2019 MLB Draft Guide: The Value of Strikeouts
James Grande takes a look at how strikeouts can be one of the most important features of a pitcher with relation to using them in fantasy baseball leagues.
Since 2000, we’ve seen just three seasons in which at least 16 pitchers have struck out 200-plus opponents and coincidentally enough, it’s been three of the last four seasons excluding the 2016 campaign. It seemingly doesn’t matter anymore if you put the ball in play, but when you do, does it leave the yard? The strikeout is such a fascinating aspect of today’s game because it matters, but at the same time it doesn’t. We all want to roster the Max Scherzer ’s and Chris Sale ’s of the world but the same goes for Giancarlo Stanton , Joey Gallo , and Khris Davis on the opposite end of the spectrum yet they strike out 175-plus times a year, but hit 40 homers so it’s kind of irrelevant. Adapting to this style will only benefit us in the long run, our teams especially.
Want to know how much the punch out is worth these days? The first eight pitchers according to this year’s ADP all struck out 200-plus batters. Number nine? Clayton Kershaw . Kershaw only made 26 starts in 2018 and even in those starts, he just didn’t look as dominant as he did in years past. After Kershaw, both Luis Severino and Trevor Bauer , pitchers 10 and 11 being drafted according Fantasy Pros ADP, both eclipsed the 200-strikeout mark as well. In last year’s piece, I predicted 20 pitchers would hit 200 K’s and we fell just one Zack Greinke and seven J.A. Happ punchouts away from claiming I can see the future. I guess we’ll have to wait another year for that. There are some guys that failed to reach and surpass 200 K’s in 2018 that I could see joining the illustrious club:
- Nick Pivetta (188 strikeouts, 164 innings)
- Jack Flaherty (182 strikeouts, 151 innings)
- Chris Archer (162 strikeouts, 148.1 innings)
- Walker Buehler (151 strikeouts, 137.1 innings)
- Kenta Maeda (153 strikeouts, 121.1 innings)
We guessed two of five last year in Aaron Nola and James Paxton as both had career years and cleared 200 K’s comfortably. With a little of better health on our side, it likely would have been three out of five, but Noah Syndergaard and 30 starts go together like Frank’s Red Hot and cereal.
When you look at Nick Pivetta ’s 2018 campaign, first you see a pitcher who finished 7-14 and notched a 4.77 ERA. When you dig deeper into the numbers, you’ll see Pivetta was someone who is very unlucky pitching to a 3.42 xFIP and 3.51 SIERA. Maybe the most impressive part of his ‘18 campaign was the 10.32 K/9 that translated into a 27.1-percent K-rate as well. Both of those numbers were up from his rookie season which resulted in a 9.47 K/9 and 24-percent K-rate respectively. Pivetta also raised his swinging strike rate from 8.7-percent to 12-percent, which if increased again in 2019, should help him accumulate even more strikeouts.
The Cardinals young stud Jack Flaherty hadn’t been much of a strikeout specialist at the minor league level, but a 29.6-percent K-rate over 150 major league innings in 2018 changed all of that. He had a 13.4-percent SwStr rate last season, which is better than guys like Luis Severino , Corey Kluber , and Aaron Nola . Three guys who struck out more than 200 opponents.
The days of thinking Chris Archer ’s ERA would shrink back down into the three’s are over with, so let’s move on from that. He did only make 27 starts and threw fewer than 200 innings for the first time in four years. The three years prior to 2018, Archer had 200-plus innings and 200-plus strikeouts each season. As previously mentioned, he had a crappy 4.31 ERA but still managed to notch a 25.4-percent K-rate, which was the fourth consecutive season he’s done so. If Archer has a clean bill of health in 2019, we should see 30-plus starts and 200-plus punch outs.
The Dodgers have special arm talent on display in their rotation this year as both Walker Buehler and Kenta Maeda will enter the campaign with big aspirations. I know Buehler was and is the phenom, but can we just make people aware of Maeda’s 14.4-percent swinging-strike rate and 28.8-percent K-rate from last year! This is a guy that the Dodgers wanted to limit and pitch out of the bullpen? Let’s hope 2019 is a different year for the 30-year old. Back to Buehler who has flashed strikeout potential at every level and he didn’t exactly stop at the red light in ‘18 on his way to a 27.9-percent strikeout rate. Maeda is the out-of-the-box option, but if the Dodgers take the reins off of him and give him 30 starts the upside is there.
Starting pitchers aren’t the only ones racking up the strikeouts, however. We had eight relievers with at least 100 punch outs and 19 with 90 or more last season. Only seven of the 18 had double-digit saves, which means a lot of coaches are electing to use their biggest arms to bridge the gap to their closer considering 11 of the 18 with 90 K’s also had double-digit holds.
But alas, setup men are very valuable in their own regards in fantasy leagues considering their ability to help out in formats with an emphasis in the strikeout department. Josh Hader is the ultimate middle reliever we should look to roster and is currently being taken within the top-100 picks. Hader will pick up a few saves here and there, but he struck out 143 opponents over 81.1 innings last year. Just think about that for a second. You’re telling me you wouldn’t want that on your roster? You’re LYING!
In basically every fantasy format, from daily to rotisserie, the value of the strikeout is elevated in every situation. Rostering strikeout artists make your life as a fantasy owner a lot easier. There is a reason as to why Miles Mikolas -- a Cy Young contender from a year ago -- is the 28th starting pitcher coming off of the board. He struck out just 146 batters in 200.2 innings! More and more top hitting prospects get called up each and every year with light-tower power or Billy Hamilton type speed, but they only make contact half the time while they’re headed back to the dugout after three strikes the other 50-percent. That only improves the chances each year we will continue to have more 200 strikeout pitchers added to our list. That is if every pitcher isn’t seemingly given an innings limit.