Six Starting Pitchers With Strikeout Rate Downside

Yesterday, I put my xK% equation to good use by identifying five starting pitchers the formula suggests has strikeout rate upside. As usual, today I take a look at those with strikeout rate downside. These are the pitchers whose xK% are well below their actual K%.

Warning: these are very good pitchers!

Mike Fiers | 25.6% K% vs 21.7% xK%

In the comments of yesterday’s upside article, one reader asked:

Fiers too obvious for this list? He’s not showing much upside anywhere but hoping the K’s meet expectations at some point.

Considering Fiers’ actual strikeout rate, it was an odd question, as striking out hitters is about the only thing he has done well this season. But what a coincidence that Fiers’ name actually tops the list of downsiders. There are two major differences between the 2014 and 2015 Fiers when it comes to batter punchouts. First, he is throwing fewer strikes. Second, a bunch of his previous called strikes have become foul strikes. That’s not really a good sign.

Before, batters had either been fooled by a pitch or determined that taking it was a better option than swinging at it. Now, those same batters are opting to swing at it, but fortunately for Fiers, have fouled the pitches off. That may not continue, which is not only going to reduce his strikeout rate, but also his expected strikeout rate, resulting in a double whammy of strikeout rate deterioration. With all that said, his ridiculous .379 BABIP is going to decline precipitously, but I think he settles into a high-3.00 ERA. I like the current Depth Chart rest of season ERA projection of 3.72.

Matt Shoemaker | 22.6% K% vs 18.8% xK%

After an unimpressive minor league career, Shoemaker came out of nowhere last season to post a 3.04 ERA over 136 innings. He has largely maintained his strong strikeout and walk profile, but has transformed into an extreme fly ball pitcher. When combined with an inflated HR/FB rate, it’s no wonder his ERA sits above 5.00. Compared to last year, all his strike type rates, as well as his strike percentage, have remained stable, except for one. And it’s the most important one — the swinging strike rate. That’s down to essentially a league average level, as both his splitter and slider have induced a lower rate of swings and misses.

Given that his swinging strike rate is down, it’s a wonder his strikeout rate is almost identical to last year. If that strikeout rate declines, the SIERA is going to rise and he’ll look more like a near 4.00 ERA guy. Should certainly earn value in AL-Only leagues the rest of the way, but I’m hesitant in shallow mixed. I’d take Fiers over him.

James Shields | 29.3% K% vs 26.1% xK%

Though moving from the American League to the National League usually results in a huge boost in fantasy value, I wasn’t too excited when Shields moved to San Diego. I thought that any boost he would receive would simply be offset by declining skills. I was wrong. Because of a ridiculous 20.4% HR/FB rate, Shields’ unbelievable season has been hidden. His SwStk% ranks fourth in baseball and is by far a career best. That’s because his fastball, changeup and curve are all getting swinging strikes at career high marks. He hasn’t gained any velocity and a move to the NL could only help so much, so I’m not sure what’s behind this considering he’s already 33 years old. xK% doesn’t completely buy it, but that mark would still easily set a new career high.

Trevor Bauer | 24.2% K% vs 21.2% xK%

It certainly appears that Bauer is in the midst of his long-awaited breakout season, but I’m really not so sure. His strike percentage jumped last year, helping to improve his control, but it has regressed this season. So now he’s relying on a spike in strikeout rate, but xK% thinks there should be no spike. In fact, it suggests he’s no different than he was last season. Sure, his swinging strike rate is up, and that’s an excellent sign. But he gets a below average rate of called strikes and he just hasn’t thrown enough overall strikes. Bauer has been one of the few Indians pitchers not to be victimized by the Indians pathetic defense. The good news is that a series of current and likely imminent call-ups should greatly improve that defense, ensuring that he maintains a below league average BABIP, thanks to his fly ball and pop-up heavy batted ball distribution.

I would lean toward recommending fantasy owners in single-season leagues try selling high. I’m really not sure what the perception of his season is and how other owners are viewing him at the moment. So I can’t tell you what you might get in return. But he’s unlikely to remain a WHIP asset and that LOB% isn’t going to stay sky high.

Danny Salazar | 31.8% K% vs 28.8% xK%

Booooo. Salazar has become an automatic every week start for me in my 12-team local league, so I never like seeing his name on any negative list. But still, that 28.8% xK% would be a jump from last year and ranks third best in baseball. So this could be viewed as either a bad news that he made the list, or validation that he’s still freaking awesome. The Indians soon-to-be renovated defense should help improve upon Salazar’s .313 BABIP and that HR/FB is going to come down. With a solid, albeit unspectacular 3.50 ERA, he doesn’t seem to be an ace just yet. But he very well could be over the rest of the season and won’t cost ace prices to acquire.

Gerrit Cole | 27.5% K% vs 24.6% xK%

As Cole continues to chug along, how many of you are kicking yourselves for not seeing this coming? I sure am. Now granted, he’s not going to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA as he won’t continue to strand more than 83% of runners. But his SIERA sits at a shiny 2.73, backing up his elite performance. But now the bad news — his xK% suggests he should be striking out hitters at a similar rate as last year. And his swinging strike rate is far from what you might expect from a guy with such a high strikeout rate. It’s also far from what you might expect from a guy who averages in the mid-90s with his fastball and complements it with a lethal slider.

If he’s able to strike out batters at rates in the mid-to-high 20% range throwing his fastball nearly 70% of the time, I could only imagine how dominant he could be if he threw his secondary pitches more often. But bottom line here is that he won’t continue to be this good, but this is a perfect skill set.

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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7 years ago

I have 5 out of these 6, do I win a prize?

7 years ago
Reply to  Mike

i have four now and had all six for a portion of the season… i guess im a sucker for siera