I’m on a trending binge right now and today’s American League starting pitcher spot means it’s a good time to check out the strikeout rate surgers. There are many factors that could contribute to a surge in strikeout rate and often times, these are sustainable changes that lead to an increase in true talent level. So it can be wise to check out the surgers to spot these trenders early. As usual, I checked out the last 30 day leaderboard to come up with the names.
Tommy Milone | 9.6 K/9
Woah, what has gotten into Milone?! Aside from the excellent, yet surprising, 34 strikeouts in 32 innings, he has only walked 2 batters! All this has resulted in a 1.13 ERA and 2.45 xFIP. Amazingly, his strikeout rate for the season is still just 6.4, which remains well below the marks he posted in both Double-A and Triple-A in 2010 and 2011. His velocity hasn’t changed at all and either has his pitch selection. His SwStk% has jumped to 9.9% over this time period, which is above his slightly below average season mark. Clearly, you shouldn’t expect this type of strikeout rate to be sustained. However, given his strikeout rates from the high minors, it is reasonable to think that his season mark should keep increasing toward the 7.0 range. He’ll need that to happen or he’ll be in danger of watching his ERA rise toward his SIERA, which currently sits above 4.0. With a nearly 25% line drive rate, it’s pretty magical that he has only allowed a .282 BABIP.
Hiroki Kuroda | 9.0
After opening the first two months of the season with strikeout rates in the 5.0 range, Kuroda has amped it up, posting a strikeout rate of 8.7 since the beginning of June. The surge has now pushed his strikeout rate up to identically match what he did last season. Kuroda is one of the pitchers who typically posts lower strikeout rates than his SwStk% would suggest. Over the last 30 days, his SwStk% has jumped to 10.5%, bringing up his season mark to 9.1%. The 10.5% mark is right in line with what he has done the past two years. With no other obvious changes, I would say this is just your standard roller coaster ride we should expect when dealing with human beings throwing a baseball. By the end of the year, we basically know what to expect from Kuroda, though cannot be sure exactly how he will arrive at that point. While we should not expect his current surge to continue, it served the purpose of bringing all his stats back in line with pre-season projections. You should figure on that moving forward.
Brett Cecil | 8.8
Once upon a time, Brett Cecil was an extreme ground ball, strikeout generating and free pass limiting pitcher in the minors. Once upon a time, I was excited about his future. Then, his velocity disappeared last season and he was banished back to the minors. Now he’s back again and showing a much improved strikeout rate. Unfortunately, his SIERA is relatively unchanged and all the ground balls he had induced early on in his minor league career have never materialized in the Majors. His last 30 day SwStk% backs up his improved strikeout rate as it sits at 10.7%. In his last start on Tuesday, he generated an amazing 19.2% SwStk%. This is great news of course, and suggests that maybe his stuff is coming back. A quick peek at his velocity logs would shatter that shred of optimism though. He has averaged between 88.0 and 89.0 miles per hour all season and his last start actually represented his second lowest velocity all season.
There was a change though in that last start, as PITCHf/x tells us he threw his slider 35% of the time. Previously, he had only used it above 20% once. He also used his fastball least often, which is a good idea when you’re only throwing 88.0 miles per hour. If this is a new game plan, it should help offset the velocity decline and allow Cecil to contribute positively in strikeouts. It may not be good for his long-term health, but we don’t care about that right now. That said, he remains an extreme fly ball pitcher in an unforgiving ballpark in a tough offensive division and he still isn’t throwing enough first pitch strikes. While I think he now does have a chance at some AL-Only value given the potential for strikeouts, there still seems to be little hope for mixed league value.