Category Impact: A Swing and a Miss
Todd Zola takes a look at the strikeout and discusses how to safely target pitchers with favorable matchups
Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls - it's more democratic. – from Bull Durham
Crash Davis obviously didn’t have Nuke LaLoosh on his fantasy team. Not to mention, strikeouts are not boring. In fact, of all the stats, for both hitters and pitchers, it may be the one the most under the player’s control. Today we’ll continue our category impact series by looking at the punch out for pitchers.
As mentioned, strikeouts are mostly skill, but there are some advanced metrics suggesting there is some luck involved. Studies have shown a strong correlation between swinging strikes and strikeout rate. This space really isn’t appropriate to delve into the gory details but as you might imagine, the more swings and misses the more strikeouts a pitcher should garner.
On occasion, there will be hurlers whose swing and misses do not jive with their K-rate. Starting Sunday the focus is going to shift from theory to application so going forward I’ll identify some pitchers in line for a strikeout spike. But if you want to do some reading on this yourself, plug strikeout and swinging strike rate into your favorite search engine and you’ll find a treasure trove of relevant essays.
Something else to look for when searching for possible latent sources of strikeouts is pitchers working in their own backyard. It may not seem like much but the K/9 at home is usually 0.3 greater than on the road. And remember, pitchers go deeper into games at home which could mean an extra whiff or two.
Another factor is the opposition’s propensity to fan. In fact, their fate versus left-handers and right-handers could be different so it’s best to utilize split data.
- Click HERE for team K% versus left-handed pitcher
- Click HERE for team K% versus right-handed pitcher
To be perfectly honest, other than unearthing some under-the-radar options using those with a high swinging strike rate but with a low K-rate, there isn’t all that much to chasing strikeouts. But perhaps the covert consideration is how much collateral damage gets inflicted to your ratios. This avails another pathway to possible identify some hidden gems.
Whether you’re looking to stream a starting pitcher off the waiver wire or to be contrarian in a daily contest, shunning an option because of what appears to be a poor ERA may be a mistake. Especially over a sort time span, ERA can be artificially inflated and not a true reflection of a player’s skill. More often than not, the hurler was victimized by an unlucky hit rate or a couple of untimely dingers. Personally, I’ll look at the previous three starts and focus solely on whiffs and walks. My rule of thumb is so long as the strikeouts are 2.5 x the walks, I’m comfortable using him the next start, especially if it’s at home.
Let’s wrap this discussion up by highlighting a couple of lesser options this weekend that make for decent streamers in an effort to embellish strikeouts without fracturing ratios.
Brandon McCarthy, Arizona Diamondbacks @ San Diego Padres – Ignore McCarthy’s 5.54 ERA. Over his last three efforts, he’s tossed 17.2 frames, fanning 23 while walking just 6. Now factor in the Friars are seventh worse when it comes to whiffing against righties and McCarthy looks like a safe play despite being on the road.
Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros vs. Seattle Mariners – The southpaw has a K/BB of 19/4 over his last three outings covering 18.1 stanzas. The Mariners have the tenth worse K% in MLB squaring off against lefties.
Phil Hughes, Minnesota Twins vs. Baltimore Orioles – The former Yankee has punched out 16 while only issuing a pair of free passes his previous 18 innings. Baltimore is in the lower third with respect to K% but the tilt is at home which is in Hughes’ favor.