The 2016 Starting Pitcher Strikeout Rate Upsiders

Two years ago, I shared with you an updated version of my xK% equation. The formula uses a trio of strike type rates found at, including a pitcher’s looking, swinging, and foul strike percentages, along with his overall rate of strikes thrown. With an adjusted R-squared of 0.913, it explains a very higher percentage of a pitcher’s strikeout rate. Its best use is early in the season when the plate appearance (the K% denominator) sample size is still small, as xK% uses total pitches as the denominator, so we can reach a reasonable sample size to analyze much more quickly.

Initially, I wasn’t going to even post anything on the upsiders because the group wasn’t too exciting and the gap between actual K% and xK% wasn’t all that large. But I figured I should do so anyway, since it’s another data point and is worth discussing. So below are all the pitchers who were starters at some point last year and posted an actual K% at least 2% below his xK%. This would suggest that given a similar set of xK% components in 2016, their actual strikeout rate should rise.

I added the league average marks at the bottom, so you have some context. Unfortunately, the league average includes relievers, which definitely boosts S/Str, but I’m not sure how relievers compare to starters in the other two strike type metrics.

Starting Pitcher K% Upsiders
Player Str% L/Str S/Str F/Str K% xK% K%-xK%
Tim Lincecum 61.7% 27.3% 19.2% 24.6% 18.0% 21.6% -3.6%
Danny Duffy 64.3% 25.9% 14.8% 31.3% 17.4% 20.2% -2.8%
Steven Wright 63.7% 31.5% 15.3% 22.5% 16.8% 19.5% -2.7%
Chi Chi Gonzalez 61.4% 27.1% 12.0% 27.3% 10.7% 13.1% -2.4%
R.A. Dickey 65.8% 24.9% 14.6% 28.5% 14.3% 16.7% -2.4%
Chris Young 62.1% 26.4% 17.0% 26.3% 16.6% 19.0% -2.4%
Edinson Volquez 64.0% 28.4% 16.1% 26.3% 18.2% 20.5% -2.3%
Matt Moore 64.4% 24.9% 16.1% 28.9% 16.6% 18.8% -2.2%
Jered Weaver 64.4% 30.2% 14.2% 21.5% 13.5% 15.7% -2.2%
Bud Norris 63.4% 30.1% 16.5% 24.1% 18.8% 21.0% -2.2%
Marco Estrada 64.4% 22.9% 16.9% 31.8% 18.1% 20.2% -2.1%
Nick Martinez 62.6% 28.5% 12.5% 27.2% 13.8% 15.8% -2.0%
Lg Avg 64.3% 26.4% 16.9% 27.6%

Tim Lincecum! Maybe he should use this data to encourage teams to sign him. This makes me sad:

Tim Lincecum Velocity & K rate

Tiny sample size alert, but, you make the call on Danny Duffy’s role:

Danny Duffy, Starter or Reliever?
As Starter 426.2 3.90 18.0% 10.1% 0.325
As Reliever 16.2 1.08 34.3% 7.5% 0.201

Furthermore, his career xFIP vs lefties sits at 3.85, versus an inflated 4.78 mark vs righties. With Kris Medlen and Chris Young, who also appears on the above list, as strong rotation options, the answer here should be fairly obvious, marginal strikeout rate upside or not.

Sheesh, I would hope Chi Chi Gonzalez has some upside on that pathetic 10.7% strikeout rate! It was a miracle he somehow managed to keep his ERA under 4.00 while walking more batters than he struck out! With uninspiring minor league stats, he should never find his way into your active lineup.

R.A. Dickey’s strikeout rate plummeted last year, and although xK% validates the decline, it suggests it shouldn’t have been as severe as it was. The 41-year-old has become a reliable innings eater, but without his former strikeout potential, his appeal is drying up.

Look at that, Chris Young even confounds xK%! Is there anything this man does that we could slap a formula on and he wouldn’t appear to be an outlier?! It’s easy to believe he turns into a pumpkin with his soft underlying skills, but we know why he has maintained his ultra low BABIP and I think he will continue to do so. For as long as he does, he’ll continue to surprise and earn brave fantasy owners nice value.

Man, I don’t like this new version of Edinson Volquez! I enjoyed him much more when he struck out a whole lotta dudes and had no idea where the ball was going. Seriously, he was a lot of fun to watch back then. Now he’s just like any other boring pitcher with a mediocre skill set who hopes his home park and strong defensive support will allow him to outperform his SIERA once again.

Matt Moore and I have been on and off for years. I was on the bandwagon after his 2011 debut, then hopped off after he lucked his way into a 3.29 ERA in 2013 and now it seems as if I like him again. Fresh off TJ surgery, he predictably disappointed in 2015, but there were glimmers of hope. After returning from Triple-A in early September, his fastball velocity rebounded, jumping from 91.3 mph to 92.6. The latter mark is about where he sat back in 2013, which is a good sign. His strikeout and walk rates also vastly improved. He’s not going to throw a ton of innings, but there’s good profit potential here.

Hey, a positive for Jered Weaver! The good news is that his strikeout rate and fastball velocity have likely bottomed out. If they haven’t? He’ll be joining his brother Jeff in retirement.

The return to the National League, coupled his appearance here, makes Bud Norris ever so slightly sleeper-esque in NL-Only leagues. Of course, he’ll probably have to hit a couple of homers each game he starts to give himself enough run support to record the win.

Marco Estrada’s strikeout rate predictably fell after his move to the American League, but his league leading BABIP hid his declining skills. Perhaps his strikeout rate does rebound as suggested and his regression isn’t as severe as feared.

Remember when Nick Martinez opened last season by throwing 26 innings of one run ball? Then naturally, fantasy owners started falling over themselves, rushing to the free agent pool to pick him up. Since the skills clearly didn’t support such success (or any success, for that matter, as his xFIP was a putrid 5.09), it was no surprise that he posted a 4.91 ERA the rest of the way. He’s the cover image of my mantra that you should ignore ERA and focus instead on the underlying skills…especially over such a small sample of innings. Even his upside K% fails to make him attractive to fantasy owners.

Soooo yeah, out of 12 pitchers, only two of them I am actually recommending to fantasy owners. And yet, this was supposed to be a list of upsiders to excite us all! Sorry to disappoint folks.

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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xK% formula is too accurate and stabilizes too quickly apparently