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Beyond the Numbers: Winning without whiffs

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The Reds may be something of a disappointment so far, but don't blame the rotation. Though none of their starters boasts even a league-average K-rate, they collectively own a respectable 3.89 ERA, and Johnny Cueto, Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey are all below the National League average ERA for starters of 3.63.

Though they lack the sizzle of high strikeout totals, the Reds -- and particularly their current top trio -- offer a useful lesson for Fantasy owners. Cueto, Arroyo and Bailey have all been thriving even though none can be counted on for Ks. Cueto and Arroyo have not walked many hitters, and Bailey has recently shown glimpses of last season's improved control, but that's only the start of the story. All three pitchers have been consistent strike-throwers, and Cueto and Arroyo in particular have been very good at racking up called strikes. This has helped each of them to be efficient enough to average more than six innings per start and each has shown the ability to get through plate appearances with fewer pitches than the major league average. In fact, Arroyo leads the majors with 3.20 pitches per plate appearance. Strikeout pitchers are often hard to come by in Fantasy, but these hurlers show us that you can still get quality performances without Ks.

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The key is to find pitchers who fit the Arroyo/Bailey/Cueto mold. In a phone interview just prior to spring training, Reds pitching coach Bryan Price articulated the philosophy that he looks for his pitchers to adopt. Price likes pitchers who don't waste pitches and have a plan for setting hitters up. It's no wonder that the Reds lead the NL in percentage of strikes thrown and percentage of called strikes. Price specifically cited Cueto as the member of his staff who most "gets it," and he gave Bailey credit for improving in his ability to pitch efficiently and with purpose. Each member of the "ABC" crew can help owners in Fantasy, particularly in Head-to-Head formats, due to his ability to pile up innings. Because getting called strikes is a part of that formula, any potential gains in swinging strike rates can make these pitchers sleepers in the strikeout category, making them more valuable in Rotisserie formats as well.

Fooling batters into taking strikes is a skill, and Vance Worley and Lance Lynn are two of the best recent examples of pitchers who have upped their strikeout rates -- and their overall Fantasy value -- by improving in this area. Below are eight more pitchers who have been above average at getting called strikes and have been highly efficient as a result. Because their swinging strike rates are not as impressive, these pitchers may not get their due in Fantasy, and that's something that you can take advantage of. Here's the rundown on where the value lies for each of these pitchers, along with their pitches per plate appearance (P/PA) and called strike ratios. In sizing up these data, bear in mind that a typical major league starter is averaging 3.83 P/PA and called strikes on 18 percent of his pitches. (All data are for games through Tuesday, May 1. Called strike data are from StatCorner.com)

Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (96 percent ownership rate, 3.46 P/PA, 22 percent called strikes): Zimmermann is no secret in Fantasy, but with an 83 percent activation rate, there are still owners who don't consider him a must-start. Despite a low strikeout rate, Zimmermann is a top 30 starter in both Rotisserie and Head-to-Head formats, as his sharp control makes him a stud for WHIP and ERA. He also ranks sixth in the NL in innings pitched, and without an innings limit this year, he should be a reliable source of innings throughout the season. Better yet, Zimmermann's swinging strike rate has not eroded since last year, but a drop in his foul ball rate may be putting a damper on his Ks. If the fourth-year pitcher can revert to his normal foul ball rate, owners could get a windfall with some unexpected strikeouts. Even with a mediocre K-rate, Zimmermann deserves to be started every week.

Ross Detwiler, Nationals (53 percent ownership rate, 3.70 P/PA, 21 percent called strikes): Detwiler's ownership rate has skyrocketed in recent weeks, so I probably don't need to sell most owners on his virtues. Basically, I'm talking to myself here, because prior to doing the research for this column, I was not a believer. For those other doubters out there, Detwiler started to make gains with his control last season, though they were easy to dismiss, given that this hadn't been a strength during his minor league career. It's premature to assume that Detwiler will maintain his high called strike rate, but it's worth watching, as Worley's breakout in this regard seemingly came out of nowhere. Detwiler has had some success getting whiffs in the past, so if the lefty can keep getting hitters to look at balls in the zone, he could be a surprise source of strikeouts and innings.

Kyle Lohse, Cardinals (93 percent ownership rate, 3.62 P/PA, 22 percent called strikes): Speaking of pitchers of whom I have been stubbornly skeptical ... Lohse had a mostly successful 2011 season, as he averaged 6.3 innings per start, which was the highest mark of his career. He also set a career high in his strikes thrown percentage, which was fueled by a sizeable uptick in called strikes. Lohse is putting up similar stats through his first five starts. Of course, he is extremely unlikely to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA and a sub-1.00 WHIP, but he could approach last year's level of performance (3.39 ERA, 1.17 WHIP), which would still leave him viable in standard mixed leagues.

Brandon McCarthy, Athletics (77 percent ownership rate, 3.48 P/PA, 22 percent called strikes): After last year's breakout, McCarthy is no longer a sleeper. Owners have not been reluctant to roster him, but they have not been eager to start him. McCarthy is active in only 33 percent of the leagues on CBSSports.com, and with a 1.41 WHIP, it's understandable that owners might look to other options. However, he has yielded five more flyball base hits than what would normally be expected so far. Subtract those and his WHIP shrinks to a less frightening 1.28. Meanwhile, McCarthy continues to go deep into games regularly, and if he can get his swinging strike rate (6.5 percent) to rebound, he won't hurt you much for strikeouts.

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Bartolo Colon, Athletics (83 percent ownership rate, 3.48 P/PA, 24 percent called strikes): Colon led the majors last season with a 23 percent called strike rate, which was how he could post a 7.4 K/9 rate without great stuff. He is getting batters to look at strikes even more frequently this year, but when hitters have swung, they have been making contact more often. Colon's current low K-rate could be a small sample artifact as much as anything else, as he has struck out five or more batters in four of his six starts. He is being benched by a majority of his owners, but with more strikeouts likely on the way, Colon will be worth starting in most weeks.

Joe Blanton, Phillies (15 percent ownership rate, 3.40 P/PA, 22 percent called strikes): Blanton has already gone seven-plus innings in two of his four starts, and given how efficient he has been so far, he could continue the trend deep into the season. He has stayed in the strike zone on more than two-thirds of his pitches without being hit too hard. Opponents are batting a gaudy .295 against Blanton, but he has allowed just one home run to date. Over his 67 1/3 innings dating back to last year, the former Athletic has complied highly favorable ground ball and walk rates, and he has been proficient at getting called strikes over his career. Given these trends, Blanton has a good shot at enjoying success by way of the Cueto model.

Jerome Williams, Angels (13 percent ownership rate, 3.62 P/PA, 20 percent called strikes): It has been long enough since we've seen Williams, Version 1.0, that we could easily forget that he was a fairly efficient pitcher when he came up with the Giants. The better part of a decade later, we are seeing similar form from the one-time prospect. Even though he can't be counted on a for a low walk rate, Williams has enough of a history of getting through plate appearances quickly that Head-to-Head owners could view him as an innings eater. He should also be good enough at avoiding the long ball that he could help in ERA, making him an asset in deeper mixed leagues on a weekly basis, if not standard and shallower ones.

Lucas Harrell, Astros (9 percent ownership rate, 3.63 P/PA, 21 percent called strikes): Harrell has put up good ground ball rates over his minor league career, but poor command prevented him from being a coveted prospect in Fantasy circles. So far this year, Harrell has been throwing strikes at an unprecedented rate and getting through plate appearances quickly, but he has reached strike three only 12 times in 28 2/3 innings. His past record suggests that he should get more whiffs than he has been getting, and a turnaround could mean more strikeouts in his future. Owners should not expect Harrell to be even an average strikeout pitcher, but with just a little improvement, he could be useful to more owners in NL-only leagues.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Rays manager believes Grant Balfour will be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:33 pm ET) Rays manager Kevin Cash believes pitcher Grant Balfour will be good to go by opening day, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Balfour is currently in Australia, tending to his sick father. Cash said Balfour was still working out, and expects the pitcher to be ready for the start of the regular season. The 37-year-old posted a 3.46 ERA over 62 1/3 innings last season. 


Rays' Alex Colome may miss the start of the season
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(11:28 pm ET) Rays pitcher Alex Colome may not be ready for the start of the regular season, according to the Tampa Tribune

Colome has been delayed by visa issues thus far, though he's been able to throw at the Rays facility in the Dominican Republic. Colome is facing hitters, but manager Kevin Cash still expressed some doubt about his availability once the regular season begins. 

Colome, 26, posted a 2.66 ERA over 23 2/3 innings last year. 


Diamondbacks' Randall Delgado facing a roster crunch
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:48 pm ET) Diamondbacks pitcher Randall Delgado is facing a roster crunch, according to azcentral.com.

Delgado had some success after adding a slider last season, but faces a lot of competition this spring. While the competition for the fifth starter spot contains a lot of players, Delgado's experience in the bullpen last year could help him make the club. On top of that, he's out of options, giving him a better chance of breaking camp on the 25-man roster. 

Bullpen coach Mel Stottlemyre said he believes Delgado could get the job done. "He can be a valuable piece in that bullpen, knowing that there might be some guys that are going to get protected," Stottlemyre said. "The fact that he can pitch in some different roles — he can give you some length, he can come in and strike a guy out. I saw this guy go through the middle of lineups on some good ballclubs and make the hitters look bad. It's there."

The 25-year-old Delgado posted a 4.87 ERA over 77 2/3 innings last season.


Nationals sign Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor-league deal
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:57 pm ET) The Nationals have signed outfielder Tony Gwynn Jr. to a minor-league deal, the team announced. 

Gwynn will be invited to major-league camp with the deal. The 32-year-old hit .152 over 105 at-bats with the Phillies last season. 


Nationals' Matt Purke hoping to get on a mound soon
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:31 pm ET) Nationals pitcher Matt Purke is hoping to throw off a mound in a few weeks, according to MLB.com.

Purke had Tommy John surgery last May, and has struggled with injuries since being selected in the third round of the 2011 draft. Purke was actually released by the club during the offseason, but came back on a minor-league deal. 

Purke said he was frustrated by the injuries, but understands he has to take it all in stride. "It's just something you have to take in stride, keep moving forward," he explained. "I'm ready to keep progressing the best I can and really get myself out there and pitch and perform. When my number is called, I'll be able to help when I can."

Purke is currently in the middle of a throwing program. He's been able to long toss, and hopes to throw off a mound in a few weeks. The team is still unsure when Purke will be ready for game action.


Twins' Danny Santana learning to play multiple positions
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:16 pm ET) Danny Santana came to the Twins in 2007 playing primarily shortstop. Now, Santana is playing in the outfield and learning how to transition to a new position on the field.

"I didn't know how to play the outfield and I needed a lot of work," he said to MLB.com. "It wasn't hard, because I have the ability to play many positions. But the hard part was being in center field and throwing to the bases. At shortstop, you throw from different angles. In the outfield, you need to be on top to throw."

Santana hit .319 with 40 RBI and 70 runs scored in 405 plate appearances in 2014.

"There's a lot of people here who believed in Danny Santana's future for a long time. We were able to get a glimpse of that last year," manager Paul Molitor said. "I have a lot of confidence in that kid. He's going about his business very professionally. He's really a good listener and applier. Some guys listen well and have trouble taking it out there. He's pretty good at taking information and putting it into play."


Padres' Cameron Maybin to hit leadoff in first spring game
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(8:07 pm ET) Padres outfielder Cameron Maybin will hit leadoff in the team's first spring game, according to MLB.com.

Manager Bud Black basically confirmed the news, though he wouldn't make it official as he prefers to let the player know before the media. Maybin is the forgotten man in the team's outfield heading into camp. While he's proven he can play center field, the club is expected to go with Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton when the regular season starts. 

Maybin, 27, hit .235/.290/.331 over 251 at-bats last season. 


Giants experimenting with Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:43 pm ET) The Giants are experimenting with using outfielder Norichika Aoki in the leadoff spot, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Aoki will hit leadoff on Tuesday with Angel Pagan sidelined. While Pagan is expected to claim the role once the regular season begins, manager Bruce Bochy said he would consider using Aoki in the leadoff role occasionally. When that happens, Pagan would hit in the third spot in the order. 

Aoki, 33, hit .285/.349/.360 over 491 at-bats last year. 


Twins' Glen Perkins feeling healthy heading into games
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:34 pm ET) Twins reliever Glen Perkins is feeling healthy heading into spring games, according to the Pioneer Press.

Perkins was shut down at the end of last season due to forearm and elbow issues. He hasn't experienced any of those issues this spring. "Really the barometer on how my arm feels is the bite on my slider," Perkins said. "If my slider is loopy, then my arm is probably tired, especially my forearm."

Perkins added that he threw a few sliders during a recent bullpen session, and was happy with how they looked. "I told them it was coming and they swung and missed at a few," he said. "It's got good movement right now. That means obviously I'm fresh, but also I'm strong and healthy."

Perkins is expected to pitch during an exhibition game on Wednesday. He posted a 3.65 ERA over 61 2/3 innings last season. 


Red Sox OFs Betts, Castillo to share time in CF this spring
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:30 pm ET) Red Sox manager John Farrell said Sunday that outfielders Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo will get equal playing time in center field this spring, MLB.com reports.

"Like we said at the outset of camp, we'll take all of camp to determine that," said Farrell. "They're going to get equal playing time. But I think it's important they both get comfortable with the combination of the guys on the flank because of communication, the responsibilities for balls in the gap, fly ball communication and those priorities."

While Betts had ample time to make an impression on the team during his rookie season, the Red Sox are still getting to know Castillo and his capabilities.

"With Rusney, I think it's a matter of frequent at-bats, more games played," Farrell said. "Particularly after our season concluded, he went to the [Arizona] Fall League and Puerto Rico, and through repetition, I think he's just gotten better timing and consistent routes in the outfield and he's looked very good here in camp so far."

Castillo went 12 for 36 in his short time with the Red Sox last season.


 
 
 
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