BY ROB SHAW
Bloomberg Sports Anchor Rob Shaw uses the BloombergSports.com Front Office projections to rank the top five strikeout artists in Major League Baseball for the upcoming season. While Justin Verlander is expected to lead the Majors in strikeouts, National League rivals Tim Lincecum andClayton Kershaw are not expected to be far behind.
Verlander is fresh off one of the greatest seasons ever by a starter and while he earned the MVP and Cy Young award, he is expected to repeat his success this upcoming season. The Tigers have added some pop to their lineup in the form of first baseman Prince Fielder, while Miguel Cabrera is now destined for third base.
While most fantasy managers will focus on that offensive boost, a greater concern may be the poor defense behind Verlander. The good news is that he may become more dependent on strikeouts. Bloomberg Sports projects a staggering 244 strikeouts from Verlander this season.
On the west coast, Tim Linecum and Clayton Kershaw will battle for fantasy supremacy. The hurlers seem to be moving in different directions as Lincecum has regressed a tad in recent years while Kershaw is peaking. Regardless, Lincecum remains a safe bet pitching in AT&T Park with a proven track record that includes 220 or more strikeouts in each of the last four seasons. It also helps having a healthy Buster Posey back in the lineup.
Kershaw finally put it all together last season as he improved his control, went deep into games, and finished with a stellar 21 wins and 248 strikeouts. The southpaw’s statistics are looking more and more like Sandy Koufax’s by the day. The BloombergSports.com Front Office tool projects 239 strikeouts from Kershaw this season.
The fourth most strikeouts will likely be racked up by the forgotten Felix Hernandez. The Mariners 2010 Cy Young award winner has a little more offensive support this season, which should lead to more wins and greater confidence. The durable right-hander picked up 222 strikeouts last year despite some struggles at home. He is projected to surpass 200 K’s for a fourth straight season.
Finally, Cliff Lee edges teammate and fellow ace Roy Halladay on the list. The veteran hurler brandished a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in one of his finest seasons yet. He tallied a career-best 238 strikeouts and that number is expected to take just a minor decline this season.
if looking for sleepers, a couple of less heralded hurlers who can deliver K’s are Braves starter Brandon Beachy and A’s top prospect Brad Peacock. While Beachy is hoping to be a bit healthier in his second full season, Peacock is just the latest young hurler hoping to breakout in Oakland.
For more insight visit BloombergSports.com for access to Front Office.
by Eno Sarris //
Back in July, we took a look at Madison Bumgarner and found some reasons to be suspicious of his early success. As a short recap, here are those reasons in helpful bullet form.
- His velocity was down from the mid-nineties to barely cracking 90 MPH.
- His strikeout rate was below-average (6.75 K/9, average was 7.13 K/9 this year).
- He was getting lucky, with a .266 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and an 82.7% strand rate (numbers that trend to .300 and 70% across baseball).
All of these shortcomings were notable at the time, given his history and velocity. But now we are looking at Madison Bumgarner, World Series Beast. Perhaps it’s time to revisit our initial findings on Bumgarner and see if he should get a revised rating.
First, his velocity. Bumgarner throws across his body, and he’s not a very thick guy, so there were reasons to be worried about a drop in velocity. Sometimes it’s a harbinger of injury. But then Bumgarner went out and improved that velocity all year – it’s now steady at 91 MPH, touching the mid-90s some games. If you look at his fastball velocity chart below, you see there might still be some issues (the bars represent full velocity range for each game), but it also shows that he found some oomph.
Bumgarner rode that improved velocity to an improved strikeout rate, ending the year at 6.97 K/9. Perhaps we focused too heavily on his strikeout rate, however. His walk rate is so low (2.11 BB/9 in 2010, 2.16 career) that his K/BB is well above average. Had he qualified for the ERA title, his 3.31 K/BB would have ranked 15th in baseball – tied with a pretty decent pitcher named Felix Hernandez.
Largely because of this ability to limit walks, Bumgarner’s work stood up even when his luck regressed to the mean. He ended the year with a .322 BABIP, so many more hits fell, and yet he finished the year with an even 3.00 ERA. His strand rate remained high (81.7%), but his FIP (a number on the ERA scale that strips out batted-ball luck and other factors largely beyond a pitcher’s control) was still strong at 3.66.
Upside remains. Bumgarner once struck out double-digit batters per nine innings in the minor leagues, and obviously his postseason performance has shown that he has the ability to punch batters out. Because he can limit walks, it looks like the worst-case scenario has shifted in his favor. Without reaching his upside fully and pushing the strikeout rate further, he may not be the ace that was hoped for him, but we can now be more positive about his future.
For more on Madison Bumgarner and other young pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Jason Vargas
When the season started, many wondered who would step up behind Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez in the Mariners’ rotation. Despite his 9-12 record, Vargas has been a serviceable starter for Seattle this season. Although his strikeout rate was poor (5.42 K/9 IP), his walk (2.52 BB/9 IP) and home run rate (0.84 HR/9 IP) were excellent, fueling a 3.78 ERA. There was some luck involved: Vargas HR/FB rate was a low 6.1%, and his defense-independent numbers pointed to a pitcher whose true skill lay closer to a high-4s ERA than high 3s.
Still, if there’s such a thing as purposeful luck, Vargas is it. The Mariners have targeted left-handed pitchers with low walk rates and flyball tendencies to great success in the past couple years, as Jarrod Washburn and now Vargas have benefited from stellar outfield defense and a left-center field gap that makes homers nearly impossibly for right-handed hitters. In deeper leagues, you should be targeting Seattle pitchers with this skill set in the future.
Biggest Bust: Ian Snell
Not that the expectations for Snell were that high to begin with, but an 0-5 record and 6.41 ERA in 12 appearances fell below even the lowest of expectations. The former Pirates prospect registered just 26 strikeouts while walking 25 in 46.1 innings before being designated for assignment in mid-June.
2011 Keeper Alert: Felix Hernandez
Surprise! If you have one of the best – if not the best – young pitchers is all of baseball, you should keep him – even at a high price in a roto auction league. The man dubbed King Felix by the excellent Mariners website USSMariner.com when Felix was just a teenager put up a Cy Young-worthy season, win-loss record be damned. A strikeout-to-walk rate of better than 3-to-1, one of the top groundball rates in baseball on a perennial basis and tremendous durability yield one of the most reliable starting pitching commodities on the planet. Expect nothing less next year.
2011 Regression Alert: David Aardsma
One could say Aardsma experienced enough regression in 2010 after his monster breakout season of a year ago. Not only did his K/9 rate drop from 10.09 to 8.88, but his BB/9, as well as his HR/9, rose from 2009 levels. Yet somehow his batting average against dropped from .196 to .191. He can thank a friendlier than usual BABIP of .235 for that, despite just a 1% dip in line drives allowed. Walking a batter every other inning is a bad sign for a closer, and his BABIP is likely to creep up next season. As a result, expect Aardsma’s ERA to rise; the Mariners will also look to shop him this off-season, and a move to a less pitcher-friendly ballpark could further erode his fantasy value.
For more on Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners’ pitching staff, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.