Potential 2021 Starting Pitcher Walk Rate Surgers

Yesterday, I compared starting pitcher spring training strikeout rates to Steamer projected strikeout rates to assemble a list of pitchers with potential strikeout rate upside this season. Today, let’s do the same with walk rate.

The caveat here is that because walks occur less frequently than strikeouts, walk rate fluctuates significantly more than strikeout rate over small samples. They obviously both fluctuate wildly, but the smaller walk numerator means larger gyrations. As a result, I would be less weight into this list than the strikeout rate list. So while these names are still worth noting, I haven’t and won’t actually change my projections, as the sample sizes are just too small. Also note that the gap between spring training and projected marks is much smaller than on the strikeout rate side.

BB% Improvers
Player Spring BB% Steamer Projected BB% BB% Diff
Austin Gomber 2.8% 10.1% -7.3%
Kenta Maeda 1.5% 7.8% -6.3%
Tyler Anderson 2.5% 8.6% -6.1%
Logan Webb 3.3% 9.2% -5.9%
Marcus Stroman 2.7% 8.0% -5.2%
Ian Anderson 6.2% 11.1% -4.9%
Walker Buehler 2.6% 7.4% -4.9%

In real baseball, Austin Gomber was a nice acquisition for the Rockies. For fantasy owners, that’s one less sleeper to monitor as he now plays in one of the most favorable hitting environments in baseball. Gomber’s historical walk rates have been up and down, so it’s hard to get a good read on his true talent level. Improved control here could really make Gomber a nice find and perhaps make him stream-worthy during his road starts.

Steamer is pretending that Kenta Maeda’s last year literally didn’t happen, and in terms of its projected strikeout rate, that the rest of his career didn’t either since it’s forecasting a career low mark. It’s actually not unreasonable to project the walk rate Steamer is, given that Maeda posted marks just above 8% in both 2018 and 2019. However, his sterling Spring suggests that maybe last year’s career best 4% walk rate was a new level of performance, rather than a small sample fluke. I’m fairly confident he’ll beat all the projection systems forecasting an ERA of at least 4.00, making THE BAT the only one anywhere close.

Getting out of Colorado did nothing for Tyler Anderson’s skills, who actually posted the worst SIERA of his career last season, despite playing his first season as not a Rockie, but a Giant. Now a Pirate, he needs to reverse that skills decline by bumping his strikeout rate back up, restoring some semblance of control, and getting his batted ball profile more normalized so it’s not so heavy on line drives and fly balls. It’s a lot to ask for, but his spring training is providing a small glimmer of hope that a rebound is coming. That screams NL-Only sleeper.

So not only did Logan Webb make the strikeout rate surger list, but he appears here as well. Webb has posted a walk rate as high as 11.9% in the minors, but also as low as 6.0%, so again, it’s difficult go gauge what expectations should be set at. His dominating Spring, which includes both a jump in strikeout rate and improved control makes him look like a prime cheap target.

Marcus Stroman was my bold NL ERA leader, but his Spring walk rate had nothing to do with my choice there. Steamer is projecting him to tie his career high in walk rate this season, which is well above his 6.9% career average. This will be his first full season in the NL, which could result in a career high strikeout rate and better walk rate than expected.

The biggest knock on Ian Anderson is his control. He has posted double digit walk rates during four of seven minor league stints, and again during his MLB debut last year. With consistently strong strikeout rates, getting his control…under control, is one of the few things that might hold him back from a breakout year supported by his skills. If we get a mid-to-high single digit walk rate, instead of a mark in double digits, he’ll blow away expectations.

Walker Buehler hasn’t exactly struggled with his control and is already an elite option. But his walk rate spiked last season to a career worst, if you ignore his 9.1 inning 2017 debut, and Steamer sees barely a rebound this year. A walk rate rebound should help reverse his rising SIERA trend, but he also needs to fix that worrisome batted ball profile, which has become increasingly line drive and fly ball heavy.

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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As noted, Anderson’s BB rate is going to be a huge factor in determining if he is top-20 SPer. Every peripheral he had in the minors but the walk rate was solid – ground ball rates 46% range, LOB average, K rates 28% and above, BABIP’s pretty normal. His strong suits are the very high pop-up rates (a repeatable skill, remember) and the fact that his delivery releases the ball closer to home plate than all but ONE pitcher, Tyler Glasnow. If Anderson keeps the walk rate below 10%, he is going to be stellar.