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Strikeouts & The Starting Pitchers That Get 'Em

  • There is no question: the strikeout is a pitcher's holy grail. Unlike other "outcomes" the strikeout always produces an out and leaves no chance for a runner to advance. Strikeouts represent the lowest run impact out of all possible batter/pitcher sequences.
  • In fantasy baseball the strikeout is a standard category; it's also a statistic that shows levels of reliability as early as 150 batters faced; quicker than any other pitching stat. Or in other words: we don't need a large sample-size to figure out which pitchers can, and cannot strike batters out. And what pitchers will, and will-not strike batters out--going forward.
  • Strikeouts are also ballpark and defense defensible. It doesn't matter if a SP is in Colorado with three Jack Cust's and 4 Derek Jeter's in the outfield and infield respectively; if he can induce strikeouts, he's likely to succeed regardless.
  • In most cases, the fantasy team with the most strikeouts is competitive in the other pitching categories as well. It makes more sense to target the strikeout as an indicator of future ERA, than it's to target a pitchers past ERA as an indicator of future ERA.

With all that being said, lets look at the top 20 SP with the best K rate last season (pitchers that qualified), and see where they're being drafted as per Mock Draft Central's ADP data.

* Most places use K/9 (strikeout per nine innings), but thanks to THT, we can take it a step further, and look at K/G (works as: strikeouts per batter faced).

1. Tim Lincecum 11.1 K/G | 227 IP | 2.62 ERA | 27.43 ADP
By far the best K/G, and he's going a round later then Santana. Lincecum is my #1 SP in '09.

2. Edinson Volquez 9.5 K/G | 196 IP | 3.21 ERA | 110.48 ADP
Volquez has a problem with walks, but a lot of young SPs do. He has elite upside, and going in the 9th round in 12 team leagues.

3. A.J. Burnett 9.3 K/G | 221.3 IP | 4.07 ERA | 98.18 ADP
Has a reputation for being injured, but has averaged 193 IP over his last two seasons.

4. Ervin Santana 9.2 K/G | 219 IP | 3.66 ERA | 89.05 ADP
Flashed excellent peripherals last season--to go a long with his top 5 K/G. I'd have a hard time letting him fall to the 8th round in my draft. He's 26 years old; past the injury nexus, so I wouldn't worry too much about his 70 innings over 2007.

5. Josh Beckett 9.1 K/G | 174.3 IP | 4.03 ERA | 72.58 ADP
The above 3 pitchers represent better draft-day value--but Beckett's improved K rate (year over year, the last 2 seasons), is worth bringing attention to.

6. Jake Peavy 9.1 K/G | 173.7 IP | 2.85 ERA | 44.16 ADP
The subject of trade talks all offseason. No question: his fantasy value is highest at Petco. He's going almost 30 full picks ahead of Beckett; I'd rather have Beckett, and that isn't even considering their draft day cost.

7. Chad Billingsley 9.1 K/G | 200.7 IP | 3.14 ERA | 93.66 ADP
Both Volquez's and Billingsley's breakout seasons were legit, and both pitchers will provide value per their ADP. I'd take Volquez over Billingsley, though. And he can be had 20 picks later.

8. Dan Haren 9.1 K/G | 216 IP | 3.33 ERA | 57.85 ADP ADP
Haren's move to the NL increased his K rate substantially. He's a safe bet for 200+ innings, 200+ K's, and fantastic WHIP due to his elite walk rate. It's hard to make an argument--that puts him outside of the first tier.

9. Javier Vazquez 8.7 K/G | 208.3 IP | 4.67 ERA | 151.47 ADP
His peripherals outperformed his ERA and WHIP. A good bet to rebound to 2007 performance levels. At 151.47 ADP, he's a potential S.O.D.

10. Randy Johnson 8.6 K/G | 184 IP | 3.91 ERA | 154.85 ADP
RJ showed he could still fool hitters with the best of them; in his mid 40s no less. I don't see him slowing down in '09.

11. Ryan Dempster 8.5 K/G | 206.7 IP | 2.96 ERA | 150.08 ADP
Dempster won't likely match his 2008 ratios, but his excellent K rate last season validates his effectiveness. I'd take a flier on him in the early-middle rounds, well before 150th overall.

12. Cole Hamels 8.3 K/G | 227.3 IP | 3.09 ERA | 41.62 ADP
Has averaged 205 IP over his last two seasons. The concerns with injury that plagued the majority of his young pro career are well behind him. He's being drafted where he should be. Many of the names above represent better draft day value.

13. Ricky Nolasco 8.3 K/G | 212.3 IP | 3.52 ERA | 128.71 ADP
Came from seemingly nowhere and finished the season as one of the best pitchers in the National League. His K rate (and other peripherals) show that his season wasn't fluky. He's much more valuable than his 128 ADP. Definitely on my short list of pitchers to target this season.

14. Daisuke Matsuzaka 8.3 K/G | 167.7 IP | 2.90 ERA | 100.20 ADP
Low IP total (because of poor BB rate) suppresses his value, but he's an excellent strikeout pitcher. Other names above represent better draft day value.

15. Zach Greinke 8.3 K/G | 202.3 IP | 3.47 ERA | 152.66 ADP
Excellent pitcher, excellent story, what's not to like here? Another middle rounder who is worthy of a top 100 selection.

16. Ted Lilly 8.3 K/G | 204.7 IP | 4.09 ERA | 190.83 ADP
Very good, very undervalued.

17. Johan Santana 8.3 K/G | 234.3 IP | 2.53 ERA | 18.63 ADP
Let somebody else take him in the first two rounds; many of the players above will come at a better value. Put me on board with others worried about his declining peripherals.

18. Oliver Perez 8.2 K/G | 194 IP | 4.22 ERA | 228.80 ADP
Value hindered by lack of control. But still better than his 229 ADP suggests.

19. Roy Halladay 8.0 K/G | 246 IP | 2.78 ERA | 46.32 ADP
His K rate improved dramatically last season. He's definitely a first tier SP, and his peripherals suggest he has as much upside as anybody already mentioned.

20. Johnny Cueto 8.0 K/G | 174 IP | 4.81 ERA | 195 ADP
Like most young pitchers--he needs to work on his control. He had a fantastic 2.1 minor league BB/9; there's a good chance he figures out his control problems sooner rather than later. Only concern is injury risk until age 24.

Here are some pitchers that didn't qualify, but are worth mentioning:

1. Rich Harden 12.1 K/G | 148 IP | 2.07 ERA | 118.16 ADP
Made 25 starts, providing excellent value for anybody who drafted him last year. Injury questions still linger, but he's a safer selection now than he was last season.

2. John Smoltz 11.9 K/G | 28 IP | 2.57 ERA | 220.18 ADP
Just signed by the Red Sox, but can still miss bats with the best of them. Just last year he was a top 10 SP. Age and injury are a concern; his upside is probably similar to The Units '08 season, where he rebounded from what most thought was a career ending injury.

3. Hong-Chih Kuo 11.5 K/G | 80 IP | 2.36 ERA | 240.92 ADP
Amazing K rate. Surprisingly going un drafted in some leagues. If news breaks that he has a job in the Dodgers rotation, he becomes worthy of a middle round selection.

4. Joba Chamberlain 10.9 K/G | 2.60 ERA | 99.12 ADP
Starter or Reliever? Lots of potential, but still many questions linger.

5. Max Scherzer 10.8 K/G | 56 IP | 3.05 ERA | 181.60 ADP
I like Max, but he's still pretty raw. There's a lot of potential behind that 10.8 K/G, but several pitchers earlier mentioned are safer bets for a full seasons's worth of innings, and come at a better price.


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