If there's a glamour category for pitchers in both real-life and fantasy baseball, it comes in the form of the almighty K. Strikeouts are more than just an effective way to keep runners off base, they are to some degree an assertion of a pitcher's dominance.
When you think about the most intimidating pitchers in the history of the game: Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Nolan Ryan, Sandy Koufax... they all had the ability to punch out batters in high volume. Sadly, the projected leader for this category, Jose Fernandez, is no longer around to flash his tremendous talent. That said, the competition for top strikeout artist of 2017 includes a host of aces and a couple of young arms that might surprise you.
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2017 Predictions: Top 10 Strikeout Artists
10. Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals - I know, counting on Strasburg to throw 200+ innings might be a stretch. He started 23 and 24 games the last two seasons, but in 2014 he actually led the NL in games started (34) as well as strikeouts (242). Late last season he suffered a partial tear in the pronator tendon of his right elbow, but this shouldn't keep him off the mound in the opening series of 2017. With a career 10.6 K/9, a pitcher like Strasburg could still reach the top 10 even if he makes just four more starts than he did last season.
9. Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals - If anyone can step up to become an ace in KC, it's Duffy. After two solid seasons in the rotation, Duffy took another step forward in 2016, mainly in the strikeout category. His K/9 jumped from 6.8 and 6.7 the previous two seasons up to 9.4, around the range he had kept earlier in his career. Duffy could be the Opening Day starter for the Royals and has a chance to start 30 games for the first time in his career. 215 strikeouts or more could be in the cards.
8. Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks - Last year, Ray was the best pitcher you didn't realize could win you the K category single-handedly in NL-only leagues. He struck out 218 batters in an otherwise unremarkable fantasy season. Ray has been a fringe member of the struggling D-backs rotation thanks to a lack of control (3.57 BB/9) and some bad batted ball luck (.353 BABIP in 2016). Ray's 3.59 SIERA suggests he's better than his ERA. If he learns to command his changeup a bit more, he could finish even higher on this list.
7. Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians - As consistent as it gets - Kluber is practically a shoo-in for a top-five Cy Young finish. Kluber has logged at least 32 starts and 227 K in each of the last three seasons. The only concern is the fact that his totals are trending downward and he's now on the wrong side of 30. Kluber is still as safe a bet as anyone to ring up at least 200 batters, but he likely won't be at the very top of this list by year's end.
6. Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets - Suffice to say, Thor brought the thunder last year with a 10.7 K/9 that improved on his rookie campaign. His ceiling may not be up to the Kershaw/Scherzer level, but at just 24 years old, Syndergaard will only keep improving. The only concern is that he doesn't catch the injury bug from basically every other Mets starter.
5. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers - If you foresaw Verlander posting the second-highest K total of his career in 2016, congratulations: you probably won your fantasy league. Whereas you were probably able to grab Verlander as a mid-rotation arm last season in fantasy drafts, he'll cost you a fourth-rounder this Spring. Some regression is likely, as his 10.04 K/9 should dip a bit closer to his 8.45 mark. Calling for a complete fall-off would be a mistake, however. He may be motivated by his Cy Young snub. That and he'll probably want to keep impressing Kate Upton.
4. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants - It's hard to believe MadBum may just be entering his prime at 27. He faced more batters than anyone last season and led the league with 34 starts. With 30 or more starts in six straight seasons, he is a virtual lock for 200+ K. The scary thing is that his strikeout rate has actually gone up four years in a row, so he is becoming even more dominant.
3. Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays - Archer's K/9 actually dipped a little last season, yet at 10.42 it was still higher than Bumgarner's 10.0. Archer had an inexplicably rough start to the year, but settled down in the second half. It's widely thought that a move outside the AL East might do his owners a favor, but Archer is doing just fine in Tropicana Field. His 2.65 home ERA was less than half of his 5.44 road ERA. Although his surrounding cast has diminished, Archer should fare better on the mound than last season and reach the 250 K mark again like he did in 2015.
2. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals - The true workhorse on this list is Scherzer, who has started at least 30 games in eight straight seasons. He posted a career-high in strikeouts with a league-leading 284. That total has climbed for five years in a row and shows no signs of slowing. 300 strikeouts in a season is a milestone reached by very few in this age, but he is one of the few who could make it a reality.
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers - Only a herniated disc stopped Kershaw from claiming his fourth crown as strikeout king. The injury kept him out of action for two months, limiting him to 21 starts. He still finished with 172 K in 142 IP. Kershaw is the only pitcher in the last 15 years to reach the 300 strikeout plateau with 301 in the 2015 season. Assuming he stays healthy as he had until last year, it would be foolish to bet against him.
Jon Gray, Colorado Rockies - I couldn't find a way to fit him above these 10 pitchers, but Gray deserves a shoutout. In his rookie year, pitching in the altitude, Gray whiffed 185 batters. Believe it or not, he allowed fewer home runs than all but three pitchers on this list; two of them started fewer games (Kershaw and Strasburg). Don't let the Rockies uniform scare you away; Gray actually pitched better at Coors Field, holding a 4.30 ERA and 10.1 K/9 at home. If you're looking for an elite strikeout artist that won't cost you a high draft pick, look to Gray.