- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
With strikeout rates across the big leagues rising to historic levels, it’s relatively easy to find pitchers who pile on this statistic. Then again, the bar for competing in this category has been raised as well. It’s tougher to get away with a low-strikeout option as a member of your fantasy rotation, even if they’re rocking the ERA and WHIP and winning games. Among 99 qualified starters for the ERA title, you’ll find little strikeout aid coming from Jeremy Guthrie, Bronson Arroyo, Bartolo Colon and even the 100-percent owned Jordan Zimmermann.
This is why fantasy owners flock to starting pitchers who accrue many whiffs and avoid giving up many runs, a trait the likes of Yu Darvish, Matt Harvey and Felix Hernandez are making look easy this season. But there remain quite a few decent yet flawed strikeout options still available in many ESPN standard leagues, led by the Boston Red Sox right-hander who lost Wednesday night, but remains on pace for roughly 200 strikeouts.
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
Since 2000, Ryan Dempster has struck out at least 153 each season he was a starting pitcher.
Yes, Ryan Dempster isn’t likely to win an ERA or WHIP title anytime soon, but it does seem odd that every other pitcher in the top 35 of strikeouts is owned in either all leagues or more than 80 percent in the case of injured A.J. Burnett and struggling Tim Lincecum, while Dempster is at 59 percent. Sure, Wednesday’s outing was not the cleanest one, as Dempster permitted eight hits and two walks, plus three runs in six innings, but again, if you need strikeouts, this guy is out there in many leagues and he struck out 208 hitters in 2010. He can do this again. Dempster has made more quality starts than CC Sabathia and his 4-8 record is more a reflection of run support; the Red Sox have scored big for him a few times, but they've scored only two runs in his past two outings.
Regardless, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to add strikeouts to a fantasy team. It might hurt a bit in ERA and WHIP, but in a few cases there is upside with these guys as well, and they’re readily available.
Ricky Nolasco, Miami Marlins (7.6 percent owned): Raise your hand if this guy has burned you before. OK, both my hands are raised. The right-hander is actually having a pretty decent season, though I admit we’ve been down this road before. It seems like every season Nolasco’s ERA is way too high for anyone’s taste, yet his FIP and xFIP are always reasonable. Well, Nolasco’s strikeout rate is up and for those avoiding him because the Marlins are terrible, note that he owns twice as many wins as James Shields and Cole Hamels, and only one fewer than Clayton Kershaw and Matt Cain. Add Nolasco for the K's (he’s on pace for 173 and could be moved to a better team), then move on if he strings together three brutal starts in a row to ruin his overall numbers.
Felix Doubront, Red Sox (5.0): I’ve never been a fan because he’s a big-time walker, but Doubront does have outings in which the upside is clearly evident, such as Tuesday when he went eight innings for the first time as a professional. Doubront dominated the Tampa Bay Rays to the tune of three hits and nary a free pass, though closer Andrew Bailey cost him the win. Still, Doubront is only 25 and while he makes Dempster look like a prime Greg Maddux in terms of ERA and WHIP, there remains growth. Even the way he is now, a strikeout per inning can be worth owning regardless of the WHIP damage.
Edwin Jackson, Chicago Cubs (19.6): I drafted the well-traveled right-hander in a very deep league and have stuck with him, mainly because as unpleasant as it can be to rely on him, he actually has produced several usable seasons recently. For example, last year Jackson fanned 168 hitters with a 1.22 WHIP. He was barely owned in shallow leagues, but those numbers are fine. This year Jackson has appeared to be just awful; remove his past three starts and his ERA was 6.29 and his WHIP 1.67. He has been better of late, including two earned runs and 15 strikeouts in a two-game span and even Wednesday he was cruising along into the sixth inning before Yadier Molina crushed a home run. Jackson’s 5.49 ERA is going to come down, perhaps all the way to where his 3.56 FIP and 3.77 xFIP reside. Just be patient and enjoy the whiffs.
Ubaldo Jimenez, Cleveland Indians (14.5): Jimenez is a big risk to your ERA and WHIP, but even I cannot ignore the 71 strikeouts in 73 1/3 innings. He might lead the majors in walks this season, but if you’ve got a healthy team ERA and WHIP you can afford a guy like this when he’s striking out nearly a batter per inning.
Joe Blanton, Los Angeles Angels (0.3): This one is a tougher sell, but then again, he’s not likely to lose his rotation spot and things really can’t get any worse. Ignore the fact Blanton is 1-10. Don’t ignore the 5.62 ERA and 1.60 WHIP, but note the 3.67 xFIP, because it does suggest better times are ahead. It’s about the strikeouts. Blanton has never piled them on, but he has a pair of 11-whiff efforts in June, and it’s worth noting that four of his past five outings have actually been quality starts, good ones, too. I’m not suggesting Blanton is a good addition in a shallow league, but if your team ERA is a mess, as I noted with Toronto Blue Jays right-hander Josh Johnson in Wednesday’s blog entry, you want to add someone who's lowering their terrible numbers, not add a Jeff Locke type who can’t.
Dillon Gee, New York Mets (8.8): On the surface, this one seems to make little sense, but Gee did strike out nearly eight hitters per nine innings last season. It was rather under the radar, and his season ended prematurely with a blood clot in his shoulder, but Gee is on quite the roll of late, having struck out 32 in his past 29 1/3 innings with a 1.53 ERA. It shouldn’t last, not with a fastball coming in at less than 89 mph, but then again, the NL East is a fine place to stream pitchers.
With strikeout rates across the big leagues rising to historic levels, it’s relatively easy to find pitchers who pile on this statistic. Then again, the bar for competing in this category has been raised as well.