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How to Win 2014: Strikeouts

The Award-Winning* How to Win series is back this year, and starting with Strikeouts. We’ll tour each of the ten 5x5 categories over the course of the preseason to examine data about the category’s leaders, identify surprise players, and discuss various strategies for winning the category.

*I literally just gave myself an award. It is scribbled on a napkin and stuffed into my pocket. Feel free to extend congratulations in the comments.

Strikeouts are an easy category to win. It’s simple. Stream pitchers like crazy and rack up 50% more innings than the next best team. You’ll win. Guaranteed. You’ll probably win Wins, too. If you follow this simple strategy and don’t win…stream more pitchers until you’ve got it.

Article done. 

Unless, of course, you want to win (or at least compete) in WHIP and ERA, play with a transaction limit (do you?), or an innings cap, or make your roster changes weekly. So I guess there’s more work to do than that. 

Winning any category (or getting points from the stat, if that’s how you roll) depends heavily on your format, and I’m not just talking about the big, obvious stuff like roto scoring vs. head-to-head, or categories vs. points, or daily vs. weekly roster moves. Are your innings capped at 1500 or 1400? Are your transactions limited by week or month, all year, or not at all? How many players can you keep on your bench? All these things and more will change your focus on how to win Strikeouts.

That’s why I’m including 2013’s top 12 Strikeout leaders by three separate measurements: raw whiff totals, K/9, and K%. Each measurement has its uses. Why the top 12? Think of it as—potentially—each team’s best contributor in the category.

Total Strikeouts (min. 130 IP—like it matters here)

 

Player

SO

1

Yu Darvish

277

2

Max Scherzer

240

3

Clayton Kershaw

232

4

Chris Sale

226

5

Cliff Lee

222

6

Adam Wainwright

219

7

Justin Verlander

217

8

Felix Hernandez

216

9

Jeff Samardzija

214

10

A.J. Burnett

209

11

Anibal Sanchez

202

12

Cole Hamels

202

 The first thing we notice about these names and numbers is that there’s a pretty big difference between Darvish and anyone else. In fact, he’s almost as far away from Scherzer at number two, as he is from Hamels and Sanchez. If you want elite in Strikeouts, he’s in a class of his own, and he’s the only pitcher in baseball who appears to have a credible chance of cracking 300 like Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson.

Notice also that the difference between Darvish and the 12th spot on the list is roughly equivalent to the Strikeouts you’d get from a mid-level closer. That’s like getting a roster slot for free. 

Obviously, not everyone can draft Darvish, and there might be good reasons not to, (okay, probably not?) but the other guys on this list will provide some pretty serious value. While some are elite pitchers making more money per season than anyone else ever has, others are…well, maybe retiring. The point is that most elite Strikeout artists are simply amazing pitchers and come with similarly high draft or auction prices—but there are exceptions. 

Consider Burnett and Samardzija, as well as Hamels (whose stock may have fallen), and Sanchez (who might not be believed as an ace yet) from this list. Also consider some of these guys, all with 180 whiffs or more: Homer Bailey (if the hype isn’t too frenzied), Lance Lynn (if he keeps his job), Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tim Lincecum, and C.J. Wilson. Note that this isn’t just a list of the next guys sorted by Strikeouts, but a handful of non-elite pitchers who miss bats.

K/9 (min. 130 IP)

 

Player

K/9

1

Yu Darvish

11.89

2

Max Scherzer

10.08

3

Anibal Sanchez

9.99

4

A.J. Burnett

9.85

5

Jose Fernandez

9.75

6

Ubaldo Jimenez

9.56

7

Felix Hernandez

9.51

8

Chris Sale

9.49

9

Stephen Strasburg

9.39

10

Scott Kazmir

9.23

11

Francisco Liriano

9.11

12

Justin Masterson

9.09

Obviously, there’s a lot of repetition between this list and the last…but there are some key differences, and this is the measurement you’ll want to focus on in a roto style league with an innings cap. The lower your cap or the deeper your league, the more you’ll want to focus on the Strikeout rate over the raw total.

It’s interesting to note that a few more aces fall out of elite status by this measure. You can get serious production from apparently fringy guys by concentrating on K/9—though pitchers like Jimenez and Masterson may will harm you in WHIP.

Here are some more pitchers with quality K/9 rates that won’t be priced like an ace: Matt Moore (8.56), Alex Cobb (8.41), Corey Kluber (8.31), Hector Santiago (8.28), Ryan Dempster (8.25), Julio Teheran (8.24), Ian Kennedy (8.09).

Tony Cingrani (104.2 IP, 10.32 K/9), Tyson Ross (94, 9.29), Marco Estrada (123, 8.20), Todd Redmond (69.2, 9.35), Josh Johnson (81.1, 9,18), and Sonny Gray (60, 9.15) all helped out in Strikeouts despite limited time. Of course, they didn’t all help out in the other categories….

K% (min. 130 IP)

 

Player

K%

1

Yu Darvish

32.90%

2

Max Scherzer

28.70%

3

Jose Fernandez

27.50%

4

Anibal Sanchez

27.10%

5

Felix Hernandez

26.30%

6

Stephen Strasburg

26.10%

7

Chris Sale

26.10%

8

A.J. Burnett

26.10%

9

Clayton Kershaw

25.60%

10

Cliff Lee

25.30%

11

Ubaldo Jimenez

25.00%

12

Madison Bumgarner

24.80%

Yu stands very tall here again, overshadowing the fact that the difference between Scherzer and Fernandez is also very large. It’s clear that these two guys are the top Strikeout pitchers no matter the format…but you already knew that.

 

Kershaw, Lee, and Bumgarner crack this list but not K/9, and that tells us a little bit about the nature of K%, and the difference between the two stats. It’s subtle, but the difference between Strikeouts as a percentage of total batters faced, and Strikeouts per inning is important: pitchers with a K% better than their K/9 are getting more batters out in other ways and facing fewer batters. It means they get fewer whiffs…but it also means they put fewer hitters on base.

Clay Buchholz (23.1 K%), Mike Minor (22.1%), Hisashi Iwakuma (21.4%), Gerrit Cole (21.3%), Mat Latos (21.2%), and Chris Tillman (21.2%) all whiffed over 21% of their batters but had K/9 rates under 8.00. Unsurprisingly, all turned out pretty good results.

 Don’t Forget Relievers 

Below are the top Strikeout relievers, with closers omitted. You and I both know you’ll be ranking your closers based on how many whiffs they generate, and that the best ones won’t come cheap. All I’ll say on the matter is this: don’t waste a roster slot on a closer who doesn’t strike people out. 

In a lot of formats, there’s no room for non-closing relievers, I know. But for the formats in which you can use them, they can make a difference. Check out some of the top relievers for raw strikeouts. If you want your relievers to make a difference (in any format), you need them to generate the counting stats—an elite K/9 and K% is a given; the trick is pitching enough innings to matter. 

 

Player

SO

1

Cody Allen

88

2

A.J. Ramos

86

3

Josh Collmenter

85

4

Luke Hochevar

82

5

Steve Delabar

82

6

Charlie Furbush

80

7

Craig Stammen

79

8

Adam Ottavino

78

9

Jake McGee

75

10

David Carpenter

74

11

Oliver Perez

74

12

Kelvin Herrera

74

The best Strikeout artists seem to end up in the ninth, but these guys can help out fantasy teams under the radar. A lot of them aren’t even typical closers-in-waiting, which means you can nab your favorite one(s) with the last pick(s) of the draft. Reliever usage and performance is, of course, hugely variable, so consider this a starting point for padding the category, not a true guide to the next year’s highest Strikeout totals.

Differentiated Strategies

I said before that different formats require different strategies. Check out a few of your options.

Yahoo! Head-to-Head Style

Daily changes, shallow rosters, and no innings cap. In leagues like this, I’d try to get bulk strikeouts from a couple studs, and then focus on quality K% from two to four mid-rotation types (depending on what kind of funds you want to allocate to pitching). I’d finish it up in one of three ways: grab a couple high-risk guys with good K/9’s, find some high-volume relievers, or stream away with a roster spot or two.

Standard Roto

Daily changes and an innings cap—usually about 1500 IP. Every inning, every out counts. Figure you’re splitting your innings between five to seven starters in order to hit your limit. Concentrate on K% for balance and add relievers to improve ERA and WHIP, or lower-level starters with good K/9 for Wins.

Weekly Changes or Limited Transactions 

These situations throw streaming out the window, and they aren’t great for relieves either. Usually such leagues let you have a deep bench, so my usual strategy in this format is to draft two aces and a bunch of high K/9 arms and play the matchups.

If you do have a short bench in this format—or league with more than 12 teams—I’d emphasize risk mitigation and look for K% above everything else.

Check us out again next week, for a look at our first hitting category: the enigmatic Stolen Base.




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