We Fantasy owners sometimes get a little too enamored of strikeouts and forget that pitchers have many different ways to succeed. Strikeouts are certainly important, given that they are a category unto themselves and correlate with success in other categories. That said, the fact that Tim Hudson (6.1 K/9) and Julio Teheran (5.9 K/9) are currently among the top eight starting pitchers in standard Head-to-Head leagues on CBSSports.com speaks to how a pitcher can succeed if they can make up for a lack of strikeouts with excellent control. In Hudson's case, he is also a very good ground ball pitcher, and Teheran has benefitted from a high popup rate as well as some stellar defense behind him.
But my point in raising Hudson and Teheran as examples of success without strikeouts isn't to encourage Fantasy owners to seek out more contact pitchers. It's just the opposite. They are the exceptions rather than the norm (and Teheran is a strong candidate to dramatically improve his K-rate, so he's a great pitcher to own for more than his sharp control). Yet several pitchers with even lower K/9 ratios than Hudson and Teheran are highly owned in CBSSports.com leagues.
Most notably, Mark Buehrle (88 percent ownership rate), Alfredo Simon (79 percent), and Jason Vargas (71 percent) are all owned in the vast majority of our leagues, and Mike Leake (54 percent) is owned in more leagues than not. In addition to high ownership rate, these four starters share one other thing: K/9 ratios between 4.8 and 5.2. Each possesses better-than-average control, but all have stranded runners at rates well above the major league norm so far this season. Simon and Leake are also the apparent beneificiaries of fluky-looking BABIP rates below .250, while Buehrle's getting by with an unsustainable 0.2 HR/9 ratio.
Each of these pitchers is very likely to regress, and when they do, they could very well have a line that looks something like this: 4.19 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 4.9 K/9. And that's the line that currently belongs to Edinson Volquez, who is owned in 34 percent of our leagues. Or they could have this line: 4.25 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 4.8 K/9. That's what Josh Tomlin put up in 2011 (his one-and-only full and healthy season), and that potential has earned him a 5 percent ownership rate for this two-start week.
The point here isn't that Buehrle, Simon, Vargas and Leake -- and for that matter Volquez and Tomlin -- can't help owners in Fantasy, even in mixed leagues. It's that there's no need to carry them over the long haul when similar pitchers are highly available as free agents. If there's a free agent hitter or closer you fancy, your lower-K starters should be among your top candidates to drop, even if they have been prolific producers for you so far this season.