Advanced Stats Leaderboard: Starting Pitchers CSW% (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
The fantasy baseball ranking season is in full swing. For me, that typically starts with searching advanced stats leaderboards. Advanced statistics are often more predictive than traditional box score statistics. Thus, they’re an excellent jumping-off point. This series will dive into a variety of my favorite advanced metrics. However, I must caution that no statistic in isolation is the secret sauce for unearthing a hidden gem or burgeoning stud. Instead, they are a piece of the puzzle and best viewed through that lens, using other statistics in conjunction with them to formulate a well-rounded opinion of the fantasy value of players.
Called Strikes Plus Whiff Percentage
Called strikes plus whiff percentage (CSW%) measure the rate of pitches a pitcher earns a called or swinging strike on their total pitches. It’s calculated by adding the sum of called and swinging strikes and dividing that total by all pitches thrown.
Alex Fast of Pitcher List presented his finding that CSW% is more predictive than the traditionally more popular swinging-strike percentage and more descriptive than merely the whiff percentage input. As a result, it’s my favorite advanced measure for validating or dispelling the legitimacy of a pitcher’s high strikeout total. Conversely, a pitcher with a high CSW% and underwhelming strikeout rate is a candidate for strikeout rate regression to a higher rate, assuming they maintain their high CSW%.
Thankfully, after years of being a niche statistic that wasn’t widely available, as colleague Jon Anderson discussed in our Sabermetrics Glossary, it’s now prominently featured on the FanGraphs pitcher leaderboard. Below, you’ll find a table for the top-20 ranked qualifying starting pitchers for CSW%.
2021 Qualified Starters CSW% Leaders
The top-20 starting pitchers in CSW% in 2021 were a who's who of the position, including headliner and National League Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes. Robbie Ray reinvented himself and dominated, winning the American League Cy Young Award and tied for 16th in CSW%. You'll also see established studs such as Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Brandon Woodruff, Lucas Giolito, Julio Urias, and Walker Buehler.
Were you skeptical of Kevin Gausman's breakout in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season? He erased skepticism with an outstanding follow-up campaign, including coaxing whiffs and looking strikes at a top-20 ranked rate. Dylan Cease and Tyler Mahle are a pair of pitchers that broke out last year, and their placement on this leaderboard is encouraging for continued success. Finally, veterans Aaron Nola and Yu Darvish were disappointing last year. However, this is one data point that supports a rebound in 2022.
Noteworthy Non-Qualified Starting Pitchers in 2021
Sadly, injuries deprived us of Jacob deGrom pitching a qualified season at a historic clip. Nevertheless, he was more dominant than ever when he toed the slab. Injuries also limited Shane Bieber. Thankfully, the 2020 American League Cy Young Award winner did an elite job of earning a high percentage of strikes last year when he took the ball, too.
Logan Webb blossomed into an ace for the Giants, and Alex Wood was their latest reclamation project. Meanwhile, Freddy Peralta was a third borderline-ace caliber starter for the Brewers, joining Burnes and Woodruff from above as elite in this category.
Astute readers who checked out Shane McClanahan's player page at FanGraphs might be scratching their head at the difference between his CSW% there and in the table. The difference is a product of his player page, including his work as a reliever and the table's CSW% is only from his starts. The hard-throwing lefty is one of a few pitchers in this table that I'm high on making waves in 2022. The others I'm optimistic about taking the next step are Patrick Sandoval and Tanner Houck. As a result, I anticipate ranking them ahead of my peers in the Expert Consensus Rankings.
Called strikes plus whiffs is one of my favorite metrics for projecting and ranking pitchers. In fact, I put more stock in CSW% than strikeout rate before utilizing other statistics for a complete picture.
Whether you're new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to a more advanced strategy - like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel - to learn more.