A week ago I identified several American League starting pitchers whose SwStk% suggests an imminent strikeout rate surge. I then took a detour to look at both sides of the coin for National League starters, and now I’m back for the potential K/9 decliners in the AL. As a reminder, the league average for American League starting pitchers with a minimum of 120 innings pitched this year is a 7.0 K/9 and 8.5 SwStk%.
Alex Cobb | 7.7 SwStk% | 7.0 K/9
From a skills and SIERA perspective, Cobb has had an excellent season pitching most of the year as part of the Rays rotation. His minor league strikeout rates even give us optimism for better strikeout rates in the future. However, his SwStk% is going to have to improve for him to even repeat the mediocre 7.0 mark he posted this year. He actually posted an identical SwStk% last season, yet only posted a 6.3 K/9, and that’s the downside with such a below average mark.
He does have good control and displayed an intriguing ground ball tendency, so even a drop in strikeout rate won’t kill him. This especially true if his overall luck neutralizes, which would have the effect of offsetting an overall skill set decline and therefore not altering his ERA much. I have been a fan of Cobb and expect him to be a somewhat trendy sleeper next year who could be had very cheaply in some leagues. But, I am not sure exactly what to project for his strikeout rate given the underwhelming SwStk%.
Doug Fister | 8.0 SwStk% | 7.7 K/9
After a breakout 2011 that few people believed in, Fister is proving that his improvement was in fact for real. Combining elite control with a strong ground ball rate, now he has added an above average strikeout rate to the mix as well. The velocity spike he experienced last season has almost completely disappeared, though he’s still up 0.5 miles per hour from 2010. The good news is that his SwStk% is still much higher than it was last year, but has failed to reach even the league average rate. Given his low Z-Swing%, it does appear that he probably gets a lot of called strikes. So I do believe he is likely to continue outperforming his SwStk%, but I think a strikeout rate around 7.0 or slightly lower would be a more realistic projection for next year.
David Price | 8.3% SwStk% | 8.7 K/9
Blasphemy! Raise your hand if you knew that Price’s SwStk% was actually below the league average. It is hard to believe, I agree. His average fastball velocity of 95.5 miles per hour handily leads all qualified starters in baseball, and when you include every starter with at least 10 innings pitched, he still ranks fourth, just 0.4 miles per hour behind fireballer Andrew Cashner. He also mixes in a cutter, curve ball and change-up, yet just once has he posted an above league average SwStk% (and the funny thing is that in that season, his strikeout rate was only 8.1). How could this be? It’s a head scratcher for sure.
Because he put up a nearly identical SwStk% and strikeout rate last season as well, it’s becoming harder to argue for an imminent regression. But all of his plate discipline stats are also very close to the league average so there doesn’t appear to be any hints there. Does he consistently get a ton of foul balls, like way above the league average? If I can’t come up with an explanation supported by the numbers, then he becomes a much riskier proposition than a pitcher whose strikeout rate appears safer.