Breaking Down Tanner Roark's 15 Strikeout Performance

Tanner Roark set a career high with 15 strikeouts on Saturday. Did it come out of nowhere?

Baseball is impossible to predict. Our latest example comes at the hands of Washington Nationals pitcher Tanner Roark.

Roark entered the day with 17 innings pitched across 3 starts this season and a grand total of 9 strikeouts. Only one qualified starter had recorded fewer punch-outs so far this season, and Roark’s Swinging Strike Percentage (SwStr%) of just 7.0 percent ranked 10th-worst prior to Saturday’s contest against the Minnesota Twins.

So of course this happened:

Even more surprisingly, Roark has never been a big strikeout pitcher. His previous career high was 11 -- coming in 2014 -- and in 51 starts before taking the mound Saturday, it was the only time he broke the double-digit mark for strikeouts.

Number of K's Occurences
10+ 1
9 0
8 2
7 1
6 6
5 8
4 14
3 7
2 6
1 5
0 1

Roark had as many starts with zero strikeouts as he did with 10 or more, and only had more than 6 punch-outs 4 times in his 51 starts. Even if he fails to strike out a hitter in his next start, he will tie his career best for strikeouts in any two consecutive starts with 15.

I guess that’s what facing the Twins will do to a pitcher.

Minnesota came into Saturday’s game with 57 runs scored, which was the seventh-fewest so far this season. Despite a team SwStr% of 9.9 percent -- which is currently 11th-best -- the Twins had still racked up a ton of strikeouts. Their 145 strikeouts were the sixth-most prior to Roark’s performance. This does not make for a good combination for winning games, unless you’re the guy who gets to face the Twins.

Roark was able to shut down the Twins without throwing a fastball that reached 94 miles per hour, instead relying on mixing speeds and locating his pitches. His changeup was his second most frequently thrown pitch after his fastball, and he was able to induce a 20.0 percent whiff rate on this pitch, according to Brooks Baseball.

However, he also left a lot of bats on hitters’ shoulders, as he only recorded 14 swings and misses, yet had 15 strikeouts. Roark had 32 of his career high 121 pitches called for strikes. After the first inning, he threw at least 59 percent of his pitches for strikes, including 67 percent over his last 3 innings.

It was a performance impressive enough to turn a handshake into a hug.