Many fantasy players like to avoid starting pitchers with low strikeout rates, and rightly so. Often times, strikeout rate goes hand in hand with success as a starting pitcher. Many high strikeout pitchers also accumulate many wins and have low ERA and WHIPs. However, you don’t have to strike lots of batters out in order to be a successful pitcher at the major league level.
Baseball abounds with relatively low-risk players who are very solid pitchers but don’t get many strikeouts. Names like Chien-Ming Wang, Andy Sonnanstine, Derek Lowe, Aaron Cook, Kevin Slowey, and others don’t inspire visions of leading a fantasy team to the promised land, but they are often the best values in drafts. While they may not get that many strikeouts, these pitchers are likely to have a lot of wins, as well as low ERAs and WHIPs. Furthermore, because they are relatively low risk, they are still going to get their share of strikeouts. Over 180 innings, a pitcher who strikes out only 5.5 batters per nine innings will rack up 110 strikeouts. Sure, Joba Chamberlain might average a strikeout per inning, but if Joba only pitches 100 innings…well, you can do the math.
That’s not to say that Andy Sonnanstine is better than Joba Chamberlain; rather, it’s to say that Sonnanstine has more value than Joba, because of their respective draft positions. By drafting Sonnanstine you are sacrificing somewhat on strikeouts, but you’re enhancing your team because you are able to get Sonnanstine relatively late in the draft, allowing your team to stock up in something else (Power? Saves? Steals?) earlier.
Of course, it would be no good to come in last in your league in strikeouts, but this is unlikely even if you have several Andy Sonnanstines on your team. Remember, guy like Sonnanstine will still get a fair share of strikeouts simply because they are likely to pitch a lot of innings; furthermore, other teams are likely to experience injury and performance issues that will keep their pitchers’ strikeout totals down.
Also, there is nothing wrong with drafting some high strikeout pitchers as well. The best fantasy teams are a mix of risk and reward. Just keep in mind that while they may not be particularly sexy, there are some very valuable low strikeout pitchers who can fill out your staff for a relatively low price.