Picture of a baseball player with his bat in between a lot of graphs and stats

How To Research MLB Player Props Part 1 – Strikeout Props

How To Research Strikeout Props in baseball

This is part 1 of my “How to Research MLB Player Props” series, where I explore some of the best MLB player props to bet on. I plan to add several more posts throughout the 2024 MLB season, each focusing on a different prop.

The goal of this series is to demonstrate that you can still beat these markets relatively easily, even without modeling or coding, simply by looking up the things that actually matter.

While I post MLB player prop picks daily on my sports betting Discord, this article will not contain picks or bets. For those, you should head to my Patreon and sign up for my betting service to get all my picks. We also offer a pretty cool 7-day free trial.

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Pitcher strikeout props are among the most-bet MLB player props according to sportsbooks. As a pitching enthusiast, I find them the most interesting to research. Let’s get into it!

Called Strikes Plus Whiffs – the most important stat when aiming to find the best Pitcher strikeout props

CSW% is a stat that has been around for a while, but to this day—in my opinion—it remains one of the most important stats when determining a pitcher’s strike-getting ability. CSW% is the sum of a pitcher’s CStr% (called strike percent) and SwStr% (percentage of strikes that were swung at and missed).

A pitcher can essentially get strikes in two ways: by either missing bats or throwing strikes in the zone. This stat tells us if the arm is good at either of these things. A good starting point for a solid arm is in the 25% range, while the Paul Skenes’s of the world are in the neighborhood of 30%. Getting strikes is important, but it is also vital for a pitcher to stay long enough in the game to get the over for you, which brings us to the second most important factor when researching pitcher-related MLB player props.

Pitch count – Always Keep an eye on this when handicapping MLB player props

This might sound elementary, but if you are hunting for the best MLB pitcher strikeout props, you will want to back arms that throw enough pitches. “Enough” is a wide range, as there is a huge difference between how economical certain pitchers are with their pitch count (and this is also hugely opponent-dependent), but I’d personally have trouble betting over 4.5s and 5.5s with arms that are unable to throw more than 80 pitches per game.

Low pitch counts can be the result of many factors, and sometimes the game flow just naturally leads to the starter leaving the game relatively early (for example, when the manager sees a really good matchup for one of his relief arms in a tricky situation). However, when you examine a starting pitcher’s history, you will want to see them consistently hovering around and exceeding 90 pitches.

It is also important that a pitcher should be ideally economical with their pitches. Usually, these trends are quite stable, and some arms regularly go six innings using 90 pitches, while some struggle to go past five using the same amount of pitches. This can also play an important role when prepping to bet on an over or an under.

Factoring in the opposing team’s K-rates when betting on MLB Strikeout Props

Making sure you do not start picking on teams with extremely low K-rates is probably a good starting point. FanGraphs has the data for team strikeout rates. If you want to focus on one data point, I would probably pick a 30-day average as it is a large-enough sample size, but also relatively recent. You can fine-tune this by weighting multiple different data points (like 14 and 30 days, for example) if you wish to go that deep.

Multiple Daily Fantasy Sports sites have expected lineups if you want to make an even more informed decision. Grabbing the expected lineups from FantasyLabs and checking the K-rates of the expected lineups on Baseball Savant is an easy manual exercise that can give you a pretty good picture of what to expect.

It’s also important to factor in the walk rates of the lineups, at least to some extent, especially if you have a pitcher who relies more on generating swings and misses rather than called strikes. Some teams have batters with really good plate discipline who refrain from swinging at anything. Good examples from the 2024 season include the Padres, Blue Jays, Royals, Guardians, and Astros. These are typically the teams where you can observe a significant drop in pitchers’ swinging strike rates.

Red Flags and other factors to consider

Might sound like basic information again, but making sure you are up-to-date regarding a pitcher you want to back is important. Now that Rotowire’s player news is implemented into the Fangraphs player profiles, this is easier than ever. Make sure to check that the pitcher doesn’t have any recent injuries, isn’t on some sort of pitch count, and isn’t struggling recently.

I’d suggest keeping an eye on Nick Pollack’s daily pitcher roundups where he reviews the performance of every starting pitcher. Nick has a really good eye at picking up potential pitcher injuries, or just something in their repertoire not performing up to their standards. Fangraphs and Baseball Savant both can be useful when looking at a pitcher hunting for edges. I always check for velocity dips, and changes in spin rate, and if I see a pitcher’s SWSTR% drop for a few games (unless they faced very difficult opposition).

Two final notes that I’d like to add are that keeping track of the bullpen’s health for your pitcher’s team can also be a factor. If certain key relief arms were used during the previous days or are unavailable due to injury, then if the game state allows, your starting pitcher might be able to go a bit deeper into games.

The other often overlooked factor is the manager. Certain teams and managers give their arms a longer leash, and there are ones that pull their starters much quicker, especially in a shorter game.

Summary

To sum things up quickly: In my opinion, CSW% is the most important stat when evaluating a pitcher’s strikeout potential. A pitcher must be able to throw strikes, either by missing bats or throwing strikes in the zone, and ideally maintain a high pitch count while staying economical with their pitch usage to cash you those pitcher strikeout prop overs.

The opposing team’s K-rate is also crucial, as some teams are more strikeout-prone than others.

It’s essential to be aware of any red flags, such as recent injuries to the pitcher or key missing pieces in the bullpen behind him, and to stay informed on a pitcher’s performance through multiple resources. Additionally, the manager’s tendencies can play a role, as some managers allow their pitchers to go deeper into games than others.

By integrating these elements into your research process, you should be able to make informed decisions when handicapping MLB strikeout props.

Additionally, using third-party models as an input could be useful. I’d personally look at DFS sites offering daily projections for MLB player props. Some industry names include Rotowire, Rotoworld, FantasyPros, and Razzball. These can provide a potential baseline to build on with your manual handicapping.