Swing and Miss: Pitchers Missing Bats Early On

Yesterday we looked at the worst contact hitters in the big leagues so far in 2010. While posting a low contact rate is not good for hitters, it is great for pitchers. Getting swings and misses is one indicator of a pitcher’s pure “stuff”. Below is a list of the starting pitchers who have shown the ability to miss bats with high frequency early this season.
 
For reference: 80 percent is about league average, 79-76 percent is good, 75 percent and below is very good and anything around or below 70 percent is just filthy (in a good way).
 

Tim Lincecum, 68.8 percent contact rate – No surprise here. Lincecum is the most dominant pitcher in the big leagues. As he has lost some velocity, he has adjusted by throwing more offspeed pitchers while continuing to throw strikes and make the “out-pitches” when needed.

 
Brandon Morrow, 70.6 percent contact rate – The new Johnathan Sanchez? Morrow has an electric fastball, but it can straighten out at times or a lot of the time. His offspeed pitches aren’t exactly lights out and he has trouble controlling his stuff in general (career 5.77 BB/9). He has struck out at least eight batters in each of his last four outings and hasn’t allowed over three runs in those outings. However, because of the strikeouts and the walks, Morrow has gone past the sixth inning only once this season. Deeper leagues can take a gamble on Morrow if he’ available due to the upside in strikeouts.
 
Josh Johnson, 71.5 percent contact rate – Based on what Johnson has done the past two seasons, this low contact rate should rise before long, but it by no means will skyrocket upward. Johnson is a top-notch fantasy pitcher, plain and simple. He gets strikeouts and ground balls while maintaining a good walk rate.
 
Clayton Kershaw, 72.3 percent contact rate – Kershaw’s ERA is pushing 5.00 right now, but that is not a reflection of how dominant his pure stuff is. The problem stems from a loss of control early this season, which has led to over seven walks per nine innings pitched. He has also allowed three home runs in 30.2 innings so far in 2010 after allowing only seven in 171 innings last season. Now is a great time to buy low on Kershaw. If he can make the adjustment in control, he has about as much upside as any pitcher in baseball.
 
Dan Haren, 72.8 percent contact rate – Once again, Dan Haren is posting great peripheral stats, but not getting great results. Last season it was the wins that were slow to come. This season a .328 BABIP has hurt a little combined with six home runs allowed. Two of Haren’s seven starts have been poor and have skewed his ERA a bit. Expect the ERA is come down as the season moves along.
 
Clay Buchholz, 73 percent contact rate – After years of waiting for Buchholz to make his fantasy impact as a full-time Major League starter, it seems he’s finally here. Though his last two outings have not been good, there is still plenty of upside in this young arm. Especially with his ability to miss bats combined with a ground ball rate over 50 percent.
 
Ricky Romero, 73.8 percent contact rate – Last season Romero burst onto the fantasy scene with decent command, a good fastball and a plus changeup. That didn’t last for too long, however, as Romero lost his command a bit. The league adjusted and had no problems making contact on his offerings. This season is a bit different. Romero has added movement to his fastball, which has led to less contact and more ground balls. While he is being aided a bit by a low BABIP, there is reason to believe a 3.75 ERA season is possible when all is said and done.