Chris Stratton Finishes Surprising 2017 Season With Another Strong Start

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 29: Chris Stratton /

The San Francisco Giants were never competitive in 2017, but Chris Stratton used the lost year to prove himself as a major leaguer.

Even as one of the worst seasons in franchise history winds down, there are still bright spots to be found. Those smalls glimmers of hope toward the future that take just a little bit of the sting out of approaching 100 losses. For the San Francisco Giants, one of those bright spots in recent months has been starting pitcher Chris Stratton.

It’s taken longer than most would expect, but Stratton solidified himself with a strong second-half performance, putting him squarely in the conversation for a rotation spot in 2018.

The Giants made Stratton a first-round pick in 2012, and the team hoped that the former Mississippi State Bulldog would become a bulldog in their own rotation. Instead, he was slow to make his way through the farm system, and finally made his big league debut in 2016 as a mop-up reliever, given the task of eating innings in blowout games to preserve other arms in the bullpen.

He started the 2017 season back in Triple-A Sacramento, and was brought back to the big leagues in the same role. He owned a 5.11 ERA in the minor leagues this year, and it was more of the same as he began his second big league season. But since returning from a “calf injury” (read: phantom DL stint), Stratton has been a revelation.

Stratton pitched well enough on August 5th, throwing five innings and giving up two earned runs to a tough Arizona Diamondbacks’ lineup, but his true stretch of excellence began on August 13th as the Giants took the field for game one of a doubleheader.

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Against the Washington Nationals, Stratton showed why the Giants took him 20th overall in 2012. With a mix of pitches he hadn’t shown at the big league level before, the 26-year-old rookie shut down the potent Washington lineup. Over 6.2 innings, he gave up only five hits and a walk while striking out 10, earning his first career win and propelling the Giants to their only win over the Nationals in 2017.

That was just the beginning.

Stratton took the mound for the final time this season on Friday night, and matched his own excellence from a month-and-a-half prior. Now 27, Stratton equaled his career-high by throwing 6.2 innings, and missed going seven innings for the first time by inches. When Christian Villanueva smoked a double just barely inside the left field line on Stratton’s 110th pitch of the night (the most he’s thrown as a big leaguer), it was his last pitch.

Stratton walked off the mound to a standing ovation from the crowd, having allowed seven hits and two walks while striking out seven. He left with a shutout, and reliever Derek Law kept that in tact by getting the final out of the seventh. When Kyle Crick and Josh Osich matched zeroes in the eighth and ninth, the Giants completed their fifth shutout of the season. Stratton was the starting pitcher for two of them. His fourth win of the season was the Giants’ 63rd, guaranteeing they won’t lose 100 games for the second time in franchise history.

The right-hander finished the year strong, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to those that have watched him closely in his most recent stint with the Giants. In his final eight starts of the season, Stratton threw to a tidy 2.27 ERA and 1.361 WHIP, and struck out 39 batters in 39.2 innings. He collected a pair of 10-strikeout games in that span, while the rest of the pitching staff combined for four all season.

Maybe Stratton’s most prominent trait was his ability to work with whatever situation he was given. He was given a starting assignment 20 minutes before game time because the scheduled starter was scratched. He had starts pushed back to allow other starters to pitch on normal rest. He had starts delayed by Ryan Vogelsong‘s retirement ceremony and the Willie Mac Award announcement. He faced just one batter in a start because of a rain delay that lasted hours and caused the game to restart close to midnight.

He experienced just about every possible scenario that could screw with a starting pitcher’s rhythm, but always went out and did his job.

Stratton’s done all this while throwing five pitches for strikes. He’s thrown two and four-seam fastballs for strikes to both sides of the plate, firmly establishing his presence on the corners. He’s used a changeup to keep left-handed hitters off balance, getting multiple swing-throughs for his efforts. His curveball and slider combination have been downright deadly, acting as his put-away pitches when he needs strikeouts. His curveball has proven to be elite, with the highest spin rate (3,104 rotations per minute) in baseball.

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With the 2017 season behind him, Stratton has firmly entrenched himself in the conversation for 2018. After watching him finish the season so strong, he has to hold the early advantage for the fifth spot in next year’s rotation. He may be just a 27-year-old rookie, but better late than never, right?