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Potential K% Surgers

On Monday with the help of Matt Swartz, I determined that spring training statistics are not completely meaningless after all. Strikeout percentage (K%) and walk percentage (BB%) should indeed be taken into consideration when projecting the upcoming season.

With that in mind, it may be possible to get a foreshadowing of who the breakout and bust pitchers are for the year. Today I decided to look at the 10 pitchers whose spring K% is the most different from their Steamer projection, as in, their spring K% is much higher than the projection. I used Steamer because it has become my favorite pitching projection system and performed the best in the latest round of tests between systems.

Player IP K TBF Spring K% Steamer K% Diff
Greinke, Zack 12.1 20 48 41.7% 24.4% 17.3%
Liriano, Francisco 18.0 23 63 36.5% 20.1% 16.4%
Mendoza, Luis 16.2 16 64 25.0% 9.5% 15.5%
Haren, Dan 15.0 18 53 34.0% 19.1% 14.8%
Hochevar, Luke 14.0 15 54 27.8% 14.7% 13.0%
Garcia, Jaime 13.1 16 51 31.4% 18.4% 13.0%
Maholm, Paul 10.0 10 41 24.4% 13.5% 10.9%
Hammel, Jason 11.2 12 47 25.5% 14.7% 10.9%
Worley, Vance 16.0 18 62 29.0% 18.3% 10.7%
Alvarez, Henderson 11.0 10 41 24.4% 13.8% 10.6%

Note: TBF is Total Batters Faced

Some top tiers names on this list, as well as some very interesting ones that could make a fantasy team. I will discuss the more interesting ones…

Francisco Liriano– The precise reason I boldly predicted he would be a top 10 starter this year and what led me to performing the study in the first place. Even better, he has only walked three batters so far, so his control has been top notch as well. In more casual mixed leagues of 12 teams or fewer, he may not even be drafted. Even in more competitive or deeper leagues, he will likely go cheap enough to provide tons of room for profit.

Luis Mendoza– I had never even heard of him until recently, and he is supposedly competing with Felipe Paulino for the fifth slot in the Royals rotation. Hat tip to Howard Bender for first bringing his name to our attention. His minor league stats have been underwhelming, while his strikeout rates have been pretty pathetic, so this spring K% is quite intriguing. I have not been able to find anything though about increased velocity, new pitches, changed mechanics, etc, that would explain the strikeout rate. If I was able to find at least something that might support the early surge, I would be more confident he can earn some AL-Only league value if he wins a rotation spot. Then again, I would be surprised if Paulino did not make the rotation.

Luke Hochevar– Here’s a name many will be giddy to see. After posting an 8.2 and 8.7 K/9 over the last two months of the 2011 season, he has appeared on some pre-season sleeper lists. The early spring K% suggests that maybe something did finally click and he has reached a new talent level. He already has an above average ground ball rate to go along with average control. I would still hesitate to gamble on him in a standard 12-team mixer, but he might very well earn a tidy profit in AL-Only leagues.

Jaime Garcia– Garcia has landed on my potential K/9 surgers lists a lot due to his strong SwStk% of 10.5%. However, he has been below average in inducing called strikes which is likely the reason his K/9 hasn’t been higher than it has been. But since I believe called strike rate is flukier than swinging strike rate, it is definitely worth the gamble at his depressed draft day cost to see if this spring K% surge is for real. With a fantastic ground ball rate, a good home ball park and offense backing him, he could be a real bargain.

Paul Maholm– Possibly the biggest surprise on this list, this is probably just a sample size issue given that he has only pitched 10.0 innings, the least amount on the list.

Jason Hammel– Now an Oriole, Hammel doesn’t gain much from getting out of Coors Field. His K/9 tumbled last year for no obvious reason, so it’s a good sign to see a rebound in this early spring action. Although he should still be nowhere near a mixed leaguer’s radar, maybe he’ll actually be worth a buck in an AL-Only league.

Vance Worley– He was one of the biggest surprises last year, posting a 3.01 ERA and a 8.1 K/9. Given his weak SwStk% though, I was quite confident that his strikeout rate would be in freefall mode this year. He relies on called strikes to rack up the strikeouts and probably also had some good fortune in the timing of his strikes. So needless to say, it was an easy call for me consider him a strong bust candidate. The spring K% though is suggesting a different tune. Of course, even if his skills were for real, his SIERA was still at 3.72 versus that 3.01 mark, so he was going to experience ERA regression either way. It is just a question of how much. He is going rather cheaply in drafts so he may not be a bad risk, but I’d feel more comfortable in an NL-Only league thna a mixed, especially given how much the Phillies offense has been depleted from injuries.

Henderson Alvarez– I drafted him on my reserve roster in my 12-team mixed auction league and then debated whether to drop him or Homer Bailey to pick up Greg Holland. I decided on Alvarez to throw back into the free agent pool, primarily because of his lackluster strikeout rate in the minors. However, he is reportedly working on his slider and I would assume throwing it more frequently, as he threw it about 10% of the time last year versus 72% for his fastball. More sliders would certainly lead to more strikeouts, though it remains to be seen how it would affect his control and ground ball rate. Pitching in a hitter’s park in the AL East and skipping Triple-A increases the risk, but he’s a definite breakout candidate, especially if this improved spring strikeout rate is a sign of things to come.