, they are not making good contact.
Stripling is top-5 in hard-hit rate (26.8%) according to baseball savant. That is a good starting indicator of real success.
Stripling’s “expected batting average against” and “expected slugging percentage against” are .205 and .327, respectively (both in the top-3% of the league). These are metrics that take into account the type of contact and launch angle at which the ball exits, and compares it to all other balls in play with similar, if not identical, numbers and how many of them became hits and the type of power they were hit for. In simpler terms, similar to “hit probability.”
Stripling also has a .279 wOBA against him. According to FanGraphs, Weighted On-Base Average measures a hitter’s overall offensive value per plate appearance. It combines all essential aspects of hitting: power, batting average, on-base%, etc. into one metric. Additionally, anything below .300 is considered poor for a hitter. And his “expected weighted on-base average of .244 is in the top 1% of the sport.
With his success, the Dodgers have seven starting pitchers, when healthy, and currently, have six available. The Dodgers have to get creative in how to keep them all in the rotation. A six-man staff has been thrown around, and it might be a good idea because it will keep everyone fresh. But when Hyun-Jin Ryu returns, someone will have to return to the bullpen. And unlike what Joe Buck and John Smoltz were assuming during Saturday’s Dodgers-Angels broadcast, Stripling is not the automatic choice anymore.
He deserves to remain a starter. He is starting to look like a pillar to build around. If anything, Alex Wood should be chosen before Chicken Strip. It’s an excellent problem to have because you can never have too much pitching, especially with the health luck these Dodgers have.