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Fan Projection Targets: New Strikeout Wizards

As I stated in my piece on Craig Kimbrel earlier this week, I’m a big fan of high-strikeout pitchers. Much like Kimbrel, Kenley Jansen, John Axford, and Chris Sale burst onto the Major League scene as strikeout wizards last season.

Kenley Jansen struck out 41 and walked 15 in 25 relief innings for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season. He posted a 1.82 FIP, but that was largely based on the fact that he didn’t allow a single home run. High walk rates and high strikeout rates are nothing new for Jansen. In his three minor league stints, he struck out at least 14 per nine innings, and in two of them he walked at least five hitters per nine innings. The question isn’t so much if he can continue to strike batters out as much as if he can weather the inevitable home runs he will allow, particularly if his 34% ground ball rate continues.

John Axford led all NL rookies in saves last year as he took over for the corpse of Trevor Hoffman. He struck out 76 batters in 58 innings at the Major League level, which doesn’t put him at Carlos Marmol levels but does rank 11th among all pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched. Strikeouts were never a problem for Axford in either the Yankees system or with the Brewers; in every stint in which he wasn’t used as a starter, Axford struck out at least 10 batters per nine innings. Whereas with Jansen the issues were with the home run, Axford will have to avoid the walk to remain successful in 2011: he walked at least 5 batters per nine innings in all but one stint (only 4 appearances) in the minor leagues.

Chris Sale has all of 32.1 professional innings to his name, with 23.1 of them coming at the MLB level with the Chicago White Sox last season. Sale struck out 32 batters in those 23.1 innings to go along with 19 in his 10.1 minor league innings. Sale posted a 2.74 FIP, but unlike the other pitchers on this list he has so little experience that he’s still a big mystery. Further, the possibility remains that Sale will move from the bullpen to the starting rotation, which will probably put a damper on those big strikeout numbers.

What do you think? Click here to enter your projections for Kenley Jansen, John Axford, and Chris Sale.