The 2017 Starting Pitcher Strikeout Rate Downsiders

Nearly a month and a half ago, I shared the names of six starting pitchers who my old xK% metric suggested had the most strikeout rate upside this season, assuming their equation components remained unchanged. I then got sidetracked, introduced an updated version of the equation with new component coefficients and then even played around with incorporating CH% (changeup percentage) into an even newer version of the equation. So I never actually got around to the list of starting pitchers with strikeout rate downside. It’s now time to share those names with you very patient people.

I have decided to scrap the version that includes CH% since any benefit it provided with the heavy changeup users was offset by a loss in accuracy for the low changeup usage group. So to make things simple, I’ll be using my 2017 version of xK%, without accounting for CH%. Here are the fantasy relevant names that posted K% marks well above their xK% marks in 2016, suggesting downside this season if they don’t improve their underlying components.

2017 Starting Pitcher K% Downsiders
Name Str% L/Str S/Str F/Str K% xK% K%-xK%
Ivan Nova 66.0% 25.0% 15.4% 25.5% 18.6% 14.9% 3.7%
Jameson Taillon 65.7% 25.3% 14.1% 29.8% 20.3% 17.4% 2.9%
Jaime Garcia 64.0% 28.1% 15.6% 24.2% 20.2% 17.3% 2.9%
Jose Quintana 63.4% 27.7% 13.5% 29.9% 21.6% 18.9% 2.7%
Jerad Eickhoff 63.6% 28.0% 15.6% 25.5% 20.6% 18.3% 2.3%
League Averages 63.8% 26.5% 17.3% 27.8%

Ivan Nova fits the profile of a sleeper quite well and is most certainly a cheap target for many a fantasy owner this year. And while a full season in the National League to a much more pitcher friendly home park is a huge plus, don’t use his 2016 strikeout rate as a baseline to project his 2017 mark. Typically, a pitcher enjoys a strikeout rate bump when moving from the American League to the National League, so you might think there’s 20% K% potential here. There’s not…absent a big boost in skills. As you can see from the table, Nova was below average in every single strike type. And surprisingly, his S/Str actually dropped after he moved to Pittsburgh. Overall though, his xK% only increased from 14.6% on the Yankees to 15.7% on the Pirates. He’s still a nice option in deeper leagues, but just don’t expect any improvement in strikeout rate.

Mmmmmmm Jameson Taillon, everyone loves a top prospect, especially one drafted second overall. Taillon enjoyed a fantastic debut, posting a 3.38 ERA, displaying excellent control, and a ground ball tendency. His strikeout ability, though, was even more disappointing than the surface numbers indicate. His best secondary offering, the curve ball, generated a SwStk% just below the league average, which meant that his overall S/Str mark was far below what we had expected. Given his minor league track record, I’d figure his strike type components would improve, perhaps dramatically, this season, so don’t think he’s doomed to post a strikeout rate at just 17% to 18% this year. Just know that he first needs to improve those components simply to repeat a 20.3% strikeout rate, and then push those components up even further to get closer to his minor league marks. He owns an excellent skill set, so I do like him, but he may very well be too costly due to an overrating of his near-term strikeout potential.

It’s funny for me to see Jaime Garcia’s name here, as he was one of the pitchers who inspired me to look beyond just SwStk% to project a pitcher’s strikeout rate. Garcia always induced a good rate of swings and misses, but it was either getting called strikes or foul strikes that were a problem, and kept his strikeout rate below what his SwStk% would suggest. But now that all strike types are accounted for, he’s no longer a perennial underperformer. In fact, he has outperformed his xK% in five of the last six seasons. However, this is the first time he has outperformed by more than 1.6%. So even if you think he has a skill being missed by the equation, he still should fall back some and close that gap up a bit.

I will never be a Jose Quintana fan and I seem to get questioned about his ranking every single year. None of his pitches could be considered a standout, with his four-seamer and curve ball inducing swings and misses at around a league average clip, while his changeup is terrible. Unlike some of the others that make these lists, Quintana has never shown an ability to outperform his xK% mark. In his five year career, he has underperformed three times and outperformed twice. But he had never posted an actual K% more than 0.5% away from his xK%. But this year, it was 2.7% higher! This was actually the lowest xK% mark he has posted since his 2012 debut. Since he has been extremely consistent on the surface, fantasy owners have seemed to finally believe in the sustainability of his results. Let one of those believers draft him instead.

After a solid 2015 debut, Jerad Eickhoff was a nice late-round sleeper heading into 2016, and made good on that promise by posting a 3.65 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. But this year, he threw a lower rate of strikes and his S/Str rate tumbled. While throwing his curve ball more at the expense of his fastball is typically going to boost a pitcher’s rate of whiffs induced, it was the slider that caused the decline in swings and misses. It went from elite (24.6% SwStk% in 2015) to merely above average (17% SwStk% in 2016). His four-seamer also suffered a drop in SwStk%. Unless you believe that Eickhoff actually owns one of the best whiff-inducing sliders in baseball, I would believe his 2016 rates are more sustainable, which means serious risk of a strikeout rate decline.

We hoped you liked reading The 2017 Starting Pitcher Strikeout Rate Downsiders by Mike Podhorzer!

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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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Giolito's changeup
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Giolito's changeup

Mike,

Please include a table note defining each each term in table.
Thank you.