Collette Calls: Four Strikeout Surgers

Collette Calls: Four Strikeout Surgers

This article is part of our Collette Calls series.

I feel like I write this story every April.

Here is a sample of some of the tweets I've been sent this week:

Are you worried about Trout?

Should I drop Finnegan for Graveman?

This is just an off day for Odorizzi?

Help me understand LoMo over Loney? (me: Well, watching LoMo has me pining for even Casey Kotchman to come back)

I was offered Archer for Gray -- should I take it?

To all of those, I offer the following song:

This is what I had to say last year when first talking about sample size in 2015:


When a pitcher improves, we look into a few things. The biggest problem with doing this in April is that the sample sizes are rather small and even then, not predictive. It is important to remember that sample sizes legitimize what was seen and are not terribly predictive. These are the stabilization points for pitching stats:

70 BF: Strikeout rate
170 BF: Walk rate
640 BF: HBP rate
670 BF: Single rate
1,450 BF: XBH rate
1,320 BF: HR rate
630 BF: AVG
540 BF: OBP
550 AB: SLG
630 AB: ISO
70 BIP: GB rate
70 BIP: FB rate
650 BIP: LD rate
400 FB: HR per FB
2,000 BIP: BABIP


That snippet was part of the article I wrote on April 20, 2015, saying Chris Archer was an Ace
I feel like I write this story every April.

Here is a sample of some of the tweets I've been sent this week:

Are you worried about Trout?

Should I drop Finnegan for Graveman?

This is just an off day for Odorizzi?

Help me understand LoMo over Loney? (me: Well, watching LoMo has me pining for even Casey Kotchman to come back)

I was offered Archer for Gray -- should I take it?

To all of those, I offer the following song:

This is what I had to say last year when first talking about sample size in 2015:


When a pitcher improves, we look into a few things. The biggest problem with doing this in April is that the sample sizes are rather small and even then, not predictive. It is important to remember that sample sizes legitimize what was seen and are not terribly predictive. These are the stabilization points for pitching stats:

70 BF: Strikeout rate
170 BF: Walk rate
640 BF: HBP rate
670 BF: Single rate
1,450 BF: XBH rate
1,320 BF: HR rate
630 BF: AVG
540 BF: OBP
550 AB: SLG
630 AB: ISO
70 BIP: GB rate
70 BIP: FB rate
650 BIP: LD rate
400 FB: HR per FB
2,000 BIP: BABIP


That snippet was part of the article I wrote on April 20, 2015, saying Chris Archer was an Ace in the Making. This prediction was based on the fact he was throwing harder and getting more rise (and spin) on his fastball and how good his slider looked early as he generated a surprising number of swings-and-misses and groundballs. In short, everything that has thus far gone wrong for Archer went right last year.

To date, 112 pitchers have faced at least 70 batters, but none has faced as many as 170, so let's focus on strikeout rates for some who are off to surprising starts and decide what to do with them.

The top-10 leaderboard for strikeout percentage looks like this:

1. Vincent Velasquez39.2
2. Noah Syndergaard37.7
3. Drew Pomeranz34.7
4. Drew Smyly34.2
5. Rich Hill33.7
6. David Price33.0
7. Jaime Garcia32.9
8. Danny Salazar31.9
9. Rick Porcello30.8
10. Chris Archer29.6

Some of the usual suspect are on that list, but there are a few surprises. Velasquez and Syndergaard are not among those surprises because anyone who has watched them pitch this season has seen how awesome they've looked, and when you can command your heater and your secondary pitches as they have, you are going to strike out a number of guys.

The big surprise is Drew Pomeranz, as he has struck out 35 percent of the batters he has faced and none were his own teammates that Velasquez feasted on.

Pomeranz has struck out 25 batters in 17.2 innings while facing Pittsburgh in San Diego, Philly on the road and, more important, the Rockies in Coors. He's using more curveballs, but that is to be expected compared to his years of pitching at 5,280 feet. The curveball has nearly generated as many whiffs (31 in 2016) than it did all of last season (40). He's also reviving his changeup, which has been mostly invisible the last few seasons and has added a cutter this season. It isn't too much of a reach to think the new look Pomeranz is confusing batters a bit, so it will be curious to see what happens the next time around the league.

The larger factor with him is that his career high for innings is 86, so he is not going to hold up all season as a starting pitcher. I would use this early season dominance as a selling opportunity for someone with a bigger track record of innings.

Drew Smyly is picking up where he left off in 2014 for Tampa Bay before the shoulder issues hit him last year and erased most of his season. This season, Smyly is doing more of the rising fastball and cutter, but really stepped up the usage of his changeup and is getting many whiffs on that pitch. Durability is still an issue, as well, as shoulder issues tend to linger rather than disappear, but he has looked outstanding in his last two outings against Cleveland and Boston even though he has zero wins to show for it this season.

Rich Hill probably deserves his own story altogether. After all, this was a guy whose career was dead and bloated and now he's smelling like a rose for those who rostered him in drafts this season ($6 in my local league). Since his return to the big leagues, he is 4-3 with a 2.25 ERA and has held batters to a .198 average while striking out 65 and walking 14 in 48 innings. He has struck out 33.9 percent of the batters he has faced over those eight starts while Clayton Kershaw has K'd 31.6 percent in the same time. The difference this season is Hill is throwing two types of breaking balls and has thus far shelved his changeup. This is a broken record, but Hill's durability is always in question, and he is likely the riskiest of these three surprising strikeout surgers.

Lastly, we have Rick Porcello. He has never been known for strikeouts, but was someone I mentioned in the Other Names to Watch in the Bargain Targets piece that ran both on the site and in the RotoWire magazine this spring. The specific note was he had a 20-percent strikeout rate last year and began to find success later in the season using his fastball more frequently. This season in three starts in the American League East against Tampa Bay and Toronto (twice), he struck out at least seven in each outing. Compare that to the six times he struck out that many in 28 starts in 2015 and we raise our eyebrows. Ironically, Porcello is getting the strikeouts this season while using his two-seamer more frequently as that is a pitch designed more for generating weak contact than strikeouts.

The other change that isn't going to show up in the strikeout rate for Porcello is how he is shutting down lefties. Historically, Porcello has struggled with lefties, and for his career they have hit .296 against him, but this season, he's held the 32 lefties he has faced to a .125 average. Looking at the Pitch f/x data, Porcello is pitching inside more frequently to lefties this season instead of leaving everything out and away as he has in previous seasons. It is a trend to watch as the issues against lefties have always held back his value, and of the four pitchers discussed in this piece, he is the most durable of the group. Keep in mind, he looked awful in spring training, but his work in September and his numbers in 2016 are worth rostering and riding out if ANY improvement against lefties can be sustained.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jason Collette
Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999, and here at Rotowire since 2011. You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Sleeper and the Bust podcast every Sunday. A ten-time FSWA finalist, Jason won the FSWA's Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year award in 2013 and the Baseball Series of the Year award in 2018 for Collette Calls, as esd the 2023 AL LABR champion. Jason manages his social media presence at https://linktr.ee/jasoncollette
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