The Strikeout: Starters
You are all aware that I host The Fantasy Drive each day on SirusXM Fantasy Sports Radio right? If you weren't aware I do, and you can catch the fantasy sports talk from 5-8PM EDT daily, Monday through Friday, on channels XM 147 and Sirius 211. Now that the infomercial section of the article is over, let's get to the relevance of why I brought this up.
As part of my work with SiriusXM, I was tasked with putting together a 10-15 minute segment on the art of strikeout. When the wheels started turning I was able to work up a list of some rather interesting bits o' information, so I thought I would share that with you all in print as well.
The 2010 Season
I don't know if pitchers are getting better, if batters are getting worse, if it was a one anomaly, or if the removal of PED's from the game has helped to level the playing field, but 2010 was a very good year for pitchers.
* In 2010 pitchers posted a K/9 mark of 7.13. That was the highest mark of the 21st century (from 2000-10 the big league average has been 6.67).
* The last five years the K/9 rate has gone up from 6.38 to 7.13 per nine.
What numbers would you look to as "targets" when it comes to the strikeout? Here are some thoughts.
(1) Don't overlook guys who didn't post huge strikeout totals as it's much more important to pay attention to the context of a strikeout, in this case the K/9 mark of a hurler. A perfect example is Bud Norris. He "only" had 158 Ks last year, but that's because he pitched only 153.2 innings. On the other hand, his K/9 rate was as exceedingly impressive 9.25. Look at the ratio versus the raw K-total, it's much more valuable when trying to discern who the strikeout aces are.
(2) In the fantasy game, I wouldn't target a starter with a K/9 mark under 6.50 or a reliever under 7.50. Starters can have success below that level without a doubt - especially extreme ground ballers are but one example of the type of hurler that could still succeed with mediocre strike rates - but I'd prefer a staff of guys like Bud Morris and Brandon Morrow over the Derek Lowe's and Jake Westbrook's of the world every time.
(3) Even though this is about the strikeout, make sure to look at walks as well. Heat does you no good if you can't throw strikes (hello Oliver Perez). In 2010 pitchers posted a 2.17 K/BB mark thanks to the extra strikeouts and a 5-year low of 3.28 in the BB/9 column. As a result, the 2.17 K/BB mark was the best in the 21st century.
With that primer, here is a list of the top strikeout artists, as defined by their K/9 marks, from the 2010 season.
K/9 Amongst qualifiers - minimum 162 IP
9.79 Tim Lincecum 9.74 Jon Lester 9.73 Yovani Gallardo 9.54 Jonathan Sanchez 9.44 Francisco Liriano 9.35 Jered Weaver 9.34 Clayton Kershaw 9.21 Mat Latos 9.11 Josh Johnson 9.10 Cole Hamels 8.79 Justin Verlander 8.78 Colby Lewis 8.69 Ryan Dempster 8.69 Ubaldo Jimenez 8.46 Max Scherzer 8.36 Felix Hernandez 8.32 Adam Wainwright 8.28 James Shields 8.27 Dan Haren 8.22 Wandy Rodriguez
If we drop down the innings pitched mark a bit lower, here is the list that we come up with (players in italics are new additions to the above list).
K/9 - minimum 100 IP
10.95 Brandon Morrow 9.79 Tim Lincecum 9.74 Jon Lester 9.73 Yovani Gallardo 9.54 Jonathan Sanchez 9.52 Manny Parra 9.44 Francisco Liriano 9.35 Jered Weaver 9.34 Clayton Kershaw 9.25 Bud Norris 9.21 Mat Latos 9.11 Josh Johnson 9.10 Cole Hamels 9.04 Jhoulys Chacin 8.79 Justin Verlander 8.78 Colby Lewis 8.69 Ryan Dempster 8.69 Ubaldo Jimenez 8.46 Max Scherzer 8.41 Hisanori Takahashi
Mr. Morrow ends up leading baseball with a K/9 rate of 10.95. If he were able to maintain that rate over 190 innings that would lead to 231 strikeouts, the same total that Tim Lincecum posted which was the best mark in the NL. However, Brandon Morrow, Manny Parra, Bud Norris and Jhoulys Chacin, while major strikeout contributors, all posted a BB/9 mark over 4.00, so they certainly come with risk.
Starters to Target
The following group of pitchers are those starters you should target, ones with a K/9 of 7.00 and a K/BB above 2.75 last season (min. 100 IP). There were only 26 such hurlers in 2010.
Roy Halladay Tommy Hanson Cole Hamels Cliff Lee Matt Cain Tim Lincecum Felix Hernandez Mat Latos Jered Weaver Zack Greinke Jake Peavy Josh Johnson Shaun Marcum Colby Lewis Dan Haren Justin Verlander Francisco Liriano Adam Wainwright Roy Oswalt Scott Baker Ted Lilly
Here are five more who made the list who might not have been obvious considering the other aspects of their pitching performance last season..
Ricky Nolasco: The Marlin's hurler has a 4.81 ERA past two years despite some excellent work on the hill. His K/9 mark of 8.98 is 7th best in baseball in that time, while his 4.44 K/BB ratio is 4th best. Buy low on him if you can.
Travis Wood: The rookie had a rather solid K/9 mark of 7.54, and with a lack of walks he was able to post a strong 3.31 K/BB.
James Shields: - Despite 15 Loses and 5.18 ERA, Shields actually posted the best K/9 of his career at 8.28. Shields also posted a strong 3.67 K/BB, just slightly off his career 3.70 mark. Buy him at a discount this year, he's as good as he has ever been.
Hiroki Kuroda: The Dodgers' depth starter had a 7.29 K/9 (the best of career), which led to a similarly impressive 3.31 K/BB mark. He isn't a fantasy ace, but he is a fine option to round out a staff.
Jason Hammel : The Rockies' righty had a career best 7.14 K/9 and a solid 3.00 K/BB (it was 3.17 in '09). He will be a bargain on draft day after posting a poor 4.81 ERA in '10.
Solid Pitchers to Avoid Ground ball types: Carl Pavano (4.76 K/9), Mike Pelfrey (4.99), Bronson Arroyo (5.05), Dallas Braden (5.28),Fausto Carmona (5.31), Tim Hudson (5.47), Jake Westbrook (5.68), Brett Cecil (6.10), Derek Lowe (6.32).
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Fri 7-10 PM EDT), Ray also hosts his own show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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RT @scottmerkin: Quintana, Chris Sale and John Danks have combined to go 5-0 with a 2.62 ERA in nine starts this season