Hen (Hen) Ry (Ry) Row (Row) En (En) Gart (Gart) Ner (Ner). No, Henry Rowengartner is not on this list, but I imagine he would have been if his arm was still broken and his tendons were still too tight. I could picture the 100 mph fastballs working fairly consistently, but the famous floater pitch that hasn’t been seen since Scuffy McGee wouldn’t last long, even in a 12’’ softball league. “Ffffunky butt-loving!’ ‘Did he just say funky butt-loving?” Enough about one of my favorite baseball movies from the ‘90s. We’re going to take a look at the top ten pitchers to lead the league in strikeouts for the 2018 season. Let me know who you like, who I missed, who deserves an honorable mention, etc. Do you want “Big Sexy” Bartolo Colon on the list, because he mesmerizes you with his athletic figure? He would make a great figure skater or rhythmic gymnast, right? I can’t place him on this list, but he deserves to be on some sort of list somewhere. Maybe I’ll make a list of the ten most entertaining MLB players, I’m sure he’ll make that list. All opinions are welcomed, and encouraged so let’s dive right in and see what happens! For the purpose of this post, we will be using Grey’s 2018 Pre-Season Projections and FantasyPros ADP.
The flow is great with deGrom. If he puts his hair out a window, he might be mistaken for Rapunzel. He and Syndergaard are part of the all-hair team. Speaking of Syndergaard, he remains an honorable mention, but he will definitely be fighting for one of these spots and would not surprise me at all if he finishes in the top ten in K’s. deGrom’s luscious locks don’t get in the way of his pitching as he was rookie of the year (2014), an all-star and 7th in Cy Young (2015), injury riddled (2016), and last season he saw 201 innings with 239 K’s (5th in MLB 2017). Give this guy another 200 innings, and he’ll surely use that 28.9% strikeout rate from last year. Outside of 2016 when he struggled with injuries, his next lowest K/9 was 9.2 in his rookie season, followed up by improving that to 9.7, and last season improved again to 10.7 K/9. Let’s see what deGrom has for us in 2018.
Soulja Boy’s favorite pitcher, Yuuuuuu crank that Soulja Boy, Yuuuuuu. After losing Jake Arrieta to free agency, Darvish is a welcomed addition to the North Side. Since his debut as a 25 year old in 2012, he has proven to be one of the top strikeout artists out of Japan. His breaking pitches move like a frisbee, sure glad he joined the Windy City, imagine trying to catch a paper airplane during a windstorm. Darvish has a wide array of pitches to choose from. He can choose from a fastball (48.5% of the time), slider (22.6%), cutter (14.4%), curveball (9.5%), changeup (2.0%), splitter (2.9%), and my favorite according to FanGraphs unknown (0.2%). Darvish spends most of his time using the fastball/slider combo, and has basically phased out the splitter in the last two seasons, but it’s always in his back pocket.
Severino is one of my favorite pitchers going into this season. Last season he finally became the ace the Yankees knew he could be going 14-6, 193 innings, and striking out 230 opponents. He finished 2017 with a 10.71 K/9 and a SO% of 29.4 which was good enough for 6th in the majors. He may only be a three-pitch pitcher, but they all have great life. His fastball sits comfortably in the high 90’s and throws hard breaking pitches as well with a slider that comes in close to 90 MPH and same with the change-up. He is one of the true definitions this season of a power pitcher and should be able to capitalize with a high number of strikeouts.
Verlander came back in a big way last season, looking re-invigorated after joining the World Series champs in Houston. JV struggled for a few seasons in 2014 and ‘15. He came back to life in 2016 in a big way. Some say he beat the injury bug after those down years, others may say dating/engaging Kate Upton helped revive his……numbers? Now he has the World Series ring to match the wedding ring. The 2016 version of Verlander looked more like 2009 Verlander as he led the league in strikeouts once again with 254 and finished second in the Cy Young Award vote. Last year, he was moved to Houston, where he finished the season on an absolute tear (5 GS, 34 IP, 5-0 W/L, 43 K, 1.06 ERA, 11.4 K/9). His fastball velocity took a major dip in those down seasons in 2014 and ‘15, but seem to be almost back to Cy Young form as last year his 4-seamer averaged nearly 96 mph. As long as he’s married to Kate Upton, consider him a top ten candidate for K’s, now that he doesn’t have to worry about striking out away from baseball.
The playoff legend. Bumgarner struggled last season, and same with the Giants to say the least. They finished last in the National League at 64-98. He pitched in about half the amount of games he normally does through a season. He hasn’t started less than 31 games since before 2011, so his taking the mound only 17 times greatly hurt his numbers in 2017 due to a shoulder injury. Prior to last year, he had exceeded 200 K’s each of 2016, ‘15, and ‘14, and finishing with 199 K’s in 2013. Up until last year, his strikeout trajectory had increased every season from 2010 (86 K’s, first full season), 2011 (191), 2012 (191), 2013 (199), 2014 (219), 2015 (234), 2016 (251). Look for Bumgarner to get back on track this season as long as he stays healthy.
Likely to be the first or second pitcher taken in your league, Kershaw has been a dominant force since joining the majors. He has been to seven consecutive all-star games, won three Cy-Young Awards, and one National League MVP. Kershaw AKA The Claw AKA Kid K, a perfect nickname, is in the 300 K club finishing 2015 with 33 games, 232 innings pitched 4 complete games, 3 shutouts, and 301 K’s. He is not a power pitcher, but his herky jerky, and repeatable delivery makes it so hard for the hitter to decide which pitch is on it’s way. His fastball sits in the mid to low 90’s, but at any point, he can drop a 73 mph breaking ball on you, a legitimate 12 to 6. I bet the six teams that picked ahead of the Dodgers in 2006 are kicking themselves for passing on the 6’4’’ lefty out of University Park, Texas. This draft saw Kershaw, Andrew Miller, Tim Lincecum, and Max Scherzer, pretty good company.
5. Corey Kluber Cleveland Indians (228 K’s/13.5)
Last season, Kluber only trailed Chris Sale and Max Scherzer in SO% at 34.1. He has exceeded 200 K’s in each of his last four seasons, including two Cy Young Awards and four all-star appearances. He has been the most reliable starter on Cleveland for the last few years, including a crazy 2017 record of 18-4. Once again, we should look for Kluber to have a K/9 above 10, as last year he ranked 4th at 11.71. He throws a ton of pitches that move, as last season we saw his use of fastball dip from 52% to 42% and he increased the use of his curveball about 8% compared to 2016.
I love a good two first name athlete (Chris Paul, Ryan Howard, Ray Lewis, LeBron James, Tom Brady, Paul George, Adam Scott, Derek Lee, Hank Aaron to name a few). Throw in alliteration, and it’s a dream come true to say in your head, or out loud if you prefer, “Francisco…That’s fun to say” (Jerome James, Jermaine Jackson, Tim Thomas, Tyrus Thomas, Jarrett Jack, Mark Martin, Bonnie Blair, Cassius Clay, Lisa Leslie, Paul Pierce). In the previous two seasons, Robbie Ray finished 2nd in K/9, (2016 – 11.25 and 2017 – 12.11) and 4th in SO% 2017 at 32.8. Either Ray has really good stuff, or hitters are too distracted looking at their giant face displayed on the video board in center field, but my bets on the good stuff as he struck out 119 on the road and 99 at home in 2017 and 121 and 97 road and home in 2016.
Former 5th rounder out of high school in North Carolina, Chris Archer, has put together an impressive career so far since his debut in 2012. He made his first all-star team in 2015 and again in 2017. Since 2015, he has been one of the top strikeout pitchers in baseball. In the last three seasons, he has finished in the top five in strikeouts, and top six in K/9. It may be hard to imagine Archer ahead of Kluber and Kershaw in the strikeout category, but he has been healthy throughout his career leading to more starting opportunities. Archer led the league in starts with 34 last season and has exceeded 200 IP in three consecutive seasons.
Chris Sale has been one of the top pitchers in the AL since his first full season as a starter in 2012. Who would’ve expected changing his Sox could lead to improvements in his already ridiculous stat-line. Not only did he change from White to Red Sox, but he also joined a very short list of pitchers in 2017 to have 300 k’s in a season. Since the year 2000, the only other pitchers to achieve this feat were Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, and Clayton Kershaw (pretty nice list of names to if you ask me). It makes sense the White Sox received such a huge haul of talent in exchange for Sale because he would step into any team as an ace, putting up all-star and Cy Young type numbers.
It feels like this season might be a two-man race to own the strikeout lead. Expecting Sale to continue to dominate at the rate he did last season is lofty, but not completely inconceivable, which means this can be looked at as 1a and 1b. In the past few seasons, Scherzer has been utterly un-hittable (needed some alliteration) and as dominant a pitcher that we’ve seen. He has to be the most intimidating face to try and stare down looking like the Terminator from his Heterochromia Iridum condition, which is responsible for his different colored eyes. Scherzer’s made five straight all star appearances (2013-2017), won three Cy Young Awards (2013, 2016, and 2017), and led the National League in strikeouts the past two seasons with Washington in 2016 (284 K’s) and 2017 (268 K’s). There is no reason to believe he won’t lead the league again with only a few other options breathing down his neck for the number 1 spot. Barring injuries, he is as close to a lock to finish top five in strikeouts this season.