The Reporter (Vacaville)
`It's essentially my strength'
Pitcher Stripling throws from the highest release point in MLB
Standing an athletic 6-foot-3, Ross Stripling wants you to know that he can dunk. This is important because, as Stripling says with a chuckle, “I don't have PTSD.” And wouldn't you, if one attempt went so awry that it put your leg in a cast?
There is one lingering effect of Stripling's ill-fated dunk attempt, now nearly a decade and a half in the past: It's what he credits as the origin of one of the majors' most unique deliveries. Not only do batters barely know what's coming with Stripling's kitchen-sink repertoire (up to six pitches, with the addition of a second changeup), it's coming at them from an angle they rarely see: directly over the top.
“It's definitely something that you don't see a whole lot,” said Sean Hjelle, who despite his status (at 6-foot-11) as one of the two tallest men to throw a pitch in a major-league game releases the ball considerably lower than Stripling.
With his right hand almost directly above his head, the ball leaves Stripling's fingertips an average of 6.97 feet above the ground, the highest release point of any qualified starter in the majors last season (Justin Verlander, also just under 7 feet, comes closest). Hjelle, some 8-9 inches lower, can barely comprehend the physics of it.
“It's just not how I throw,” he said. “I tell you what, I don't have the shoulder mobility that he does, so I guarantee that it would hurt. To get my arm up into that position, yeah, that would hurt. I don't have that kind of mobility.”
Mobility, something you develop in one portion of the body while it is restricted in another part, apparently.
At 18 years old, a senior at Carroll High (Southlake, Texas), Stripling was barely a baseball player, let alone a pitcher. He played varsity football (as a wide receiver) and, of course, basketball (as a forward) before he lettered in baseball. It wasn't until he couldn't use his lower half that he began to mess around with
a pitching motion using his upper body, which permanently changed him from junior-varsity infielder to MLB-bound pitcher.
“I had this goofy cast on my leg and I was teaching myself how to pitch and that's just how I did it,” Stripling said, comparing his motion to the slow, rigid pitching machines that feed batting cages across the country. “Very Iron Mike, over the top. Once I was healthy, that arm slot stuck.”
It took years of minor
league pitching coaches trying and failing to change him — one, he said, was convinced he inverted his arm behind his head — before Stripling came to realize his unique delivery could be a feature, not a bug, on his path to the big leagues. From his senior year of high school until he was traded to the Blue Jays in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season — 12 years — Stripling finished all but one season with ERAs below 4.00.
“At the end of the day,
now with how we measure things analytically, it's what makes me unique,” Stripling said. “It's essentially my strength. It makes me a different look that you don't see very often.”
Adding to Stripling's deception: It's truly up in the air, not unlike his right hand, which of his six offerings a batter will see on any given pitch. In an era when many pitchers use data to identify their best pitches and spam hitters with them — see Jakob Junis and his slider —
it's a true guessing game between Stripling's fourseamer (33.7% of his pitches in 2022), changeup (27.2%), curveball (21.9%) and sinker (7.5%). This spring, he's added another changeup, one with more movement and generates more swings and misses, which he thinks he'll mix in six or eight times a game, too.
“You'll hear a lot of pitchers around baseball now say pitch to your strengths,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “There is some truth to that.
But I think Ross is built on pitching to hitters' weaknesses, identifying that one thing that opposing hitter doesn't do so well and exploiting that weakness.”
Between Stripling, his six-pitch arsenal and his 7-foot release point; Hjelle and his 7-foot height; Tyler Rogers and his knuckledragging delivery and his identical twin, Taylor, who throws from a typical lefthanded arm slot, the Giants have a few looks batters don't see very often.