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A Way Too Early Look at Swinging Strike Leaders

In an effort to find breakout pitchers earlier than ever, I am looking at the swinging strike leaderboards, even though some pitchers have just an inning or less of data so far. Let's see if there is some useful info in here, amid all the noise.

I know we are all shocked that Thor leads all starters in whiff rate so far. There are some under-the-radar names in the top 50 as well.
I know we are all shocked that Thor leads all starters in whiff rate so far. There are some under-the-radar names in the top 50 as well.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

I'm a good little sabremetrician, so I know that it is way too early in the season to be looking at most stats. Even things like K% and BB% don't stabilize until 60-120 PA, which is still weeks away. However, I have two reasons to look at stats right now: I am extremely impatient and swinging strike rates are per-pitch metrics, which have significantly more data than per plate appearance stats.

Because each pitch is a data point, pitchers with one or two starts by now already have 100-200 points of swinging strike data. Relievers are still only at 20-40 points, but that is still something. Since there is more data available with per-pitch metrics, they stabilize faster. I couldn't find anything that provides a specific number of pitches before we can say a pitcher's swinging strike rate is going to be clearly different than league average, but it definitely happens faster than for K%, BB%, fly ball %, etc.

Enough background mumbo jumbo, let's get to the big tables! First up, the top 50 starting pitchers by swinging strike rates in 2016. Let's see what we can learn from this very early look at this list.

Top 50 SP by Swinging Strike Rate

Name IP SwStr%
Noah Syndergaard 6 17.40%
Alfredo Simon 5 17.40%
Drew Pomeranz 5 17.30%
Cole Hamels 13 17.10%
Nicholas Tropeano 5 16.30%
Danny Salazar 5.1 16.00%
Jose Fernandez 5.2 16.00%
Aaron Sanchez 7 15.40%
Chris Tillman 7 15.20%
Michael Pineda 5 14.90%
Tyson Ross 5.1 14.90%
Jacob deGrom 6 14.50%
David Price 11 14.50%
Ricky Nolasco 7 14.30%
Wade Miley 6 14.30%
Felix Hernandez 13 14.10%
Garrett Richards 11.2 14.10%
Edinson Volquez 11.2 13.90%
J.A. Happ 6 13.50%
Marco Estrada 7 13.20%
Jered Weaver 6 13.10%
John Lackey 6 13.10%
Andrew Heaney 6 12.60%
Max Scherzer 13 12.30%
Chris Archer 10 12.30%
Bartolo Colon 6 12.20%
Brandon Finnegan 12.2 12.20%
Colin Rea 3.1 12.20%
Carlos Rodon 7 12.10%
Rich Hill 8.2 12.10%
Francisco Liriano 11 12.00%
Steven Wright 6.2 11.90%
Clayton Kershaw 15 11.80%
Nathan Eovaldi 5 11.70%
Luis Severino 5 11.60%
Johnny Cueto 14 11.50%
Corey Kluber 5.1 11.50%
R.A. Dickey 10 11.50%
Ervin Santana 8 11.40%
Ubaldo Jimenez 7 11.20%
Jeremy Hellickson 11.2 11.20%
Jake Odorizzi 11.2 11.20%
Carlos Martinez 6 11.10%
Matt Wisler 6.2 11.00%
Chris Sale 14 10.90%
Derek Holland 5 10.90%
Matt Moore 5 10.80%
Kenta Maeda 6 10.70%
Juan Nicasio 6 10.70%
Jordan Lyles 3.1 10.70%

We can ignore the guys that are supposed to be here: Sale, Hamels, Kluber, Liriano, Fernandez, deGrom, Salazar, and Syndergaard, for example. Oh and that Kershaw guy, I guess I should include him in that list. We know they are good. This is a good sign, however, that the list rewards talent, even this early in the season. The cream is rising to the top. And Bartolo. He is also rising to the top, for some reason.

Before we get to the potential breakouts, let's look at the surprising guys on the list that aren't worth your time and will soon return to mediocrity or worse. I'm looking at you, Bartolo, Wisler, Weaver, Happ, Wisler (he's still young enough to figure it out, but if you include his 4/13 start, he would fall well off this list), Santana, Wright, Eovaldi, Miley, Tillman, Holland, Hellickson, Nolasco, and Simon. Those guys are nothing special and are known quantities.

On to the sleepers! Odorizzi could be taking a big step forward with his addition of a curveball. I love Garrett Richards this season, with his great fastball and improved offspeed pitch. Nick Tropeano, Aaron Sanchez, Kenta Maeda, Luis Severino, Drew Pomeranz, and Carlos Rodon are young guys (mostly) with real breakout potential this season. I like all of their chances to improve this season and put up good numbers the rest of the way. Pomeranz is a big injury risk and several of these guys have innings caps, but there is definite upside here.

Speaking of upside, I am giving Brandon Finnegan his own sentence because I like him and I wrote about him a lot over here. Marco Estrada's home run issues scare me, but the strikeout stuff is very real and I think he will be pretty good. Nicasio looked great this spring and his velocity is up, but Eno Sarris at Fangraphs is worried about his ability to maintain velocity over a start and I'm just not ready to buy him as a starter. Colin Rea has some potential (like #4 starter potential), but doesn't have the upside of the guys I mentioned in the previous paragraph. I love Carlos Martinez and I expect great things from him, so it's good to see him on this list early. He will probably be on it all year.

The big wild cards are Rich Hill and Matt Moore. Hill looked elite at the end of last season, but he has a big history of control problems that could crop up at any time. The strikeouts seem real, but the control is scary. Moore also has control problems combined with health problems. That really limits his fantasy value, but the strikeouts should be there.

Top 50 RP by Swinging Strike Rate

Name IP SwStr%
Neil Ramirez 1 33.30%
Jim Henderson 3 31.70%
Chris Heston 1 30.00%
Jesse Chavez 2 28.60%
Justin Grimm 3 27.60%
A.J. Achter 1 27.30%
Gavin Floyd 2.1 23.80%
Junichi Tazawa 3.1 23.60%
Zach Putnam 2 22.20%
Logan Verrett 1 22.20%
Darren O'Day 4 21.50%
Roberto Osuna 4 21.40%
Daniel Winkler 2.1 21.20%
Seung Oh 3.2 21.10%
Koji Uehara 4 20.80%
Sean Doolittle 3.2 20.50%
John Barbato 2.1 20.00%
Cody Allen 1 20.00%
Trevor May 5.2 19.60%
Andrew Miller 2 19.40%
David Robertson 3 19.40%
Pedro Baez 3 19.10%
John Gant 3 19.00%
Fernando Salas 5 18.90%
Mychal Givens 4.1 17.90%
Joaquin Benoit 2 17.50%
Blake Treinen 2.2 17.40%
Chad Qualls 1.1 17.40%
Brad Brach 5.1 17.20%
Boone Logan 3.1 17.20%
Jeurys Familia 3 17.10%
Jose Alvarez 3.1 17.10%
Blake Wood 3.1 17.00%
Tyler Thornburg 3 17.00%
Dillon Gee 2 16.70%
Luis Cessa 2 16.70%
Ryan Dull 4.2 16.40%
Brett Cecil 2 16.30%
Luke Hochevar 3 16.20%
J.J. Hoover 2.1 16.20%
Matt Albers 5 16.10%
Zach Britton 4 16.10%
Francisco Rodriguez 1.1 16.10%
Dellin Betances 2.2 15.90%
Carlos Villanueva 6 15.70%
Nate Jones 3.1 15.10%
Chasen Shreve 2.2 15.00%
Keone Kela 3.2 15.00%
Felipe Rivero 3.1 14.80%
Neftali Feliz 5 14.70%

There are obviously some extremely small samples at play here, so these relief numbers are really just for fun at this point. I'm not going to draw too many conclusions from such a flawed list, but here we go. Seung Oh has looked great for St. Louis this season and he should be good in leagues with middle relievers. He's stuck behind Siegrist and possibly Broxton for holds, though.

Trevor May looks like he could be the future closer for the Twins and should move up in that 'pen, especially with Glen Perkins' injury. So far, so good for former closer Jim Henderson, who looks good for the Mets and could settle into the 8th inning role over Addison Reed. The Orioles bullpen is absolutely loaded: Givens, Brach, O'Day, and Britton are all on this list. They will probably all be on this list later in the year, too.

Blake Treinen is already challenging Shawn Kelley for the setup role in Washington and the stats back it up (although his strikeout rate is very low for someone with his velocity and movement). Nate Jones is interesting on the Southside and I have a share in case Robertson gets hurt or turns into a pumpkin.

Whelp, that's the show. I love looking at these early numbers to validate preseason breakout picks and even find some we might have missed. These numbers will likely look very different in a few weeks, but it's a good way to look at raw pitching talent in a metric that stabilizes quickly. If hitters are whiffing on many of your pitches, you are doing something right. It is hard to fake that. Tschus!