2018 Spring Training Starting Pitcher K% Surgers – A Review

At the end of spring training, I identified and discussed 10 pitchers whose spring training strikeout rate was significantly higher than my Pod Projection K%. Though the vast majority of spring training stats are completely meaningless, I did find many years ago that strikeout and walk rates do hold some predictive value. So let’s see how these 10 pitchers ended up performing.

2018 Spring K% Surgers
Player Spring K% Pod Projected K% Actual K% Diff
Jack Flaherty 38.10% 21.4% 29.6% 8.2%
Blake Snell 39.70% 24.7% 31.6% 6.9%
Madison Bumgarner 36.10% 24.2% 19.8% -4.4%
Mike Clevinger 34.70% 24.0% 25.6% 1.6%
Amir Garrett 30.90% 20.5% 26.9% 6.4%
Paul Blackburn 23.00% 13.0% 16.0% 3.0%
Brent Suter 28.40% 18.5% 19.8% 1.3%
Kyle Hendricks 31.50% 21.9% 19.8% -2.1%
Tyler Glasnow 33.80% 24.6% 29.1% 4.5%
Sal Romano 29.00% 19.9% 16.3% -3.6%

You could argue that my Pod Projections were bad if you want, but seven of the 10 names did indeed increase their strikeout rate, potentially lending credence to the idea that a dramatic spring strikeout rate surge is meaningful.

Since graduating from the Rookie level in 2014, Jack Flaherty had never posted a minor league strikeout rate above 25.6%. Then something clearly clicked in 2018 and we got that hint during spring training. His velocity didn’t increase versus 2017, and the only real change was increased usage of his slider. That’s smart, because the slider is quite the weapon, inducing a SwStk% over 20% during his 2017 debut and again in 2018.

Jackpot on Blake Snell! I was a big fan heading into the year based on the SwStk% marks on his various pitches, but sadly didn’t own any shares. He actually did gain velocity and also doubled the usage of his curve ball, which was one of two pitches generating a mid-20% SwStk% (the other was his slider). Daaaaaaaamn. A ridiculous .241 BABIP/88% LOB% combination points to obvious regression in 2019, but the strikeouts are here to stay. And if he sharpens his control, then a legit sub-3.00 ERA without the aid of good fortune could be in his future.

Madison Bumgarner only pitched a little more than half the season after missing time with injury, but his strikeout rate fell again to its lowest mark since 2010. You wouldn’t know it looking solely at his ERA though, thanks to a serious outperformance of his SIERA. I’m not touching him in 2019 at his likely cost.

While Mike Clevinger didn’t end up significantly outperforming my strikeout rate projection, his spring mark did suggest his 2017 strikeout rate spike was for real. Getting that walk rate below 10% was key, but I still won’t bet on another 79% LOB%.

With a full season in the bullpen, I thought Amir Garrett could be an elite reliever, especially after his scintillating spring. That didn’t happen, but he did still destroy my strikeout rate projection. If he remains in a relief role, I would bet he earns some value in NL-Only leagues next year.

Though he missed time to injury, Paul Blackburn did manage to boost his strikeout rate back to his minor league levels. Doesn’t matter though as even that level is far too low to be playable in fantasy.

Brent Suter lasted about half the season before succumbing to an elbow injury that required TJ surgery. His fastball velocity was up (from insanely low to just very, very low), which likely helped him boost his strikeout rate marginally toward the league average.

For a second straight season, Kyle Hendricks’s strikeout rate has declined and SIERA has jumped above 4.00. Somehow I managed to buy him in my local league, but that may be the last time! I would be too afraid to roster him at his likely price given the soft skills.

Tyler Glasnow alternated between starting and relieving for the season, as he was a full-time reliever in Pittsburgh, before joining the rotation in Tampa. But impressively, his strikeout rate was rather similar in both roles. His spring performance hinted at his massive strikeout rate upside and he didn’t lose any velocity in a starting role. The key here will be his ability to maintain his control gains with Tampa. If he does, he’s an obvious breakout candidate. He’ll surely be a popular sleeper, so he may not come all that cheap.

Despite possessing a mid-90s fastball, Sal Romano struggles generating swings and misses. I don’t know what the problem is here, but his slider is pretty solid to go along with a fastball that peaked at nearly 98 mph. He’s a guy that might suddenly break out one of these years, but now he’s merely a cheap flyer in NL-Only leagues.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Regarding Romano, I always got the impression he was trying to pitch to contact. Pitching that way seems like it would artificially lower his K%.