Miami Marlins' Jacob Turner Proving Strikeouts Not a Problem

Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE

Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jacob Turner came into the organization with a lot of concerns regarding his falling strikeout rates. So far in Miami, those concerns seemed to have gone out the window.

When the Miami Marlins acquired top pitching prospect Jacob Turner from the Detroit Tigers, they picked him up at perhaps his lowest point in his professional career. The former ninth pick of the 2009 draft was always considered an elite prospect, but his stock had fallen significantly because of a few ugly major league starts and a terrible 2012 campaign. In his time in Triple-A for the Tigers, Turner was striking out just 15.5 percent of his batters faced, and while his ERA was impressive for a 21 year-old pitcher in Triple-A, the peripherals were highly concerning.

When Turner arrived in New Orleans, the Marlins' Triple-A affiliate, things only got worse, as his strikeouts were even lower with New Orleans. Again, the ERA was fine, but the peripherals were strikingly poor. Combine that with the supposed drop in velocity that has Turner's fastball now at 89 to 91 mph, and you can see why the Fish might have been concerned about getting damaged goods again from Detroit.

But since Turner's promotion to the Marlins' rotation, things have been peachy keen.

Turner, 2012 IP K% BB% ERA FIP
Marlins 35 17.6 4.9 3.86 4.14

This is much better than anyone could have expected following his struggles in the minors this season. Turner has shown in 35 innings, an admittedly small sample. that everything he showed an equally small sample in the bigs with Detroit was not significant and merely a product of showing up a little early to the major league scene.

One of the areas of great improvement for Turner is his strikeout rate, which is at 17.6 percent right now. But as we mentioned before on Fish Stripes, a lot of his contact and swinging strike rates indicated a better strikeout performance than he was showing, and right now that is coming to the forefront.

So let us approach Turner's current contact and swinging strike rates with the Marlins and see if we cannot expect even more improvement from Turner based on those numbers.

Methodology

Like in the last article, I looked at ten pitchers with the most similar contact rates and swinging strike rates to Turner's performance thus far in Miami. I looked at these two values because they have a fairly high correlation with strikeout rate, meaning that the number of bats you miss predicts a good amount of your strikeout rate. This time, I looked at all qualifying pitchers since 2010 as my sample of starters and checked out their strikeout rates.

Strikeout Study

Let's start once again with swinging strike rate, or the percentage of swings and misses out of total pitches. Turner so far has put up a swinging strike rate of 10.1 percent with the Marlins.

Player IP Swinging Strike% K%
James Shields 671 1/3 10.3 22.2
Josh Johnson 435 1/3 10.2 22.9
Johan Santana 316 10.2 19.4
Hiroki Kuroda 605 2/3 10.1 19.3
Tom Gorzelanny 307 10.1 20.2
Ryan Dempster 582 10.1 21.9
Anibal Sanchez 580 2/3 10.0 21.2
Scott Baker 305 10.0 21.3
Felix Hernandez 710 9.7 23.3
Dan Haren 644 9.7 20.3
Total --- 10.0 21.3

These pitchers, most of them at least above average starters in their careers, averaged a 10.0 percent swinging strike rate and a 21.3 percent strikeout rate. Again, the indication here is that pitchers who get this number of swings and misses usually do even better on strikeouts than Turner has shown thus far.

What about with regards to contact rate? Let us look at ten pitchers with similar contact rates as well. So far with Miami, Turner has put up a contact rate of 77.1 percent.

Player IP Contact% K%
Jonathan Sanchez 359 1/3 77.4 22.2
Ryan Dempster 582 77.3 21.9
Tom Gorzelanny 307 77.2 20.2
Josh Johnson 435 1/3 77.2 22.9
CC Sabathia 667 77.2 22.4
Edwin Jackson 590 2/3 77.1 19.6
Max Scherzer 574 1/3 77.0 24.4
Chris Capuano 447 1/3 76.7 20.4
Mat Latos 583 1/3 76.7 23.3
Jaime Garcia 473 76.5 18.9
Total --- 77.0 21.7

Three players were shared among the two pools of players, and overall the strikeouts remained fairly similar. Once again, players that induced this kind of contact typically ended up with more strikeouts than Turner has had this season. Indeed, no pitcher among either sample had as low a strikeout rate as Turner, with Jaime Garcia's 18.9 percent mark being the lowest among these pitchers.

Of course, this study makes one assumption, that Jacob Turner is a pitcher of capable of working enough innings in three seasons in this sort of run environment. But based on the early results in Miami and his prior pedigree, it is tough to believe that he would be incapable of doing such a thing. And if he was, well, the Marlins would have more things to worry about than just his strikeout rate. But presuming he can stick around for a few seasons and hold onto these sort of contact numbers, Turner's strikeouts now have a very good chance of hitting the league average and possibly even breaking 20 percent. The examples of pitchers like Marlins starters Josh Johnson and Anibal Sanchez, in particular Sanchez due to his gradual strikeout improvement over multiple seasons, have to be encouraging to Marlins fans.

Anything Holding Him Back?

So what is holding Turner back from getting those strikeouts. Well, so far this season, one thing about which you would be surprised with regards to Turner is that he is not getting many called strikes. His balls to called strike ratio is at a meager 2.3-to-one, which is below the generally accepted two-to-one average. This is odd to see for Turner because he has had such a good walk rate that you would expect that he is simply pounding the strike zone, but that has not been the case.

This problem with a lack of called strikes could be due to the documented difficulty with command. Rather than nibbling at the corners and throwing to areas that are borderline for hitters, Turner's pitches have floated too much into the strike zone or way far out of it, leaving the decision for hitters too easy. As a result, despite a good contact rate, the lack of called strikes has hurt him in the strikeout department. In addition, it is speculated that the occasional meatballs that he has had wander into the middle of the zone for him are the primary cause for his extra-high home run rate.

So Turner is not yet an elite pitcher, and he still has some issues to fix. Improving his command may help to curb his home runs and could also increase a strikeout rate that should be on its way up. The walk rate may be anomalously low, but if Turner's whiff rates thus far are close to real, he should make good on his top prospect promise.

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