April 14, 2017
Three Surprising Strikeout Surgers
In 2016, the Blue Jays lefty was one of the most surprising fantasy pitchers in all of baseball, finishing as a top-15 arm on ESPN’s Player Rater at the end of the year. Of course, much of that was built on the back of a 20-win season and a 3.18 ERA with peripherals that didn’t match up. This year, it’s going a little differently. We are, of course, just a couple weeks into the season and Happ has only made two starts. In those two starts, he has struck out 17 batters in just 11.2 innings. This 13.1 K/9 is a huge jump over his typical rate—around seven or eight per nine innings. The results haven’t exactly gone along with his big strikeout rate, but if he keeps whiffing batters like this he’ll be just fine.
Of course, whether or not he can keep up this small-sample performance is a big question. Looking a little bit deeper, there are some mixed signals. On the one hand, his swinging-strike rate hasn’t changed much from last year, when he struck out just 7.5 per nine. However, he is having much more success on pitches out of the zone. On those pitches, he is both inducing a much higher rate of swings while also allowing much less contact on those swings. Part of that is because of a repertoire change that has him throwing sinkers a lot more often, per Brooks Baseball. It’s been a successful change, as he’s inducing whiffs on a quarter of the swings against the pitch. Happ certainly isn’t going to keep this up, but he has had high strikeout rates early in his career and struck out a batter per inning as recently as 2012. With some of the changes he’s made, it wouldn’t surprise me if he could get back to something close to that level in 2017.
Volquez is coming off a hugely disappointing season in which he pitched to a 5.37 ERA in his final season with the Royals. The Marlins were willing to pony up for a two-year deal for him this winter, and the early returns on the 33-year-old are encouraging. Specifically, with regard to strikeouts, the righty is setting down 10.6 per nine innings. It’s a huge leap forward after striking out just 6.6 per nine a year ago. In fact, he’s had exactly one full season in which struck out at least a batter per inning in his 13 years in the majors.