Potential NL SP Strikeout Rate Decliners

On Saturday, I checked in on the National League starting pitchers whose SwStk% suggests a strikeout rate surge may be coming next season. Today, I will identify the pitchers whose SwStk% suggests the opposite side of the coin, those whose strikeout rate may be in for a decline next year. As a reminder, the league average is a 7.3 K/9 and 8.6% SwStk%.

Ryan Vogelsong | 7.1% SwStk% | 7.4 K/9

Though Vogelsong’s luck finally disappeared in August in September as he posted ERAs above 6.00 during both months, he has still outperformed his SIERA for the second season in a row. And, his SwStk% suggests that his strikeout rate should not be at this high a level. Though his K/9 is just about at the league average, his SwStk% is 1.5% below that average. He was posting similar SwStk% marks while with the Pirates from 2003-2006, yet never posted a strikeout rate above 6.4.

So without the ability to make batters swing and miss, I am not exactly sure how he is managing to strike batters out at the rate he has been so far with the Giants. His poor finish will ensure he isn’t dramatically overvalued in fantasy leagues next year, but he still remains a pitcher I want no part of no matter what the league depth is. The upside is limited and downside too great, with a solid chance he is worthless in even deeper mixed leagues.

Yovani Gallardo | 7.8% SwStk% | 9.0 K/9

On the surface, Yovani is having just another typical Gallardo type season. A deeper look though reveals that he had never posted a SwStk% below 8.4 previously. It’s hard to believe that a huge strikeout pitcher like Gallardo would be nearly a full percentage point below the league average in inducing swinging strikes. Now, he has never posted gaudy SwStk% numbers, so it is safe to say he must get more called strikes or induce more foul balls than the average starter. However, that would seem to only boost his strikeout rate into the mid-to-high 7.0 range.

His average fastball velocity is also down 0.9 miles per hour from last year. Like with any of the pitchers on these lists, it is important to understand that any strikeout rate decline expectation is based on all else equal, means a similar SwStk% next year. It is possible, and perhaps likely, that Gallardo’s SwStk% does rebound next year. That said, there are enough red flags between that metric and the velocity decline that he’s one to shy away from paying full value for.

Mike Fiers | 8.1% SwStk% | 9.2 K/9

With another 10 strikeouts in just 6 innings yesterday, Fiers’ strikeout rate actually sits at 9.5 now. Pretty amazing for a guy who managed just an 8.0 mark at Triple-A this year and only averages 88.0 miles per hour with his fastball. I have no idea how he’s doing it though. His SwStk% is below the league average, yet his strikeout rate now ranks second in the National League. Does he get a ton of called strikes? If StatCorner still had that statistic, I could check, but alas, they removed it for some reason.

I have to think it’s been a lot of luck with his sequencing, which is exactly what would lead to an expectation of regression the following season. Given that he’s already 26 years old and ranked just 15th among the Brewers top 15 prospects in the pre-season, he might not even be overvalued in fantasy leagues next year. He’ll be a difficult one to project though, but it may not cost a whole lot to take the gamble.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: 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.

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You can’t get called strike percentage at statcorner, but you can extrapolate from zone% and zone swing percentage roughly how many pitches were in the zone and were not swung at. assuming umps are calling them fairly accurately, that gives you a called strike percentage, or a reasonable facsimile.

Pitch fx plate discipline against numbers differ from the other plate discipline numbers on fangraphs, which are the ones given on the leader boards, I believe.

If you use 120 innings as the cutoff (Fiers had 127 or so), you’ll see that Fiers is fairly middle of the road in most of the plate discipline numbers.

Tied for 59 (out of 117) in outside swing %. 56th in outside contact. 56th in zone contact. 62nd tie in contact% overall. 64th, tied with 5 guys, in swinging strike%, so below average there.

Interestingly, one of the guys he is tied with in swinging strike percentage is David Price. Zach Greinke is also only at an 8.6% swinging strike percentage.

Where Fiers excels is 2 areas.

He’s 13th in zone percentage (out of 117 pitchers who threw 120 or more innings). So he is in the strike zone. And he is tied for 8th in fewest swings at pitches in the zone. Since he is 56th in zone contact, he isn’t exactly hard to hit in the zone, but he’s not easier than average either. And guys haven’t quite brought themselves to swing much. That could be sequencing, or batters not reading the pitch, or the ball moving into the zone but appearing at first to be outside, or batters just not being familiar with him yet, or his delivery throwing them off, and a combo of those things.

Being hard to hit in the zone is a measure of dominant pitching. The leaders there are Dickey, Verlander, hamels, Scherzer, Moore and Darvish in that order, then comes Liriano, Gio Gonzalez and Sabathia. Obviously Liriano isn’t dominant due to control issues, and Darvish had his control issues as well, but his stuff helps him out, obviously.

But as you can see from Greinke and Price, you don’t need huge swinging strike rates to get to mid-8s in Ks per 9. Fiers may fall back some in Ks per 9, but he can probably stay around 8-8.5.

And you want to know the leader in fewest swings at pitches overall? Yovani Gallardo. And he’s 10th at fewest swings at pitches in the one (my called strike simulator. Batters are fairly familiar with him but they still don’t swing much, even at strikes.

In any event, 19.06% of the time roughly, Fiers threw a ball in the zone and the batter didn’t swing. That only happened 13.4% of the time Justin Verlander threw a pitch. 16.67% for Price. Verlander throws fewer pitches in the zone. He can get batters to chase, and he’s harder to hit in the zone. But it seems likely that Fiers gets more called strikes.