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Ross Stripling is the Dodgers’ ace in the hole

Stripling is positioned to shine in 2019, and could wind up one of the top 20 starting pitchers in baseball.

Los Angeles Dodgers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

With the Dodgers’ rotation opening the year pretty banged up, 2019 could be the year of Ross Stripling, currently slated as the number two starter in the reconfigured starting five.

Stripling has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen since breaking through with Los Angeles in 2016, and he’s pitched effectively in both roles, with a career 3.52 ERA in just under 300 innings. During that time, Stripling has appeared 104 times, with 37 of those coming as a starter.

Stripling has tossed 187 innings as a starter, giving us a full season’s worth of data to analyze. Stripling has arguably fared better as a starter in his career versus his time out of the bullpen. In 109 ⅓ innings of relief, he does have a better ERA at 3.13 versus 3.75 as a starter, but digging a bit deeper, he seems to excel a little more when he’s part of the rotation.

As a starter, he has a 3.44 xFIP, narrowly edging the 3.49 he’s put up as a reliever. However, looking a little further, his walk rate has been considerably better as a starter. Stripling has issued 1.97 BB/9 as a starter while giving up 2.47 BB/9 as a reliever—that comes out to a K/BB rate of 4.37 as a starter versus 3.50 as a reliever.

Stripling has historically performed well the first two times through the lineup as a starter as well. Even the third time through the order, he only has a career 4.12 xFIP.

What if Stripling was called on for 170-plus innings this year? How would he stack up versus other starting pitchers? In 2018, Stripling threw 106 ⅓ innings as a starter, ringing up 10.07 K/9 for an astounding K/BB ratio of 7.44. Stacking Stripling up versus qualified pitchers from 2018, he’d have only trailed Justin Verlander in K/BB ratio, but just barely, as Verlander had a 7.84 K/BB ratio. Even using his career ratio of 4.37 as a starter, Stripling would have ranked just barely outside the top ten qualified starters from 2018.

Stripling threw 122 innings in 2018 and was worth 2.1 fWAR. If he can approach similar fWAR per inning rate in 2019 for 170 innings, he’d be worth 2.9 fWAR. That would make Stripling, by 2018 standards, a top 25 pitcher, roughly, placing him among the likes of J.A. Happ, Zack Greinke and Charlie Morton.

Now, 2018 was a little better than his career starting pitcher rates, so what if Stripling pitched to his career 3.44 xFIP (over 187 innings) as a starter? That would place him in the top 15 of qualified 2018 pitchers, again with Zack Greinke, who pitched to a 3.44 xFIP last year.

Of course the Dodgers will need guys like Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill to get healthy if they want to win the NL West again, but if Los Angeles decided to run Stripling out there for 28 starts this year, they might just have a top 20 starting pitcher on their hands, giving them a heck of a playoff rotation if things fall their way yet again in 2019.

Bob Ellis is a lifelong Royals fan. He has written in the past for Kings of Kauffman and Statliners. Follow him on Twitter @BobEllisKC