Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Sometimes baseball is simple.
Strikeouts are bad. Unless you're a pitcher, then they're good. The opposite is true for walks.
Small sample sizes can be as misleading as Vladimir Putin discussing his foreign policy plans, but low strikeout rates (K%) for hitters and low walk rates (BB%) for pitchers are two statistics that can be meaningful even early in the season.
Here are seven hitters and seven pitchers who have had K/BB success so far.
Victor Martinez, DH, Detroit Tigers - It's hardly a surprise that Martinez isn't striking out a lot -- he has a career K% of 10.8 -- but it's worth mentioning that he has just two strikeouts in 55 plate appearances this season for a K% of 3.6. Pitchers haven't been able to put him away on pitches out of the zone; his contact rate when chasing those offerings (o-contact) is 88.6 percent. Martinez is hitting .333, though he could be doing even better than that if he had some better batted-ball luck. His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is .295 even though his line-drive rate is above 25 percent.
Jed Lowrie, SS, Oakland Athletics - Lowrie is off to a .263 start for one reason -- a .271 BABIP. The shortstop has fantastic 8/15 K/BB as well as a lower chase rate and higher contact rate on pitches in the strike zone (z- contact) than he did in 2013, when he batted .290. Lowrie is due for a hot streak that he should be able to sustain due to his low K%.
Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves - No list of K/BB success stories would be complete without Simmons, who has fanned just once in 57 at-bats this season. Simmons hit just .248 last year because he popped up often and didn't hit a lot of line drives. His line-drive rate is still low but he hasn't popped up as much so far and is hitting .316 with a .286 BABIP. He looks like a .300 hitter to me.
Miguel Montero, C, Arizona Diamondbacks - Montero has been dramatically better than he was in 2013 at making contact on pitches in the zone (90.5 percent z- contact), he just hasn't seen the results yet. After striking out in 23.2 percent of his plate appearances last season, Montero has gone down on strikes only six times in 75 plate appearances, an 8.0 K%. He's hitting .254, but that's because he has a .241 BABIP, which is awfully low for a player who hasn't popped up to the infield on any of his 24 fly balls and has an 18.3 percent line-drive rate.
Albert Pujols, 1B, Los Angeles Angels - It turns out it's pretty hard to hit with debilitating injuries in both legs. Pujols played last season with a right knee injury and plantar fasciitis in his left foot and batted just .258 with 17 homers in 391 at-bats, but he has his base back to 100 percent. Not only is he driving the ball again -- six homers in 71 at-bats -- but he has struck out in 8.9 percent of his plate appearances. That K% is down from 12.4 last year and comparable to his peak seasons.
Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves - Freeman hit .319 last year, and a batting title could be in the cards in 2014 based on the early results. Freeman's K% is 10.7 percent, down from 19.2 percent in 2013, and his BB% is 12. The first baseman has roped line drives at an eye-popping rate of 39.3 percent and is hitting .413. Considering line drives typically produce at least a .700 batting average, hitting a liner on nearly 40 percent of your batted balls is a good way to compete for a batting title.
Charlie Blackmon, OF, Colorado Rockies - Blackmon, one of the waiver-wire darlings of this young season, has hit .415 with one home run, 11 runs, 10 RBI and five steals. The 27-year-old has lowered his chase rate from 37.8 percent in 2013 to 29.9 percent this year and increased his contact rate from 83.4 percent to 94 percent in that same timeframe. As a result, he has slashed his K% from 19 to 5.8. Throw in a 23 percent line-drive rate and the Coors Field factor and Blackmon should have staying power.
Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, Miami Marlins- If Eovaldi (3.55 ERA, 1.14 WHIP) is still available, and he likely is because his ownership rate is 27 percent in Yahoo! leagues, go get him. The right-hander has a 95.5 mph four-seamer and he's mixed in his 96.3 mph two-seamer more often this season to keep hitters off balance. After walking 40 batters in 106 1/3 innings last season, Eovaldi has a 23/3 K/BB in his first 25 1/3 innings of 2014. He also has increased his ground-ball rate from 43.3 percent to 53.9 percent and decreased his line- drive rate from 22 percent to 11.8 percent. Somehow, though, he still has a .333 BABIP. His luck has been even worse with men on base -- 6.5 percent line- drive rate, .367 BABIP in those situations -- which is why he has stranded just 62.9 percent of his baserunners. He's pitched well enough to have an ERA far below 3.00, as indicated by his 2.25 FIP.
Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, New York Yankees - When Yu Darvish first came to the big leagues, he struggled with his command and took half a season to fully trust his outstanding stuff against MLB hitters. Tanaka hasn't had either of those issues. The right-hander has gone right at opposing batters in his first three starts and owns a nifty K/BB of 28/2 in 22 innings. According to PITCHf/x, Tanaka has utilized three of his pitches (four-seamer, splitter, sinker) at least 20 percent of the time so far while mixing in a slider on 12.5 percent, a curveball on 8.1 percent and a changeup on 4.0 percent. He has the highest chase rate in the majors at 45 percent and the fourth-lowest contact rate at 69.3 percent. You aren't going to walk a lot of men when hitters are constantly swinging at non-strikes.
Yu Darvish, RHP, Texas Rangers - Speaking of Darvish, the right-hander has issued four free passes in his first 22 innings, a BB/9 of 1.64. Even last year, when he struck out 277 batters and posted a 2.83 ERA in 209 2/3 innings, Darvish still walked 3.43 batters per nine. He has raised his first-pitch strike rate from 57.6 percent in 2013 to 64.7 percent this year. While he's allowing more contact than last season (78.4 percent to 70.5 percent), his stuff is so good that batters aren't doing anything with it.
Wily Peralta, RHP, Milwaukee Brewers - Peralta has cut his four-seam usage from 35.5 percent last year to 15.9 percent in 2014, and his two-seam usage is up from 31.5 percent to 54.7 percent. While batters have made more contact against him than they did in 2013, he's induced a 61.8 percent ground-ball rate and a 12.7 percent line-drive rate. The hard-throwing righty struggled with walks in the past (career 3.47 BB/9), but he has handed out 2.45 BB/9 so far. Peralta's one issue is that he has been homer-prone when he's left the two-seamer up in the zone (all three homers allowed this season came on the pitch), but I'm mostly encouraged by his progression.
Edinson Volquez, RHP, Pittsburgh Pirates - If Edinson Volquez can walk fewer than 2.0 batters per nine innings over a three-start span, then anything is possible. Volquez, whose career BB/9 is a generous 4.68, has somehow walked just four batters in 21 innings this season. The right-hander has using his four-seamer less than ever before and pitching to contact with his off-speed stuff. Volquez' strikeouts are down to 5.57 per nine innings and he has benefited from a .234 BABIP, but his HR/FB is a career-low 5.3 percent.
Jon Lester, LHP, Boston Red Sox - Lester has been around for a while a walked between 2.82 and 3.59 batters per nine innings in each of his six full MLB seasons, so we should know who he is by now. Except the Lester we knew is gone. The left-hander has decreased his usage of the sinker from 23.4 percent in 2013 to 5.5 percent in 2014 and the changeup from 12.3 percent to 4.4 percent. His four-seam usage is up from 36.2 percent to 49.7 percent and his cutter usage has increased from 16.1 percent to 29.1 percent. Through 29 innings, he has a 29/4 K/BB and a 2.17 ERA.
Tim Hudson, RHP, San Francisco Giants - Much like his former teammate Andrelton Simmons, Hudson must be included on any list documenting K/BB dominance. After all, he hasn't walked anyone in 30 innings this season. MLB's premier worm-killer once again has a ground-ball rate above 55 percent and is 2-1 with a 2.40 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP.