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Missing bats is the #1 way a pitcher can control his own fate. If hitters make contact, the pitcher is largely at the mercy of the atmosphere, the weather, the ball park, the ability/work ethic of his fielders, and sometimes just sheer luck. This is ultimately why strikeouts are so important.

By looking at pitchers with positive trends in their strikeout rate in week 11, we can spot improving or declining pitchers. If the K-rate is improving, but the ERA and WHIP are less than ideal, it can present a buying opportunity. On the flip side, you may want to sell a pitcher with a declining K-rate, if he wasn't supposed to be that good to begin with.

This particular article will focus on two strikeout rate risers and two fallers, and make an attempt to determine how you should treat each pitcher.

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K-Rate Risers

Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics

Season K-Rate: 24%, Last 30 K-Rate: 30%

Though the results haven’t shown it yet, Sonny Gray looks healthy and more like the pre-2016 version of himself this season. From 2014-2016, Gray compiled a 2.88 ERA over 491 innings pitched, and out-pitched his peripherals every single year. In 2016, the injury bug caught a hold of him and he was never right; he put up a 5.69 ERA over 117 innings, while hitting the disabled list with a strained trapezius muscle and a forearm strain. He began this year on the DL with a strained lat muscle, and since his return has pitched better than his current ERA indicates.

Currently, Gray holds a 4.44 ERA and 1.35 WHIP over nine starts. His current .329 BABIP would be a career high for him, and his 14.3% HR/FB is inflated thanks to his first start back when he allowed three HR. He has only allowed two HR in his other eight starts combined. His FIP/xFIP of 3.32/3.26 better indicate how well he’s been doing. His strikeout rate is up to 23.7% on the season, which would be his highest rate since his rookie season. His swinging strike rate is at a career-high 11.3%, along with his first strike % at 63.8%. However, his percentage of pitches in the zone is at a career-low 43.9%. Gray is fooling more hitters this season than ever before, showing he’s back at full health. A big part of his success comes from his multiple pitch grips. By manipulating his grips he can adjust the speed and spin he gets on his pitches, making no two pitches he throws the same even though they may be classified as the same pitch.

Point being, now that he’s completely recovered from last season, Gray is back to his usual tricks. He is more than capable of throwing a full slate of innings the rest of the season with an ERA near or below 3.00. Now is a good time to buy low on the ace while his stats are inflated thanks to two disaster starts.

Verdict: Buy


Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

Season K-Rate: 22%, Last 30 K-Rate: 27%

Up next we have another pitcher who has been able to out-pitch his peripherals this season; Gio Gonzalez. On the season he holds a 2.89 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, with a 4.30/4.38 FIP/xFIP through 14 starts. He has so far proven that last year’s numbers were a fluke, when he put up a career-worst 4.57 ERA after not posting an ERA over 3.80 since 2009. On the season he has pitched well, though month-to-month things have flipped between good and bad. In June he has been excellent, with a 2.37 ERA and 0.79 WHIP with a 26.8% K% over three starts.

Gonzalez was more than happy to forget about the month of May, when he posted a 4.37 ERA and 1.66 WHIP over six starts. Walks were a huge issue for him during May; he held a K/BB of 1.42 that month, and in April and June combined it was 3.21. Unfortunately for Gonzalez, these types of stretches may be a part of the package. This season he is throwing less first-pitch strikes than ever before (F-Strike% of 52.6%), he only throws 41.4% of his pitches in the zone, and he is near career-low’s in SwStr% (9.1%), O-Swing% (26.5%), and Swing% (41.0%). If he isn’t throwing enough pitches in the zone, and hitters aren’t offering at the junk he is throwing, he is prone to stretches or single games with higher than average walk totals. Good news for Gonzalez is that this is something he’s dealt with before; his 10.5% BB% is right near his career average 9.8%. He has been able to keep hitters off balance, generating a .227 BAA and a 22.2% soft contact% which is ninth in the majors. He also gives up a 31.3% hard contact%, which is above league average. That number becomes especially concerning when you realize he is giving up less ground balls and more fly balls this season, which has fueled his 12.9% HR/FB.

Gonzalez has posted a 21.9% K% this season, which would be his lowest rate since 2010 though isn’t far off from his career 22.9%. He has a respectable K%, but his control will continue to be an issue this season. If you can trade him to someone willing to buy full price I would sell, given his 2.89 ERA is likely to rise. However, despite his control woes he can post a mid-3.00 ERA which is still useful.

Verdict: Sell/Hold


K-Rate Fallers


Michael Fulmer, Detroit Tigers

Season K-Rate: 18%, Last 30 K-Rate: 13%

Up until his past few starts, Michael Fulmer was proving last year’s rookie dominance was no fluke. Over his first seven starts he posted seven straight quality starts with a 2.54 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, with a 22.7% K% while holding hitters to a .196 BAA. Over his next five starts however, his strikeout rate fell to 12.6% and his BAA rose to .307. While he managed to post three QS during that span, he allowed at least seven hits in each start and allowed five earned runs in each of his past two starts. While he is mired in this slump it seems like a good time to buy low on a stud starter, but is he worth buying low on?

Even with the recent bout of mediocrity, Fulmer has done an excellent job at limiting his walks this season. His 4.9% BB% is eighth in the league among all starters. He is throwing more first pitch strikes this season, and although hitters are making more contact on his pitches this season he has done a good job managing it. He has above average GB% (48.0%) and FB% (30.9%) and a low hard contact % (27%) which help offset his low soft contact% (15.7%). What happened during this recent stretch has made him more susceptible to hits? Well, he has been throwing more pitches out over the zone and hitters have been swinging. Over his past five starts his zone% has increased by 4%, and in turn hitters swing% are up and his contact% has been up. Not to mention an MRI revealed he has shoulder bursitis, which dates back to his June 5 start (the first of two games he allowed five runs). Luckily, the inflammation was dealt with properly and Fulmer was given some extra rest. He has played catch and feels much better than he had.

Fulmer’s recent struggles were very well caused by his shoulder discomfort, which seems to have subsided for now. Shoulder ailments and pitchers are never a good combination, so this may have an owner of his a bit worried. If you’re willing to take on the risk, he could be an excellent buy-low-option. His start was pushed back to Saturday, where he will take on the Tampa Bay Rays. If his treatment was successful, Fulmer could easily bounce back to top-15 form.

Verdict: Buy


Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians

Season K-Rate: 25%, Last 30 K-Rate: 20%

So far this season, Carlos Carrasco has arguably been the Indians best and most consistent starting pitcher. Through 12 starts he holds a 3.36 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, with a 24.7% K% and a miniscule 6.5% BB%. Ever since his big breakthrough in 2014, he has been relied upon as a consistent arm for the Cleveland organization and fantasy owners alike. When checking under the hood, everything seems to be in line; his hard contact% is back down this season to 30.1%, his GB% and FB% are near his career averages, and his FIP/xFIP of 3.56/3.72 support his numbers.

On a May 15 start against the Tampa Bay Rays, Carrasco was removed after 3 2/3 with pectoral tightness, which was deemed a non-serious injury. Since then, however, he has run into some bumps in the road. Over his past four starts he’s allowed four or more runs twice, and has two starts with four or less strikeouts. Mixed in those starts is a seven-inning, seven-strikeout gem of a game he threw against the Oakland Athletics. Those two low strikeout games have come in his past two starts, one of which was against the Kansas City Royals who have struck out the sixth-least in baseball. In his last start he lasted 5 1/3 innings, and was held to 85 pitches. He allowed two runs and struck out four. Though stamina seemed to be an issue in that game, there is nothing coming out about an injury or ailment that may have caused it. This is simply a small rough patch for the Indians ace, who is trending towards another solid season.

His pitch selection and velocities are all similar to last season, and he seems to be completely healthy on the mound now. If anyone is selling Carrasco for anything less than he’s worth, you should be buying immediately.

Verdict: Buy


More Risers and Fallers


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