As we near season’s end, it is time to start looking toward 2012 and to determine which players may see a performance spike, and therefore be a target in your fantasy drafts. As I have mentioned many times in the past, SwStk% is one of my favorite advanced metrics to analyze for pitchers. It correlates highly with a pitcher’s strikeout rate, and the relationship is intuitive to both stats freaks and stats haters alike. Here are three pitchers whose SwStk% suggest better strikeout rates could be in their futures.
Jaime Garcia | 10.3% SwStk% | 7.1 K/9
Garcia essentially came out of nowhere last season to post a sub-3.00 ERA. Given the great fortune he enjoyed and the huge innings increase, most tagged him as a bust heading into 2011. Garcia had other plans, however, and he has followed up quite nicely. Most of his skills have been sustained, but he has improved his control, supposed by a jump in F-Strike%. He has bumped up his SwStk% slightly, but his K/9 and K% remain well below what you would expect from a pitcher inducing swinging strikes at over a 10% clip. He has gotten called strikes at a league average rate, so that doesn’t seem to be the cause of the lower K/9. With a four-pitch mix, a SwStk% over 10% and strong skills elsewhere, Garcia has legitimately become one of the better starters in the league. He could very well see his K/9 jump into the high 7′s next season and increase his fantasy value even further.
Daniel Hudson | 9.9 SwStk% | 6.9 K/9
After enjoying great success upon his move last season to the NL and posting a 1.69 ERA, Hudson was a popular sleeper in fantasy drafts this season. He has not disappointed, but his strikeout rate is well below what I, and most others, had projected for him this season. Unlike Garcia, Hudson has actually gotten called strikes at a below league average rate, and this is a problem he has dealt with in most previous seasons. That said, his SwStk% is high enough, and his historical strikeout rates good enough despite the lack of called strikes, that you have to believe his K/9 will jump back up above 7.0 at the very least, and probably 7.5.
Jeremy Hellickson | 9.8% SwStk% | 5.7 K/9
Hellickson has been discussed a lot, as his 2.90 ERA is dramatically below his 4.54 SIERA and 4.63 xFIP. He is going to give some sabermetricians problems with their projection next year, however. It is true that he has been extremely lucky this year, as mainly evidenced by his .222 BABIP. But, that strikeout rate is possibly the best bet to rise of any pitcher in baseball next year. We all know about his historical strikeout rate skills, so we know he has shown high K/9 ability before. His 9.8 SwStk% ranks 22nd among all qualified starters in baseball, which is pretty darn good. But a 5.7 K/9 is simply not what you would expect from those swinging strike inducing skills. We do find some explanation though, as Hellickson, like Hudson above, has gotten called strikes at a well below average rate. He has also always posted rates below the league average, but again, this has not hurt him this much in the past. He is as much of a lock as a player could be to improve his strikeout rate and a major skills improvement is going to lead to an ERA that doesn’t regress nearly as much as some might assume.