Recipe: Thinning The Herd With K/9, SwStr%, and pVals – Part 1

Sticky metrics refer to statistics that are highly correlated from year to year. Here’s an example. Among all qualified pitchers in 2022, Jordan Montgomery ranked 11th with a 12.9% swinging strike rate (SwStr%). Bringing the innings-pitched threshold down to 150 in 2021, he ranked ninth with a career-high 13.7%:

Jordan Montgomery's SwStr%

In every season except 2018, he’s had an above-average SwStr%. Projections don’t predict SwStr%, but if they did you could imagine that Montgomery would easily be projected above 12%.

SwStr% is sticky and correlated with K%. Using stats like SwStr% to do some sampling is a useful exercise. I wouldn’t have ever considered Jordan Montgomery if someone asked me to list solid number two fantasy starters. But, with SwStr%, I’ve seen the light. Like they say, draft skills, not stats. In this week’s exercise, I’ll take three sticky pitching skills metrics and use them to apply some query logic to the starting pitcher draft pool. Let’s create a little recipe called, “Thinning the Herd”. Here’s my ingredients list:

  • A SwStr% in 2022 of at least 11%. (2022 MLB SP average – 10.7%)
  • A K/9 projection (steamer) of eight or better. (2022 MLB SP average – 8.18)
  • Positive pVals (Pitch Info) on at least two pitches in 2022.
  • An ADP greater than 100.

Step 1: Preheat the oven to 425.
Step 2: Download steamer’s 2022 starting pitcher projections.
Step 3: Download 2022 starting pitcher stats (no IP min.)
Step 4: Download pitch info pVals and sort for pitchers who had at least two pitches with positive pVals in 2022 with at least 130 IP (arbitrary).

NOTE: That last 130 IP threshold is applied to all pitchers in the way I am merging datasets, so we can view this whole analysis with a 2022 130 minimum.

Bonus: After all that mixing, why not bring in some projected command stats? These have nothing to do with our query, but a little added spice will give us a little insight and strengthen our pallet.

K/BB 2022 MLB SP average – 2.89
K-BB% 2022 MLB SP average – 14.1%

Now mix it aaaalllll together and…yummy!:

Thinning The Herd
Name NFBC ADP 2022 SwStr% Proj K/9 Proj K/BB Proj K-BB%
Nestor Cortes 114 11.1 9.5 3.7 18.3
Kyle Wright 119 11.9 8.4 2.9 14.2
Luis Garcia 151 13.0 9.0 3.1 16.2
Charlie Morton 161 12.2 9.8 3.4 18.2
Jeffrey Springs 169 13.1 9.0 3.3 16.5
Drew Rasmussen 173 12.1 8.1 3.2 14.6
Tony Gonsolin 174 12.3 8.7 2.9 14.6
Patrick Sandoval 219 13.3 9.0 2.7 14.8
Frankie Montas 220 12.6 8.9 3.4 16.7
Carlos Carrasco 310 13.0 8.5 3.3 15.5
Alex Wood 362 11.0 8.9 3.8 17.3
Josiah Gray 383 11.4 9.1 2.5 13.8
*Best served with a dark ale
**ADP as of 1/24/22
***Steamer projections

Bust out your extendable fork and let’s take a little sample of each entrĂ©e:

Adding in an over 100 ADP query admits a unique group of players. Nestor Cortes had an incredible breakout year in 2022 and he’s poised for another great season. He did “breakout” in 2022, but his K/9 has been above 9 since 2019. While his SwStr% was at a career-high in 2022, the addition of a cutter in 2021 played a major role in the increase. I imagine his ADP will rise as the draft season really ramps up.

Kyle Wright returned nearly $15 in standard 5×5 roto leagues in 2022 using the FanGraphs auction calculator with year-to-date settings. His K/9 has always been below nine, but his 2022 pVals were very impressive. He had four pitches (wSI, wCH, wSL, wCU) with positive pVals in 2022 and he finally gave fantasy managers a full season with 180.1 IPs. Steamer believes he can repeat that mark with a 184 IP projection but may not believe his ERA will. Finishing with a 3.19 ERA in 2022, there could be some regression coming as he has historically given up a lot of home runs and has a poor-performing four-seam fastball.

Luis Garcia did not have high positive pVals in 2022, but he had four individual pitches that returned positive values. Projections will tell you that his ERA will be above four, but projection systems will tell you his K/9 could be above nine. Garcia’s 2022 BABIP (.260) may indicate that he got lucky and could see a WHIP rise, but he plays for the Astros, and 12 to 13 wins are in the realm of possibility.

Charlie Morton is Charlie Morton and if you have given up on him because he’s 39 years old, I will gladly come and scoop up those 11 wins, sub-four ERA, and 180 strikeouts. Jeffrey Springs on the other hand makes me a little nervous. Projection systems are all in-line with an over nine K/9 and a sub-four ERA. His pVals show that his pitches work well together and his career SwStr% is above 13%! But much of that came from when he was a reliever and while he is currently listed as the number five starter in Tampa Bay, being the number five starter in Tampa Bay doesn’t necessarily guarantee innings. I’m in on drafting Springs, but I would keep an eye on that slow fastball.

Another Rays pitcher with a little less swing-and-miss potential is Drew Rasmussen. While his SwStr% may be lower than his teammate Springs, Rasmussen has posted above a 12% in two seasons, but one of them came in 2020 when he was a reliever for the Brewers. So, again, it’s hard to say. The point of this little recipe I’ve created is to have reliability in later rounds. I think the jury is still out on Rasmussen as a starter. He’s worth drafting if you follow the mantra, “Once he’s shown the skill, he owns it.”…or something like that.

A six-course meal is probably enough for one week. Next week, I’ll dig into the bottom six pitchers on this list. See you then.

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Sultans of Swingmember
8 days ago

Rasmussen’s numbers last year: 146 IP, 121 Hits, 31 BBs, 125 Ks, 2.84 ERA. And that followed on a very successful starting stint with Tampa in late 2021 (10 games). The jury is still out on whether he’s a starter?