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Biggest Starting Pitcher Fallers (K-BB%) - Use Caution for Fantasy Baseball Drafts

Cristian Javier Shane McClanahan - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News, Starting Pitchers

In an age when we have a way to quantify just about anything that a baseball player can do on the field, one statistic that you'll find most analysts taking to heart when it comes to pitchers is their strikeout-to-walk ratio (K-BB%). It is often regarded as one of the most important and predictive statistics out there for evaluating pitchers.

Sometimes simple is good, even in the complex world of baseball statistics and sabermetrics. When it comes to K-BB%, the bigger the number, the better. The more strikeouts a pitcher can rack up, the less the ball is put into play. And fewer walks simply means fewer baserunners and less of a chance at giving up runs.

I examined all starting pitchers who threw at least 80 innings in each of the last two seasons to see which pitchers had the biggest decreases in their K-BB%. I don't want to come out and say fade every one of these pitchers -- because there is certainly a chance they could bounce back. But they're trending in the wrong direction and lower K-BB% usually means that higher ERAs and WHIPs are on the way.

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The Consistency of K-BB%

The main reason this stat is so helpful is that it has proven to be "sticky," meaning it usually stays relatively stable year to year.

If we look at all pitchers with 80+ innings starts in both 2022 and 2023 and then compare their K-BB% for both years, we see the average change from 2022 to 2023 was just -1.1%. And the overall average K-BB% was right around 15% if we want to establish a baseline.

If a pitcher sees a major increase or decrease in their K-BB% from year to year, it's a pretty clear indication of a major breakthrough (increase) or big-time trouble (decrease). In this article, we will be looking at some of the biggest decreases in K-BB% from the 2022 to 2023 season.


Biggest Decreases in K-BB% Last Season

Remember that to qualify for the list, pitchers had to throw at least 80 innings in both 2022 and 2023, that way we have at least a half-year's worth of starts in either season to use for our sample. Tony Gonsolin is coming off arm surgery and isn't someone you're considering drafts as well as Shane McClanahan, who is slated to miss all of the 2024 season after Tommy John surgery.

The rest of these guys are fair game, and I am going to make a case against drafting them at their ADP.


Ailing Astros Aces

It was just two years ago that Justin Verlander was underdrafted. He came off a major arm surgery at age 39 and won a Cy Young Award, going 18-4 across 28 starts. Last year, he struggled early in the season with the Mets before being dealt back to Houston and finding his groove.

And while he still finished with a solid ERA of 3.22, it was his highest ERA since 2017. The biggest noticeable difference was a huge decrease in his strikeout rate from 27.8% to 21.5%. His SwStr% dipped to just 11.1% and his BB% jumped two points to 6.7%.

He's now 41 years old and while his fastball velocity is still hanging around 94 mph, opposing hitters made much better contact off him last year. At an ADP of 134, I am out on Verlander when I could be taking a young pitcher who is still on the upward arc of their career.

Verlander's teammate Cristian Javier was one of the biggest busts of 2023. His strikeout rate plummeted from 33% to just 23%. His FB velocity dipped from 93.8 mph to 92.7 mph and as Corbin Young notes in the tweet above, he lost the good arm side run that he had in 2022. That could explain why hitters teed off on his fastball to the tune of 21 home runs allowed and a .455 SLG. For a guy who throws 60% fastballs, that's a huge problem as his offspeed stuff isn't anything special.

Reports from training camp are that he lost 15 pounds and feels great coming into the season, and he could certainly bounce back from his mediocre 2023 season to some extent. But my guess is that he was pitching over his head in 2022 and will likely settle in somewhere between his terrific 2022 season and his mediocre year last season.

At an ADP of 168, I'm not betting on him to reclaim his 2022 form when there are plenty of other pitchers on an upward trajectory in that area worth drafting (like Hunter Brown, for example).


Can Bieber, Burnes, or Brady Bounce Back?

Shane Bieber went to Driveline this offseason and it was reported that he gained up to 2.0 mph on his fastball as his average four-seamer was only 91.3 mph last season.

He better hope so because he's been on a downward trend now for several seasons. The last time his fastball averaged over 93 mph was in 2020, which was also when his trademark curveball was at its peak effectiveness (26.3% swinging strike rate, 83% ground ball rate).

His overall Statcast numbers from last season are...well, largely unimpressive as he finished with a 3.80 ERA and a measly 20% K% in 21 starts.

If anything, it speaks to Bieber's ability as a pitcher to continue to get decent results even with below-average velocity and only an 8.0 MPH difference in velocity between his fastball and curveball.

If there's any truth to his breakthrough with Driveline, then perhaps he can regain his form. But once again, we are looking at an ADP of 139 where I would much rather be investing in a more proven commodity than hoping for a bounceback.

Corbin Burnes is a victim of his own success. He was so good in 2022 that his numbers in 2023 (which were still really good) pale in comparison. A 25% strikeout rate with an 8% walk rate would be a huge year for most pitchers, but for Burnes, it represented a 5% drop in strikeouts and a 2% increase in walks.

His velocity on his cutter dropped from 95 to 94 mph and the SwStr% on his best pitch decreased from 13.3% to just 10.9%. He's now in Baltimore and set to be the ace of that young staff. I am sure he'll be fine, eat up innings, and pick up wins. But if can't pile up strikeouts like he once did, is he worth the 20th overall pick (his current ADP)?

Brady Singer followed the best season of his career (3.23 ERA, 24% K%) with his worst last season when his ERA ballooned to 5.52 and his K% plummeted to just 18.9%. The lack of strikeouts might have been okay if his ground ball rate had not also dropped to a career-low 50.6%, too.

Unlike the others, he does come pretty cheap at an ADP of 404, but you'd like to see the control come back and for him to have some positive results this spring before taking a shot on him bouncing back.


Angels Lefties Lack Control

I have a really hard time rostering pitchers with control issues. And both Tyler Anderson and Patrick Sandoval are those types of pitchers.

Tyler Anderson enjoyed a renaissance of sorts with the Dodgers in 2022 when he won a career-high 15 games and posted career lows in ERA (2.57) and BB% (4.8%). But last year, he struggled badly for the Halos as his BB% jumped all the way to 10.2%. As a pitcher who doesn't overpower anyone with a 90 mph fastball, Anderson relies on a really good changeup and his cutter to induce weak contact. All those extra walks really killed his WHIP (1.49) as he put himself in danger with runners on base far too often. Perhaps he could be serviceable if his control comes back, but he struggled with throwing strikes for much of his career before two solid seasons in 2021-2022. I'll pass.

I was once a big believer in Patrick Sandoval, as he flashed some really good strikeout upside (25.9%) back in 2021 during his first extended run in the majors. And in 2022, he finished with a 2.91 ERA despite a 1.34 WHIP, which may have been one of the more impressive feats for a starting pitcher.

He's been battling control issues for his entire career as his career BB% is 10.1%. He had his worst season in terms of throwing strikes last year as he saw his walk rate swell to 11.3% and his K% drop to 19.6%. The end result was an ugly 1.51 WHIP over 144 innings and 28 starts.

He has a devastating changeup that would be a tremendous out pitch; however, he hasn't been able to locate his fastball and slider early in the count to set hitters up. Instead, he's falling behind hitters and then trying to get by with a 93 mph fastball in hitters counts. And if he doesn't give in and throw a fastball, he's picking at the corners with offspeed stuff and walking hitters instead. There's still potential here with Sandoval, but he's a frustrating pitcher to roster and I'll let someone else roll the dice on him.


Other Pitchers on the "Watch List"

Here are some other pitchers who saw their K-BB% drop considerably in 2023, but didn't make the main chart. We have some big names here with guys like Kershaw, Cole, Scherzer, and Nola. And while I am not saying you shouldn't draft them, what I am saying is you should consider where you are drafting them as it's more likely that their best years are behind them.

Follow me for more pitching breakdowns and keep checking RotoBaller for the latest fantasy baseball advice this preseason!

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