Potential Starting Pitcher K/9 Risers Through the Lens of SwStk% Update

If you have not noticed by now, I am in love with the SwStk% metric. What better way to determine that quality of a pitcher’s raw stuff than to look at the percentage of swinging strikes he has induced? A little over a month ago, I looked at pitchers near the top in the SwStk% metric, but with K/9 ratios that did not quite match. As a result, I suggested these pitchers may see their strikeout rates increase in the near future. This time I will perform a similar exercise, but using a slightly different methodology. Instead, I have ranked each pitcher in the SwStk% and K/9 metrics and then compared these rankings to determine which pitchers ranked much better in SwStk% than K/9. These are the potential K/9 upside guys.

Josh Tomlin was one of the biggest surprises over the first two months, having posted a 2.74 ERA. Of course, a huge amount of luck was needed to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA as his xFIP were close to 4.00. With a fastball that averages just 87.4 miles per hour, it is no surprise that his K/9 is just 5.1. However, that SwStk%, which is actually above league average, and his Contact% which is only slightly worse than league average, suggest a K/9 at least around the 6.0 mark. He has done that at every minor league stop. After his last two starts allowing six runs in each of them, his ERA regression may be over. AL-Only leaguers should feel better about acquiring him, as his fantasy owners might be thinking their opportunity to sell high has ended and would relish the chance to trade him away while he still has value.

I have written about Jeremy Hellickson several times, most recently a week ago when looking at the largest differences between ERA and xFIP. That xFIP, though, is being inflated by a K/9 that should be much higher based on SwStk% and Contact%. Though Hellickson’s ERA still has some regressing to do, a likely rise in strikeout rate should limit that increase.

Philip Humber has also been one of the luckiest pitchers in baseball, thanks to a .223 BABIP and 5.3% HR/FB ratio. That good fortune has caused the White Sox to go with a six-man rotation while Jake Peavy was healthy. Al-Only leaguers and mixed leaguers thinking they were catching lightning in a bottle may want to check out that xFIP of 4.04 and xFIP- right at the league average. However, His SwStk% and Contact% are right near league average, suggesting that weak 5.1 K/9 should rise. Of course, as a fly ball pitcher in a hitter’s park, it will be tough to avoid the major ERA regression coming even if that strikeout rate increases a bit.

I was a major Carlos Carrasco fan before the season, but an elbow injury and a disappointing 5.2 K/9 has dampened my optimism. Like Tomlin and Humber though, Carrasco’s SwStk% and Contact% are right near the league average, hinting at strikeout rate upside. More intriguing is that he has maintained his control improvement from last season and remains a strong ground ball pitcher. If he is truly over his elbow woes, he is a nice second half sleeper.

Hiroki Kuroda always finds his name on this list, which gives myself some hope as I always seem to own him. However, he consistently posts lower than league average called strike rates, which could factor into that lower strikeout rate than expected. He has been in quite a funk with his control lately and you have to wonder if all those sliders are taking a toll on his elbow. Assuming he is healthy though, he may be the one name on this list where one should not expect much of an improvement in strikeout rate.

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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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Jeffrey Gross
Jeffrey Gross