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Revisiting the Jacob Turner strikeout problem

The Miami Marlins promoted Jacob Turner last night to make a start against the New York Mets, but he has struggled in Triple-A this season, especially with his strikeouts. But how much of it is a problem in 2013?


The Miami Marlins promoted Jacob Turner to the majors last night to have him start tonight's game versus the New York Mets. Turner had a terrible spring training that prompted the Marlins' brass to demote him before the start of the season despite the fact that he likely entered this year as the team's second-best starter. But it turns out Turner really did struggle, putting up a 4.47 ERA and 4.48 FIP in Triple-A and proving the Marlins right regarding some of the problems he showed in spring training.

Turner's most concerning problem is his strikeout rate, which is once again at a horrific low. Turner has whiffed just 14.5 percent of his batters faced, and while he has done a good job preventing walks, it has not been enough to keep his ERA and FIP down. The Fish cannot feel confident in Turner's ability to get major league hitters out if he is struggling to strike out Quad-A types hanging out in Triple-A.

But haven't we seen this problem before? Witness from before last season's promotion.

The real concern comes from the work of 2012, during which Turner has only struck out 15.0 percent of batters while walking 9.6 percent of hitters. Even at his age, that is not a good sign. Strikeout and walk rates are the first numbers you look at it in the minors just because that data shows whether a pitcher has the stuff and control to make it in the majors. Thus far, Turner's limited showings in the upper levels have not merited his prospect status.

But can even strikeout or walk numbers be deceptive? While a good amount of the blame is on Turner struggling to get strikes, some of it has been an inability to get the strikes at the right time.

That is almost exactly the same problem Turner is having this season. His peripherals this year are almost a dead ringer to his numbers from last season, with a lowered walk rate making up a bit for a higher home run rate. Neither season was good, but both appear to have the same underlying good sign: Turner's swinging strikes.

Turner, Triple-A K% Swinging Strike%
2013 14.5 9.9
2012 15.0 8.7

Turner has actually gotten more swings and misses than he was getting last year, including his swinging strike rate during the regular season. It does not seem, based on that and his subsequent 80 percent contact rate, that Turner should be struggling at all. He is getting enough swinging strikes to perform well in the strikeout department.

As we did last year, we are going to look at the 10 closest pitchers over the last three-plus seasons to Turner's 9.9 percent swinging strike rate and see what kind of strikeout rates they pulled off.

Johan Santana 316 10.2 19.4
Tom Gorzelanny 332 1/3 10.1 20.3
Scott Baker 305 10.0 21.3
Alexi Ogando 326 1/3 10.0 20.1
Felix Hernandez 798 2/3 10.0 23.7
Jeremy Hellickson 471 1/3 9.7 16.8
Jered Weaver 665 2/3 9.7 22.2
R.A. Dickey 691 1/3 9.6 18.6
Dan Haren 713 2/3 9.5 20.2
Carlos Villanueva 341 2/3 9.5 20.9
Total --- 9.8 20.6

Let's take a similar approach looking at contact rate rather than swinging strike rate.

PLAYER IP Contact% K%
Ian Kennedy 685 2/3 80.1 21.0
Joe Blanton 471 2/3 80.1 18.3
Mike Minor 375 1/3 80.1 21.3
Brett Cecil 385 80.0 17.6
Luke Hochevar 505 80.0 17.0
R.A Dickey 691 1/3 79.7 18.6
Dan Haren 713 2/3 79.6 20.2
Josh Beckett 534 1/3 79.6 20.5
Kris Medlen 312 2/3 79.5 20.2
Ricky Romero 620 1/3 79.5 18.1
Total --- 79.8 19.3

This approach happened to snag a few more pitchers with lower strikeout rates, but the results remained very similar. If Turner were to keep up a 10 percent swinging strike, he could expect a strikeout rate between 19 and 20 percent. Much like last season, Turner's swinging strike rate predicts a much better performance, and even if Turner is more like Luke Hochevar (17.0 percent strikeout rate) or Ricky Romero (18.1 percent) rather than Ian Kennedy (21.0 percent), he should still do a lot better than the likes of Jon Garland and Jair Jurrjens (14.5 percent).

However, there is a cautionary tale on this Marlins team regarding attempting to estimate strikeout rate from swinging strikes. Alex Sanabia, who just went on the disabled list, also has a 9.9 percent swinging strike rate in the majors this season. However, he somehow has only a 12.1 percent strikeout rate this year despite appearing to have "strikeout stuff."

The reason Sanabia has struggled this season has come down to his problems with control, as he has thrown a lot of balls this season to downgrade the impact of his swinging strikes. This is especially evident versus lefties; take a look at how Sanabia has thrown his fastball to left-handers this season.



Look at how much Sanabia has pitched out of the zone. This has undoubtedly lead to his awful 12.0 percent walk rate versus lefties this season.

In comparison, Turner did a decent job against lefties last season, but he did have similar issues with working a little more out of the zone.



The problem is not as extreme, but it may get in the way of Turner getting strikeouts when he needs them. This concern is something to keep an eye on.

Regardless of Turner's ability to get strikeouts, he is getting the opportunity to play tonight. The Marlins are invested in Turner, who was the prime get in the Detroit Tigers trade involving Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante, so the Fish are really hoping for a bounceback performance akin to what Turner delivered last year. If his swinging strikes are any indication, we could be in for some positive regression.