In terms of predicting who will be a leader in Ks for an entire year, it is safe to be on one of the obvious studs to hold that position. It's time to be bold, though.
If you are able to find one or even two starters that breakthrough the 200 K threshold unexpectedly, it will go a long way toward winning you that category.
In this space, we'll look at some pitchers who have had success invoking swings-and-misses to batters, but have yet to reach the next level in their career.Editor's note: Get 50% off any MLB Premium Pass. Draft guide, cheat sheets, 200 days of DFS access, and over 20 premium tools. Dominate your leagues all year long! Sign Up Now!
SP Strikeout Sleepers
Let's begin by looking at last year’s top 10 strikeout leaders:
Pretty much an expected group of studs there that combined innings with solid Ks to end up leading the league. Maybe you had doubts about Noah Syndegaard heading in to the season but a lot of people expect him to be a beast. 2015 had more intrigue in its top 10:
I count 5 surprises there, between Keuchel, Arrieta, Kluber, Archer and Carrasco. Now, many of us Rotoballers saw some of these guys coming from afar, but they were no sure things to lead the league. So who could be this year’s surprises? First, let’s look at K/9 and Swinging Strike rates from last year to see if there are any underrated candidates. First, the all-important strikeouts per nine innings:
Robbie Ray and Michael Pineda stick out on this list. Ray’s only issue is control. He tends to let up a lot of walks, and so far this spring the trend seems to be continuing. Pineda’s issue is getting ahead in counts. When he gets ahead, his slider is filthy and he K’s people like there’s no tomorrow. Both of those guys have nice upside, but are going for a pretty penny in drafts so far. So, not a “deep sleeper.”
Jon Gray has a lot to like, but the icy mountaintop of Coors field makes me shudder. He’s a pretty decent bet to be a top K guy, and his price is pretty low compared to other guys on this list. If he stays healthy and somehow throws 250 IP, watch out K leaderboard.
Pomeranz is another story. His K rate fell after joining the Sox and his health has always been a concern. He has almost no chance to finish top 10 in Ks this year. Now, onto the Swinging Strike rates:
Cole Hamels has always had great SwStr numbers but had never had a top K season. I’m not holding out hope for this season in Texas. Pineda and Gray show up again here, and you know my thoughts on them.
So to find some deeper K sleepers we might have to think outside the box a little bit. Think about pedigree, think about spring training stats, think about some common sense factors that are all gelling at the right time.
With that said I think Taijuan Walker has a lot going for him. His price is starting to creep up in drafts, and for good reason. Arizona brought in a great pitch framer in Jeff Mathis this offseason. Moving to the NL has always helped pitchers get more Ks. The guy has 28 K in 22 IP so far this spring which is absurd. His pedigree has always been special. Maybe he puts it together finally this year.
Another guy having a great spring is Danny Salazar. He is actually leading the league with 27 K in 26 IP so far. Like Ray, he struggles with walks and home runs. But he has an outstanding repertoire and pedigree that I would bet on if he falls in drafts.
Francisco Liriano is also a really nice late grab. He is a former K stud who made mechanical adjustments lately and has been crushing spring training. Liriano made his adjustments late last year and also enjoys working with framing star Russell Martin. For a little bit more money, Lance Mccullers, Vince Vazquez and Danny Duffy might be worth grabbing. All three have immense K upside but possess innings and/or injury concerns. See who falls in your draft and pounce on the best value pick.
In sum, here is my list of underrated pitchers who have a good chance to finish top 10 in Ks this year:
Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies
Francisco Liriano, Toronto Blue Jays
Taijuan Walker, Arizona Diamondbacks
Danny Salazar, Cleveland Indians
Robby Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
Lance McCullers, Houston Astros
Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
Vince Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies
I’ve been trying to get a couple of these guys on every team I have drafted for the K upside. While they won't all pan out, if you find yourself lacking in strikeouts on your staff or simply want to find the next MadBum before anyone else does, take a chance on one or more of these starters and it might pay off.