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Musing On Projecting Daily Strikeouts For Pitchers

Strikeouts aren’t everything for pitcher’s in daily fantasy. Wins, innings pitched, hits and runs allowed all are quite important to picking a good pitcher for daily fantasy. But strikeouts are where upside is found, and to win a big tournament you need to have a pitcher with high upside.

However, projecting strikeouts is not easy, there are a lot of factors in my mind that need to be considered in proper strikeout projections for pitchers.

The most common way daily fantasy professionals project strikeouts is by looking at stats for this season on strikeout rate for a given team. Using this metric, the Cubs are the best strikeout matchup for a pitcher, while the Royals are the worst. This is a poor method for many reasons, mostly because some teams often switch up their lineup and batting order a lot, which can drastically change our strikeout projection for the pitcher facing that team.

A good model should consider each individual player in the lineup, as well as their individual matchup against the pitcher.

It’s clear that not everyone in the order has the same expected plate appearances against the opposing starting pitcher. Players higher up in the lineup should face the starting pitcher more often. The expected plate appearances for a leadoff hitter against an opposing starting pitcher is probably very close to 3, likely slightly higher, as 4 PAs seems more likely than 2. Let’s just estimate the leadoff hitter has an expected number of plate appearances of 3.1. With the leadoff estimate in mind, we can calculate the rest of the order by subtracting 1/9th plate appearances for every spot down in the order. This is because a hitter ahead of you in the lineup has a one and nine chance of getting one more PA against the starting pitcher than you do, and an 8 out of 9 chance of having the same amount of PAs. An expected PA model could be this:

1. 3.1 PA

2. 2.99 PA

3. 2.88 PA

4. 2.77 PA

5.  2.66

6. 2.55

7. 2.44

8. 2.33

9. 2.22

So the leadoff hitter gets approximately 41% more PAs than the 9th slot hitter, which is quite high. A low strikeout hitter at the leadoff position significantly dampers an opposing pitchers strikeout projections, while a high strikeout hitter in the 9th slot is not going to have too much of an affect (besides with pitcher, which I wrote about in an article several weeks ago).

To get an idea of individual strikeout rates, I like to use Steamer ROS projections found on Fangraphs. With that said, strikeout rates supposedly stabilize quite quickly, so using recent strikeout rates may be worth while, as those numbers could be trendy.

Using strikeout rates from Steamer and using these expected PAs, I think you could have a solid strikeout projection model. But there is still a big piece missing. Handedness strikeout splits can be significant, especially for left handers.

The majority of hitters and pitchers are right handed, so a significant amount of a pitchers and hitters total strikeout projection or history is going to be dominated by their performance against right handed hitters. With that said, some players strikeout significantly more, or in the pitchers case strike hitters out more, against one handedness type or another.

I looked at data from the past 3 years on strikeouts per 9 innings splits for pitchers, and the results were pretty interesting. I used a high minimum innings pitched, so not everyone is there. Nonetheless, their are a large number of pitchers who strikeout 2 more batters per 9 innings versus one handedness or another. Below are the right handed pitchers with the biggest strikeout splits. I suggest looking at data on fangraphs for strikeout splits for any target pitcher.

NameKSplits
Justin Masterson3.26
Kyle Gibson2.87
Tanner Roark2.44
Lance Lynn2.43
Colby Lewis2.4
Josh Collmenter2.31
Stephen Strasburg2.01
Roberto Hernandez1.88

 

Strasburg and Lynn are the best pitchers of the bunch and really the only ones I’d ever play in a cash game. These other guys are much worse, but also quite interesting. None of these guys are going to be highly played in tournaments, and therefore can be really awesome plays against the RIGHT matchup (No pun intended). Facing a team like the Blue Jays, Pirates, Brewers or Padres that are heavy in right handers are extremely good for these pitchers and make them awesome contrarian plays at pitcher.

Here are the biggest lefties. In this case, this number is the difference between how often they strikeout righties and how often they strikeout lefties, so high negative numbers indicate a pitcher who strikeouts lefties much more often.

C.J. Wilson-2.25
Madison Bumgarner-2.45
Jorge de la Rosa-2.57
Dallas Keuchel-2.85
Clayton Kershaw-3.51
CC Sabathia-4.39

 

Again, we see some great pitchers like Keuchel, Bumgarner, and of course Kershaw. But we also see mediocore guys like Wilson and Sabathia, as well as Jorge de la Rosa. These guys completely crush lefties, and actually could be solid plays against a team with a large amount of lefties like the Rangers, even if those players aren’t particularly high strikeout.

Looking at strikeout splits, strikeout projection, and batting order. I think we get a complete picture of the opposing teams quality of strikeout matchup.

View all posts by Max J Steinberg
Max J Steinberg

About the Author

Max J Steinberg Max Steinberg is a professional poker player and a top Daily Fantasy player who uses his creativity and mathematical abilities he cultivated as a poker player to win money on both DraftKings and FanDuel. He already has several big tournament scores to his name including the Victiv Bowl and countless MLB Monster wins. Follow him on twitter @maxjsteinberg.

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