Upon reading the opening title of this article, you may have immediately guessed that the Dodgers’ best starter up to this date was Clayton Kershaw. He is arguably the best pitcher on the planet and he plays for the Dodgers right? Wrong. As legendary as Kershaw is, in 2018 he has been riddled with injuries while posting sub-par numbers in-between DL stints. Maybe you thought new-kid-on-block, Walker Buehler, has been most valuable. Think again. As good as Buehler has been, he has still been out-performed by another unlikely hero. That hero of the 2018 season so far is Ross Stripling.
Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes when superheroes like Batman are sidelined, Robin has to step in and get the job done. Seeing as the Dodger’s Batman figure in Kershaw is currently on the shelf with a back injury, sidekick Robin , A.K.A. Ross Stripling, has come to the rescue. Not only has Stripling carried his own weight since making his first start this season April 30th versus the Arizona Diamondbacks, but he has carried the weight of other starters such as Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, and Alex Wood, who have each found 2018 to be unkind for varying reasons.
Stripling is your classic underdog story. After being drafted by the Dodgers in the 5th round in the 2012 MLB draft, Stripling immediately embraced hardship in his young career. He underwent the dreaded Tommy John surgery during the 2014 season after experiencing discomfort in his throwing arm while on the roster of the AA Tulsa Drillers. Stripling fought tooth and nail to remain relevant in the Dodgers’ minor league system by returning in the 2015 season and posting a respectable 3.88 ERA. All he needed was to continue to perform and eventually he would get his chance.
Luckily for Stripling, this chance presented itself in premature fashion as the Dodgers’ starting pitching rotation limped into the 2016 season caused by a wide array of injuries and roster changes made during off-season. Stripling made the opening day roster and was declared the 5th starter. He would go on to pitch a 7 and 1/3 inning no-hitter against the San Francisco Giants on his major league debut before he was infamously pulled by Dave Roberts in order to protect his young arm.
Since his 2016 season in which he was often used as a starter, Stripling has been used primarily out of the bullpen. He started the 2018 season as a key member of the bullpen only to be thrust into a starting role due to a rapidly depleting starting core due to injuries. However, Ross Stripling’s performance after returning to a starter role has been nothing short of spectacular.
Now it’s time for a little show-and-tell. Among qualified starters for the Dodgers this year, which I will categorize as those who have started 6 or more games, see how Stripling ranks in the following categories:
- ERA: 1st – 1.52
- WHIP : 1st – 1.106
- FIP: 1st – 1.99
- Record: 1st – 4-1
- K’s per 9 innings: 2nd – 11.1
In case these stats are gibberish to you, ERA is how many runs a pitcher allows. The WHIP is essentially how many walks and hits a pitcher allows. FIP is basically how good the pitcher is at limiting offense that he controls (HR, BB, HBP) and getting K’s. Each of these stats indicates superb performance across 7 starts for Stripling. Additionally, Stripling is striking out batters at a Kershaw-like rate. Stripling is currently in the top-ten of starters in all of baseball in strikeouts per 9 innings of starting pitchers who have started at least 7 games. Also like Kershaw, he is doing it with a nasty curveball that freezes batters.
According to Brooks Baseball, 44.4 percent of Stripling's strikeouts have come off the curveball. Opposing batters came into today hitting .091 against it
— Dodger Insider (@DodgerInsider) June 6, 2018
These are peripheral stats that place Stripling thus far in the season in not just excellent categories, but elite ones. His stats are on par with those of Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, and Jacob DeGrom. Obviously, there is a lot of season left and a lot of factors that have not been mentioned yet. There are questions about longevity, a proven track record, and a possible move back to the bullpen. Time will tell where Ross Stripling ends up this season, but one thing is for sure, he is currently the Dodgers’ number one option in the starting rotation.
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