If it feels like there have been more big pitching performances early in this Fantasy season than normal, you're not imagining it. Whether it's because of changes to the ball or the overall offensive environment otherwise, strikeouts are way up around the league to 24.9% after Monday's games -- which featured a whopping 27.9% strikeout rate between them.
We've gotten used to seeing the strikeout rate increase every season, but the jump from 2020 to 2021 (so far) is a significant one -- 1.5%, from 23.4%. And it's not just a small-sample thing, because the strikeout rate was just 23.7% at this point last season. Relatedly, the league-wide batting average has dropped to .235, which would be the lowest since at least 1908 -- lower, even, than during 1968, the so-called Year of the Pitcher.
It's important to keep that in mind as you assess both your hitters and your pitchers. If the average non-pitcher is hitting just .238, that means a hitter with .250 average isn't as much of a detriment on your team's average. And it also means the bar for strikeouts is even higher for pitchers. We're seeing a ton of big strikeout games from unlikely sources, so even an eight-or-nine strikeout game may not be as noteworthy as it has been in the past.
However, 10 strikeouts is still quite a feat, and two of the waiver-wire targets we're focusing on from Monday's games managed that feat, so we'll lead with them:
Huascar Ynoa SP
ATL Atlanta • #19 • Age: 25
Ynoa had the good fortune of facing a Marlins team hitting just .213 coming into play Monday, but he wasn't just impressive for the competition he faced. This was an eye-opening performance from Ynoa, who averaged 97.2 mph with his fastball, up from 94.8 in 2020. He racked up seven whiffs on 38 fastballs and also featured his slider heavily, picking up six more whiffs on 36 of those. Ynoa struck out 10 in six innings, and now has 15 Ks in 12 innings to just two walks, after he had 17 in 21.2 innings last season with 13 walks. His slider was a swing-and-miss weapon in 2020, but his fastball got pummeled. With nearly three extra mph on it, maybe he can continue to fare better moving forward. In a deeper league, I'm willing to take the chance.
Alex Cobb SP
SF San Francisco • #38 • Age: 36
Baseball is a complicated game, but sometimes simple solutions present themselves, and that may be the case with Cobb. His splitter has long been his best pitch in terms of both results on batted balls and whiffs, and through two starts, he's just decided to throw it a whole bunch more -- 45.4% of the time so far, including 54% of the time Monday. He racked up a whopping 16 whiffs with the pitch in his 10-strikeout performance against the Royals, and he now has 17 Ks in 11.2 innings with just two walks. His ERA doesn't quite reflect it, but Cobb looks incredibly promising right now, and he's worth adding in even 12-team leagues at this point.
Casey Mize SP
DET Detroit • #12 • Age: 26
Mize isn't getting the kind of strikeout numbers we'd like to see, but it's hard to complain about seven shutout innings against the Astros. Even as a prospect Mize got fewer strikeouts than you might think, but he was able to pitch well with excellent control and good groundball rates, and we're seeing some of that so far -- he has a 62.5% groundball rate through two starts with four walks in 11 innings. His velocity is well up from last season, and if the strikeouts follow, there's plenty of upside here -- enough that I would still prioritize him over Cobb and Ynoa if all three are available.
Jed Lowrie DH
OAK Oakland • #8 • Age: 39
We haven't seen Lowrie healthy since 2018, but he was an All-Star that season, hitting .267/.353/.448 with 23 homers and 99 RBI. He was mostly forgotten about entering 2021 after two injury-marred seasons with the Mets, but he's off to a heck of a start in his return to the A's, appearing in every game to date and hitting .316/.395/.474. I'm not expecting Lowrie to keep this up, but it's been nice to see him healthy and productive again, and in leagues where I lost Ketel Marte, I've turned to him to help fill the void. With two more hits Monday, he now has multiple hits in three straight, and he's batting near the top of the lineup, so the RBI may keep on coming. He had three Monday, giving him eight in 11 games.
Renato Nunez 1B
DET Detroit • #55 • Age: 29
It was pretty surprising that the Orioles designated Nunez for assignment after he had 43 homers in 203 games between 2019 and 2020, and it was even more surprising when he didn't make the Opening Day roster for the Tigers. However, with Miguel Cabrera on the IL he was recalled in recent days, and Nunez made his presence felt Monday, going 2 for 5 with a homer off Zack Greinke. It's not clear what role, if any, Nunez will have when Cabrera is healthy, but he's a good hitter who has an opportunity to make it hard for the Tigers to keep him out of the lineup, and if you need cheap power, he can help.