While West Coast road trips have been quite unkind to the Braves in recent years, the Braves have won the second game of both of their series on this trip. They dropped the rubber game in San Diego, but have a chance to win their series with the Dodgers and return home with a .500 record on the trip and first place in the division still secured... if they can beat the pitching behemoth named... Ross Stripling?!
Yes, Ross Stripling. The Ross Stripling that was a fifth-round pick in 2012, didn’t register higher than tenth on Dodgers prospect lists and then dropped off entirely after 2014, and only made 16 starts for Los Angeles over the last two years, even as their rotation has been a revolving door due to both design and injury. That Ross Stripling. He didn’t even get a player preview on Fangraphs coming into the 2018 season, even though his 2016 had him hurl 100 innings (14 starts, eight relief appearances) of average run prevention/peripherals, and his 2017 saw him serve as a pretty good reliever (with two starts mixed in).
But, here we are in 2018, and Ross Stripling is one of baseball’s biggest surprises. Here’s Jeff Sullivan on Stripling. Here’s the Los Angeles Times. Whether you read those or don’t, what you need to know is that Stripling has an absurd pitching triple slash of 1.52 / 1.97 / 2.61 (40 / 50 / 65 on a minus basis), with 1.9 fWAR already accumulated in just 53 innings (seven starts, 11 relief appearances). As a starter, Stripling’s 1.5 pitching fWAR has him 24th overall in baseball, but everyone above him has something like double his innings and starts. On a rate basis, he’s second only to Scherzer; by xFIP, he’s been better than Scherzer. Only Justin Verlander has allowed a lower xwOBA. He’s top 10 in lowest average exit velocity, lowest number of balls hit at 95+ mph, avoiding barrels, etc. etc. etc. He’s struck out over 30 percent of the batters he’s faced, and only walked about five percent.
Are you scared? You should be scared.
Of course, the Braves aren’t throwing a sacrificial lamb into this matchup. Sean Newcomb has been pretty good himself. His numbers aren’t quite as gaudy (2.49 / 3.13 / 4.00, or 63 / 79 / 100 on a minus basis), but they’re still great. He’s 23rd among the top 150 starters in innings in fWAR with 1.6. After a three-inning, three-run hiccup in Boston, Newcomb has once again strung together good starts, allowing only two runs in his last 13 innings, including six scoreless last time out versus the Padres in a clobberfest. The somewhat strange thing for Newcomb has been that he’s transitioned from “run prevention via strikeouts despite walks” to “run prevention via letting hitters put the ball in play.” Through May 8, Newcomb was running an 18.0% K%-BB%; since then, it’s only 4.4%, though his actual rate of keeping runs off the board has improved (though the FIP has understandably backslid in a major way as a result).
Last time out, Stripling hurled five scoreless with a 7/0 K/BB ratio against the Pirates. He hasn’t struck out fewer than seven batters since returning to the rotation full-time; he’s also only walked four batters that entire time, and four of his six starts have featured zero walks.
With Stripling on fire (figuratively, not literally), the Braves’ history of poor West Coast play, and the possibility that Newcomb’s backsliding peripherals portend some issues if he can’t right their ship, this may be a tough game for the Braves. But, it’s baseball, and anything can happen.
Atlanta Braves at Los Angeles Dodgers
Sunday, May 10, 2018
4:10 pm EDT
Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, CA
TV: Fox Sports South, MLB.tv
Radio: 680 AM/93.7 FM, WYAY 106.7, Braves Radio Network, La Mejor 1600/1460/1130 AM