Tipping pitches: Value of strikeouts
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There's nothing quite like a swing and a miss, or a pitch so good it leaves the batter walking back to the dugout shaking his head.
Chicks may dig the long ball, but smart fantasy owners dig the strikeout. Strikeouts are awesome because they directly help in multiple categories. A strikeout is a strikeout, but it's also an out. That means a pitcher gets ERA and WHIP help too. Three categories in one ... quite a bargain.
The biggest advantage of a strikeout is that it eliminates contact. Weird things happen when players put the bat on the ball. Fielders slip, bobble and throw like
So why doesn't everyone simply chase
Moreover, piling up the strikeouts isn't absolutely necessary to be a good fantasy pitcher. However, there's little doubt about one thing: High-strikeout pitchers lead the league in excitement.
So who will lead baseball in strikeouts per nine innings (K/9)? Here are some of the favorites, starting with the current Top 8 in K/9:
Mr. "K"onsistency has had a K/9 above 10.42 since 2008, so it's fair to say he is the favorite for this race. The amazing thing about Lincecum is how much he has changed in his fairly short career.
Since his first season ('07), he's lost 2.8 mph on his fastball and started using it less. He's also increased his changeup usage from 13.4 percent to 26.3 percent. That pitch is particularly unhittable, rating at 35.0 runs above average in '09, and suddenly he's a control master. His BB/9 has gone from 4.00 in '07, to 3.33, to 2.72 to 1.70 in '10.
He's throwing softer, walking fewer batters and currently striking out batters at a career-high pace; is there anything Tim can't do?
Sanchez gets points for his impressive K/9 to this point, but he loses quite a few for volatility. Seriously, is there another pitcher that fantasy owners so blindly embrace despite such wild results? Sanchez is just as likely to throw an eight-inning, 11-strikeout masterpiece (April 14) as he is a 4.2-inning, four-strikeout clunker (May 2) and his fantasy owners couldn't care less.
Regardless of his inconsistencies, Sanchez flat strikes batters out most nights. Said batters can't touch his pitches outside the zone (41.5 O-contact% -- percentage of time batters make contact when swinging at pitches outside the zone), despite an above average swing rate (30.7 O-Swing% -- percentage of pitches outside the zone batters swing at).
Keep in mind that a career high 46.9 FB% and a 0.0 HR/FB (career 8.8) don't usually go hand in hand. Sanchez will give up quite a few bombs as 2010 progresses and his 2.60 fielder independent pitching rate (FIP) will feel the pain.
There's simply no way Sanchez can be a successful fantasy starter with his BB/9 at 5.59, as it currently is. However, he does have the freewheeling ways and dynamite stuff to be a K/9 contender.
Finally away from the eternal yo-yo of the Mariners' organization (He's a closer! No, he's a starter! etc.), Morrow has been solid his past three starts (11.84 K/9). It's unclear exactly how Morrow will hold up as the season gets deeper since his career high for starts is 10 and innings is 69.2, but this guy has the great stuff to remain among the K/9 leaders.
It's really difficult to have a K/BB of 1.50 with a K/9 of 10.57. Kershaw manages it with some really, really messy outings. Check out this summary from the second inning of his May 4 start: Walk, hit by pitch, single, strike out, single, hit by pitch, double, home run, relieved... not exactly confidence inspiring.
That said, Kershaw is a dark horse in this race. If he can start throwing strikes and batters have to cover the plate a little better, watch out. His 78.9 Z-Contact% (percentage of time batters make contact when swinging at a pitch in the zone) is one of the league's best, meaning batters can't touch his stuff inside the zone.
Lewis' slider has been magical so far in '10. According to FanGraphs, it's the second-best slider of the season (behind only the bionic
Lewis has no track record for drool-inducing K/9 rates (career 6.95) and he likely won't maintain one this season.
Masterson deserves a lot of credit for leaving the Red Sox/Yankee-hype-machine and actually gaining value.
He had an 8.28 K/9 through 129.1 innings in '09, so he has some K skills. However, he has never had a K/9 north of 9.38 in the minors, so he doesn't have enough to be in this race.
Hanson might be suffering from some next-best-thing envy as
Hamels was already one of fantasy's toughest pitchers to figure, with his '08-09 run that was nearly identical in some ways ('08 FIP: 3.72, '09 FIP: 372, K/9, HR/9, etc.) and very different in one important way for fantasy owners ('08 ERA: 3.09, '09 ERA: 4.32).
Now after years of establishing a trend of decay in K/9, he's posting a 10.24 rate so far in '10 -- the highest of his career. What gives Cole?
Quite simply, it's complicated. His contact and swing percentages are all over the map. Batters are making much less contact outside the zone and much more contact inside the zone than last year. At the same time, they are swinging at more pitches outside the zone and fewer inside. Wait, what?
It seems like Hamels' spike in K/9 is a little fluky and not likely to stick through 2010.