When you begin the conversation about strikeouts a lot comes to mind. Each and every year it seems like we have 10 more all-or-nothing players that step into the batter's box with 40 home run potential but 200-strikeout upside as well and that’s the flavor of the month. We also think about the few dominant pitchers we consider “strikeout artists”, but the truth is we’ve never touched the number of strikeouts we had in 2019 in any season before. We had 24 -- count ‘em 24 -- pitchers who amassed 200 punch outs in ‘19. Patrick Corbin , who finished 10th with 238 K’s, would have finished first in that category in 2010 as Jered Weaver had 233. So why do we value strikeouts so much? Because they’re what is going to carry you to the promised land, especially if your pitchers are the ones involved, not your hitters.

In 2019, 19 out of the 25 top fantasy scoring pitchers -- or 76-percent -- all struck out 200-plus opponents and only four pitchers (Yu Darvish , Robbie Ray , Chris Sale , Matthew Boyd ) finished outside of the top-30 in fantasy points. Sale was plagued with injuries and only made 25 starts, so he has a pass here, but if the aforementioned numbers don’t stop and make you reevaluate your process a bit, you should be concerned. What’s even crazier is the fact that the previous season-high for 200-plus strikeout pitchers was 18 and we had 19 alone as top-25 fantasy producers last year!

Since 2000, we’ve seen just four seasons in which at least 16 pitchers have struck out 200-plus opponents and coincidentally enough, it’s been four of the last five 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? Because chicks -- and fantasy players -- dig the long ball.

When beginning to break things down for the 2020 campaign, the top-11 projected starting pitchers are all expected to reach and surpass 200 strikeouts. There are, however, only 18 or so projected to hit that illustrious mark of 200 according to multiple platforms, which would be right on par with what we’ve seen out of starters in recent seasons. In this section in last year’s piece, I broke down five names I thought could reach that mark, which would obviously vault their fantasy value to levels that could win drafters championships. I was two-of-five, so let’s run it back and try and double that, shall we?

?      Max Fried (173 K’s across 165.2 IP)

?      Mike Clevinger (169 K’s across 121 IP)

?      Chris Paddack (153 K’s across 140.2 IP)

?      Brandon Woodruff (143 K’s across 121.1 IP)

?      Andrew Heaney (118 K’s across 95.1 IP)

Fried was someone who was a question mark to even make the Braves rotation out of camp last year considering how much depth the team had on their staff, but he pitched well enough to earn a spot and never relinquished his opportunity. Fried struck out an impressive 173 batters across his 33 games (30 starts) but only threw 165.2 innings in what was his first full season at the major league level. His 24.6-percent K-rate was impressive and so was the 11.8-percent swinging strike rate he amassed. ATC, Steamer and Fangraphs all project him around 180 punch outs, but also project him to throw only seven more innings than he did in 2019. If he can approach 200 innings, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, we could see Fried notch 200 strikeouts.

This is probably the easiest one to predict as injuries were the only thing standing in the way of Clevinger and likely a possible run at a Cy Young, let alone 200 strikeouts. He had 207 punchouts in 2018 so it wouldn’t be anything we haven’t seen before. That said, the jump he took in the strikeout department from 2018-to-’19 was impressive. He averaged 9.32 K/9 in ‘18 and took a giant leap forward last season to 12.07, which would have slotted him fifth in the entire league if he had qualified with enough innings. It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that Clevinger also increased his SwStr rate to 15.2-percent. Something that’s noteworthy with Clevinger is that his average fastball velocity spiked 1.4 MPH last year up to 95.6 and both his fastball and slider rated out as top-20 pitches amongst all pitchers that threw at least 100 innings.

We obviously don’t know how many innings the Padres will let Chris Paddack throw this year, but a leap is expected. Paddack’s consensus projection puts him around 170 innings and 180 strikeouts, but that number has the potential to be so much higher. We saw a borderline elite 26.9-percent K-rate out of Paddack last year after not pitching above the Double-A level before that. He was a three-pitch pitcher in 2019 but relied heavily on the fastball, throwing it 61-percent of the time. Despite only throwing his change up 8.8-percent of the time, it ranked 12th in the league amongst pitchers that tossed 130-plus innings. If we see more two strike change-up’s, we could be talking about a pitcher surpassing the 200 punch out mark next season.

Woodruff burst onto the scene in 2019 after not surpassing 50 innings in each of his first two stints in the majors in 2017 and ‘18. He ran with his opportunity striking out 29-percent of the batters he faced in just 22 starts and now figures to slot in as the Brewers Ace in 2020. Woodruff should see a major spike in innings and ACT, Steamer and Depth Charts are all projecting him over 200 innings just like I am. Barring an injury I’d be surprised if this one didn’t come to fruition.

This is a shot in the dark, a wild card, but imagine getting someone with the ADP of Andrew Heaney that can strike out as many guys as he does? It’s health that’s always been Heaney’s Achilles heel, but his 28.9-percent K-rate last year makes you stop and think about the “what if?” In a full season -- 180 innings -- in 2018, Heaney punched out 180 batters, but the 2.3-percent increase from 11.8 to 14.3 in the swinging strike department played a huge role in his strikeout success.

Starting pitchers aren’t the only ones racking up the strikeouts, however.  We had 22 relievers with at least 100 punch outs last season, which is 14 more than the 2018 season. So it wasn’t only the starters seeing an increase in swings-and-misses. This tells us all we need to know about the state of the game, at least offensively. Of those 22 over 100 K’s, only seven had double-figure saves, which concludes that when we’re in the latter stages of our drafts, depending on your league settings, round out your pitching staff with relievers who strike a lot of guys out, because they have a bunch of value as well.

Should we care about strikeouts as much when we’re talking about position players in fantasy baseball, however? It’s not as much of a big deal as it is with pitchers. Last year we saw the five guys who struck out the most across major league baseball all post an OPS of .850 or better and one of them, Ronald Acuna, has been a consensus first-round draft pick heading into this campaign. Three of those top-five, Pete Alonso , Eugenio Suárez and Jorge Soler , all hit 48 home runs or more which happened to be one-through-three in the league! Sure that is a very small sample of guys and strikeouts do negatively impact your fantasy teams, but not as much as you think.