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March 10, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: Swinging Strike % Edition

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Michael Pineda, SP, New York Yankees

Pitchers need to miss bats to strike batters out at the rates that fantasy GMs need to compete for titles.

Swinging strike percentage shows exactly how well pitchers do that. A pitcher simply has more control of the situation if he can get a batter to swing and miss. Pitchers who have higher swinging strike percentages tend to have lower than average LOB %. A swinging strike can be the difference between stranding runners or letting them score. Swinging strikes don’t just look cool in highlight reels. They can actually influence strand rate and strand rate influences ERA. It’s really another common sense thing. Get a batter to screw himself into the ground and the pitcher gets out of the jam and keeps runners from advancing. Runners can only advance when the ball is in play. It’s hard to do that when a batter is making the walk of shame.

Some men are good at this. We’ll call them “Leaders.” Some…lack this ability. We’ll call them “Laggards.” Now, for this week’s Leaders and Laggards: Swinging strike percentage edition..

1. Michael Pineda 11.8%
2. Brandon Morrow 11.5%
3. Cole Hamels 11.3%
4. Matt Garza 11.2%
5. CC Sabathia 11.2%
6. Clayton Kershaw 11.1%
7. Anibal Sanchez 10.9%
8. Roy Halladay 10.8%
9. Tim Lincecum 10.7%
10. James Shields 10.7%

Michael Pineda misses bats. Everyone knows this. The concerns with Pineda have nothing to do with his on-field talents. He has elite level stuff and it shows in his swinging strike %. The problem is that he’s a fly ball pitcher moving from a pitcher’s park to a hitter’s park. His fly ball percentage at home(44.8%) was essentially identical to his fly ball rate on the road(44.7%). He probably should maintain a lower than average BABIP given his high fly ball rates, but that could spell trouble in New Yankee Stadium.

Brandon Morrow’s fantasy stock has dipped. It’s not that he doesn’t possess elite skill, but it seems like his hype train has been derailed. Fantasy GMs should take advantage and hop aboard  Morrow train. He owns a career K/9 of 10.06 and misses enough bats to maintain it. Morrow can easily top 220 K’s if he can reach 200 innings pitched. His xFIP numbers(3.53) also indicate that he’s more skilled than his 2011 numbers would have us believe. He’s a reasonable risk for a solid return.

Cole Hamels is a solid option for 2012, but he does have some warts. He had off-season surgery to clean up “lose bodies” in his elbow. He’s reporting that his change-up has improved since the surgery, but it’s always a red flag when guys are going under the knife. Hamels was also incredibly lucky on balls in play in 2011. He has the stuff to maintain a high K/9, but that .255 BABIP in 2011 should have fantasy GMs concerned. Not concerned enough to leave him off a draft board, but he could be due for a regression in 2012.

Matt Garza enjoyed the move to the NL. He posted career high’s in K%, K/9 and posted a double digit swinging strike percentage for the first time in his career. Garza is a solid bet to provide K’s and above average ratios. His overall value might be limited due to a mediocre win total. This Cubs team he’s stuck on won’t provide much in terms of run support.

CC Sabathia’s swinging strike percentage rebounded from 9.4% in 2010 back up to 11.2% in 2012. He started throwing his curveball again last year and only used his change up 13.4% of the time. CC is in that upper tier of starting pitchers. He might need more innings than most, but he should be at or above 200 K’s this year and every year until he finally does start to break down.

Clayton Kershaw took “The Leap” in 2011. Kershaw posted a career high 11.1% swinging stike percentage, struck out 9.57 batters per nine inning and lowered his walk rate to 5.9%. He should be among the league leaders in K’s again in 2012. The problem with Kershaw is that he threw his slider 25.5% of the time and he’s basically given up on his curveball. The slider is the pitch that chews up elbows and sends them screaming to Dr. Andrews. That’s an awful lot of strain to put on such a young arm. There’s no reason to be concerned until it’s an issue, but it’s something fantasy GM’s need to keep in the back of their mind.

Stuff has never been a concern with Anibal Sanchez. Health has always been a concern with Anibal Sanchez. It looks like Sanchez finally got healthy in 2011 and turned in a career year. He already has a visit to Dr. Andrews under his belt from a 2007 labrum repair and had issues again in 2009. He managed to stay healthy for all of 2010 and came back even stronger in 2011. His fastball has gained velocity every year since 2008 and his swinging strike percentage has been on an upwards trend for the past two seasons. He’s finally putting it together and aren’t any red flags heading into 2012.

Roy Halladay is capable of missing bats. We have data from as far back as 1998 that would indicate this. He’s elite. He’s also in his age 35 season, but hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. The only concern with Halladay is his 2006 and 2007 seasons. The reasons aren’t quite clear, but he suffered a drop in velocity and posted sub 6.00 K/9 numbers. Would anyone be shocked if he was pitching with a hidden injury? Halladay needs to be traded off your roster if you ever see a dip in velocity. He won’t produce the return on value given his status as a high/expensive draft pick.

Tim Lincecum has lost over two MPH off his fastball since his rookie year, but seems to have found a way to live with it. He’s been using his slider more and more and still has the ability to miss bats. Health is always a concern with a guy as small as Lincecum, but he’s defied conventional wisdom so far. Who’s to say he won’t continue?

We all know that James Shields was able to replace the four-leaf clover that he had lost in 2010 and enjoyed an insanely lucky season after a disastrous 2010 campaign. He’s due to regress some, but he’s also capable of missing enough bats to be fantasy relevant in 2012. Shields is a solid option with a more than capable K-rate. Fantasy owners shouldn’t be scared off. He was due for big regression and he got it.

1. Brad Penny 4.6%
2. Bartolo Colon 5.3%
3. Mike Pelfrey 5.5%
4. Paul Maholm 5.7%
5. Bronson Arroyo 5.8%
6. Kyle Lohse 5.9%
7. Wade Davis 5.9%
8. Joe Saunders 6.2%
9. Jake Westbrook 6.3%
10. Rick Porcello 6.3%

Brad Penny is pitching overseas and won’t be fantasy relevant in 2011. He probably wouldn’t be fantasy relevant anyway given the fact that he can’t really miss bats any more.

It’s a surprise to find Bartolo Colon on this list because he posted a 7.39 K/9 ratio. Colon did so while not missing a whole lot of bats. It would be surprise to see Colon post high K-numbers, but he could very well provide solid ratios while pitching half his games in Oakland. He actually had decent velocity for a guy who’s been in the big leagues since ‘97 and weighs over 350 lbs.

Mike Pelfrey has never posted a K-rate over 13.2% in his career and it doesn’t look like he ever will. Pelfrey has decent enough velocity, but he just doesn’t miss many bats or produce K numbers that fantasy GMs need to win leagues. He’s moving into the “give us five or six each time out and that’s all we expect” part of his career. Pelfrey is waiver wire fodder at this point.

Paul Maholm is a league average slappy who won’t provide much fantasy value even if he earns a spot in the Cubs rotation(big, big IF right now). He doesn’t miss bats and he doesn’t strike out enough batter to matter in fantasy baseball.

Bronson Arroyo is entering his age 35 season and his the average velocity on his fastball was a career low 87.0 MPH. He just doesn’t have the stuff to post average K-numbers any more and he wasn’t fooling hitters in 2011. That’s a bad sign for a fly ball pitcher who throws half his games in the Great American Ballpark.

Kyle Lohse seems to be able to stick around long enough in games to earn double digit wins when he stays healthy for a season. Whatever. He doesn’t miss bats, he doesn’t strike batters out and disaster is usually right around the corner. He’s a stay away in anything except a deep NL-only league.

Wade Davis has always posted high K-rates in the minors, but his minor league numbers haven’t translated to big league success. He has two full years in the big leagues and the results haven’t been there. He’s a fifth starter with little upside at this point. He’s turned into a fly ball pitcher who walks too many and strikes out too few. A stay away in every format except deep AL-only leagues.

The fact that the Arizona Diamondbacks continue to inflict Joe Saunders on the baseball watching public should be a criminal offense. Saunders gets by in the big leagues by putting lots of balls in play. He doesn’t walk many, but he doesn’t miss bats or strike anyone out either. He’s subject to the whims of the great magnet. He does well when fielders can catch the ball, but gets clobbered when they don’t. Joe Saunders is not a name a fantasy GM should want to see on his or her roster.

Jake Westbrook is also in the Saunders zone, but he’s in his age 35 season. He puts too many balls in play and isn’t capable of striking batters out. He manages to stick around long enough to get double digit wins, but that’s all he offers.

Rick Porcello has gained steam as a pre-season sleeper pick. There really isn’t much reason for him to be viewed as a sleeper other than his age and the fact that he plays for Detroit. He’s never missed enough bats to strike out enough batters to matter. Porcello has a solid walk rate, but that’s all he has. His 4.00 xFIP claims he’s a better pitcher than his 4.75 ERA shows he pitched as in 2011, but is 4.00 exciting enough to warrant sleeper status? He won 14 games last year. Whoopee. He also killed you with a 1.41 WHIP.

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