Thinking outside the strikeout

As fantasy players we have a tendency to adore the strikeout and generally speaking, I agree with that adoration. After all, strikeouts are one of the four categories starters on your fantasy team can contribute to, and strikeout ability is a fundamental aspect of any good pitcher’s skill set. If a pitcher is going to get lit up, I’d rather he get rocked a Rich Harden-style four runs in five innings with eight strikeouts than a Fausto Carmona-style blockbuster of five runs in six innings with just one punchout.

Having said that, there are certain pitchers who are able to use guile, command, their defenses—everything except overpowering stuff—to get batters out and be successful at the major league level. Tom Glavine is the poster child for that type of pitcher I suppose.

Because of our fascination with the strikeout pitcher, sometimes pitchers who can still help our fantasy teams with solid ratios and win totals get overlooked. Below I will highlight three pitchers I feel will fit that description in 2010, and despite their mediocre strikeout numbers may be worth a spot in your fantasy rotation.

Rowland-Smith throwing his patented curveball in a game against the Angels. (Icon/SMI)

Ryan Rowland-Smith

Rowland-Smith is a 26-year-old (will be 27 for the 2010 season) pitcher for the Mariners and was born in Australia. He came up through the Mariners system primarily as a reliever and was converted to a starting pitcher in the middle of the 2008 season. In 253 career innings pitched from 2007 to 2009 he has a 3.62 ERA despite a 4.28 FIP and even uglier 4.78 xFIP.

Rowland-Smith is the type of pitcher who I can see consistently beating out his FIP numbers because he is currently situated in the perfect environment for him. He is primarily a flyball pitcher in Safeco, a home run-depressing park, and in front of one of the best defensive teams in the major leagues with Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro in the outfield, and Jack Wilson and Chone Figgins in the infield.

Despite having the skill set of a pitcher with an ERA in the mid-4.00s, Rowland-Smith can instead be expected to have an ERA around the 4.00 mark. Couple that with something around 10 wins and 100 strikeouts and you have yourself a pitcher I would not mind drafting in the last round of a draft, a place you can reasonably expect to find him.

Justin Duchscherer

Duchscherer is not a guy with blowaway stuff and as the joke goes, he throws “slow and slowerer.” In the same article former A’s catcher Jason Kendall said:

I remember when I was a kid, hearing my Dad (former big-league catcher Fred Kendall) saying some guy had such good control you could catch him in a rocking chair. I wasn’t sure what it meant then, but I do now. That’s what it’s like catching Duke.

Rocking chair or not, Duchscherer is someone who has proven himself a successful major league pitcher both as an elite reliever from 2003-06 and as an All-Star starter in 2008 when he posted a 2.54 ERA in 140 innings of work. Granted that season was buoyed by an unsustainable .240 BABIP, but even with normal regression most agree he would have finished the season with a still-great ERA in the mid-3.00s.

Duchscherer is playing in a similar situation to Rowland-Smith, with a defense that projects to be very good-to-elite behind him and in a definite pitcher’s park. The one thing holding him back is his health, both mental and physical. In 2007 his season was cut short by hip surgery, in 2008 he spent two stints on the DL due to biceps tendinitis and more hip problems, and he missed all of 2009 due to elbow surgery, back problems, and clinical depression.

Although he is well-rested and appears primed for a strong return to the majors, once a player is a large injury risk, he remains always an injury risk. I am confident in Duchscherer’s abilities when on the field, the trick though, is keeping him there every fifth day. Therefore I would not draft Duchscherer earlier than the last few rounds of a draft, and conveniently he should be available there in most drafts.

Scott Feldman

The third and final pitcher, Feldman is another converted starter who can provide fantasy value despite low strikeout numbers. As a 26-year-old, Feldman experience a breakout season in 2009, racking up 17 wins with a 4.08 ERA in 190 innings of work. A change in arm slot from a side-arm delivery to a three-fourths slot allowed for more sink on his fastball and the development of a

Feldman showcasing his three-quarters delivery and, well, lazy gloveside mechanics. (Icon/SMI)

devastating cutter that ranks as one of the best in the majors are seen as the reasons for his 2009 success.

Feldman was the recipient of some luck in the form of a .275 BABIP and a 9 percent HR/FB rate in home run-happy Arlington, so his 2010 ERA might rise a few points to around the 4.25 mark. However, the groundball tendencies of Feldman should help reduce the ill effects the Arlington ballpark has on its pitchers, and also the up-the-middle tandem of Elvis Andrus and Ian Kinsler is beneficial to any groundballer.

Overall with the strong Ranger offense providing him with good run support and subsequently a high win total, Feldman should provide fantasy owners with enough value to make a lat- round selection of him in a draft worth the minimal investment.

How an Ace Performance Impacts Reliever Workloads
Bullpenning has its advantages, but it's great when an elite starter eats up a bunch of innings, too.

Final thoughts

Strikeout pitchers may look especially appealing to fantasy owners, but that should not mean that pitchers who find other means of getting batters out should be ignored entirely since there are the few who succeed without generating tons of Ks. Strikeout pitchers, though, will always remain the most valuable and desirable to fantasy owners.

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t ball
t ball

It’s worth noting, FWIW, that Feldman’s career BaBIP is .284.  I think his K rate will bump up just a tad this year as he utilizes the cutter and settles into his 3rd year as a starter, maybe around 6 per 9.

Chris Purvis
Chris Purvis

While this is a useful strategy, maybe, in a league full of people devoted to advanced metrics, in most leagues ERA is over-valued and K’s are under-valued, so these sorts of pitchers (Rowland-Smith, Pineiro) will never come at the discount that would make them worthy of attention.


Anyway you cut it, losing Beltre at the hot corner is not good. These low K/9 players will bury you in the Ks category, ask anyone who rostered Pineiro in a roto league

Derek Carty
Derek Carty

I know ESPN’s Jason Grey (always a great source for scouting info) loved Scott Feldman around mid-season, citing his cutter, cleaned up mechanics, and a switch to a full windup that helped his control.

Chris, as you noted, I think these kind of guys are better suited for leagues with owners who have a grasp of things like xFIP and BABIP, and even then, probably more for AL-only formats.