Texas Rangers v Kansas City Royals

You’ll see many decent analysts trot out the strikeout-to-walk ratio, and it’s a fine number. Strikeout three for every walk and you’re be valuable, no matter what. But we’re always trying to shave the margins in fantasy baseball, and one margin comes with that mathematical sign: don’t divide strikeouts by walks… subtract walks from strikeouts.

It’s as easy as an exercise in hypotheticals. Suppose you have two pitchers that strikeout three for every walk. One of them strikes out a third of the batters he sees and walks eleven percent. The other strikes out eighteen percent of the batters he sees, and walks six percent. You already know which one you want in fantasy, and it’s true in real life, too: the one with the elite strikeout rate is the one you want.

The average pitcher last year got a strikeout in about 20% of his attempts. He walked a little bit more than 9%. That means the first pitcher is well above average by strikeouts minus walks, and the second pitcher is basically average.

Let’s look at it in leaderboard format. Here are the top x pitchers by K/BB last season:

Name K/BB K% BB% K-BB% ERA WHIP FIP
Cliff Lee 7.39 24.40% 3.30% 21.10% 3.16 1.11 3.13
Joe Blanton 4.88 20.60% 4.20% 16.40% 4.71 1.26 3.91
CC Sabathia 4.48 23.70% 5.30% 18.40% 3.38 1.14 3.33
R.A. Dickey 4.26 24.80% 5.80% 19.00% 2.73 1.05 3.27
Cole Hamels 4.15 24.90% 6.00% 18.90% 3.05 1.12 3.3
Felix Hernandez 3.98 23.80% 6.00% 17.80% 3.06 1.14 2.84
Justin Verlander 3.98 25.00% 6.30% 18.70% 2.64 1.06 2.94
Jake Peavy 3.96 22.00% 5.60% 16.40% 3.37 1.10 3.73
Madison Bumgarner 3.9 22.50% 5.80% 16.70% 3.37 1.11 3.50
Wade Miley 3.89 17.80% 4.60% 13.20% 3.33 1.18 3.15
Max Scherzer 3.85 29.40% 7.60% 21.80% 3.74 1.27 3.27
James Shields 3.84 23.60% 6.10% 17.50% 3.52 1.17 3.47
Tommy Milone 3.81 17.30% 4.60% 12.70% 3.74 1.28 3.93
Matt Cain 3.78 22.00% 5.80% 16.20% 2.79 1.04 3.40
Chris Sale 3.76 24.90% 6.60% 18.30% 3.05 1.14 3.27
Kyle Lohse 3.76 16.60% 4.40% 12.20% 2.86 1.09 3.51
Dan Haren 3.74 19.00% 5.10% 13.90% 4.33 1.29 4.24
Zack Greinke 3.7 23.00% 6.20% 16.80% 3.48 1.20 3.10
Bronson Arroyo 3.69 15.50% 4.20% 11.30% 3.74 1.21 4.08
Clayton Kershaw 3.63 25.40% 7.00% 18.40% 2.53 1.02 2.89

Some of the names might jump out at you. Joe Blanton. Wade Miley. Tommy Milone. Kyle Lohse. Dan Haren. Bronson F’ing Arroyo. Do these guys belong in an elite grouping? Yes, every stat, when sorted, can produce a few headscratchers, but check out the list once you sort for K-BB%:

Name K/BB K% BB% K-BB% ERA WHIP FIP
Max Scherzer 3.85 29.40% 7.60% 21.80% 3.74 1.27 3.27
Cliff Lee 7.39 24.40% 3.30% 21.10% 3.16 1.11 3.13
R.A. Dickey 4.26 24.80% 5.80% 19.00% 2.73 1.05 3.27
Cole Hamels 4.15 24.90% 6.00% 18.90% 3.05 1.12 3.30
Justin Verlander 3.98 25.00% 6.30% 18.70% 2.64 1.06 2.94
CC Sabathia 4.48 23.70% 5.30% 18.40% 3.38 1.14 3.33
Clayton Kershaw 3.63 25.40% 7.00% 18.40% 2.53 1.02 2.89
Chris Sale 3.76 24.90% 6.60% 18.30% 3.05 1.14 3.27
Felix Hernandez 3.98 23.80% 6.00% 17.80% 3.06 1.14 2.84
James Shields 3.84 23.60% 6.10% 17.50% 3.52 1.17 3.47
David Price 3.47 24.50% 7.10% 17.40% 2.56 1.10 3.05
Jeff Samardzija 3.21 24.90% 7.80% 17.10% 3.81 1.22 3.55
Zack Greinke 3.7 23.00% 6.20% 16.80% 3.48 1.20 3.10
Madison Bumgarner 3.90 22.50% 5.80% 16.70% 3.37 1.11 3.50
Jake Peavy 3.96 22.00% 5.60% 16.40% 3.37 1.10 3.73
Joe Blanton 4.88 20.60% 4.20% 16.40% 4.71 1.26 3.91
Yu Darvish 2.48 27.10% 10.90% 16.20% 3.90 1.28 3.29
Matt Cain 3.78 22.00% 5.80% 16.20% 2.79 1.04 3.40
Gio Gonzalez 2.72 25.20% 9.30% 15.90% 2.89 1.13 2.82
Adam Wainwright 3.54 22.10% 6.30% 15.80% 3.94 1.25 3.10

Who’s the stinker here? Joe Blanton, maybe, but he showed an average strikeout rate and great control last year. If he stays healthy, maybe this is a good year for him. It’s certainly the first time in a while he’s called a pitchers’ park home.

And now you have guys like Gio Gonzalez and Yu Darvish, who are obviously great pitchers despite iffy walk rates. If you want a good sleeper for this year, just look at the Shark: Jeff Samardzija looks pretty good sitting right there above Zack Greinke. You can set up your own board pretty easily by using the ‘advanced’ leaderboards at FanGraphs and downloading the data. Some interesting young names that might pop out at you in the next fifteen or twenty would be Lance Lynn, Ian Kennedy, and Jon Niese.

One last wrinkle. Maybe this sounds familiar to you. I did write last year that K-BB% was the best in-season predictor, too. Glenn DuPaul did the work, and we found some names. How did we do?

We liked Mike Minor more than his advanced pitching metrics! And Jeff Samardzija! And Jarrod Parker! And Tim Lincecum. And Jason McDonald. And Francisco Liriano.

You can’t win em all.

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