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Strike Zone Rate Analysis: Starting Pitchers Who Attack The Zone (2024)

Eury Perez - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

So what's this article all about? Well, we want to take a look at pitchers who attack the zone (Zone% > 45%), have swing-and-miss stuff (SwStr% > 13%), and have a better-than-league-average zone contact (Z-Contact% < 85.4%) to see if their approach is working for them.

For context, the league average Zone% in 2023 was 41.9%, so these guys are well above that. League average SwStr% was 11.1%, and again these guys are well above.

We'll also then take a look at whether or not they're fairly priced in 2024 fantasy drafts.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

What Are These Stats?

Oh, you don't know what the heck some of these stats are? Well, let's define them before we get into it:

Another thing to keep in mind is that just because you attack the zone doesn't mean you should... looking at you Steven Matz who had a 54.8% Zone% but a poor 10.7% SwStr%, high 11.0% HR/FB%, and a career FIP of 4.24.

Here are the 17 starting pitchers that made the cut (min 75 IP), sorted by SwStr%, highest to lowest:

 

2023 Zone% + SwStr% + Z-Contact% Leaders

Looking at the list above, there are several interesting names. We're not going to touch on Spencer Strider, Zack Wheeler, Luis Castillo, et al. because those are names you are drafting high regardless of their penchant for hitting the zone consistently. Looking further down the list, by now you know who Max Scherzer and Chris Sale are. So, let's take a look at some of those other names and check out a few other things:

  • What else do they do well?
  • What don't they do so well?
  • ADP and if they are fairly priced or over/undervalued

Eury Perez, Miami Marlins

The 20-year-old was fantastic early last season, but was sent down to the minors in July to limit his innings, then was recalled in August with the Marlins vying for a playoff spot. Whether he was playing over his head early on, or the amount of work and pressure of being in a postseason race wore him down, Perez was not as effective after his return in August.

That's not to say he wasn't good at times. He still had a six-inning effort on August 19 against the vaunted Dodgers where he allowed just two hits, zero walks, and struck out 10. He followed that up on August 26 with another scoreless effort against the Nationals. What was encouraging and remained consistent was his K-BB%, which was 20.5% before his "demotion," and 20.8% after his recall.

What's good: 68.5% Contact% and 15.7% SwStr% both ranked in the top four in MLB; elite K% in 2023 (28.9%)

What's bad: 98 Location+ (27th percentile) which explains below average BB% (8.3%); poor 11.5% HR/FB%; alarming spike in FB% in final 38 IP (21/33/46% vs 18/15/67% LD/GB/FB%)

ADP Value: Fair -- Going around pick 77 in drafts, the 6'8" righty has a chance to return some value there, although not much. The spike in FB% is concerning as those could turn into HR, so hopefully, he can bring that number down a bit in 2024 which should help in other areas.

Cole Ragans, Kansas City Royals

Cole Ragans pitched exclusively out of the bullpen in 2023 during his tenure with the Rangers, however, with the Royals he worked exclusively a starter. The results were night and day for the southpaw as seen below.

The second "half" of Ragans' season has started to build some hype, but perhaps for good reason. If he can replicate those numbers for a full season, that would not only be a boon to fantasy managers, but it would certainly put him in the AL Cy Young conversation as well.

What's good: Stuff+/Loc+/Pitch+ all above 100, 126 Pitching+ on his slider is fourth-best; K%; HR/FB% (w/ the Royals)

What's bad: 9.4% BB% as a starter was poor despite his success with the Royals and even in the minors it was never good; he's also pitched more than 100 innings in a season just once (134 2/3 IP in 2022 between AA/AAA/MLB)

ADP Value: Overvalued -- but perhaps only slightly. Maybe his breakout was for real, but with just half of a season to go off of, he's going ahead of Walker Buehler, Sonny Gray, Justin Verlander, Hunter Greene, and others. Not that those pitchers just mentioned don't have their own concerns, but with Ragans, we don't have the MLB track record or the minor league resume to back up the breakout.

Tarik Skubal, Detroit Tigers

Detroit lefty Tarik Skubal got a late start to the 2023 season recovering from a flexor tendon injury, but once he returned he was very effective. He posted a 7-3 record with a 2.80 ERA, 2.00 FIP, 0.90 WHIP, 32.9% K% (96th percentile), 4.5% BB% (96th percentile), 6.8% HR/FB%, .198 AVG over 80 1/3 IP. His xERA was the best in the entire league (2.30).

He landed on one of my other articles, 2023 K-BB% Risers, but his K% has always been good and the walks haven't been bad either. He elevated both to elite levels in 2023. A few more things he has going for him is that he pitches in the Central Division, which had the most Ks out of all MLB divisions last season. This was particularly a result of the Twins striking out more than any other team, and Skubal should face them multiple times in 2024.

What's good: K%; BB%; HR/FB%; 106 Location+ (86th percentile); 69.4% Strike% was best out of all pitchers on this list; elite WHIP

What's bad: Not much to quibble about here. 97 Stuff+ (54th percentile), but even that had improved six points from the year prior

ADP Value: Fair -- The anticipation of a full season of dominance has already pushed his ADP up to 54 (12th SP overall), which doesn't leave room for a large return on investment. However, if he can have the season his ADP suggests he will have, managers will be plenty happy with those types of numbers.

Domingo German, Free Agent

We won't spend too much time on this one, but last season was a *perfect* example of the kind of pitcher Domingo German is. In consecutive starts on June 16 and 22, German didn't last longer than 3 1/3 IP in either one, giving up a total of 15 ER on 15 H, 4 BB, and 5 K. On June 28, the righty threw a *perfect game*, going 9 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, and 9 K. The next start he lasted just 4 1/3 IP allowing 9 H. There's talent there for sure, but the inconsistency is why he's not a perennial All-Star (or even a 1x All-Star).

What's good: 70.7% Contact%; 14.9% SwStr%; 25.7% K%

What's bad: 17.1% HR/FB% (career 15.8%); 7.7% BB% (career 7.4%)

ADP Value: Undervalued -- Last season ended when he sought help with alcohol abuse and he's currently a free agent. But he missed 81 games in 2019 for an off-field issue and has also been suspended for using "sticky stuff," so you're not sure if you'll get a full season out of him. He's been linked to the Red Sox and Orioles as well as the Padres, so he could latch on somewhere soon. He's largely going undrafted currently, but if he does sign on with someone, with his type of stuff he could be worth a late-round flier.

Freddy Peralta, Milwaukee Brewers

Freddy Peralta's season may have gone a bit unnoticed because of his unremarkable first half, but the second half was phenomenal:

His second-half K% of 36.3% was the best in all of baseball! It was 2.1% better than the next pitcher, Spencer Strider. The walks came down 4% too. If he can ride that momentum into 2024, look out.

What's good: Career K% of 31.1%; Stuff+/Loc+/Pitch+ all above 100; 33.6% Whiff% (92nd percentile)

What's bad: HR/FB% of 16.0% on the season was bad, and even in the second half it was 16.1%, but much worse than his career 11.7%; career BB% of 9.4% but has reduced it in two consecutive seasons down to 7.9% in 2023

ADP Value: Fair -- at a price of pick 60, he's going ahead of names like Max Fried, Logan Webb, and Blake Snell, but assuming some regression in the HR/FB% department, that should help ERA go from average to above average while continuing to rack up the Ks.

Jesus Luzardo, Miami Marlins

On the last prospect list Jesus Luzardo made in 2020, he was ranked as high as 12th overall. So we know the pedigree is there, but last season was the first time he pitched more than 100 1/3 innings in a season, easily notching a career-high with 178 2/3 IP. En route to the career-high IP, Luzardo also tallied a career-high in strikeouts with 208, which was 12th-most in the majors. As a result, like Ragans, Luzardo's name has begun to be tossed around as a potential Cy Young dark horse.

What's good: Stuff+/Loc+/Pitch+ all above 100; Top-12 Contact% (70.8%); 95th percentile Fastball Run Value, 96.7 FB velocity (90th percentile)

What's bad: 89.5 Avg EV (37th percentile); 40% HardHit (44th percentile); career 13.7% HR/FB%

ADP Value: Fair -- at pick 89 he's going in between teammate Eury Perez (78) and Joe Ryan (95), which feels right. Luzardo clearly avoids most contact as evidenced by the above stats, but when he does get hit it seems to be hard, so limiting that in '24 will be key to taking another step forward.

Bailey Ober, Minnesota Twins

Bailey Ober doesn't get much fanfare, but if you want consistent, boring production, then he's your guy. Looking at Ober's game logs, you can see the righty will typically give you five innings, but not much more. In 2023, Ober had just two starts in 26 total where he didn't last at least five innings, but on the flip side, he had just three where he lasted longer than six. He also had just three starts where he gave up four or more runs; by comparison, AL Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole had five starts giving up four runs or more (33 GS).

He's here because he attacks the zone, but with a 91.3 mph fastball velocity (13th percentile), how does he not get obliterated? He's 6'9" and has a 98th percentile extension which helps make his fastball seem faster than it is. He's also got a good changeup, which he dramatically increased the usage last season (15.6% to 28.0%).

What's good: K% (25.3%); BB% (5.0%); K-BB% (20.3%); 93rd percentile Offspeed Run Value; 106 or better Location+ on his fastball, curveball, and changeup

What's bad: Stuff+ (83); 11.3% HR/FB%

ADP Value: Fair -- the K% is great, but he's unable to rack up a ton of them as compared with some of the others on this list because he doesn't last long enough into games. If somehow he could increase endurance in 2024, then he could be a value.

Joe Ryan, Minnesota Twins

Joe Ryan had highly contrasting halves last season. Through his first 13 starts and 77 2/3 IP, the righty posted a 2.90 ERA with an 84:15 K:BB and 6 HR allowed (0.7 HR/9). Over his final 16 starts and 84 IP, the 27-year-old owned a 6.00 ERA and allowed 26 HR (2.8 HR/9). It wasn't all bad though, as he was able to maintain a high K-BB% throughout the season, which was much improved compared to 2022.

What's good: 107 Location+ (90th percentile); K%; BB%; 68.8% Strike% was second-best of all pitchers on this list

What's bad: 2.8 HR/9 over final 16 starts, 14.9% HR/FB% on the season, ERA took a resultant hit

ADP Value: Fair -- at pick 95 he's going around Kyle Bradish and Justin Steele who should put up similar numbers (assuming Bradish regresses a bit from 2023), and although Ryan's ERA was poor in 2023, FIP, xFIP, and SIERA suggest it wasn't as bad as it looked.

Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds

With Hunter Greene, he's always had electric stuff, which is why he was the No.2 overall pick in the 2017 Draft. Health has been an issue for him and command hasn't been good either. But he attacks the zone, which is why he's here, and he's got swing-and-miss stuff. He's also been mentioned in my Pitchers Likely to Rebound in 2024 article, so make sure to give that a read.

What's good: 124 Stuff+ (97th percentile); 98.3 fastball velocity (97th percentile); 30.5% K% (91st percentile)

What's bad: WHIP (1.42); 9.6% BB%; 14.3 % HR/FB%

ADP Value: Undervalued -- at pick 138 he won't cost you much, but will likely get you close to 200 K and if he's able to improve on the peripherals at all it'll be gravy.

 



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