Veteran starter Ross Stripling put together a fantastic season last year, posting a 3.01 ERA in 32 appearances for the Toronto Blue Jays. He has had stretches of success throughout his career, but this was a career year in a lot of respects. What led to his strong run of success last year?
SF Giants: What led to Ross Stripling's strong 2022 campaign
Of course, the Giants know Stripling very well. He pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers for the first five years of his career before being shipped to the Blue Jays in a package that sent prospects Ryan Noda and Kendall Williams to Los Angeles.
Stripling's major league debut came against San Francisco in 2016 and his was unhittable. Literally. He completed 7.1 frames of no-hit baseball against a solid Giants lineup. However, at 100 pitches, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided to pull Stripling in the middle of a no-hitter. That became a polarizing move.
The bullpen blew the game and the Giants squeaked by with a 3-2 victory. Roberts pulled Stripling as a precautionary move. The right-handed hurler underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014, so the Dodgers manager was not comfortable pushing Stripling beyond 100 pitches, which is a very sensible move.
Since then, Stripling has put together a strong career. He has finished with an ERA below four in five of seven seasons. This includes a solid 2018 season in which he posted a 3.02 ERA in 33 appearances while earning an NL All-Star bid.
The 33-year-old was even better in 2022, registering a 3.01 ERA, 3.11 FIP, 1.02 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, and a 5.55 SO/W ratio. He set career highs in ERA (3.01), FIP (3.11), WHIP (1.02), and HR/9 (0.8 HR/9). Stripling is the type of pitcher that the front office targets due in part to limiting walks and preventing home runs. It is a skill to be able to live in the strike zone while minimizing the number of barrels to opposing hitters.
So, what led to this? A change in pitch mix is usually the quickest way to yield better results and that seems to be no different with Stripling. He flashes a five-pitch mix that includes a four-seam fastball, slider, changeup, curveball, and sinker.
None of his pitches register as unique in terms of velocity, spin rate, or vertical and horizontal movement. For example, his fastball sits comfortably in the low-90's, which is below average by today's standards.
However, Stripling knows how to locate his pitches better than most. And, he saw a noticeable spike in his changeup-slider usage. The four-seam fastball continued to be his main weapon, using it 33.7 percent of the time.
Though, that is a sharp dip in usage compared to past seasons. The decrease led to a corresponding increase in the usage of his changeup (27.2 percent), whereas the slider (21.9 percent) had been trending upward for years. It certainly makes sense why the Blue Jays would call for this as the changeup-slider proved to be his two best offerings in 2022:
Batting average against the changeup: .203
Batting average against the slider: .212
How good what Stripling's slider in 2022? Carlos Rodón had one of the best sliders in baseball and hitters posted a .193 batting average against it last year.
Similar to the Giants, the Blue Jays tend to get a lot of value out of their pitchers. Changing and simplifying pitch mix is one of the ways to do it. It looks like the Blue Jays did just that with Stripling in the sense that his pitch usage was better allocated to emphasize his best pitches.
One of the things to watch when the season begins is how the Giants plan to use Stripling. He produced great numbers last year as a result of increasing the usage of his changeup in particular, so it will be interesting to see if the Giants coaching staff tinkers with this in any way. If Stripling performs similarly to how he did last year, San Francisco will likely have a quietly good rotation.