The SF Giants have signed four pitchers to major league contracts this offseason, and they all perform well in a key metric.
Of course, Giants fans saw this on display from Gausman in 2020 as he registered a 3.62 ERA with a 32.2 percent strikeout rate against a 6.5 percent walk rate across 59.2 frames. That said, if strikeouts are becoming more and more commonplace in today’s game, does it even matter if a pitcher can generate one of the three true outcomes at such s high frequency? Well, for pitchers, it means quite a bit:
The graph above shows that there tends to be a correlation between strikeout rates and ERA+. If you do not know what ERA+ is, it is like ERA, but it uses 100 as the benchmark, and pitchers above 100 are above league average, whereas pitchers below 100 are below league average.
So, to sum up the analysis, the higher the strikeout rate, the better the pitcher performs at least in regards to ERA+. The premise makes sense in that striking out opposing hitters is far more effective than trying to induce weak contact. Even with weak contact, there is still a chance that the BABIP gods are not feeling especially kind on any given day.
This is not necessarily a secret either. The Cincinnati Reds (28.9 K%), Cleveland Indians (28.5 K%), and Milwaukee Brewers (28.1 K%) led all of baseball in strikeout rate in 2020. Not surprisingly, all three teams appeared in the playoffs last year. Plus, the Reds and Indians had two of the better pitching staffs in baseball.
On the other hand, the SF Giants had the seventh-worst (21.8 K%) strikeout rate. Five of the six teams worse than them did not make the playoffs with the Miami Marlins (20.4 K%) being the lone exception.
With that being said, the Giants are looking to improve upon this metric in 2021 through free agency. Below are the strikeout rates for each pitcher they have signed to a major league contract in 2020 except for Brebbia as he missed 2020 due to having Tommy John Surgery in 2019:
- Kevin Gausman: 32.2 K%
- Anthony DeSclafani: 15.8 K%
- Matt Wisler: 32.7 K%
- John Brebbia (in 2019): 28.6 K%
Three of the four pitchers posted strikeout rates well north of the 21.8 percent mark set by the SF Giants. DeSclafani is the lone exception, but he had battled a shoulder injury that he never fully recovered from. Throughout his career, the righty has posted a 24 percent strikeout rate, so he generally collects strikeouts at a healthy clip.
The SF Giants still have work to do on their rotation, but they may be content with the bullpen additions they have made. As they look at adding more arms to the rotation, a high strikeout rate seems to be a quality they are targeting.