With or without 'Deathball,' Stripling seeking return to top form

February 19th, 2024

MESA, Ariz. -- generated headlines earlier this month when he revealed a new addition to his arsenal of pitches called a "Deathball", a modified version of a slider that pitchers such as Justin Verlander and Tyler Glasnow have seen massive success with.

Arriving to camp this week to new A’s teammates and coaches closely watching his throwing sessions for a glimpse of the new pitch, Stripling admitted a slight feeling of regret for publicizing the "Deathball" so soon.

“I wish I would have kept it quiet a little longer because it needs some more love before I’m convinced it’s part of the arsenal,” Stripling said. “I can throw it in bullpens pretty good. But so far, I’ve only gotten one swing on it.”

The "Deathball" might not be fully up to par just yet, but that’s what Spring Training is for. The A's Cactus League play begins on Saturday, which gives Stripling time to iron out the kinks.

To this point, Stripling has only thrown the new pitch in strictly two-strike counts, Saturday’s live batting practice session at Hohokam Stadium included. Going forward, he’ll look to increase the usage to see what type of feedback it gets.

“It has a ton of potential, but I would like it to be a step farther than it is right now,” Stripling said. “It’s time to harness the arsenal and decide whether the pitch makes it or not.”

Struggling to generate swing-and-miss last season with the Giants, Stripling approached assistant pitching coach J.P. Martinez in September about implementing the pitch. He spent the entire offseason integrating the offering, described as “an inefficient slider” that drops straight down, into his normal throwing program.

The idea behind throwing the pitch is that it generates more vertical movement than his normal slider, which, hopefully, will lead to more swing-and-miss and strikeouts. For his career, Stripling owns a 23.5% whiff rate and a 21.9% strikeout rate -- both of which are considered below-average figures.

"Deathball" or not, the A’s have long been fans of Stripling’s pitching style, which led to them acquiring the 34-year-old right-hander this offseason from the Giants in exchange for Minor League outfielder Jonah Cox.

“I know we liked Ross’ repertoire before the ‘Deathball,’” A’s general manager David Forst said. “He’s a guy who pitches a lot at the top of the zone. Curveball plays off his fastball. Any ability he has to add swing-and-miss to his game I think will serve him well.”

The A’s are looking for a bounceback from Stripling, who underwhelmed last season with a 5.36 ERA over 89 innings in the first year of a two-year, $25 million deal with the Giants that was earned after a superb '22 campaign with the Blue Jays in which he recorded a 3.01 ERA with a 1.02 WHIP over 134 1/3 innings.

Sandwiched in between a couple of nagging back injuries last season, Stripling pointed to a stretch of 10 games (seven starts) from May 17 to Aug. 11 -- in which he posted a 3.74 ERA in 43 1/3 innings -- where he truly felt like himself before another back issue crept up and landed him on the injured list.

“Last year was frustrating,” Stripling said. “I had a small injury [in Spring Training] I tried to grind through because I didn’t want to be the guy that showed up hurt. That was a mistake. … I’m feeling better about where I am this year. The motivation is to be much better.”

In eight big league seasons, Stripling has nearly as many starts (115) as relief appearances (111) over 226 games. With the A’s, he is expected to get a chance to pitch in a full-time starting role for the first time in his career.

“It’s incredibly exciting,” Stripling said. “My best seasons were 2018, when I made an All-Star Game, and 2022, when I got an extended run at being a starter. Having that peace of mind in the role I was doing was when I’ve excelled the most, and I’d like to think I can do that again.”

The move to Oakland also thrusts Stripling into a leadership role for the younger pitchers on staff, which is something he embraces on a rebuilding team that seeks to grow and take a step forward after losing 100-plus games in each of the past two seasons.

“There’s a lot of really good careers that I’m catching right at the beginning here, which is pretty cool,” Stripling said. “The 2020 Blue Jays had a young [Bo] Bichette, [Vladimir Guerrero Jr.], Cavan Biggio and [Alek] Manoah that have now blossomed into superstars, and that’s what this locker room feels like.”