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Pitcher F-Strike% Laggards

Posted By Mike Podhorzer On June 4, 2012 @ 8:15 am In Starting Pitchers,Stock Watch | 6 Comments

On Saturday, I looked at the pitcher leaders in F-Strike% in an attempt to identify those who may see better walk rates ahead. Today I will look at the opposite side of the coin. These are the pitchers who throwing the lowest percentage of first pitch strikes. A pitcher showing up on this list with a league average walk rate or better is likely going to experience an increase in the near future.

Name F-Strike% BB/9 BB% ERA SIERA
Edinson Volquez 48.2% 4.9 12.9% 3.42 4.43
Kyle Drabek 49.1% 6.0 15.0% 4.65 4.96
Yovani Gallardo 51.1% 4.4 11.2% 4.22 4.01
Chris Sale 52.0% 2.4 6.7% 2.38 2.86
Jason Hammel 52.6% 2.8 7.6% 3.06 3.25
James McDonald 52.8% 2.6 7.7% 2.20 3.19
Ricky Romero 53.4% 4.8 12.8% 4.04 4.35
Wei-Yin Chen 53.9% 3.3 8.5% 3.75 4.24
Derek Lowe 54.0% 2.5 6.5% 3.06 4.09
Barry Zito 54.4% 4.0 10.3% 3.41 5.06

Oh, Edinson Volquez, if only you could find the strike zone. Yup, I am still a not so proud member of the Volquez Support Group and have a tough time rescinding my membership given that he calls PETCO Park home now. He is truly like Jekyll and Hyde in that he is a simple joy to watch when he is throwing strikes and making hitters look foolish against his change-up, but seriously unwatchable when he cannot find the plate, which is far too often. I always like targeting young pitchers with control problems because it is the one skill that is most frequently improved upon. Clearly, Volquez did not receive this message. There is no hope for better control in the future, so owners like me should just hope PETCO continues working its BABIP and home run suppression magic to give Volquez any semblance of fantasy value.

I mentioned Kyle Drabek in a sell high post a week and a half ago and in two starts since, he has allowed a total of 13 runs over 9.2 innings. Guess I had good timing on that call! His stuff does look much better than his below average K/9 and slightly above average SwStk% would suggest, and he has a fantastic ground ball rate. So there does appear to be some hope for his future. Unfortunately, there is nothing that suggests his control will get better any time soon.

The last time Yovani Gallardo posted a F-Strike% nearly as low as it currently sits was in 2009, and not surprisingly, his walk rate that year was 4.6. Aside from the seriously concerning sudden inability to throw strikes, his SwStk% is down to a frightening 6.7% (versus the 8.8% league average), easily his lowest mark over a full season. His velocity is down a bit from the last two years, but at a similar level as 2009 so it doesn’t seem to raise any red flags. However, when you combine his loss of control with his failure to miss bats, you have to wonder if something is wrong physically.

Ahh, Chris Sale, not a place I want to find your name considering I own you in all four of my leagues. Like I sometimes notice when a pitcher’s F-Strike% doesn’t match up with his BB/9, Sale’s Zone% is well above league average. So although his first pitch is less often a strike, he is around the plate more frequently. Given his amazing recent run and likely innings cap, he’s someone to consider selling high on. Of course, I am as attached to him as one could be to any player and owning him in all my leagues is going to make my advice impossible to actually follow myself. So feel free to hold onto him and continue smiling at his ridiculous slider.

For all the improvements we have seen in Jason Hammel‘s peripherals, his F-Strike% is actually at its lowest mark since his 2006 debut. So that walk rate is probably going to rise. And that surprising ground ball rate spike? Yeah, that only lasted through April. In May, his GB% is back to where it has always been. However, his increased fastball velocity has contributed to a huge jump in SwStk%, so his strikeout rate does appear real. He should destroy his ZiPS RoS ERA projection of 4.62 and I would gamble on a high 3.00 ERA the rest of the way.

This is one of the primary reasons I failed to add James McDonald to my roster when he was still a free agent in one of my leagues only a couple of weeks ago. Never much of a first pitch strike thrower to begin with, his rate is actually even lower this year than in past seasons. It is quite a shock to see his walk rate below 3.00 despite such a poor F-Strike%. I can’t believe this could last, but an increased Swstk% and a decreased reliance on his fastball primarily in favor of a slider means the strikeout rate is mostly for real. With a neutral batted ball profile, a walk rate that may rise significantly and the support of a pathetic Pirates offense, he looks like a great guy to aggressively try to trade.

I expected regression from Ricky Romero and thought he was overvalued, but didn’t think it would be due to his walk rate exploding. His F-Strike% confirms that is deserving of such a walk rate, but obviously his history suggests he should get a little better in that regard. Though he did post a .242 BABIP last year, would you bet on him maintaining another mark around .240 again? I wouldn’t and therefore would not try buying him low.

This is why I placed Wei-Yin Chen in the bottom tier (The Great Disappointment) of my AL SP rankings. I read several disagreements with his placement. Since those rankings were published, he has posted a 4.70 ERA and still sports a mark better than his SIERA. His strikeout rate may rise a bit given a strong SwStk%, but that may come along with an increased walk rate as well.


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