Pitching by the Numbers: Strikeouts Minus Walks

Many sabermetricians prefer strikeouts minus walks to the more commonly available K/BB ratio. I agree. But I still use the latter mainly because none of the stats sites produce sortable strikeout-minus-walk lists.

But it’s easy enough to put one together ourselves in a spreadsheet. The missing element though is tethering it to innings pitched. So I simply divided the K minus BB total by the innings pitched (IP).

Those who read Pitching by the Numbers and follow me on Twitter (@MichaelSalfino) know my belief that strikeouts and walks are the keys to projecting pitching. And I really like this one hybrid stat very much for ranking purposes, too, since strikeout and walk rates repeat better than the other statistics (i.e., they are more bettable; remember, nothing is bankable). And I’m using only 2013 numbers because, in some cases, that’s all we have and also because pitchers can and do make lasting changes to their repertoires that especially affect strikeout rates – witness Justin Masterson last year and his slider usage with two strikes.

But before we chart this up, let’s review the 2014 Pitching by the Numbers archives for late arrivers.

[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

We began this year’s series by projecting Masahiro Tanaka, especially looking at strikeout rates in Japan relative to MLB and also breaking down 2013 OPS allowed to hitters by division.

And last week we looked at the high-strikeout closers that I believe offer value in allowing owners to wait longer to draft starting pitching without sacrificing strikeout rate, especially in innings-capped leagues.

I’ve listed below the top 30 in strikeouts minus walks (per inning) last year for starters (minimum 50 IP, more than for K rates to stabilize in season). And here’s a link to the full chart.

What can I say about Salazar? I love the guy this year based on where he’s being drafted. (I got him in the 13th round in this Yahoo! Experts Mock Draft and I know at least Andy Behrens was very upset about it.) Past results do not predict future performance. But two years ago in this column, my poster boy was Chris Sale as the explosive talent that was way too underrated. Last year it was Matt Harvey. This year, Salazar. (I should quit while I’m ahead.)

Speaking of Harvey, esteemed colleague Gene McCaffrey said it best in his must own fantasy baseball annual: “Postponed. No makeup date announced.” Harvey shows up here like he’s going to show up on all of my starting pitcher stats from 2013 because he was the best hurler in baseball last year.

But let’s focus on starters who are a value now based on this stat, relative to where they are being selected on average in Yahoo! drafts.

Sanchez costs a sixth-round pick, not bad considering he out-did Clayton Kershaw in this stat. Burnett’s ADP hasn’t caught up with his unretirement and signing with the Phillies, but you know he’s not going anywhere near Strasburg (despite Burnett leading the NL last year in even the more conventional K/9).

I’m not a big Cingrani fan because of his extreme reliance on the fastball while not being a ground-ball pitcher. But the purpose of this column is to look beyond these preferences and get objective data. When the two don’t align, I’ll bet against myself and on the data, always. But while Cingrani is a late-middle-round pick, Scott Kazmir is ignored until late in drafts despite finishing top 20 in our stat. Gray, Haren, Kluber and Estrada offer similar value, also at a lower price.

I can’t get behind Redmond, who may not even have a job, in standard formats. But in AL-only leagues, I’m all over him as a late, cheap pocket pick.

Johnson is bettable for me in mixed formats, pitching in San Diego. There’s a chance that he’s crossed over to “disappointing stat darling” but we don’t really get too many of those. And what is it going to cost you to roster Johnson? These late-round pitchers are all cuttable/streamable anyway.

You can tell how good a stat is by how well it aligns with the pitchers we all know are really good and really bad and (K-BB)/IP works very well. Note the few outliers on the down side though, meaning they are being drafted too highly.

Verlander is a guy to fade based on his ADP and this list. This does not mean I think Verlander stinks or, heaven forbid, that Todd Redmond is better. Let’s not get ridiculous. It does mean that it’s likely that Verlander is overvalued right now. It’s possible that last year’s Verlander numbers were fluky poor but I don’t think that’s likely. And Sanchez over Verlander relative to their respective ADPs, easily.

Some guys I like did not chart in the top 30 last year: R.A. Dickey (.472), Andrew Cashner (.463), Chris Archer (.490), Jarrod Parker (.360), Gio Gonzales (.593), Patrick Corbin (.595) and Masterson (.617). And I still like all these guys. Most -- especially Cashner, Archer and Parker -- I project better Ks from in 2014. And obviously we can’t all build our staffs around top 30 starters.

But you can focus on hitters and closers (the high strikeout ones, please) and get a staff of Salazar, Burnett, Cingrani, Gray, Kazmir, Haren and Kluber or Johnson, can you not? All are top 30 on this list.