The K factor for a pitcher

Here is a question I’d love to get some opinions on today: How important are strikeouts for a pitcher?

We tend to think that pitchers with the most strikeouts are the pitchers with some of the best velocity. While that is likely true, there are always exceptions to the rule. But I think it is fair to say that a big strikeout pitcher is generally one with some quality pitches and stuff, as they say.

On the downside, a strikeout pitcher can run up his pitch count faster than a control pitcher who pitches to contact and can get outs quicker.

You don’t often see big strikeout pitchers that don’t pitch well. They are there sometimes. A.J. Burnett was 10th in the American League in strikeouts per nine innings last year but had an ERA of 5.15.

In terms of the AL leaders last year in strikeouts per nine innings, 10 of the top 12 in that stat category had ERAs at or under 3.74 last year and six of the top 12 had ERAs at or under 3.12. So clearly, the top strikeout pitchers were also some of the top pitchers.

AL leaders among starting pitchers, strikeouts per nine innings pitched from 2011:

10.19 - Brandon Morrow, Toronto
9.11 - Michael Pineda, Seattle
8.96 - Justin Verlander, Detroit
8.78 - Gio Gonzalez, Oakland
8.75 - David Price, Tampa Bay

However, we can’t simply say that strikeouts translate for a team’s entire pitching staff. For instance, while the Los Angeles Angels led the AL in team ERA last year at 3.57, they rated 11th in the league in strikeouts. Tampa Bay ranked second in team ERA at 3.58 but finished seventh in strikeouts. The New York Yankees’ staff, which fanned the most batters of any AL club in 2011, finished fourth in ERA.

A high strikeouts-per-nine-innings-pitched total seems to hold up more for individual rather than team success when looking at the 2011 AL season. The AL average last year was 6.94 strikeouts per nine innings. The Orioles’ staff ranked 12th at 6.49 and we all know the O’s were last in the league in team ERA.

While Koji Uehara, who pitched very well last season for the Orioles, was the O’s clear leader then in K/9, the next four on the list after Koji all had some injury issues and/or struggles at times last year.

The Orioles leaders in strikeouts per nine innings pitched from 2011 (30 innings or more):

11.87 - Koji Uehara
8.94 - Michael Gonzalez
7.99 - Kevin Gregg
7.85 - Jason Berken
7.01 - Jake Arrieta

What is your take?: So what does this all mean? How important are strikeouts for a pitcher and do you favor a strikeout pitcher over a more control-type hurler? What other stats do you focus on when analyzing a pitcher’s talents?

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