In 2023, Gavin Stone had as rocky a beginning to his major league career for any Dodger in recent for anyone not named Zach Lee.
On May 3, Young Master Stone was pressed into service in the Dodgers' once-and-future beleaguered starting rotation. It was a season of trials and tribulations to be sure. In his debut, Stone was adequate (if one is being charitable), going four innings and giving up five runs (four earned) in a game where the Dodgers had to outslug the Phillies 10-6, with Max Muncy delivering the coup de grace against Craig Kimbrel.
Stone was sent back to Triple-A before returning for two turns of the rotation against Atlanta and Tampa Bay. His start in Atlanta had the same pattern as his debut against the Phillies, giving up five runs in four innings, whereas the wheels fell off in Tampa.
Much like for Mr. Lee eight years earlier, I had a front-row seat to Stone’s growing pains during that start. He was great at getting two strikes that day but unfortunately, Stone was overmatched by the Rays’ offense in a wacky game that the majority of the fanbase slept through. Stone pitched two innings, giving up seven runs (all earned), in a game that the Dodgers would eventually lose 11-10.
At this point of the season, Stone had a stat line of the following: 3 starts, 0-0 (somehow), 10 IP, 23 H, 17 R (16 ER), 7 BB, 5 K, 14.40 ERA, 5.66 FIP. Opposing batters during this period had a slash line of .451/.509/.667.
Basically, comparisons are virtually impossible at this point, but having everyone turn into a rough equivalent to 1941-Ted Williams (.406/.553/.735) when facing Stone was less than ideal.
The conclusion was obvious: he wasn’t ready yet for the majors. Unsurprisingly, Stone was optioned back to Triple-A Oklahoma City after this start.
It looked like Stone would remain in Triple-A for the foreseeable future, apart from an emergency call-up with Michael Grove on July 3, once Victor González and Clayton Kershaw were returned to the injured list. After that cup of coffee where Stone came out of the bullpen and was fine, one would not be faulted for thinking that Stone’s MLB 2023 was done.
While at Triple-A, Stone had a solid year, appearing in 21 games (starting 19), pitching 100⅔ innings with a 7-4 record, 4.74 ERA, and 120 strikeouts. Moreover, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 2.61. Not great, but certainly not bad. Stone’s success with Oklahoma City was largely credited to increased usage of his cutter.
Gavin Stone was masterful for OKC tonight in what was arguably the best start of his professional career.— Bruce Kuntz (@Bnicklaus7) August 5, 2023
85 P / 55 S
Stone threw his cutter 28 times tonight and it let him to six no-hit frames. This was the best he's looked in 2023. #Dodgers pic.twitter.com/oOWuflYosy
Because of Stone’s newly found effectiveness in Triple-A, even having a tandem outing with rehabbing Walker Buehler, Stone earned himself one last go-around in the starting rotation in the final month of the season, at least in an emergency setting for the finale in Boston on August 27.
While Craig Ferguson did open the game, Stone was the bulk man and for six innings he was solid in his best major league appearance of the year. Stone went six solid innings, where he gave up two runs on a ball that was not expected to go out statistically but based on my perspective on the Green Monster, it looked gone off the bat.
Had Stone’s outing stopped at six innings, he would have himself a banner day while earning his first major league win. Unfortunately, Dave Roberts sent Stone out for a seventh inning of work. Stone faced Justin Turner and Adam Duvall. It did not go well, and after giving up back-to-back, no doubt jacks, Stone was done for the day, leaving on a somewhat sour final note.
Stone had one more start for the big league club against the Padres on September 11, which did not go well as he gave up seven runs on nine hits in 4⅓ innings. Stone did manage to earn his first career major league save, by way of a three-inning save, in the Pedialyte Game the day after the Dodgers clinched the NL West in Seattle.
On September 22, Stone made his final appearance of the year, earning his first loss of the year in an outing against the Giants in Los Angeles, allowing three runs in 4⅓ IP.
Stone was left off the postseason roster, but frankly, he did not miss much.
While Stone’s overall major league statline for 2023 is nothing short of awful in limited service, it is worth remembering that Stone remains a rookie for 2024. It is also worth remembering that a majority of the fanbase was prepared to give up on another changeup-heavy pitcher in 2022, Ryan Pepiot, who managed to figure it out and be the most effective Dodgers pitcher in the final months of this season.
What Stone does in 2024 will entirely be up to him, but he should remember that quite a few young arms are looking to make a name for themselves in the rotation next year. A repeat of this year’s performance won’t cut it.
Stats: 1-1, 1 Sv, 9.00 ERA, 8 G, 31 IP, 13 BB, 22 K, 1.903 WHIP
Salary: $720,000, pro-rated for his time in the majors
Game of the year
The decision lies between a pretty good game with a sour ending in Boston or a shorter, solid outing leading to a 10-out save in Seattle on September 17. At the risk of pandering, we’ll select the three-inning save game.
Stone has 34 days of major league service time and has two option years remaining. Stone retains his rookie status heading into 2024.