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Collette Calls: Strikeout Rate Fallers

Jason Collette

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

Last week, we looked at the pitchers that had seen the largest surge in strikeout rates while only showing a table of the ones with the largest drop in strikeout rate. This week, we will flip that script and create a table for the updated risers list while reviewing each of the pitchers showing a large decline.

First, an updated list of the top surgers in strikeout rate. This table shows all pitchers that have faced at least 70 batters this season and how their 2014 strikeout rate compares to what they did last season. By request, I included all pitchers this time and not just starting pitchers so you can see which relievers have made nice surges. Since this an article about the other side, feel free to ask questions in the comments section about anyone in the first table. I would ask you to take particular notice to a guy at the top of the list as he is a classic example of pitchers flourishing in the bullpen while struggling in the rotation. He could be a closer for many teams in baseball, but is stuck behind Greg Holland.

Pitcher20132014DifferencePct Difference
Wade Davis18%43%25%133%
Collin McHugh9%27%18%201%
Jake Diekman25%39%14%57%
Tony Watson19%33%14%70%
Hector Rondon18%30%12%65%
Jon Lester20%30%10%53%
Tyler Thornburg18%28%10%55%
Sean Doolittle23%32%9%42%
Garrett Richards16%25%9%55%
Ervin Santana19%28%9%48%
Zack Greinke21%29%9%42%
Trevor Cahill16%25%9%54%
Brandon McCarthy13%22%9%64%
Justin Grimm17%25%8%47%
Michael Kohn23%31%8%36%
Aaron Harang18%26%8%44%
Johnny Cueto21%29%8%37%
Ian Kennedy21%28%8%38%
Carlos Carrasco14%21%7%51%
Jose Fernandez28%34%7%24%
Esmil Rogers16%23%7%40%
Nathan Eovaldi17%23%6%35%
Jerry Blevins21%27%6%28%
Jordan Zimmermann19%24%6%31%
Chris Capuano18%23%6%32%
David Price20%26%5%26%
Tyler Lyons19%25%5%28%
Stephen Strasburg26%31%5%20%
Clayton Kershaw26%31%5%21%
Randall Delgado17%22%5%29%
Jason Hammel16%21%5%31%
Brett Cecil28%33%5%16%

70 batters faced is used as the filter because that is what is required to stabilize strikeout rate for pitchers in order for us to look into what the pitcher is doing differently to achieve the results. Now, let's look at the pitchers whose strikeout rate has declined by at least five full percentage points from last season.

Pitcher20132014DifferencePct Difference
Brandon Gomes35%15%-20%-58%
Josh Lueke25%13%-12%-47%
Heath Bell25%14%-12%-46%
Anthony Bass16%5%-11%-68%
Kelvin Herrera30%21%-9%-31%
Danny Farquhar35%26%-9%-26%
Dustin McGowan23%14%-9%-38%
Mark Melancon25%17%-8%-32%
A. J. Burnett26%19%-8%-29%
Clay Buchholz23%16%-7%-32%
Ivan Nova20%13%-7%-37%
Trevor Rosenthal35%27%-7%-21%
Rex Brothers27%20%-7%-26%
Carlos Villanueva20%13%-7%-35%
Paul Maholm16%9%-7%-43%
Luke Gregerson24%17%-7%-28%
Anthony Swarzak18%11%-7%-37%
Brandon Maurer17%11%-7%-37%
Mike Pelfrey15%8%-7%-44%
Shelby Miller23%17%-6%-27%
Erik Bedard21%14%-6%-31%
Josh Collmenter22%16%-6%-29%
Sonny Gray26%20%-6%-24%
Ubaldo Jimenez25%19%-6%-25%
Todd Redmond24%17%-6%-26%
Jamey Wright23%17%-6%-27%
Tyler Skaggs21%15%-6%-29%
Scott Feldman17%12%-6%-33%
Matt Belisle21%15%-6%-27%
Ricky Nolasco20%14%-5%-27%
Tanner Scheppers20%14%-5%-28%
Tony Cingrani29%24%-5%-18%
Felix Doubront20%15%-5%-25%
Alfredo Simon18%13%-5%-29%
Drew Smyly27%22%-5%-18%
Eric Stults15%11%-5%-31%
Justin Verlander24%19%-5%-20%
Yu Darvish33%28%-5%-14%

No wonder the Rays' bullpen is so terrible this season! Brandon Gomes has been working on a cutter, which is not used for strikeouts, while the other two relievers are simply varying degrees of terrible. Anthony Bass, who has seen save opportunities for Houston, has seen his strikeout rate drop to just 5.2% - very atypical of a closer. He has just one more strikeout (4) than he does home runs allowed (3) in 77 batters faced this season.

What is affecting the others? Let's use a similar checklist to review some of the more relevant fantasy pitchers:

Velocity issue?
Pitch utilization issue?
Injury issue?
Skills issue?

Kelvin Herrera:

Velocity issue: Nope

Pitch utilization issue: Nope

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: Batters are making slightly more contact with him this season and he is throwing a lower percentage of strikes. He is getting batters to chase more, but his called strike percentage is well down from his previous efforts. That's the biggest thing hurting him right now.

Danny Farquhar:

Velocity issue: Actually throwing a bit harder

Pitch utilization issue: Throwing more cutters and fewer fastballs

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: Swing & miss rate well down from last season, more foul balls, and fewer called strikes and chased pitches. That's all related to the increase in cutters as those are thrown to generate weak contact

Dustin McGowan:

Velocity issue: Yes, somewhat

Pitch utilization issue: Throwing more fastballs and changeups

Injury issue: Always a looming concern

Skills issue: Despite the change in repertoire, batters are making more contact against him. His Contact% is seven percentage points higher this season than it was last season

Mark Melancon:

Velocity issue: Not really

Pitch utilization issue: Fewer fastballs, more cutters

Injury issue: No

Skills issue: More balls put into play as a side-effect of using more cutters and is getting fewer called strikes because he is throwing fewer pitches in the strike zone. Swing and miss rate is holding up despite the changes.

A.J. Burnett:

Velocity issue: Indeed it is

Pitch utilization issue: More two-seamers, fewer four-seamers

Injury issue: Is pitching through a sports hernia

Skills issue: He is throwing fewer strikes, and batters are not chasing his pitches like they did last season. The injury may have a bit to do with it, but it is more due to the fact he's trying to get more weak contact with the two-seamer these days.

Clay Buchholz:

Velocity issue: Yes

Pitch utilization issue: More cutters, fewer fastballs and changeups

Injury issue: Always a fear

Skills issue: Batters are swinging and missing at fewer pitches, and he's not getting as many called strikes as he did last season. Going away from his changeup is puzzling because it has been a good whiff pitch for him.

Trevor Rosenthal:

Velocity issue: Yes, a little

Pitch utilization issue: No, same as it ever was

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: He cannot find the strike zone with any regularity these days and batters are waiting for him to find it rather than chase pitches out of the zone.

Rex Brothers:

Velocity issue: Yes

Pitch utilization issue: Nope

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: Can't throw strikes and batters are not chasing his stuff until he throws strikes. He is pitching from behind too frequently. He has only allowed four extra-base hits, but his walk rate is not closer worthy right now.

Luke Gregerson:

Velocity issue: Yes

Pitch utilization issue: Yes, has cut back on the sliders and is throwing more two-seamers

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: He is inducing more swings with the two-seamer to get weak contact. Everything else is holding up rather well for him.

Shelby Miller:

Velocity issue: Nope

Pitch utilization issue: Fewer curveballs, more cutters, but not a big difference.

Injury issue: Not known

Skills issue: He's still trying to find the strike zone. He's throwing strikes below the league average rate, and isn't getting batters to chase and miss his pitches as frequently as he did last season. Strikeouts will return once his control does.

Sonny Gray:

Velocity issue: Nope

Pitch utilization issue: Fewer four-seam fastballs, more changeups

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: He's getting more swings out of the zone, but fewer called strikes this season so he's not ahead of batters as much. Other than that, very little difference from 2013.

Ubaldo Jimenez:

Velocity issue: Yes

Pitch utilization issue: Slight differences from last year

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: Getting out of the AL Central and into the AL Beast has been a bit of an adjustment. Batters are making more contact against him this year as the quality of opponent in the division is better. Other than that, his other indicators have been stable.

Tyler Skaggs:

Velocity issue: Quite the opposite

Pitch utilization issue: Fewer changeups

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: Fewer changeups means fewer swings and misses and he's having more balls put into play despite a better delivery and velocity this season.

Scott Feldman:

Velocity issue: Yes

Pitch utilization issue: More curveballs this season, fewer changeups

Injury issue: Did have a DL stint earlier this season with biceps tendonitis

Skills issue: His swing and miss rate is down for the fourth consecutive season. He is throwing strikes at the same rate, getting more pitches chased, but the swing and miss rate is back to his 2010 levels and that's not good.

Ricky Nolasco:

Velocity issue: Velo is up a bit from last year

Pitch utilization issue: Fewer curveballs, more fastballs

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: Swing and miss rate returned to pre-2013 levels and batters are putting balls in play at a career high rate against him. To quote Doug Dennis of BaseballHQ, “This guy sucks."

Tony Cingrani:

Velocity issue: Slightly, yes

Pitch utilization issue: Cut back on the fastballs, added breaking balls

Injury issue: Currently on the DL with shoulder tendonitis

Skills issue: Has been a bit more wild this season and more of his pitches are being put into play as he is trying to incorporate more of his secondary pitches.

Felix Doubront:

Velocity issue: Not really

Pitch utilization issue: Same as it ever was

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: Just about everything he did last year he is doing this year, but he's having more balls put into play. That screams of a command issue where he is unable to locate effectively within the strike zone.

Drew Smyly:

Velocity issue: Yes, we'll get to that

Pitch utilization issue: Fewer cutters, more curveballs

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: He has to conserve velocity as a starting pitcher whereas he could air it out as a reliever. He isn't getting batters to chase as many pitches, but overall the skills are holding up.

Justin Verlander:

Velocity issue: It is in decline, again

Pitch utilization issue: More curveballs, fewer fastballs

Injury issue: Nope

Skills issue: He is adjusting to pitching in the next half of his career. The velocity is not coming back, but his skills are holding up very well. Less velocity means more balls in play for him.

Yu Darvish:

Velocity issue: Nope

Pitch utilization issue: Fewer cutters and sliders, more fastballs

Injury issue: Late start to the season with shoulder soreness

Skills issue: Cutting back on the slider of death and using more fastballs has led to more balls in play. He's still striking out plenty of batters, and the new approach may be better for him in the long run.