Back when I was pitching in college there were few better feelings than ending an inning with a strikeout. Unfortunately for me as a soft-tossing left-hander, strikeouts were hard to come by. However, in today’s baseball, they are abundant. For fantasy baseball, I tend to dislike starting pitchers who cannot strike out more than one batter per inning. For me personally, any K/9 below 8 will turn me off to that pitcher. With this new landscape, it is extremely important for us to focus on the category in our drafts and unsurprisingly, strikeouts correlate extremely well with other categories like ERA, W, and WHIP. Knowing a pitcher’s strikeout rate is an excellent place to begin your analysis.
Once again I will be looking at the targets per pitcher for strikeouts using the numbers generously provided for me and Fantrax from Tanner Bell, the co-author of The Process. He gave us the numbers from the 15-team Main Event and 12-team Online Championship NFBC leagues.
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Hitting the Target: Strikeout Sleepers
For the 12-team leagues last season the target was 169 strikeouts while in 15-team leagues the number dropped to 166. The important thing to remember here is that this is per starting rotation spot. In NFBC leagues that is nine pitchers but at least two of these spots will need to go to closers. Closers likely come in on the lower side of strikeouts 80-100 and will require a small bump to the target numbers for starters. However, in drafts the 165 range is a good place for us to look to be. Steamer projects 55 pitchers to exceed 165 strikeouts and eight of those guys are being drafted outside of pick 200.
Mike Foltynewicz (ADP 202.64) looked like an ace in the making in 2018. He posted a sub-3.00 ERA and a low-1.00 WHIP. He had over a strikeout per inning and looked like a future star. An injury slowed his start to 2019 and he was pretty bad after that. The strikeouts slipped a the homers rose and his ERA and FIP both jumped well over 4. I like to take chances on guys that have had elite seasons before and as a result, I am in on Folty at this price.
All I want this season if a fully healthy Caleb Smith (ADP 224.72). Each of his last two seasons has gotten off to incredible starts only to see injuries take control. The Marlin left-hander has impressive stuff and elite strikeout numbers when he is on but can be victimized by the long ball. I will continue to bet on the skills because I believe there is a top 15 season somewhere in him if he can stay healthy.
Joey Lucchesi (ADP 225.84) is a unique pitcher. He throws a weird change/curve hybrid pitch and does it with a one of a kind pitching motion. His skillset has always intrigued me despite never owning him on a fantasy team. He gets just about a strikeout per inning and has posted a decent walk rate thus far in his career. However, the high-end results do not seem to be there to this point. He is still very young and could be a breakout candidate but going just one pick after Smith I will likely not own him again this season. I like Smith much better at this spot.
Jon Gray (ADP 244.57) was a guy previously discussed in this series and my thoughts on him remain the same. The bad seasons have been combined with poor LOB rates and that is mostly a function of luck and poor sequencing. However, there is considerable upside especially if he can leave the Rockies and at worst he is a true talent 4-ERA pitcher. I will be taking my chances with the upside and will be buying Gray this season.
Chris Archer (ADP 265.16) has burned many fantasy owners including myself lately. The once budding ace has turned into a punching bag getting crushed by homers last season. However, he can still generate strikeouts as well as any other pitcher in the league. His formally elite control has slipped a bit in recent seasons. I prepared to finally rid myself of Archer, but a strong second half has me buying back in. The walk totals went down and the strikeouts rose. At this point in the draft, I will bet on the skills and will prepare to cut bait early if needed.
Garrett Richards (ADP 284.16) is another pitcher who was discussed previously. The Padres right-hander has long been a breakout favorite of mine. He has truly other-worldly stuff but cannot stay on the field. He is returning from Tommy John and will likely see an innings limit. However, he has the ability to provide elite production in the 100-150 innings he throws. This price is likely a bit more than I prefer, but if he slips a little I will be buying.
Dylan Bundy (ADP 288.45) seems like he has been around forever. The former top prospect is somehow still only 27. Like Archer, he has burned many fantasy owners with poor seasons and outsized expectations. The interest this season lies in a new home ballpark. Camden Yards is one of the most homer prone parks in the league and the move to Angel Stadium should help his high homer totals. If he can get the homer issue under control, then he should be able to post a 4-ERA with a decent WHIP and win some games. That is an extremely valuable fantasy pitcher at this point in the draft.
To be honest I have no idea what to make of Josh Lindblom (ADP 415.31). The newest Brewer was dominant in the KBO winning the league’s equivalent of the Cy Young in 2018. He is on the older side but the Brewers appear to have a rotation spot for him. With his combination of durability, solid control, and average to slightly above average strikeout ability, Lindblom looks like an absolute steal at this point in drafts. Pitchers with his projections do not last this long.
For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2020 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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