While there is still plenty of baseball left in 2019, enough games have been played where we can start drawing certain conclusions. Moving forward, it’ll be up to the players themselves as to whether they can erase a slow start or sustain a fast one to prove those conclusions as right or wrong.
One trend that starts to get noticed with about a month of the season in the books is changes in strikeout rate. Strikeouts are more prevalent today than they’ve ever been in today’s game, and there are a handful of hurlers currently enjoying a surge in their personal strikeout rate.
The following list of seven pitchers is not exhaustive, but to be highlighted here, starters needed 20-plus innings pitched with at least a five-percentage-point increase in strikeouts from the year before. Relievers needed the same rise in strikeout rate as long as they’ve thrown 10-plus innings. As everyone knows, a hot pitcher gives a team a huge advantage. Smart sports bettors can use this information to wager on BetNow.eu and have a good chance to win big when these pitchers take the mound.
David Price, Boston Red Sox
Career Strikeout Rate: 23.7%
2018 Strikeout Rate: 24.5%
2019 Strikeout Rate (so far): 31.9%
Not much has gone right for the defending World Champs this season — especially if we’re talking about the starting rotation. As a group, starters are just 3-12 with a 5.98 ERA (third-worst in baseball), 1.52 WHIP (fourth-worst), 22.7% strikeout rate, and 9.7% walk rate.
The one who hasn’t been a complete bust is left-hander David Price. Through 24 innings (four starts), he leads the rotation with a 3.75 ERA and 0.7 fWAR. Since posting a 24.0% strikeout rate and 7.6% walk rate in his first year with the Sox, those numbers have gotten better each year.
Price is allowing hard contact at a 40.7% rate, though, which would easily be a career-worst mark if that pace is sustained. This can partially be attributed to a drop in cutter usage — he threw that offering at a career-high 28.1% clip last year, but that number is currently at 13.6%. Most of the change has gone to his fastball (46.8% in ’18, 54.6% in ’19, which includes his sinker).
Sonny Gray, Cincinnati Reds
Career Strikeout Rate: 21.2%
2018 Strikeout Rate: 21.1%
2019 Strikeout Rate (so far): 31.3%
The Reds are 9-14 and already taking up residence in the National League Central basement. Unlike in recent years, though, the blame can’t be put on the rotation. They’re entering Thursday’s games tied for the league’s second-best cumulative fWAR (3.0) and the fourth-best ERA (3.30).
After a disastrous 2018 with the New York Yankees, Sonny Gray is looking more like his old self, with the added bonus of more strikeouts. It took the right-hander 130.1 innings to accumulate 1.6 fWAR last year, yet he’s already produced 1.0 in just 24.2 innings this season.
Gray is also allowing a ton of hard contact (42.6%), but his 54.1% ground-ball rate is much more in line with his career norms (53.3%). Interestingly enough, his pitch mix hasn’t changed much from last year — he threw his fastball at a career-low 35.1% clip in ’18, and that number is even lower to start 2019 (33.1%).
Gray’s slider has been straight-up nasty, though. After producing a 41.2% strikeout rate and 73 wRC+ with it last year, those numbers have increased to 66.7% and -73 (!) in the early going.
Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
Career Strikeout Rate: 27.2%
2018 Strikeout Rate: 31.6%
2019 Strikeout Rate (so far): 37.5%
There is no Cy Young hangover for Blake Snell. His season debut didn’t go well — he allowed five runs on six hits (three home runs), two walks, and three strikeouts in six innings. In the 22.1 innings following that performance, he’s allowed just four runs (three earned) and two homers while walking four and striking out 36.
Snell has generated the third-best soft-hit rate allowed (28.8%), fourth-best hard-hit rate allowed (23.7%), and fifth-best infield-fly rate (18.2%) in baseball among starters with 20-plus innings pitched. He’s accomplished this with a huge increase in curveball usage. After setting a single-season career high last year by tossing it at a 20.2% clip, it’s all the way up to 32.3% thus far in 2019.
This offering has generated a 33.3% infield-fly rate, while his four-seamer has actually induced infield flies at a 63.6% clip.
Derek Holland, San Francisco Giants
Career Strikeout Rate: 19.4%
2018 Strikeout Rate: 23.3%
2019 Strikeout Rate (so far): 30.6%
Holland’s 2018 performance with the Giants was noteworthy because that 23.3% strikeout rate was a new career high. It was only the third time that number eclipsed 20.0% in his career, and the first time it happened since 2013 with the Texas Rangers.
This has been a trend since producing a career-low 14.5% strikeout rate in 2016, though. The number crept up to 16.6% in ’17 before getting to 23.3% last year, and Holland certainly looks poised to set yet another career-high mark. Another noticeable trend since 2017 has been a consistent increase in slider usage and a consistent decrease in curveball usage.
However, the veteran has also gotten better results from his four-seamer. After seeing opposing hitters post a 185 wRC+ against it in 2017, that number went down to 122 last year and is currently 82. Now, if he can get his homers allowed per nine innings (2.00) and walk rate (11.7%) under control, he’ll really be in business.
Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox
Career Strikeout Rate: 22.6%
2018 Strikeout Rate: 17.6%
2019 Strikeout Rate (so far): 29.4%
It’s taken just 28 innings for Rodon to accumulate 1.0 fWAR, which is already more than the 0.8 fWAR he produced in 120.2 innings last season. Despite debuting in 2015, he’s only had one season with at least 25 starts. So the White Sox are hoping he can both sustain this strong start while also staying healthy.
Outside of the huge spike in strikeout rate, there isn’t much different when looking at Rodon’s profile — hitters have produced similar percentages of both batted balls and quality of contact, and they’re walking at nearly the same clip.
He has continued to rely less on his fastball and more on his slider, though. Rodon threw his fastball at a career-high 63.7% clip in ’16, and that number has dropped each year since to its current 51.3% mark. His changeup usage has also gone down a notch (14.0% in ’18 to 9.6% so far in ’19), and everything has gone toward that slider.
After tossing it at a 26.1% clip in ’18, he’s been using it at a 39.1% rate this year, which is the fifth-highest in baseball. The results of this offering are off the charts, too: 0.0% walk rate, 51.0% strikeout rate, .104/.102/.104 triple slash, and a -41 wRC+.
An interesting wrinkle here, though, is that virtually all of Rodon’s workload (and success) has come on the road. He’s thrown 4.2 innings at home, which has led to a 7.71 ERA and .413 wOBA against. In 23.1 road innings, he owns a 1.93 ERA and .188 wOBA against.
Jordan Hicks, St. Louis Cardinals
Career Strikeout Rate: 22.0%
2018 Strikeout Rate: 22.7%
2019 Strikeout Rate (so far): 33.3%
Nobody throws a fastball with more velocity than Jordan Hicks. His 100.7 mph average on the ol’ number one currently leads all pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched. Despite that tremendous speed, the knock on him during his rookie campaign was that it didn’t come with an abundance of strikeouts and a lot of walks.
Well, the walks are still happening (12.8% in 10.1 innings), but the strikeouts are starting to pour in. A big reason for this is that he’s becoming less reliant on that fastball. He threw it at a 78.6% clip as a rookie, but that number is down to 61.1% so far in ’19, which has coincided with a huge rise in slider usage (22.0% to 32.5%).
His sinker has seen a rise in strikeout rate (13.0% to 22.5%), but the thing about high velocity is that big-league hitters will adjust to it. There are so many hurlers tossing in the upper 90s and hitting triple digits that it’s not incredibly rare anymore. When he drops in the slider more frequently, though, it keeps them on their toes.
That pitch has produced a 66.7% strikeout rate and 44 wRC+ against in the early parts of 2019.
Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
Career Strikeout Rate: 25.6%
2018 Strikeout Rate: 23.3%
2019 Strikeout Rate (so far): 34.2%
We gushed about Luis Castillo and how disgusting he’s been to start the season just last week, and we typically like to avoid repeat mentions so close together. However, the right-hander’s surge in strikeout rate was way too noticeable to ignore.
The information about how ridiculous his changeup has been won’t be repeated here, but it’s interesting to note how successful he’s been at home for the Reds. Great American Ball Park has historically been a haven for hitters, and 19.2 Castillo’s 30.2 total innings have been in Cincy. He’s risen to the occasion by producing a 0.92 ERA, 35.2% strikeout rate, 57.1% ground-ball rate, 21.6% soft-hit rate, and 13.6% hard-hit rate in front of the home fans.