On Tuesday, George Bissell broke down the landscape around the league with respect to strikeouts. Unsurprisingly, he found that K’s are continuing to rise for both starters and relievers. However, with the shrinking workloads being given to starters, it’s getting harder and harder to find those true fantasy assets who can accrue massive strikeout totals. Today, we will look at some of the pitchers who over performed or under performed their expected value in this category.
PECOTA: 110 Ks, 8.3 K/9. Actual: 218 Ks, 11.3 K/9
You can’t talk about strikeout overachievers without mentioning Robbie Ray as quickly as possible. The jury is still out on what exactly Ray is as a starting pitcher in this league, but he was a fantasy force in 2016. Most of that production came on the back of these strikeouts, which were supported by a 27 percent swinging strike rate and a 30 percent O_Swing rate, both of which were career bests. Ray also added almost two miles per hour on his fastball, and incorporating his breaking balls more, which yielded the highest whiff rates of any of his offerings. It’s fair to expect some regression coming from him next year, but at just 25 years old, Ray is just entering his prime and has the stuff to be a strikeout-per-inning guy for the next few years.
PECOTA: 171 Ks, 8.3 K/9. Actual: 207 Ks, 10.6 K/9
It’s hard for Yankee pitchers to fly under the radar, but Pineda may have successfully done just that in 2016. The long ball continued to be an issue for him, which caused his ERA to balloon, but he rode his high strikeout totals to a 2.58 DRA. He relied heavily on a two-pitch mix — a cutter and a slider — which probably contributed to the aforementioned home run issues but also resulted in a high whiff rate. He already owned a relatively high swinging strike rate, and it took another step forward to 31 percent last year. That was the third-highest rate in the majors. Dingers will continue to hurt his ERA, but the strikeouts should continue moving forward.
PECOTA: 135 Ks, 7.4 K/9. Actual: 189 Ks, 7.6 K/9
This past season was a banner year for Porcello in many ways, most notably with the Cy Young award now displayed in his house. Strikeouts are never going to be the main story for the righty, but they played a big part in his success in 2016. On a rate basis, he was actually right in line with the projections, relying on his workload to up his overall total. That’s still an important bit for fantasy owners, of course, as him crossing the 220-inning mark surely helped plenty of fantasy teams. There’s no reason to expect a downtick in his rates, meaning he should be a good bet for 180+ strikeouts once again if he stays healthy.
PECOTA: 132 Ks, 7.2 K/9. Actual: 188 Ks, 9.4 K/9
This was a true breakout campaign for Duffy, who split the year between the rotation and the bullpen. It wouldn’t have been a wild assumption to this his time as a reliever would’ve heavily boosted his strikeout rate, but he maintained a 9.3 K/9 as a starter. For Duffy, the biggest key was his newfound ability to get batters to chase pitches out of the zone. While he threw strikes at roughly the same rate as the rest of his career, he increased his O_Swing rate by four percentage points over his career average while decreasing opponents’ contact rate on those swings by seven percentage points. Although this is relatively late in his career to take such a big jump, he’d shown this potential earlier in his career, both in the majors and the minors.
PECOTA: 215 Ks, 9.2 K/9. Actual: 122 Ks, 7.2 K/9
Much like you can’t talk about overachieving pitchers without mentioning Ray, you can’t talk about the underachievers without bringing up Hernandez. King Felix was one of the most disappointing fantasy players regardless of position. A lack of innings — he threw just 153 frames in 2016 — certainly contributed to his lack of strikeouts, but the K-rate cratered as well. All of the expected signs are there. His swinging strike rate fell to its lowest level since 2010, he missed the zone more than he ever had before, and he lost more than a mile per hour on his fastball. We’ve seen Hernandez be too good for too long to completely write him off, but it’s hard not to be scared of his future right now.
PECOTA: 209 Ks, 8.5 K/9. Actual: 135 Ks, 6.7 K/9
Woof. While there is still optimism for Hernandez, it’s pretty much all run out for Shields. Formerly Mr. Dependable, his performance fell off a cliff in 2016, both with the Padres and the White Sox. Somewhat surprisingly, he didn’t see a massive decrease in his swinging strike rate compared to his career. Instead, it was just that hitters made more contact on pitches in the zone than ever before. That is an indictment on his stuff, as he’s becoming easier to hit, and likely also easier to predict. I can’t imagine that trend getting any better next year.
PECOTA: 200 Ks, 8.4 K/9. Actual: 134 Ks, 7.6 K/9
The biggest issue for Greinke here, kind of like an anti-Porcello, was a lack of innings. Typically a 200-inning workhorse, he threw only 158 this past year over 26 starts. He was certainly roughed up more often than usual, which led to earlier hooks. A shoulder injury ended his season prematurely, but the good news is it doesn’t seem like something that should have a lasting effect. Even with the shortened workload, though, the rate lagged behind his previous seasons. Like Shields, Greinke saw a big rise in his contact rate on pitches in the zone. In fact, among the 117 pitchers who threw at least 2000 pitches, only ten allowed more contact on strikes. It’s hard to rack up K's if you can’t get ahead of your opponent.
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