Pitching by the Numbers: Special Ks

Mike Fiers (USAT)
Mike Fiers (USAT)

Baseball has changed dramatically in recent years and, in pitching, that requires us to rethink what makes a strikeout rate or walk rate good or bad.

Usually we index stats to allow us to compare players of different eras. But I think it’s imperative that we index strikeout and walk numbers for the new game, where strikeouts are much higher and walks much lower than ever before. So the old rules of what makes pitchers valuable in creating category advantages above the league average must be adjusted, too.

I adjusted strikeout rate for the league average strikeout rate, which is now an all-time high 20.4%. I used the percentages because that’s what the stat feed had and I’m tired of arguing about such a marginal issue. It barely matters if you did the same thing with K/9 instead of K%. But to further help you assess, note the average K/9 last year throughout major league baseball was 7.73/9 (for only starters it was 7.38). These are not typos. The important thing is that you adjust strikeouts for the league average, however you do it, so you know exactly what you are drafting. Here’s the complete list from last year with all starting pitchers who logged at least 50 innings, a level at which I think K rates are bettable.  Of course, how bettable they are from year to year is another issue. Remember, too, that nothing is ever bankable.

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To be clear, 100 in adjusted K% (or K%+) equals the league average and a number above it is better and below it worse. All we do is divide the pitcher’s K% by the MLB average.  Next week, we’ll do the same with walks.

There is one shocker in the Top 10:

Mike Fiers? It’s uncertain he’ll even be in the Brewers rotation but he sure should be, given his performance last year. The problem is that the radar gun hates him. And he burned me (and I guess readers who followed that recommendation) in 2013. But again, his price was so low that he only did whatever stat damage you allowed before dropping him. This year, he’s ADP is 186th as the 73rd pitcher off the board, according to FantasyPros.  At that price, why not?

Petit is also a guy I’d roster late. His ADP is 268. He should be considered a swing man but could provide helpful ratios without hurting you too badly in strikeout totals. Plus he could ascend into the rotation given his 2014 performance.

Let’s look at the other pitchers in the top 30 in adjusted K%:

Again, I can’t talk enough about what bargains deGrom (92nd overall) and especially McHugh (187th) are. Salazar is even cheaper at 230th overall and I know he burned us last year but that’s making him extra cheap now. His 2014 rebound is clearly not priced in. And Odorizzi is 216th, too. That's four guys right there for a late pitcher strategy, although we will get into this in explicit detail with much better ADP data in March, using (Ks minus BB)/IP.

But just as there are pitchers our models like, there are those whose strikeout performance is unhelpful or even a drag. 

Sonny Gray tops that unhelpful list. Why is his ADP 75th with an average K%? Alex Wood goes over a round later. Even Gerrit Cole goes later than Gray. And taking Gray over Cole is plain nuts. Just leave your wallet on the table and exit the draft room if you do that after reading this.

Tehran’s adjusted Ks is just 103 (meaning three percent above average), so you can’t take him anywhere near his ADP of 66th overall. Give me Carrasco over him, but of course I don’t have to come close to actually drafting Carrasco over Tehran. Carrasco is going three-to-four rounds later — so fantasy baseball is just begging you to listen to me.

It’s also instructive to note the following pitchers who some regard highly but who are no better than average in Ks (some are even slightly below): Homer Bailey, Cliff Lee, Michael Pineda, Yordano Ventura (though I stipulate growth can come as long as you do not pay for it), Adam Wainwright, Anibal Sanchez, John Lackey and — underline and bold this — James Shields.

I expect an argument from people who stubbornly like these pitchers (or who have already drafted them): “But they will pitch so many innings that they are giving you more Ks despite their percentages.” Okay, but Yahoo caps innings and regardless buying Ks with innings is dangerous because pitchers are more likely to perform poorly late in games, when they are more tired. You want guys like Scherzer and Strasburg who pile up Ks in six dominant innings and then hand the ball over to someone else.