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Statcast Pitcher Risers/Fallers - Strike% (Week 23)

Welcome back to Rotoballer’s series using Statcast to extrapolate, dig into, and commiserate over data to examine pitching performances. The weekly series will be dynamic as we fine-tune our findings and enlighten ourselves on the information and tools at our disposal.

After a month-long personal hiatus by yours truly, our column is back in action just in time for the final month of baseball. The dog days are over and the stretch run is upon us. Players are tired and banged up and pitchers are no exception. September separates the fighters from the fakes, differentiating true ballplayers from those already dreaming of their offseason vacation.

We’ll focus on strikes for Week 23, looking at strike percentage since August to pick our risers and fallers. If you’re throwing darts, chances are you control the plate appearance. Excluding balls in play, the median strike% since August 1 is 46.3% for 78 pitchers.

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Bound to Pop

All stats as of September 3 for starting pitchers with over 500 pitches since August 1. Strike% excludes balls in play.

Rich Hill, Los Angeles Dodgers (6-5, 3.59 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 9.91 K/9)

Rich Hill made only nine starts across the season’s first three months due to injury. Upon returning to full health, he’s been marvelous, posting a 2.83 ERA since July. In eleven starts over that span, he’s surrendered three earned runs or less nine times.

Hill is sixth with a 52.1% strike% since August. For the season, the gritty veteran has been the sharpest in his career in terms of first-pitch strikes (64.6%). Hill is a pure two-pitch starter, relying on a low-90s fastball and curveball for over 95% of his pitches. He’s had remarkable success with his four-seamer amidst his run, registering a whiff rate of almost 15%. Hitters have not been able to square him up, batting barely over a paltry .200.

Hill’s 44% Hard% and 93.5 MPH FB/LD exit velocity are worrisome, but his barrel data (5.1% Brls/PA) isn’t particularly alarming. Although his K/9 is down this season, fantasy players should gladly accept the current strikeout pace. Across Hill’s career, he’s been a better second half pitcher (3.49 ERA, 1.15 WHIP vs. 4.30/1.33). With the Dodgers firmly in pennant contention and Hill in his zillionth rodeo, he’s likely primed for a solid stretch run.

Lucas Giolito, Chicago White Sox (10-9, 5.66 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 6.62 K/9)

Lucas Giolito was a train wreck to start the season, with an ERA above 7.00 as recently as late June. In the first four months of the 2018, Giolito was one of the worst in baseball with a 40.3% strike%. He’s turned the corner since August, firing 49.9% of pitches in the zone.

Because strikes have a virtuous positive correlation with all things pitching, the strike% has quickly turned Giolito’s season around. The 24-year-old finished August with a solid 3.86 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 9.64 K/9 in six starts. Considering his miserable 5.85 K/9 through July, the revelation is astounding. Giolito has leaned on a changeup, his best pitch, increasing its usage to 23% with a corresponding whiff rate that’s risen from 9% in April to 24% last month and a measly .057 slugging percentage.

Giolito was baseball’s top pitching prospect in 2016 and while he still has much to learn, recent progress is encouraging. The White Sox have a fairly benign schedule in September, including matchups against the Tigers, Angels, Royals and Twins. Giolito should draw starts in a handful of those series, making him a dark horse sleeper candidate to be a critical piece for baseball’s final month.

Other possible risers: Rick Porcello (BOS, 52.2% strike%, J.A. Happ (NYY, 51.6%), German Marquez (COL, 51.4%)


Due to Drop

Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (11-10, 3.46 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 6.81 K/9)

During the course of this writing, Dallas Keuchel turned in a gem against the Twins (6 IP, 0 ER). Since August, Keuchel’s collected three victories with a 3.02 ERA in seven starts. Oddly, his strike% has decreased over that span, dropping to 42.2% for the league’s tenth-lowest mark.

Keuchel’s been fairly consistent this season, becoming a bankable fantasy asset after a few early bouts with bad luck. However, the lack of strikes and strikeouts could be concerning. Keuchel is surrendering contact above career norms (81%) and on pace for his lowest SwStr% mark (8.6%). With whiffs down across the board, Keuchel’s inability to locate the zone could lead to trouble. While he’s still amongst baseball’s top ground ball pitchers, his GB% has sunk from 67% last season to 54% while the FB% has spiked to 24%. Hard% has increased correspondingly which may ultimately jeopardize the suspiciously low 0.80 HR/9.

Keuchel’s 3.59 FIP suggests his numbers are trustworthy. However, he shouldn’t be considered a fantasy ace, which his ownership levels suggest. With his pedestrian strikeout totals and middling ratios, he barely cracks the top-250 ranked fantasy players. If his lack of strikes eventually materialize to haunt him, it should surprise no one.

Tanner Roark, Washington Nationals (8-14, 4.03 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.46 K/9)

Admittedly, touting Tanner Roark back in week 10 was ill-advised. We cited his “meh” profile and that’s exactly what he’s been. Roark’s been extremely inconsistent this season, following up five consecutive losses with five consecutive wins between June 22 and August 16. Has that ever happened?

Roark’s dependability woes could be his poor 42.2% strike%, tied for tenth-lowest since August. He’s found the zone only 40.3% of pitches this year, placing him in the bottom-20. In his last eleven starts, Roark’s strikeouts per game have varied wildly, with four starts tallying over seven Ks and four others recording three or less punchouts. While he’s enjoyed strong results in August (2.78 ERA), a peculiar shift towards his mediocre fastball and sinker has resulted in a forgettable 5.30 K/9.

The verdict on Roark is that he’s too volatile to trust. His ratios get blown up when he looks for strikeouts and, on the flipside, he can’t buy a K when he’s in a groove. Perhaps like many ballplayers in the final month, Roark is just finding ways to get off the mound as quickly as possible to enjoy a nice, long winter vacation. As a fantasy analyst, he might be someone I close the book on for good.

Other possible fallers: Julio Teheran (ATL, 42.3% strike%), Carlos Rodon (CHW, 43.1%), Jon Gray (COL, 43.3%)