The Z Files: Strikeout Rate Surgers and Sliders

The Z Files: Strikeout Rate Surgers and Sliders

This article is part of our The Z Files series.

In last week's Z Files, I talked about using strikeout rate as an early indicator to help evaluate what may transpire the next five months. Before taking about some specific hitters, I'd like to make sure we're on the same page with regards to how to consider the data.

The crux of this analysis is based on what are commonly known as stability points. As was explained last week, this label is a bit of a misnomer since the skills under consideration don't stabilize. In addition, the application of the stability points with respect to in-season projections hasn't always been done properly.

Let's focus on the stability aspect. As suggested, it's a mistake to assume the new in-season skill is stable, as could be inferred from the connotation. I look at it as a new baseline expectation. For me, there's a 50/50 chance the player exceeds or fails to meet the baseline. So, in my mind, the new in-season mark isn't stable, but rather the baseline moves in either direction.

The key to the analysis is realizing the baseline is still an over/under line. I may project a better or worse skill based on what's happened so far, but there's still a good chance he gives back the gains or reverses the losses. He could also further improve or show more decline. All that's changed is the over/under line. Also, keep in mind, what's done is done. I'm not talking about the player's final mark, but what's in store the

In last week's Z Files, I talked about using strikeout rate as an early indicator to help evaluate what may transpire the next five months. Before taking about some specific hitters, I'd like to make sure we're on the same page with regards to how to consider the data.

The crux of this analysis is based on what are commonly known as stability points. As was explained last week, this label is a bit of a misnomer since the skills under consideration don't stabilize. In addition, the application of the stability points with respect to in-season projections hasn't always been done properly.

Let's focus on the stability aspect. As suggested, it's a mistake to assume the new in-season skill is stable, as could be inferred from the connotation. I look at it as a new baseline expectation. For me, there's a 50/50 chance the player exceeds or fails to meet the baseline. So, in my mind, the new in-season mark isn't stable, but rather the baseline moves in either direction.

The key to the analysis is realizing the baseline is still an over/under line. I may project a better or worse skill based on what's happened so far, but there's still a good chance he gives back the gains or reverses the losses. He could also further improve or show more decline. All that's changed is the over/under line. Also, keep in mind, what's done is done. I'm not talking about the player's final mark, but what's in store the rest of the season.

With that as a backdrop, let's talk about a dozen hitters, six with improved strikeout rates and six with disappointing marks. Only hitters with 100 plate appearances as of May 2 were considered. I compared their in-season clip to my projected level. The half-dozen at either extreme are discussed. Please feel free to ask about other players in the comments.

Better Strikeout Rates than Expected

Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians (projected 16.8 percent, actual 10.6 percent): The Tribe's leadoff hitter is off to a slow start, despite fanning less than expected. Everyone expects Santana to pick up the pace. Incorporating this philosophy, if Santana continues to make better contact, when he does get it going, the results could be better than others expect. This makes him a buy-low candidate since my landing point for the inevitable rebound is higher than what others anticipate.

Eric Thames, Milwaukee Brewers (projected 27.7 percent, actual 21.4 percent): As if there hasn't already been enough Thames analysis, here and on other sites, now you get more. I'll be honest, Thames' initial baseline was even more a guess than other projections so to say he's doing better than expected is shallow, since quite honestly, no one truly knew what to expect. I'm encouraged that Thames is handling breaking pitches. Even though he wasn't seeing consistent 95 mph heat in Korea, hitting Mr. Swifty wasn't his issue. Timing Uncle Charlie was his Achilles' heel. On the off chance his owner wants to cash in and sell high, I'll be asking what it takes.

Justin Turner, Los Angeles Dodgers (projected 17.2 percent, actual 10.2 percent): This nugget is courtesy of Lord Obvious: Turner's batting average on balls in play (BABIP) won't stay over .400 all season. You're welcome. However, if he continues to whiff at a slower pace, once the BABIP normalizes, Turner's added contact will result in a few more hits and associated production. If his owner wants to cash in on an average in the .370s, I'm buying; the power will come.

Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs (projected 24.1 percent, actual 16.8 percent): It's only a month, but this excites me. Granted, Russell was expected to improve his contact rate as he matured, but to see further improvement after last season's drop in strikeouts raises Russell in my long-term view, making him a prime target if I'm rebuilding in keeper or dynasty leagues. Granted, I'm probably catching up to others in terms of career expectations as Russell's pedigree has portended a future star, but my approach in keeper leagues is to be aggressive for the top keepers, meaning I'll pay whatever it takes to acquire Russell's services for 2018 and beyond.

Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves (projected 23.9 percent, actual 15.5 percent): Like we needed another reason to like Freeman. As expected, SunTrust Park has proven Freeman-friendly. Maybe it also has a better batting eye than Turner Field, or maybe it's confidence, but regardless Freeman is putting more balls in play and the production has followed. I can't imagine his owner is looking to sell, but if so, you know what to do.

Eduardo Nunez, San Francisco Giants (projected 15.9 percent, actual 6.7 percent): Nunez is exhibiting the largest delta between what I expected and what he's doing. This is important for a couple of reasons. AT&T Park isn't built for power hitters, but rather guys that put the ball in play. It hasn't manifested yet, but if Nunez continues to better make contact, once his BABIP in the .260s correct, he'll get on base a ton and hopefully run. Admittedly, several of his pilfers were early, but Nunez looks like he'll continue to get the green light, helping to mitigate his paucity of power.

Worse Strikeout Rates than Expected

Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels (projected 11.3 percent, actual 20.5 percent): There's two ways to look at this. Pujols' strikeout rate has been remarkably consistent over his career, so even at 37 years of age, he deserves the benefit of the doubt and his clip the rest of the season will return to career norms. Or, he's 37 years old, maybe Father Time is catching up to the future Hall of Famer and it's time to cut bait as he's had a couple of solid weeks, despite continuing to fan at an elevated pace. If I'm going to trust the system, I best warn I'd be concerned about Pujols. Your team, your call.

Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays (projected 18.2 percent, actual 27.5 percent): Bautista is in a similar boat as Pujols with the exception that last season, his strikeout rate began to creep up while Pujols' was in line with career marks. I'm less confident Bautista will bounce back, but so is everyone which lowers his price. Joey Bats profiles as a hitter to acquire if you've been a victim of injuries, perhaps losing someone like Josh Donaldson, Adam Eaton, Marcus Semien, C.J. Cron or J.D. Martinez. Or maybe you lost every one of those hitters along with Madison Bumgarner so you traded Bike Flip for Bat Flip. Sigh, maybe that someone is me in Mixed LABR.

Trevor Story, Colorado Rockies (projected 29.8 percent, actual 39.3 percent): Here's another example of analysis that can go in either direction. The optimist suggests it's not secret Story whiffs a ton so they're not worried. OK, perhaps, but what if he continues to punch out even more than his rookie campaign? Don't the Rockies have a guy on their team with a lot of experience playing shortstop that can step in? If I owned Story, I'd be very concerned if Ian Desmond starts taking infield at his old position. I wouldn't give Story away, but if someone wants to buy low, I'm listening.

Kevin Kiermaier, Tampa Bay Rays (projected 18.6 percent, actual 28.3 percent): Of all the players discussed, Kiermaier is of least consequence, at least in mixed formats. He's probably in a fungible spot where you've already replaced him. He may have even been dropped. The system says when he gets it going, he's probably going to strike out a little more than originally expected. However, it's not a foregone conclusion. I look at Kiermaier as a wait and see guy. If I had the roster spot, I'd stash him to see if he gets it going, especially if I needed some speed. The thing with Kiermaier is his glove will keep him in the lineup. Sure, he may sit for Peter Bourjos once in a while like he did Wednesday night, but he's in no danger of losing his job. If you have Kiermaier in AL-only, there's not much you can do. You have to keep him active and hope other players make up for his lack of production.

Jose Altuve, Houston Astros (projected 9.3 percent, actual 21.8 percent): Several years ago, I used this method to recommend cutting bait on Jay Bruce. This was back when he was considered a 35-40 homer threat. He was also thought of as a streaky hitter so when I advised to get rid of Bruce, I was chided, especially in social media where I earned my first official troll as @TheStupidToddZola mocked me daily. Well, my Twitter account may be in for another workout as I'm going to contend that dealing Altuve now is the sage move. He's hitting .310, but it's a result of a bloated .370 BABIP and not his normal stellar contact rate. When the bar is as high as it is with Altuve, almost nothing can go wrong if he's going to provide the expected value. If I can get 100 cents on the dollar for Altuve, I'm selling.

Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians (projected 18.4 percent, actual 33.3 percent): I feared as soon as I passed on Freeman and took Encarnacion in the second round of my NFBC Main Event that I'd regret it. Not that I needed to see this data to corroborate buyer's remorse, but dang, I should have trusted my more than ample gut. Like his ex-teammate Bautista, Encarnacion's strikeout rate edged up last season. Perhaps because he's pressing with his new team, it's shot up this season, marred by an alarming number of swing-and-misses. One can hope once Encarnacion settles in with his new club, he'll regain form. Good luck with that. I'm worried. I'm very worried.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Zola
Todd has been writing about fantasy baseball since 1997. He won NL Tout Wars and Mixed LABR in 2016 as well as a multi-time league winner in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. Todd is now setting his sights even higher: The Rotowire Staff League. Lord Zola, as he's known in the industry, won the 2013 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year award and was named the 2017 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year. Todd is a five-time FSWA awards finalist.
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