The Importance of K-Rate



"You know who" is going to be on TV again today. The buzz and hype has receded a little bit because his team is 2-3 in his starts. We thought today would be a good time to look at the "big picture" just a bit, so you can have a sense of how history may unfold in front of us.

Arguably the single best indicator stat for pitchers is their "K-rate," or strikeouts per nine innings. All at once, they tell you about:

  • Quality
  • Probably longevity
  • Ability to take over a game
  • Likely future salary

If two young guys come into baseball with similar ERA's, but one has a high K-rate and the other has a low K-rate....the guy with the high K-rate will almost universally have a bigger and better career. There are only a handful of pitchers who can survive without getting higher than league average in strikeouts. They mix speeds, direction, and location enough to generate "bad contact" rather than complete whiffs. It's playing with fire, and there are a few pitchers who have avoided getting burnt.

Even guys who looked like they were going to have long great careers (Chien-Ming Wang for example) have fallen off the map eventually. The more you allow hitters to put the ball in play, the less likely you are to succeed.

This has been known for a couple of decades now thanks to the baseball stat revolution.

Now, obviously, there aren't enough flamethrowers to go around, so you HAVE to fill out the back end of the rotation with guys who don't bring heat. The BEST pitchers are typically the flamethrowers. The guys with the longest careers are flamethrowers, or at least guys who are better than league average for sustained periods of time. The richest pitchers are also the flamethrowers, particularly when you're looking at cumulative career money.

Here are the top K-rates in the National League heading into Friday's games, with a minimum of 80 innings thrown this year:

Lincecum 10.2
Kershaw 9.9
Gallardo 9.9
Hanson 9.0
Johnson 8.9
Haren 8.9
Hamels 8.9
Sanchez 8.8
Wainwright 8.6
Dempster 8.5
Oswalt 8.4
Latos 8.2
Jiminez 8.1

Let's stop right there at a lucky 13. You know those names. That's basically an All-Star staff, either for this year, the past few years, the next few years. It's a group of elite pitchers who will also have great won-lost records if they get run support. Maybe 2-3 will be too home run prone and their ERA's will take them out of All-Star consideration in a given year. When things click, you see guys making a run at history the way Ubaldo Jiminez has been doing. It's obviously a great group.

Strasburg 13.6

See, THAT'S why everyone's so excited. Lincecum leads the league at 10.2 after the cutoff of 80 innings. Is Strasburg maintains his current pace, he'll FLY past that once he gets up to the minimums. It's not like he's throwing at an All-Star equivalent. He's BLOWING THE DOORS OFF an All-Star equivalent!

The first 31.2 innings have been something special needless to say, with 48 strikeouts and only 7 walks. About half the walks came on the mound in Cleveland he was having issues with too.

Yes, it's possible to post great numbers in 30 innings that don't hold up over 80 innings, or over a full season of 200 innings or more once Strasburg's arm matures. We can't assume Strasburg will be this far off the charts once he has more innings under his belt. That being said:

  • Strikeout pitchers usually maintain their pace as long as they stay healthy. Velocity and movement is hard to hit, even if you see the same pitcher a lot of times.
  • Strikeout pitchers are known to get BETTER with age (perish the thought!), as they learn more about pitching and how to attack a hitter's weakness.
  • Strasburg is pitching in a home stadium that hasn't favored strikeout pitchers in its brief history. Should he be acquired by a rich team in a better strikeout park, it's scary to think what might happen.

Washington hosts the Mets today in a game that's been moved to the afternoon for FOX-TV. As you watch that game on TV, or the matchup in your area, think about the important role that strikeouts play in each game. You'll probably be watching other games too today and tomorrow featuring high K guys from both leagues. Make it a point of emphasis to see how strikeout pitchers take command.

  • They keep people off base because it's so hard to make contact.
  • They get out of jams because a strikeout takes any possibilities of errors or lucky bounces out of play.
  • They just crush the bottom of the order.
  • They make great hitters defensive, meaning the opposing star may be satisfied with a single rather than trying to go deep...particularly with two strikes on him.

The betting markets were ahead of the media curve regarding high strikeout pitchers. That's one reason certain big names are SO expensive against inferior opposition. That's why Strasburg was so expensive when he first came up. Turns out he's playing for a team that lost its offense somewhere in the Potomac!

We gave you the top 13 in the National League. You'll obviously be watching both leagues today and tomorrow. Here's the top 13 from the American League...

J. Weaver 10.3
Morrow 10.0
Liriano 9.7
Lester 9.3
Lewis 8.6
F. Hernandez 8.6
Shields 8.5
Romero 8.3
Hughes 8.3
Verlander 8.1
Vazquez 7.9
E. Santana 7.8
Peavy 7.8

Not quite as many big names, as guys like Sabathia and Pettitte seem to be pacing themselves comfortably with all the big bats behind them. It's still a solid roster of guys you can make legal sports gamblers some money with in good spots. And, note again how a little bit over 10 leads the league, while Strasburg is up over 13 so far.

We're looking to drive HARD to the All-Star Break, so you can expect some big plays from JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK this weekend and all through the week. Hey, there are always FIREWORKS ON JULY 4TH with this service!

Series we're paying close attention to this weekend:
Toronto at the NY Yankees
Chicago White Sox at Texas
Tampa Bay at Minnesota
NY Mets at Washington
Florida at Atlanta
San Francisco at Colorado
LA Dodgers at Arizona

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Note that NETWORK often has "first half" GAME OF THE YEAR and DOG OF THE YEAR type selections in the days leading up to the All-Star Break. Be sure you're visiting the website daily to look for bulletins.

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