On the Prowl for K-Upside
This is the second in a series of articles in which we will evaluate potential fantasy baseball sleepers by looking at deeper statistics and advanced sabermetrics. Today we are going to try and project four pitchers that should see increased production in the strikeout category for the remainder of the season. Though the ERA may be high for some of these guys, increased strikeout rates are sure to help a pitcher’s overall numbers. Also, please note that these are all starting pitchers, due to an unforeseen and completely unexplainable bias by the author against relief pitchers.
Yordano Ventura - Kansas City Royals
After a disastrous May, Yordano Ventura has put together three quality starts as he’s done more than his fair share to help the Royals win nine straight. The 23-year-old right hander has made batters swing and miss on 11% of all of his pitches, which is good enough to be tied with David Price and Jason Hammel, who are first and seventeenth, respectively, in strikeouts. Unfortunately these strikes haven’t translated to a proportionate number of strikeouts as Ventura’s 21.3% K rate puts him at thirty second in that category- and seventy third in total strikeouts among pitchers with the qualified amount of innings pitched. Ventura is the youngest player on this list so in all likelihood he is trying to figure out how to best utilize his cutter and change-up, by far his two most effective pitches, but as he gets the hang of them he should see a rise in K/9.
Ervin Santana - Atlanta Braves
The former Royal and current Brave has been making hitters whiff an incredible 12.0% this season, which places Santana between Zach Greinke and Max Scherzer in that category. Even for the former All-Star, that’s an insanely high rate of whiffs. Even though his 21.3% K rate is the highest it’s ever been for him, Santana's whiff rate means he could potentially strikeout batters at an even higher pace. It’s probable that the extended off-season and lack of working out with a team has hurt Santana as his four seam and two seam fastball have lost velocity and are getting hit pretty hard. He’s starting to throw the slider and change-up more often and you can expect the veteran to rely on them as the season unwinds. He’s at 67 K for the year now, but don’t think it’s unreasonable for him to reach 160-170 on the season.
Jordan Zimmermann - Washington Nationals
Too cliché of a pick? It’s funny to see a guy who won 19 games and finished seventh in the Cy Young voting be on the sleepers list, but Zimmermann has actually started 2014, well, unlike Zimmermann. He’s punched out 71 K's (good enough for 47th) in 84.2 IP. His 20.7% K rate places him at 43rd tied with John Lackey and Homer Bailey. Considering the type of seasons they’ve had, it’s probably not a good thing to be in the same company as Lackey and Bailey. There is good news though: his 10.2% whiff rate places "ZNN" just above Jeff Samardzija and being placed above Samardzija this year in anything is good. Batters have been able to figure "ZNN’s" fastball out this year, at least better than previous years, but the young Washington pitcher is beginning to counter with an improved curveball that hitters are struggling against. That curveball should lead "ZNN’s" fantasy owners to the strikeout promise land as the season progresses.
Erasmo Ramirez - Seattle Mariners
Who? Among all starting pitchers with at least 40 IP, Ramirez is sandwiched between Scherzer and Cole Hamels with an 11.5% swinging strike rate. Evidently that has not led to a whole lot of success for the young Mariner as evidenced by his 5.27 ERA, which would put him just above a pitcher who has seen some better days. (Let’s just say the pitcher is a hefty lefty in New York.) His 19.2% K rate is nothing to sneeze at, but the 24-year-old should be somewhere in the vicinity of 25.0%. He’s thrown a wide array of pitches, with mostly little success, but it is clear that his best pitch is his changeup. As long as Ramirez can stay healthy, a big if, and he continues to throw more change ups, another big if, the Mariners and his fantasy owners can see a return to late 2012 Ramirez and not the, ahem, “stinky” 2013 Ramirez. Lot of ifs here but there's still some nice KUpside.