There’s an intriguing battle taking place on the Nationals between two rather similar pitchers. Both Taylor Jordan and Tanner Roark debuted in Washington last year and impressed. Though Roark did post a sparkling ERA, neither one of them is getting a whole lot of preseason fanfare, perhaps because their strikeout rates don’t wow us. But the winner of this battle is likely to be a strong source of profit in NL-Only leagues, while offering the potential for mixed league value.
Since Roark outperformed Jordan in terms of surface results, he’s a little more well known at this point. But Jordan may actually be a bit more exciting and certainly more undervalued. You see, Jordan only posted a 13.2% strikeout rate over his medium sized cup of coffee with the Nats. Although it wasn’t low enough to prevent him from being an effective real life pitcher, it severely reduced his fantasy value. But wait…there’s more!
Though you would have never guessed it from his strikeout rate, Jordan actually generated a 10.2% SwStk%, well above the league average. Both his slider and changeup were positively fantastic, both inducing swinging strikes 21% of the time. Not only did the two pitches induces lots of whiffs, but they also both proved to be a worm’s worst enemy. Both pitches resulted in grounders over 50% of the time.
So if Jordan threw pitches that were mightily effective, how was his strikeout rate so low you are no doubt wondering. Well, if you remember my expected K% formula, you’ll recall that a pitcher’s strikeout rate could be estimated by using a combination of his swinging strikes, as well as his called and foul strikes. Because the slider and changeup are both swing and miss pitches that don’t induce many called strikes, his looking strike rate was well below the league average. His foul strike percentage was as well.
And although all three strike types are indeed a skill and have reasonable YoY correlations, the looking and foul varieties are lower. You have to imagine that one or both of Jordan’s called and foul strike rates will jump this year closer to the league average, even if he flashes the same pitch mix. As a result, his strikeout rate could spike, perhaps significantly. It’s somewhat shocking to see the Oliver and ZiPS projections calling for an even lower K/9, especially since he he has posted better strikeout rates in the minors. I’d bet my life on the over.
Aside from the promise of a strikeout rate surge, he possesses pinpoint control as well. But you wouldn’t know that by just looking at his F-Strike%, which is actually below the league average. This is why it’s important to also look at a pitcher’s overall strike percentage, found on the same page as his looking and foul strike rates. Jordan’s strike percentage was an impressive 66%, which would have ranked him 29th among all Major League starters.
If that wasn’t enough, I mentioned earlier that he is a worm’s worst nightmare. He posted an exhilarating ground ball rate near 58%, which would have ranked him second among all starters had he qualified. So he has nearly the skills trifecta, just missing on strikeouts, which I expect him to vastly improve upon this year.
The remaining obstacle is to actually win a rotation spot of course. But even if he doesn’t, every rotation goes more than five starters deep throughout the year and he should be the first replacement. He should record at least 100 innings while earning value in both ERA and WHIP and adding a respectable strikeout total.
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.