It is hard for me to go very long without writing an article that focuses on SwStk%. It is like the equivalent of having a man-crush, but the object of my affection is actually a statistical metric. Maybe I have a metric-crush? Below are the five pitchers who experienced the biggest increases in their SwStk% from 2010 to 2011.
Early on, Matt Garza was having a truly strange season. His strikeout rate was through the roof and he was enjoying a fantastic SIERA, but a terrible BABIP and awful LOB% luck inflated his ERA well above what you would expect. But then, as should have been expected, everything was right again in the world. Garza finished with an ERA nearly identical to his SIERA and the saberists cheered. Garza had always been thought to have really good stuff, yet his historical SwStk% marks made us question this idea. Finally, in 2011, he easily posted a career best mark, well above his previous high of 8.8%. It is easy to see what caused this bump in swings and misses. He threw his fastball nearly 20 percentage points less than last year, while increasing the use of his three other pitches, the slider, curve ball and change-up. The fastball will always induce the fewest swinging strikes, so this is clearly the explanation here. If he keeps up this new pitch mix, he should be able to sustain the nice strikeout rate jump.
Zack Greinke enjoyed his move to the National League, though he wasn’t much of a fan of his new defense or home ballpark. Despite losing a mile per hour on his fastball, his SwStk% jumped above 10.0% for the first time. He threw his curve ball more frequently and just about doubled its whiff rate. Although he threw his change-up less, he got swings and misses nearly 70% more often. Without such a dramatic shift in his pitch mix, it is tough to believe his pitches suddenly became that much more effective, though facing the pitcher certainly helped his SwStk% regardless of how much the quality of his offerings may have changed. I think we definitely see a strikeout rate decline next year, though that is rather obvious to predict given his 10.5 K/9 this year. So I think his SwStk% drops, while his K/9 falls to around a batter per inning.
Doug Fister really only appears here because of how pathetic he was at inducing swinging strikes last year. The good news is his average fastball velocity crept up to 90 miles per hour, while he threw it much less often, in favor of his slider and curve ball. That should give one hope that maybe his SwStk% rises a bit again next year and his strikeout rate reaches to mid-6.0 range. That would certainly help to fight off some of the regression in his ERA we are bound to see next year and may allow him to generate some mixed league fantasy value.
Josh Beckett hates ERA. Even though his skills have been rather consistent every single year, except for 2006, his ERA has jumped all over the place. Despite an average fastball velocity that dipped to its lowest ever level, his SwStk% jumped above 10.0% for the first time since 2005. Previously, it had been stuck in the 8.0%-9.0% range for five straight seasons. Some of how he accomplished this was by throwing his fastball a bit less and using his cutter and change-up more often. Surprisingly, he used his trademark curve ball the least often since 2005. If it weren’t for a .245 BABIP, Beckett’s strikeout rate would have been higher than the 8.2 he posted this year, as his K% was well above last season’s, yet the strikeout rate didn’t budge. Fantasy owners need to be weary that Beckett could very well be overvalued next year given his good fortune in 2011, but he has always had the skills and could easily be a top 10 pitcher in any given year.
Chris Volstad had a breakout year by SIERA and xFIP standards, but of course all three luck metrics conspired against him to prevent his ERA from agreeing. Volstad primarily appears on this list because of the decline in SwStk5 he experienced last season. However, in 2009, he posted a 7.4% mark, so this year did not truly represent any real skill gains. Volstad showed some nice control growth and is a heavy ground ball pitcher, though his below average strikeout rate will limit his fantasy upside. However, one of these years he will either learn how to strand runners better or simply get luckier and he will generate a nice profit for NL-Only owners.