About two weeks ago, a few of our Bay Area writers and editors were given play money and a few rules, with the goal being to build the best durn Giants’ offseason possible. In this exercise three of our writers chose Ross Stripling as a strong fit for the Giants. This was a sign that he was among the most Giantsy pitchers available, if not the Giantsiest.
The Giants have a type. Now that the Carlos Correa dust has settled, let’s look at why this move was so obvious.
The Giants signed Stripling to a two-year contract with an opt-out after the first season, which is the kind of deal that leaves a team on the hook if he flounders, but also leaves them looking for another starting pitcher the next offseason if he thrives. It’s just like the Sean Manaea deal, which was just like the Carlos Rodón deal, at least in spirit. The Giants are going to keep doing this until it stops working.
But it hasn’t stopped working yet, and Stripling was always one of the best free-agent options for the Giants this offseason if they were looking to add multiple starting pitchers. If the Manaea deal gets the front office a B- and an “I trust you,” Stripling gets a higher mark than that.
Command, command, command
While the Manaea deal still makes sense, there are a lot of qualifiers like “if” and “as long as” baked into the idea. If his home-run rate was a blip, not a trend, and if he can reclaim some of the command that made him successful with the A’s before his shoulder injury. There’s a low floor (what the Padres saw last season) and a medium-high ceiling (what Alex Wood or Anthony DeSclafani did in 2021). Could work, makes sense and this is the right team to take that chance.
At the risk of inflating expectations, Stripling is more of a should-work. Take the guy who pitched on the Blue Jays last year, paste him into the Giants’ rotation and you’re golden.
Consider what the Giants are looking for from their platonic ideal of a pitcher. They want someone who can make hitters chase. They want someone with a track record of success. But, more than any of that, they want a pitcher who can execute plans that they’re given. There are a lot of brainiacs in the Giants’ front office who can determine exactly when a pitcher should throw a 1-2 slider to a right-handed hitter with a gap-to-gap approach, and that’s great. “Throw it here!”, they’ll say to the pitcher, tapping the red X on the tablet furiously. But that doesn’t mean a pitcher can always throw it there.
Stripling can probably throw it there. His career walk rate is 2.1 per nine innings pitched, which is good. It’s quite good. If you look for the best BB/9 for pitchers with more than 600 career innings, you’ll find a bunch of pitchers from the 1800s, like Candy Cummings, Dick McBride and Tricky Nichols. If you limit the search to the live-ball era, Stripling is up there with the top-100 starters in baseball history — not above Greg Maddux, but just above Jim Kaat.
The Rays signed Zach Eflin to a three-year, $40 million contract — the largest in franchise history — specifically because he could throw baseballs where he was trying to. The Rays are a team with a bunch of quants and nerds and very tall ex-FanGraphs writers, and they also have a plan for their pitchers. They want them to do X when the hitter is looking for Y. They spent more money than they ever have to make sure they got a guy who could do that.
Stripling’s older, so that’s why there’s a difference in the total salary, but you get the idea. He’s a pitcher who can execute the plan that’s given to him and his catcher. He came up with the Dodgers, and he doesn’t just tolerate the data from front offices, he seeks it out. If you think that sounds like hokum, here’s what he told reporters on Tuesday afternoon about his time with the Dodgers:
(Farhan Zaidi would) look me in the eye and say, ‘Strip, we need you to do XYZ and we think you’ll do better.’ And I’d implement it and have more success. It’s a great place for me to evolve more, keep growing my arsenal and remain unpredictable. Hitters the third time through should still have no idea what I’m throwing in what count or what quadrant.
The kind of pitchers the Giants are interested in are talking in terms of “quadrants.” This one happens to know the team’s president of baseball operations, his new manager used to be his farm director and his new teammate, Alex Wood, was in his wedding. That seems like a strong fit on several levels.
Switching up the looks offered by the other pitchers in the rotation
One of the reasons
I’m thinking the Giants are absolutely all-in on signed Carlos Correa — just a theory, NO INSIDE INFORMATION — is that they have a ton of sinker-slider guys with ground-ball profiles. Logan Webb is the leader, but Alex Cobb, Wood, Manaea and even Jakob Junis will be given lots and lots of sinker-slider innings. The Giants are absolute wizards when it comes to preventing home runs, but it would be even cooler if they could have two Gold Glovers roaming the left side of the infield.
(Note: I wrote the preceding paragraph before the Correa agreement. Minor edits were made.)
Sounds great. But in a three-game series, is there a risk of getting repetitive? Mike Krukow is fond of saying that the trick to beating a sinkerballer is to “look up” in the strike zone, and I’d imagine that gets easier the third sinkerballer through the rotation.
Here’s a pitcher who isn’t as easy to peg. Stripling will be the first to tell you, as he did to reporters.
Five pitches, that’s my strength. Kitchen sink from pitch one.
It’s not quite that simple, as Webb’s sinker does different things than Cobb’s, which has different movement and shape than Wood’s. Manaea throws a sinker, but his ground-ball rate is close to league average. But it’s not like any of these pitchers are living up in the zone. None of them are helpless up there, but they like to go lower more often than not.
Five pitches, that’s my strength. Kitchen sink from pitch one.
Stripling isn’t a unicorn. But he’s enough of a change-of-pace to help the Giants break up a series.
He gets hitters to chase
If you’re playing a drinking game where you have to take a shot whenever I write “misses bats,” well, you’re dead, and I must remind you that The Athletic is most certainly not liable for any damage or harm this has caused you. This is because missing bats is a big deal in the modern game.
Except Stripling isn’t great at missing bats. His whiff rate is constantly below the league average. He’ll get hit, and he’ll get hit hard at times.
But his chase rate was elite last season. He was getting batters off-balance, and he was doing it with aplomb. Think of him as a more expensive Yusmeiro Petit, for better and for worse, but maybe much better. I’m not sure what kind of defense the Giants are going to have at first, but Thairo Estrada should have a steadier year at second, and if — pretend that I’m coughing here for a full minute — they sign Correa, this is exactly the kind of strategy the Giants would want. Stripling is just a league-average ground-ball pitcher, but he’s also someone who needs a strong defense to thrive.
The Giants almost certainly aren’t done with their defense. Even if it takes Adam Duvall, dang it, they’ll get better out there. And a pitcher who doesn’t exactly miss a ton of bats, but garners weak contact, seems like a pitcher to embrace.
There’s flexibility here
This is not a horse for the Giants ride into a picturesque sunset of 200 innings. Last year, Stripling threw a career high in innings for Toronto, at 134 1/3. He’s 33 years old. It’s not that he’s always been hurt. The Dodgers were jimmy-jacking him around from the rotation to the bullpen in a season that he literally made the All-Star team (2018), and he made six relief appearances and 24 starts for the Blue Jays last season. It’s that he’s been pliable and willing to do whatever his team needed. One of those teams used to be the Dodgers, who had starting pitchers falling out of their coat pocket, so you can understand their dilemma. But that’s not always been why Stripling hasn’t logged 180 innings; he’s also been hurt. He’s missed time with injuries to his oblique, forearm, neck and hip.
Whatever the case for that starter-reliever split, Stripling has appeared in 204 major-league games, and he’s started 104 of them. That helps with what the Giants are trying to do and what they might need to do, depending on the circumstances.
Stripling is projected to be a starter. He was signed to be a starter. Don’t read too much into this section. But if dominoes fall, and the Giants end up with Justin Verlander at the deadline because the Mets are 20 games under .500 — baseball! — there might be a need for a hybrid starter in the postseason.
There might be a need for a hybrid starter in the regular season. Stuff goes sideways.
Between Stripling and his groomsman Wood, there should be options either way.
The no-hitter that wasn’t
Stripling threw 7 1/3 no-hit innings in his major-league debut. He absolutely disassembled the Giants.
Then he was pulled because of a pitch count.
Then this happened:
Trevor Brown is a danged legend. And every chance you get to remember this is a gift.
The biggest reason Ross Stripling is on the Giants is that he can throw pitches where he wants to. He can execute a game plan. He can come out of the bullpen if needed.
The Giants will need the defense to help, and they’ve spent a lot of money to improve that defense, at least in the infield. They’ll need a lineup that can score runs. And if it’s Game 2 of the NLCS and Stripling is the starter against the Dodgers, something has gone really, really right or really, really wrong.
It makes sense, though. More than any other move this offseason — including Correa, just based on cost and contract length — it makes baseball sense. And if you’re surprised, well, you’ve been asleep during the Farhan Zaidi era.
(Photo: Mike Watters / USA Today)