Ross Stripling is gone. After a less than spectacular start to the 2020 season, Stripling has been shipped to the Blue Jays to join former Dodger starter Hyun-Jin Ryu as they try to make a playoff run. Stripling had been barely clinging onto his spot in the rotation as Tony Gonsolin emerged as a legitimate rotation option with Walker Buehler and Alex Wood currently on the IL. To this point Gonsolin has dominated hitters, striking out 26.2% of them and walking only 7.7%. He has certainly earned himself a chance in the rotation, and the trade of Stripling is a sign that the Dodgers believe in their depth to get them through the month of September.
Above is a chart of SP options the Dodgers have moving forward following the trade deadline. They were in talks with the Rangers about acquiring Lance Lynn, but the two teams could not come to an agreement. If the Dodgers front office felt that they were truly in need of rotation depth I believe a deal would have been made. I am a little surprised they did not end up trading for Mike Clevinger considering the package the Padres sent to Cleveland for him. Regardless, at some point later this year they will be able to throw Kershaw – Buehler – May on back to back days. That is one of the better 1-2-3 punches in the league, and that is before you include Julio Urias. Realistically, there is one rotation spot open when the Dodgers are fully healthy, and the most likely candidates for that spot now are Gonsolin and Wood. Should the Dodgers choose to run a six-man rotation to rest their big three before a playoff push this debate would be a little less necessary.
It is a little strange to see a team with a .722 winning percentage trade away from their depth for a piece that will not make an immediate impact, but perhaps the Dodgers think they are so far ahead of the pack that adding another proven starter to the mix was unnecessary. It is a little less strange when you consider the replacement for Stripling is a young arm with a 0.50 ERA and no home runs given up in 2020. Tony Gonsolin is that young arm if you had not already guessed or found his name in the table above.
On the surface, Gonsolin looks like an excellent regression candidate. As previously stated, he has not given up a home run in the 17 innings he has pitched in 2020. There are only six starters this season with more than 15 IP that have given up no home runs (Spencer Turnbull, Corbin Burnes, Brad Keller, Steven Brault, Max Fried, and Tony Gonsolin). This is especially strange considering Baseball Savant’s batted ball data considers Gonsolin a fly-ball pitcher. However, he has been incredibly efficient in terms of locating the ball and keeping hitters from barreling the ball. He lives on the corners of the strike zone with 43.6% of his pitches being placed there (league average is 39%). His ability to locate his pitches exceptionally well has led hitters to barrel only 2% of the pitches he throws, which is 5% lower than league average. He has kept the ball in the ballpark so far, but it would not be surprising to see a team unload on him.
The question you might be wondering is why I am portraying Gonsolin as a regression candidate when the article is about how we should believe in him. I believe his performance is legit and he can stick in the rotation moving forward because the Dodgers believe in him enough to not trade for a starter after dealing away Stripling. While inconsistent this season, Ross Stripling has given up a career-high 25.5% HR/FB rate which is well above his career average of 15.9%. HR/FB is somewhat like BABIP in that it can paint a picture of if a pitcher has seen an unexpected number of fly balls turn into home runs. There is certainly something wrong with Stripling, but the Dodgers are one of the best teams at developing players in the league. They could have chosen to try and fix Stripling while giving Gonsolin a shot as a regular in the rotation, but instead, they chose to move forward with their depth.
The Dodgers have one of the largest and forward-thinking front offices in the game. They have some of the brightest minds in the game shaping the organization and their actions (or lack of actions) at the trade deadline indicate to me that they are not concerned. The Padres made significant improvements to their team by acquiring essentially every player available at the deadline. This could have been concerning to the Dodgers, but even Fangraphs has the Dodgers odds to win the World Series odds at 17.8% following the deadline. The Padres moved into the second position in that race at 9.0%, which is almost half of the Dodgers odds. Tony Gonsolin is just a representation of how the Dodgers feel about their entire team moving forward. They felt content with their roster and I think it is pretty safe to trust one of the smartest organizations in the game.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire