Pitchers With High Strikeout Totals You Can Find Late in Fantasy Baseball Drafts
June 17, 2007. If this date doesn't mean something to you as a baseball fan, it should. You see, on this day, I started to believe in miracles.
With the Minnesota Twins leading the Milwaukee Brewers, 9-7, in the ninth inning, Prince Fielder sauntered to the plate. Fielder hit a lazy fly ball to the outfield, a routine play for any competent defender.
That day, Lew Ford was not a competent defender. He misplayed the pop by about 40 yards, allowing the 260-plus-pound Fielder to circle the bases for an inside-the-park home run. The baseball gods smiled upon the Metrodome that day, my friends.
One person who was not smiling was Joe Nathan. You see, despite inducing the Fielder pop-up, Nathan was charged with allowing a home run because Ford had the depth perception of a drunk gazelle.
This incident did teach Nathan a lesson, though. That lesson is this: your fielders suck, and you should never trust them. It's a valuable lesson for all pitchers, to be sure, but it can also be a lesson for fantasy baseball players.
You see, when you strike a dude out, not even Lew Ford can misplay it. It's genius. And you also usually get extra points for strikeouts in fantasy, but it's mostly the Lew Ford thing.
Pitchers seem to be catching on to this, as strikeouts are on the rise over the past few years. In 2011, pitchers league-wide averaged 7.13 strikeouts per nine innings. Last year, that number had risen up to 7.73.
In terms of fantasy, this means you can now find guys that can rack up the K's later in drafts than in previous years. So whether you're in a rotisserie league with strikeouts as a category or a points league where you get bonuses for that third strike, you can find value late.
Let's look at a few guys who aren't going too high in drafts and who you can pick up to bolster your team's whiffness and further avoid any Ford-esque gaffes behind them.
Jake Arrieta, SP, Chicago Cubs
Prior to 2014, Jake Arrieta struggled with his control and gave up a boatload of bombs. This led to ERA totals of 4.66, 5.05, 6.20 and 4.78 in parts of four seasons leading up to last year. He turned that puppy around quickly.
Arrieta cut his walks in half from 2013 to 2014, posting just 2.36 walks per nine last year. He also increased his ground-ball rate to 49.2 from 40.4. As a result, he went from allowing 9 home runs in 75.1 innings to just 5 in 156.2. That's tasty, yo.
All of this combined to shoot Arrieta's ERA down to 2.53 for his age-28 season while his strikeouts-per-nine leaped to 9.59. His 2.26 FIP hints that this is sustainable success for Arrieta, though the projections do see him regressing a bit.
Arrieta's Average Draft Position (ADP) currently sits in the low 20's among starting pitchers. That's when 10-team leagues are getting into their third starter spot. You could do a lot worse than a guy like Arrieta at that price.
Collin McHugh, SP, Houston Astros
Collin McHugh kind of came out of nowhere last year to post surprisingly good numbers for a not-so-good team. Now, that team has taken some significant steps forward and could have a pretty sick offense this year. Should we be all-in on McHugh?
The reason I love McHugh is, obviously, the strikeouts. His 9.14 strikeouts per nine brought all the boys to the yards and helped him post a 2.73 ERA with a 3.11 FIP. Excuse my drool, please.
The question with McHugh is obviously if this success is sustainable. The breakthrough didn't come until his age-27 season, and now opposing batters have more of a sample size on McHugh from which to learn.
Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections have McHugh's strikeouts dropping below his innings pitched while his ERA increases to 3.71. Those still aren't bad numbers, but they're not what McHugh posted last year.
At the end of the day, you're probably going to give up a pick in the 175 to 200 range in order to get McHugh on the squad. There are other attractive options in that range, but I still view McHugh as being attractive, as well. I wouldn't reach to use a draft pick on him, but if you start getting to the 170's with McHugh still on the board, why not bank on a repeat performance?
Ian Kennedy, SP, San Diego Padres
For the first five and a half years of his major-league career, Ian Kennedy pitched in absolute launch pads. He was traded in 2009 from the New York Yankees and their rocket-propelling stadium of doom to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who may have turned off the gravity at Chase Field. Brudduh couldn't catch a break.
Now, he's on the other end of the spectrum. In his first full season in the cavernous basin of offensive despair otherwise known as San Diego, Kennedy dropped his ERA down to 3.63 with a 3.21 FIP. These aren't mind-blowing numbers by any stretch, but when you add in his 9.27 strikeouts per nine, he becomes a far more attractive fantasy option.
On top of this, Kennedy allowed a .315 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) last year. For pitchers, this number usually regresses to around the league average of .295, meaning that Kennedy could see his ERA bop down a bit in 2015. If the Padres were to pick up a few additional wins with their re-tooled roster, that would only help Kennedy's fantasy owners even more.
Kennedy's ADP is sitting in the mid-40's among starting pitchers now. This is where you start getting into the starters who have higher risks mixed with some upside. Kennedy probably doesn't have the same upside, but he also carries a considerably smaller amount of risk. I'd have no problem snatching him up this late, especially if I do decide to take some risks on starters earlier in the draft.
Jake Odorizzi, SP, Tampa Bay Rays
If you selected Kennedy but miss the rush of drafting a guy with a crazy amount of risk, do I have a deal for you! For the low-low price of a 216th overall pick based on current ADP, you can have Jake Odorizzi, who is just brimming with risk, strikeouts, and hatred of hotel rooms.
Overall, Odorizzi posted a 4.13 ERA, which is not too bueno. But it's the splits on this that really intrigue you.
In 68.1 innings on the road, Odorizzi had a 6.32 ERA with 16 home runs allowed. At home, he had a 2.62 ERA over 99.2 innings while allowing four home runs. And he plays at Tropicana Field, not the Polo Grounds. How does this happen? I have no earthly idea.
Odorizzi turns 25 next month, so he still has plenty of time to figure out what caused the hiccups away from the Trop last year. And if he does, you'd be getting bonkers value at his draft slot. For me, I say it's worth the risk because of his 9.32 strikeouts per nine innings and his fun last name, which is probably second on my list of things I seek in a fantasy pick behind only stellar facial hair.