Predicting Every MLB Team's Strikeout Leader on the Mound in 2013
MLB strikeout totals could reach all-time highs in 2013 as nearly every team has overpowering starting pitchers. Predicting which individuals will lead their rotations in K's is a tricky task.
Those who have done so in recent years obviously need to be considered. After all, one does not simply forget how to generate whiffs. The main challenges facing those pitchers are declining velocity and durability.
For inexperienced arms to become their club's top strikeout artists, there needs to be refinement of a certain pitch or the allowance to pitch more innings. Chris Sale and Stephen Strasburg—among others—will benefit from heavier workloads.
Assuming the following starters stay injury-free and off the trading block, they'll post gaudy swing-and-miss statistics.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Ian Kennedy
Ian Kennedy is who he is.
By alternating the fastball and changeup, he forces opposing batters to get underneath the ball or miss it entirely. That results in lots of flies to the outfield and nearly as many strikeouts.
It's unclear whether he, Wade Miley or Brandon McCarthy deserves the title of "Arizona Diamondbacks ace." But Kennedy will undoubtedly amass the most K's.
Atlanta Braves: Mike Minor
Though Kris Medlen hogged all the headlines, Mike Minor quietly excelled after the 2012 All-Star break.
His command improved while his strikeout rate stayed pretty steady. Had the Atlanta Braves provided ample run support down the stretch, manager Fredi Gonzalez would have allowed him to pitch more innings.
With the Upton brothers now on the team, Minor can expect to be ahead as his outings progress. That should translate into greater numbers of plate appearances and punchouts.
Baltimore Orioles: Wei-Yin Chen
Aside from Wei-Yin Chen, no Baltimore Orioles starter even came close to sticking in the 2012 rotation for a full season.
He was clearly underrated coming out of the Japan Central League.
Chen's fastball isn't anything special, but left-handed batters couldn't resist his slider.
Boston Red Sox: Jon Lester
Jon Lester was an enigma in his seventh MLB season.
There's was always the feeling that he would snap out of the funk at some point. Alas, he never found consistency.
The mood surrounding the Boston Red Sox has since lightened, which is reason to expect a bounce back. After all, his poor performance seemed more attributable to lost focus than lost talent.
Reigning Red Sox strikeout leader Felix Doubront lacks pitch efficiency. Lester should accumulate a few dozen extra innings (and as a result, more K's).
Chicago Cubs: Edwin Jackson
Despite the recent splurge on free agents, the Chicago Cubs aren't ready to contend in 2013. Nearly every starting pitcher could be put on the trading block this summer as the team seeks to bolster its farm system.
Except for Edwin Jackson.
The 29-year-old just signed a four-year deal, so clearly he's in Chicago's future plans.
He achieved a career-best strikeout rate with the Washington Nationals, but he fell short of 190 innings. It's going to be a different story with the Cubs, who will encourage him to go deeper into games because they lack bullpen depth.
Chicago White Sox: Chris Sale
Wiry Chris Sale suffered from fatigue at various times in 2012.
To combat that, he gained weight this past winter. This should prevent any sudden dips in velocity or the need to be skipped in the rotation.
Opposing skippers tend to stack their lineups with right-handed batters when Sale is on the mound.
However, his platoon splits—courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com—show that he can strike out guys who stand on either side of the plate.
Cincinnati Reds: Mat Latos
Aroldis Chapman, of course, has the best swing-and-miss stuff of anyone in the Cincinnati Reds rotation.
Team officials still won't disclose his expected 2013 workload as he transitions from reliever to starter, writes MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. However, it's clear that his innings will be limited.
As a consequence of the role change, manager Dusty Baker must have co-aces Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos on longer leashes. With less bullpen depth, they'll often be kept on the mound into the later innings.
We could have a heated debate about which of the two is better, but Latos will likely lead Cincinnati's staff in strikeouts. Cueto is more susceptible to injury and reliant on balls in play.
Cleveland Indians: Justin Masterson
Justin Masterson has a modest average of 152 strikeouts per season since 2010. That has been enough to lead the Cleveland Indians staff each time.
Extending the streak to four hinges on him throwing more first-pitch strikes and getting late movement on his fastball.
He'll again get competition from Ubaldo Jimenez. The 29-year-old Dominican should be motivated to return to All-Star form coming off a miserable summer.
Trevor Bauer and Brett Myers will join the club in 2013. The former isn't guaranteed a rotation spot, but he has posted gaudy strikeout rates throughout his professional career. Though Myers lacks overpowering stuff, his efficient approach ensures lots of innings.
This race won't be decided until the final weeks of the regular season.
Colorado Rockies: Jhoulys Chacin
Jorge De La Rosa really underwhelmed upon returning from Tommy John surgery. We must temper expectations of him rediscovering his pre-injury form.
Rather, 25-year-old Jhoulys Chacin is the most likely savior for the pathetic Colorado Rockies rotation.
After an injury-plagued season of his own, the homegrown right-hander is well enough to at least consider pitching in the World Baseball Classic (via The Denver Post).
He recorded 150 strikeouts in 2011.
Detroit Tigers: Justin Verlander
It comes down to fireballers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
The younger challenger ranked first in strikeout rate among qualified starters last season. Given a 33rd start, he may have finished with the league's top total, too. His month-by-month improvement suggests that the numbers weren't fluky.
But Verlander has earned the trust of old-school manager Jim Leyland.
Faced with a late-game, two-out rally, for example, the 2011 AL MVP is going to get every opportunity to quench it. In 2012, Leyland only pulled him in the middle of an inning three times.
Those situations could make the difference.
Houston Astros: Bud Norris
Lucas Harrell is perhaps the No. 1 option for the Houston Astros, but Bud Norris' stuff will likely translate to a higher strikeout total.
The California native has quietly led the club in K's in consecutive seasons. Unfortunately, his aggressive approach leaves him vulnerable to the long ball.
Kansas City Royals: James Shields
The Kansas City Royals overpaid to acquire James Shields. Previously, they were one of the few MLB clubs that lacked a starter with high-strikeout potential.
Shields features a nasty changeup and sets it up by consistently getting ahead in the count.
Strikeout-prone, right-handed batters like Torii Hunter and Mark Reynolds have joined the AL Central this winter.
Los Angeles Angels: C.J. Wilson
C.J. Wilson left Los Angeles Angels fans with a bad taste in their mouths as he faded from All-Star to mediocrity during the dog days of summer.
He clearly isn't the ace of this staff (that distinction belongs to Jered Weaver), but none of the newcomers to the rotation can match Wilson's stuff and durability.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw has been mowing down baseball's best at a blistering pace since his MLB debut. A missed start in mid-September was the only reason he didn't repeat as the NL strikeout leader.
Los Angeles Dodgers co-ace Zack Greinke is bound to succeed in 2013, too.
But the former looks like a slightly safer bet because of the heavier workload he has embraced the past two seasons.
Miami Marlins: Jacob Turner
This will be one of those years when the Miami Marlins cycle through a dozen young starting pitchers.
Ricky Nolasco would probably lead the group in strikeouts if given 30-plus starts, but it's difficult to imagine him lasting the entire season.
He'll leave as a free agent following the World Series, so the Fish might as well get something in return before the trade deadline.
They moved Anibal Sanchez in 2012 under similar circumstances and interestingly, one of the pieces received from the Detroit Tigers in that deal could finish with the most K's on the club.
Michael Jong of Fish Stripes writes in depth about Jacob Turner's potential.
Milwaukee Brewers: Yovani Gallardo
Soon-to-be 27-year-old Yovani Gallardo has topped 200 strikeouts in each of the past four seasons.
The Milwaukee Brewers have several overpowering starting candidates behind him, though nobody with nearly as much major-league experience on his resume.
Going with Gallardo on Opening Day is frankly the only sensible choice.
Minnesota Twins: Vance Worley
Adjusting to the American League promises to soil Vance Worley's numbers to a certain extent.
Regardless, he is as likely as any member of the Minnesota Twins to rank first in this key statistic. Rotation candidates Kevin Correia, Scott Diamond and Mike Pelfrey prefer to pitch to contact, while Rich Harden cannot be relied upon to stay healthy.
New York Mets: Jon Niese
There's no obvious choice for the New York Mets.
Once upon a time, Johan Santana led his league in strikeouts. However, declining fastball velocity makes his changeup less devastating and explains why he hasn't been the same pitcher in recent years. Plus, the former AL Cy Young Award winner is five years removed from his last full season.
After a second-half call-up, Matt Harvey shined on the major league mound (2.73 ERA, 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings). But as SI.com's Tom Verducci explains, the right-hander is susceptible to injury—or at least regression—in 2013 "because of a sharp increase in workload."
Even Dillon Gee shouldn't be overlooked. He was missing more bats than ever before a blood clot was discovered in his pitching shoulder.
Jon Niese gets a vote of confidence coming off a career year where he improved against right-handed opponents. At age 27, he might wind up totaling 200 innings (and nearly as many K's).
New York Yankees: CC Sabathia
All signs point to CC Sabathia posting the strongest stats of any New York Yankees starter.
In 2012, he became the first pinstriped pitcher in recent memory to serve two stints on the disabled list and reach 200 innings in one season.
Manager Joe Girardi frequently trusts Sabathia to work into the late phases of a game. Plus, the hefty lefty has enjoyed some the highest strikeout rates of his career over the past couple of summers.
Oakland Athletics: Brett Anderson
It's only a matter of whether Brett Anderson can stay healthy.
The former top prospect admits "it's actually weird going into the season feeling 100 percent," writes MLB.com's Jane Lee.
Anderson polished his breaking pitches unusually early. With the right strategy, batters will be helpless against his wipeout slider.
Philadelphia Phillies: Cole Hamels
Cole Hamels is smack dab in the prime of his career.
Last season, the southpaw struck out 216 helpless souls. There should be identical expectations for him in 2013.
Strong efforts from Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee won't quite be enough to match that total.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Francisco Liriano
It's been several seasons since Francisco Liriano pitched effectively for an entire season.
But no matter how ugly the results, he continues to pile up strikeouts. And that trend is bound to continue as he faces more National League lineups.
Veteran starters A.J. Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez rely more on ground balls. James McDonald looked lost toward the end of 2012.
The only question is whether the Pittsburgh Pirates will remove Liriano from the rotation if he struggles with command.
San Diego Padres: Edinson Volquez
Any team that considers Edinson Volquez a potential Opening Day representative has starting-rotation issues.
Meet the San Diego Padres.
They decided against signing a big-name free agent during the offseason and might already be regretting it. Three faces of their future rotation—Andrew Cashner, Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland—still need to recover from serious injuries.
In their absences, Volquez should be a fixture on the starting staff and come close to replicating his 2012 numbers.
San Francisco Giants: Tim Lincecum
Matt Cain (193), Madison Bumgarner (191) and Tim Lincecum (190) finished within three strikeouts of one another last season.
Assuming they all maintain their recent levels of performance, the San Francisco Giants strikeout leader would be impossible to predict.
But expect The Freak to rebound. Mechanical issues that plagued him throughout a 15-loss campaign won't persist following weight gain.
Even if he's only the third-best pitcher on the defending world champs, Lincecum can make the greatest hitters flail helplessly.
Seattle Mariners: Felix Hernandez
It took all of three seconds to decide that Felix Hernandez would rank No. 1 on the Seattle Mariners with 200-plus K's.
He has been ridiculously durable since 2009 and consistent by every measure.
Hypothetically, King Felix could leave the M's in late August when the team is floundering in fourth place and still finish as the individual strikeout leader.
Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma is the only other projected rotation member with filthy enough stuff to make the opposition look silly.
St. Louis Cardinals: Adam Wainwright
In his first summer back from Tommy John surgery, Adam Wainwright showed he could potentially be a Cy Young Award candidate again.
His whiff rate, for example, resembled those which he posted in 2009 and 2010.
Unfortunately, longtime teammate Chris Carpenter is almost certain to miss the upcoming season. Wainwright should coast to the St. Louis Cardinals strikeout lead without that competition.
Tampa Bay Rays: Matt Moore
Matt Moore has the nasty repertoire to pull off an upset and strike out more batters than David Price.
The key for the 23-year-old will be more efficient pitch counts. An emphasis on first-pitch strikes will allow him to work through each plate appearance with less effort.
Price made a similar adjustment at the same stage of his career.
Texas Rangers: Yu Darvish
Yu Darvish's 221 strikeouts were the most for an American League rookie since the creation of the designated hitter.
The scary part is that there's room for improvement.
It took several months for the right-hander to make his delivery repeatable. From the third week of August through season's end, batters didn't stand a chance.
If Darvish slumps as sophomore, however, he'll lead the Texas Rangers in strikeouts, anyway.
Toronto Blue Jays: R.A. Dickey
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has figured out something special and pimped out a gimmicky pitch with outstanding velocity and command.
Fellow Toronto Blue Jays Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow should have him beat in terms of strikeout rate.
However, power pitching puts more stress on the throwing arm, leaving them vulnerable to DL stints. Dickey, meanwhile, was the National League leader in innings last season and will be on the mound just as often in 2013.
Washington Nationals: Stephen Strasburg
Stephen Strasburg believes less will be more, according Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post.
The former No. 1 overall draft pick used to throw his offspeed stuff with too much spin. Batters would recognize the pitches immediately and lay off of them in two-strike counts.
The plan for padding his SO/9 stat? "Tighter pitches that are going to break maybe a little bit less, but sharper and later."
Easing Strasburg back from Tommy John surgery, the Washington Nationals controversially shut him down with several weeks remaining in the 2012 campaign.
No such restrictions for the 24-year-old anymore.