2012 Season Preview: The Strikeout Kings

The 2012 New York Yankees All-Projection Team
Was consistency really Brett Gardner's problem in 2011?
(REUTERS/Steve Nesius)

A pitcher can do nothing better than record strike three. Strikeouts take the defense right out of the equation, meaning hits, errors, weird bounces, and everything else is impossible. It’s not an accident that pitchers with high strikeout rates traditionally have lower ERAs since keeping the ball out of play means nothing bad can happen.

The Yankees had the American League’s best strikeout staff in 2011, leading the circuit with 7.54 K/9 and 19.7 K%. At 8.46 K/9 and 22.2 K%, the bullpen missed more bats than any other unit in the league, which is a great way to protect leads in the late innings. At least part of that high strikeout rate had to do with the arrival of pitching coaching Larry Rothschild, who has a history of improving strikeout rates. The Yankees figure to again have a dominant strikeout staff in 2012, one that could be even better than last year given a new arrival and good health.

CC Sabathia
After posting a mid-7.0 K/9 in each of his first two years in pinstripes, Sabathia had the second best strikeout season of his career in 2011. His 8.72 K/9 and 23.4 K% were the sixth and fifth best marks in the AL, respectively. During one stretch from late-June to late-July, CC struck out 72 batters in 54.2 IP across seven starts, good for an 11.85 K/9 and 35.5 K%. He tied his career-high by striking out 13 Brewers on June 30th, and just about a month later he set a new career-best by fanning 14 Mariners.

The strikeout boost appears to have come from an increased usage of his slider, as Sabathia broke out his top offspeed offering 26.6% of time in 2011 after using it no more than 18.5% from 2008-2010. Batters did not make contact on 40.9% of the swings they took against the pitch (54.6% vs. LHB), which is just ridiculous. His changeup drew a swing and miss 33.2% of the time as well. That’s just silly, the guy’s offspeed stuff was just unhittable last year. With any luck, that’s something Rothschild has instilled in Sabathia and it’ll carry over into this year.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Michael Pineda
Few pitchers were better at getting strike three last season than Pineda. The young right-hander struck out 9.11 batters per nine with a 24.9 K%, the seventh and sixth best rates in all of baseball. Right-handed batters had a three-in-ten chance of being struck out by Pineda, which isn’t terribly surprising given his lethal fastball-slider combo. Even his 20.7 K% against left-handers is pretty strong, impressive for a guy that doesn’t really have a changeup. Batters missed 39.3% of the time they swung at his slidepiece.

Pineda is working on that changeup now, but maintaining a strikeout-per-inning rate is a very tough to do regardless of ballpark or division. His strikeout rate might take a step back in 2012 just because it’s hard to ring up that many guys each time out, but Pineda has more than enough stuff to miss bats regularly. An 8.0 K/9 and 22.0 K% going forward is more than doable. If he improves that changeup to the point where it’s a usable third pitch, the sky is the limit for team’s new hurler.

Boone Logan
This might be a bit surprising, but Logan has missed a ton of bats during his two years as a Yankee. Last year he posted a 9.94 K/9 and 24.9 K%, the former of which was a top ten mark among AL relievers (min. 40 IP). His strikeout rates against left-handed batters — 11.20 K/9 and 28.8 K% — were among the very best by southpaw relievers. Over the last two years, Logan owns a 9.26 K/9 and 23.7 K%. Boone can be maddening at times, but he uses his fastball-slider stuff to regularly prevent hitters from putting the ball in play. There’s not much more you can ask from your lefty specialist.

Rafael Soriano
The world’s most expensive setup man battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness during his inaugural season in New York, but at least Soriano missed bats regularly. His 8.24 K/9 and 22.0 K% were essentially identical to his strikeout rates with the Rays in 2011 (8.23 K/9 and 24.1 K%) thanks to his fastball-cutter-slider repertoire. Right-handed batters swing and missed with 30.5% and 34.5% of the swings they took against his four-seamer and slider, respectively. That’ll work. With career marks of 9.49 K/9 and 26.4 K%, there is absolutely no reason to think a healthy Soriano will do anything but generate whiffs in the late innings this summer.

(Christopher Pasatieri/Getty)

David Robertson
The king of the strikeout heavy staff, Robertson’s dominant 2011 season was built on his career-best strikeout rates: 13.50 K/9 and 36.8 K%. Both rates were top five among all big league relievers and the second best among AL relievers behind only Al Alburquerque (min 40 IP). Batters came up empty on 35.0% of the swings they took against his curveball, which is just ridiculous.

Robertson’s strikeout ways are nothing new. He’s never whiffed fewer than 10.40 batters per nine or 26.0% of the batters he’s faced in a single big league season, and he doesn’t discriminate either. Robertson’s strikeout rates against right-handers (11.19 K/9 and 28.9 K%) and left-handers (12.98 K/9 and 33.7 K%) are both through the roof. He’s already had a minor injury scare this spring, but assuming Robertson comes out of this bone bruise fine, he’ll again be counted on to lead the setup staff in 2012. The strikeouts will come pouring in.

Mariano Rivera
The greatest reliever of all-time saw his strikeout rate take a huge dip in 2010 (just 6.75 K/9 and 19.6 K%), but Rivera rebounded in a big way last season: 8.80 K/9 and 25.8 K%. Mo’s strikeout rate has actually improved with age, and his K/BB ratio has been quite literally off the charts for years now…

Rivera’s famed cutter has generated a swing and miss just 20.8% of the time during the PitchFX era (19.8% in 2011), which is relatively low compared to the primary pitch of most high strikeout relievers. Of course Mo has historically great command and generates an ungodly amount of called strikes; ~20% of the pitches he’s thrown during the PitchFX era have been called strikes, well above the ~16% league average. A little less than 11% of all the plate appearances against Rivera have ended with a called strike three during that time, again well above the league average (~4.5%). Strikeouts are great, but they’re even better when the hitter doesn’t bother to take the bat off his shoulders.

The 2012 New York Yankees All-Projection Team
Was consistency really Brett Gardner's problem in 2011?
  • pat

    That chart needs three brackets [Poor], [Good] and [Mariano]

  • Chrisis

    That chart made me spit out my coffee. Luckily I have a reserve keyboard.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Hope you don’t have more coffee.

  • Guest

    Great stuff, Mike.

    I am very pumped about this year’s team, and this article points to the main reason why: pitching.

    The Yankees are likely to make the playoffs (nothing is a lock, but I say it’s a strong possibility). If they do make the playoffs, everything is a crapshoot; but a pitching staff like this allows the Yanks to go into that crapshoot with a loaded dice.

    I’m VERY bullish on Pineda. I think by the time October rolls around, its not unreasonable to believe he will be “Ace Jr.” to CC’s “Ace.” You combine that with a stocked bullpen and hopefully a hot pitcher out of the Kuroda/Hughes/Nova trifecta, and you have a recipe for solid playoff pitching performances.

    We’ll see…

  • Mike Myers

    can someone explain my dislike for Boone? Is it because we are spoiled with Drob and MO? I dont know why, but he bugs me.

    • jon

      Hes a left handed Kyle Farnsworth, hes got that high powered FB and a great secondary pitch but he just always seems to F it up.

      • duzzi23

        So true. I think it is the fact that big lefty hitters give him problems like David Ortiz and Josh Hamilton who owned him in the 2010 playoffs.

        • CJ

          I really hope Pineda can blow away Ortiz. Ortiz has had a history of welcoming Yankee pitchers to the rivalry with a three run homer. Ortiz should not be able to get around on 97 inside half.

      • CJ

        Kyle farnsworth the 2.18 0.99 WHIP closer for a 2011 playoff team? Can’t figure baseball Suzyn.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      He’s been put in the “unreliable” box by some fans and now needs to work harder to get out of it. We remember the times he couldn’t do his LOOGY work more than we remember the times he was effective. It happens.

  • nsalem

    Plus another strong addition come June.

  • vin

    That chart needs to be etched onto Mariano’s HOF plaque. The dude operates on another plane of existence from all of us.

  • http://fendersonandhampton.com Cuso

    “A pitcher can do nothing better than record strike three”

    A pop out on the first pitch is better.

    • Chrisis

      A pop out still implies someone has to catch the ball. And I know catchers also have to catch strike three, but I heard they’re pretty good a stuff like that.

      • Robinson Tilapia


      • Ted Nelson

        MLB fielders are also pretty good at catching lazy pop-ups…

        • 28 this year

          Except luis castillo…

          • Mike HC


            • Chrisis

              Case and point though.

        • Chrisis

          Somehow I still think catching a popup goes wrong a bit more often than catching strike three.

  • Mike HC

    Thank the baseball gods for giving us CC. Most credit to Cashman really for not trading for Santana the year before and also realizing he needed to give CC whatever he wanted.

    • CJ

      Yeah that could have been joba Hughes granderson and CC for Johan.

  • CJ

    This clown Marchand wrote maybe Pineda should start in minors. “overwhelmed by NY” media, overweight and lost velocity. He hasn’t made it out of Tampa yet. These writers are sick sadistic weasels. They smell blood and they are going after him. I hope he’s up for it

    • Guest

      I just saw this too. I know that they do this stuff to get page views, and that if I don’t like it I don’t have to read it (which, more often than not, is the case).

      But this is starting to get ridiculous. Mike Pineda to the minors is, just, I mean, why don’t they say that they have conclusive proof that Derek Jeter is actually Superman’s little brother who also escaped from Krypton? That’s salacious. That would get page views.

      The worst part is, if he has any knowledge of who Pineda is/has been, understands the level of investment the Yanks have made in, and understands the nature of freakin’ Spring Training, then he KNOWS he is writing BS.

      Sigh. The lesson Guest, as always, is you should watch the games — but you shouldn’t read about them (unless its at RAB or FanGraphs).

    • thenamestsam

      If you want to make the case that he should start in the minors because of service time, okay. I can get behind that to some extent. But to say that he’s “overwhelmed by NY”, I mean he hasn’t even been to NY yet! I’m really supposed to buy that the 15 extra media guys who are at Yankees spring training is just so overwhelming that the kid is freaking out? That’s the story we’re going with here?

      Some segments of the NY media just love to give themselves a handy about how intimidating and powerful they are. Makes them the center of the story, and who doesn’t love to be in the middle of things? Yeah Andrew, I’m sure he just can’t handle your hard hitting journalism. I mean really, who could?

  • forensic

    How can you write a post about the Yankees strikeout kings and not include Granderson?

    Come on, someone had to say it.

    • jjyank

      Or JoVa.

  • Jonathan

    Something bad can definitely happen. It’s admittedly nitpicking but catchers can drop strike 3, not block it or throw the ball away when trying to get him at first plus the chance of a crazy bounce. But it’s still definitely the preferred outcome.

    My guess is this came to mind after watching Jorge behind the dish the last few years. I was a catcher all through HS and college and I caught Aaron Crow and plenty of guys with filthy stuff…and I never understood how you could call for a breaking ball with 2 strikes or men on and then be so late trying to block the pitch. Unless you got crossed up YOU called it and should be anticipating the breaking ball in the dirt. I’m just having nightmares of the Midge game where Jorge kept calling Joba version 2007’s slider low and in to lefties with men on or 2 strikes and then being late or just attempting a lazy backhand.

    In high school I was catching a game on the road and in the bottom of the 7th (you only play 7 innings a lot in HS/college) of a tie game, with the bases loaded and 2 strikes I called for our closers curveball in the dirt. He threw a filthy one and the guy missed it by a foot but when I went down to block it it didn’t touch me or go by me and I had no idea what was going on and couldn’t figure out where the ball was. It turned out that it hit the very front lip of the plate and shot over mine and the umpire’s head and hit the backstop in the air about 12-15 feet up and the guy scored the winning run from 3rd close to the time it landed back on the ground, since he was running on the swing.