Potential K% Decliners

After discovering on Monday that K% and BB% are indeed meaningful for pitchers during spring training, I looked at which starters might see a better K% than initially projected given their spring performance. Today I look at the opposite end of the coin, those who are in for a potential decline in their K% based on what they have done in the spring so far. Again, I compared their spring K% to their Steamer projected K% and looked at the largest differences on the negative end of the spectrum.

Player IP TBF K Spring K% Steamer K% Diff
Happ, J.A. 13.2 68 5 7.4% 17.9% -10.5%
Strasburg, Stephen 19.2 83 14 16.9% 26.9% -10.0%
Rodriguez, Wandy 16.0 75 7 9.3% 19.3% -10.0%
Hamels, Cole 18.0 80 10 12.5% 22.0% -9.5%
Eovaldi, Nathan 15.2 64 6 9.4% 18.2% -8.8%
Bailey, Homer 14.2 64 6 9.4% 18.0% -8.6%
Leake, Mike 11.0 53 4 7.5% 16.1% -8.5%
Bard, Daniel 18.2 85 11 12.9% 21.4% -8.5%
Collmenter, Josh 12.0 57 4 7.0% 15.4% -8.4%
Kershaw, Clayton 18.1 73 13 17.8% 26.1% -8.3%

Note: TBF is Total Batters Faced

Again, we have some very surprising and interesting names on this list. Before jumping again, just a reminder that we’re still dealing with a tiny sample size. Although the study confirmed these spring peripherals do matter, that was on an overall basis and doesn’t mean it has equal significance for every pitcher individually.

Stephen Strasburg- Not the list you want to see his name on if you are a fantasy owner. Pretty amazing to think he ranks number two on it. I have not seen any recent articles with definitive velocity readings, but I believe it is still well below what he was throwing in 2010 before his surgery. Though this might improve his control slightly, it will probably have a negative effect everywhere else. Still, that just means he is less likely to have a 10+ strikeout rate (or the ridiculous 12.2 he posted in 2010), but he can more than get by obviously throwing in the mid-90s. With a 160 innings limit though, he cannot afford to disappoint in the ratio categories since his counting stats will already be hurt.

Wandy Rodriguez- I have not found anything about any arm or velocity issues with Wandy, so do not know if there is an explanation here or if it’s a small sample size thing. He has been pretty darn consistent over the last four years. Any loss of strikeout rate is going to hurt, as his WHIP is already mediocre and his win total will likely be underwhelming given the weak Astros offense.

Cole Hamels- No news to be found either. Man this search is proving futile! On a somewhat related note, it will be interesting to see whether Hamels can maintain any part of that ground ball rate spike he experienced last year. It led to a career best SIERA and xFIP.

Homer Bailey- Not a great way to impress Dusty Baker on the quest to win the fifth starter job. Also cuts my optimism a tad, as I own him in all three of my leagues. As usual, no velocity news, though I did see a snippet that his shoulder is pain-free, which I guess is good to know.

Daniel Bard- Though I do like Chris Sale better (and drafted him in all three leagues), I also liked Bard and drafted him in the LABR mixed league. His spring means more than most given his situation, so it is disconcerting to see such a dip in K%, especially combined with his awful control. This could get him sent back to the bullpen, but it’s not like the Red Sox’ other options are very exciting. I still think the Sox would be best off by at least giving Bard a chance when the games actually count rather than going by a mere 18.2 innings of meaningless spring games to make a decision.

Clayton Kershaw- I found nothing newsworthy of note to report, so I have to assume his stuff and velocity are fine. I wish I had some unique insight and something smart to say here, but just like for Hamels above, I got nuttin’.

So it is clear that it is a lot easier to find news that would explain some of the potential K% surgers. This is why my initial thought was that dramatically higher K%s were more significant than dramatically lower ones. The data did not bear that out though, so it might be worth hesitating before going the extra buck on some of the above names.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

15 Responses to “Potential K% Decliners”

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  1. JR Ewing says:

    Maybe this data should be used in conjunction with higher pitcher risk stats (guys that had a huge innings jump, threw a ton of pitches, threw a high % of sliders last year, etc) to see if any of them are in both camps and if so to avoid?
    Other than that you would have to compare their K% in past springs versus regular season numbers to see if it’s normal for certain guys to need more of a spring warm up before pitching right. Even then you’d have to look to see if guys are trying new pitches, new spots on the rubber, or even concentrating on improving one of their lower-rated pitches during spring games. That might be hard to do without access to players or coaches.

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    • Yup, agreed. Which is why even backed by the study results, it’s still hard to put too much weight on these stats. However, this is why I still kind of believe that increased K% is much more important than decreased. You can’t fluke your way into more strikeouts, but if a pitcher is experimenting with a new pitch, working on a current pitch, still building his velocity, etc, there are many explanations that would fit a decreased K%.

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  2. mcbrown says:

    To the point of the above comment and similar observations in the related articles, I wonder if you might get more meaningful results in the original analysis by eliminating from the sample (via some objective rather than subjective criteria) pitchers who are either (a) clearly coming back from an injury, or (b) clearly guaranteed of their place in the rotation or bullpen. I recall a Randy Johnson quote after getting shellacked in a Spring outing that said minor leaguers and scrubs are good at hitting fastballs, and all he was doing that day was trying to throw his fastball over the plate – the point being that the Randy Johnsons of the world, or pitchers on a strict medical regimen, may not be doing things in the Spring that even approximate their regular season approach. The Daniel Bards of the world, however, are trying to make an impression, and we might reasonably assume that they are trying to get people out, in which case their performance is more notable (with all the usual small sample size caveats).

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    • Yes, yes and yes. All good points, which is why it’s so much easier to just ignore spring! There is still a lot that can be studied though, but I am convinced that there are some numbers that will give us a sneak peek at the season’s breakouts and busts.

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  3. Parker says:

    Well, some of these pitchers could also be experimenting with new pitches or working back into game shape. Roy Halladay was getting hammered all spring until someone questioned him-then he mowed down the Orioles like it was nothing. I won’t be worried about any of the guys above due to their first few spring training starts

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  4. novaether says:

    I believe Cole Hamels will maintain the ground ball rates, if not increase them. He added a cutter to his repetoir in 2010, throwing it 14% of the time according to pitchfx. It yielded a 46.6% ground ball per ball in play ratio. We saw a increase in his ground ball rate by 5% to match.

    In 2011 he throw the cutter even more – 21% of the time (at the expense of his 4-seamer). This time, he was rewarded with ground balls 61.9% GB/BIP. Not only does the cutter induce ground balls, but it makes his change-up even more effective – its whiff rate and ground ball rates increased by a good margin. His ground ball rate spiked by 7% more.

    Some Phillies pitchers have been quoted this spring as having thrown the same pitch as much as possible so they could get it in shape. I am neither worried about Hamels’ spring K% nor his ability to induce ground balls.

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  5. NatsFan73 says:

    In as much as Spring Training stories are even less meaningful than Spring Training statistics, there was a longish article in the Washington Post yesterday, I think (sorry, too lazy to link) profiling young Mr. Strasburg. Therein he spoke of not trying so hard to strike everyone out, rather focusing on getting quicker outs, more double plays, and working deeper into games. It’s conceivable that the decline is purposeful. Note that a 10% lower K-rate would still be dead awesome.

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    • I was going to preemptively bring this up in my blurb, but didn’t. I knew this was coming. Why does the myth of more strikeouts = more pitches continue to prevail? A strikeout is a guaranteed out, if the pitcher does not strike out the batter, he puts the ball in play, which will go for a hit 30% of the time. More hits means more batters faced.

      There has been research done on this exact topic, and strikeouts do not increase pitch counts, walks do. And Strasburg already has excellent control. Unless you’re a sinkerballer or have mediocre stuff, it is probably never correct to “pitch to contact” or do so more often than you had been. It’s no coincidence the top pitchers in the game are generally also the guys with the best strikeout rates. If pitching to contact was such a great strategy, we’d see only ground balling mediocre K/9 starters atop the ERA leaderboards, but we don’t.

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      • Colin says:

        Conclusion, some pitchers and/or pitching coaches are nieve and employ counter productive habits.

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      • DavidJ says:

        Exactly right. And even more to the point, if pitching to contact helped pitchers go deeper into games, we’d expect to see the IP leaderboards littered with mediocre K% starters, but we don’t see that either. Most of the league leaders in IP per GS are high-K (or lat least above-average K) pitchers who also limit walks.

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  6. Joebreidey says:

    “There has been research done on this exact topic, and strikeouts do not increase pitch counts, walks do”

    Does that take into account that more strikeouts generally means more walks? On a 2:1 ratio, the pitchers saves pitches on the 2 K’s, because the batter doesn’t get on, but he throws extra pitches on the walk.

    My favorite example is always Dice. When he pitches to the corners, it inherently results in less contact, more K’s and more walks.

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  7. Jaumiusk says:

    Strasburg’s velocity this year has been around what it was in his late-2011 stint. High-90s and touching 100 sometimes. A stadium gun had him at 103 at one point this spring, and everyone had a good laugh about how stadium guns are stupid.

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  8. MP says:

    Wouldn’t it make sense to look at raw strikes vs. balls, rather than K% vs. BB% for this limited a sample? The idea is that a K on a 3-2 count is not as impressive as a K on an 0-2 count. The former presumably has more sequencing luck.

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