Daily Distractions: Cut fastball could fast-track Ross Stripling to Los Angeles.

Ross Stripling

Dodgers pitching prospect Ross Stripling didn’t throw a cut fastball in college at Texas A&M, but it led to plenty of success at Double-A Chattanooga. (Texas A&M photo)

If Ross Stripling appears in a major-league game with the Dodgers this season, the 25-year-old will inevitably draw comparisons to all-time saves leader Mariano Rivera.

But hey, the kid started it when he began describing how he embraced the cut fastball, the pitch that defined Rivera’s 19-year career.

“I throw from such a high arm slot, and these balls have such smaller laces than college balls, they’ll just move on their own,” Stripling said earlier this month at the Dodgers’ winter development camp.

“If I just switch the ball a little bit in my fingers” — he turned the ball 30 degrees from a two-seam fastball grip — “it would cut on its own. I struggled to not cut the ball. I wanted to throw the ball where I wanted. They were like, ‘Maybe you should go with it.’ Then you hear the story that Mariano Rivera learned his cutter that way — not that I’m trying to compare myself to Mariano Rivera — but similar fashion. It was natural, then I just tried to fine-tune.”

Stripling posted a 2.78 earned-run average following his promotion to Double-A Chattanooga. Even more impressive was Stripling’s 4.37 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 94 Double-A innings. Continuing the theme of unfair comparisons, not even Clayton Kershaw‘s K:BB ratio was that high at Double-A.

The 25-year-old’s talent is still raw. He still isn’t on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster, though a roster spot is rarely given to second-year professionals in the off-season since there is no risk of losing them through the Rule 5 draft. Stripling never called his own pitches, and never watched video of his performance, before 2013. He’s also got a four-pitch repertoire that he’s still mastering; he added the cutter last year to a fastball, changeup and curveball that served him well in college.

Stripling was a fifth-round draft pick by the Dodgers out of Texas A&M in 2012. In college, Stripling was teammates with Michael Wacha, the St. Louis Cardinals pitcher who was named MVP of the National League Championship Series after beating the Dodgers twice in the Cardinals’ six-game series victory.

Like Stripling, Wacha had all his pitches called for him from the dugout in college. That didn’t stop him from reaching the majors after only 26 minor-league appearances.

“His fastball is so strong, so demanding, that he can just throw that when he wants,” Stripling said of Wacha. “His changeup is kind of the same way,” Stripling said.

Much of the inertia pushing the Dodgers toward signing Masahiro Tanaka is money. That is to say: They have the money, so why not make a run? A lesser factor, not to be discounted, is the fact that Stephen Fife and Matt Magill were starting games by the end of April.

If the Dodgers don’t land Tanaka, it means that Stripling — along with Fife, Magill, Zach Lee and maybe swingman Seth Rosin — all move up the organizational depth chart. And we might get to see that cutter sooner rather than later.

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Daily Distractions: Masahiro Tanaka rumors are rife; Dodgers and Yankees are interested in Japanese pitcher.

Masahiro Tanaka

The Dodgers and Yankees have reportedly made the largest offers for free agent right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. (Getty Images)

Watching the courtship of Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka must be like making progress toward a major scientific discovery. The closer you get to the breakthrough, the more clear the discovery becomes. You know you’re on the brink. It’s exciting.

There were two really good scouting reports published today, each a practical take on what kind of pitcher Tanaka might be in the United States. Dan Szymborski, writing for ESPN.com, concludes that “the biggest test for Tanaka will be the command on his fastball. … Tanaka doesn’t have (Yu) Darvish’s raw stuff, so he’ll need to go after hitters like Iwakuma has done. This may result in more home runs than he allowed in Japan — just six in 2013 — especially if he’s pitching in Yankee Stadium, but that’s the tradeoff that worked for so well for Iwakuma in 2013.”

That sentence should come with a caveat: Darvish’s raw stuff would probably rank among the top 10 in the world. Maybe top 5. Tanaka’s offspeed pitches are pretty good, too. According to BaseballAmerica.com, his splitter and slider would both fetch at least a 60 on the 20-80 scouting scale.

So what’s all that worth on the open market?

According to Nikkan Sports, at least $100 million over six years, plus a $20 million posting fee to be paid to the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Nikkan also reported that the Dodgers and Yankees have made the largest offer so far. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti made the strongest statement by any interested GM on Friday: “We’ll play it for as long as we can play it until we know that we’re out.”

Remember, Tanaka doesn’t have to choose the team that offers the most money. There are other factors at play.

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Daily Distractions: The verdict is in, and Clayton Kershaw’s contract makes sense.

Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw will re-sign for $215 million over seven years, a contract that is expected to become official today or tomorrow. (Associated Press photo)

Serious question, folks: When’s the last time an athlete signed for mind-boggling money, and there was almost unanimous consensus that the money was worth it?

FanGraphs.com called Clayton Kershaw’s contract a “ridiculous bargain,” at least if he opts out of the final two years. TheScore.com called it “a risk, but not a significant one for team or player.” That’s because they broke the flow chart, writes Grant Brisbee of SBNation.com.

SportsOnEarth.com had a well-informed analysis of the economic situation in baseball that neither trashed nor praised Kershaw’s contract, but concluded this: “knowing the money is there to help if needed, it’s easier to take those shots now than it ever was.” Similarly, ESPN.com said that a contract of $300 million over 10 years — essentially the same average annual value that Kershaw got, only over a longer term — would be “a smart move for a team with the ability to be able to absorb the downside risk.”

FanGraphs.com called seven years and $230 million a “decent price.” NBCsports.com took a stab at what Kershaw might give the Dodgers before the contract runs out. We know what Kershaw gives off the field.

Everyone’s a winner, writes colleague Jill Painter, except there are losers in the deal. They work for teams in San Francisco, Denver, Phoenix and San Diego. Writes ESPN’s Buster Olney: “The Blue Jays haven’t made the playoffs in two decades, and the Orioles have made it once in the past 16 years. And this is what the existence of the Padres, Rockies and Diamondbacks promises to be, in light of the Dodgers’ massive payroll advantage.”

Olney goes on to suggest that the Kershaw contract could be a thorn in the side of labor peace, if enough small-market owners needed this as ammunition to complain about a lack of parity in baseball.

If the Dodgers win the next three World Series before the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in 2016, will fans complain about a strike or lockout?

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