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Who will be this season's strikeout king?

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Can R.A. Dickey continue piling up Ks following his breakout 2012 season?

Tom Szczerbowski

One of the reasons so many people love sports is because of the large amount of arguments generated. One of my favorite sources of these arguments is baseball proposition bets. To my delight, OddsShark recently outlined this season's odds for which players will lead the league in some of the major "counting categories". Here's what OddsShark had to say about this season's race for the league's "Strikeout King":

"Justin Verlander, last year's ML strikeout king, and Clayton Kershaw are 5/1 co-favorites to claim the crown of strikeout king for this season.
They're followed on the "most whiffs" board by, among others, Yu Darvish at 11/2, Stephen Strasburg at 6/1, King Felix Hernandez at 8/1, Cole Hamels at 9/1, David Price and James Shields at 10/1, Gio Gonzalez and Tim Lincecum at 25/1 and knuckleballer RA Dickey, who's moved to the American League after leading the National League in Ks last year, is getting 50/1."

At 50/1 after leading the NL in Ks last season, R.A. Dickey immediately jumps out to me. Did Vegas feel that Dickey's move to the American League would significantly cut down on his Ks? Or did they feel that Dickey's 230 Ks in 2012 was an aberration? There's no way for me to get inside the minds of the oddsmakers, but I decided to examine Dickey's numbers and draw my own conclusions about Dickey's breakout 2012 campaign.

Last season, Dickey's K% jumped 9.5%, from 15.3% in 2011 to 24.8% in 2012. A jump in K% like the one Dickey made in 2012 doesn't happen often. Bill Petti's excellent study of the year to year correlations for pitching metrics showed a .82 year to year correlation for K%. The jump Dickey made in K% last season might be attributed to the dramatic increase in the amount of knuckleballs he threw (75.3% in 2011 to 85.4% in 2012, via Fangraphs).

The swinging-strike percentage on Dickey's knuckleball also spiked in 2012. From 2009-2011, batters whiffed on about 20% of Dickey's knuckleballs. Last season, that number jumped all the way up to 27.78%. (via Brooks Baseball)

The increase in the percentage of Dickey's pitches that were knuckleballs and the corresponding increase in the swinging-strike percentage on those knuckleballs can lead me to one of two conclusions: Dickey's dramatic increase in K% was an aberration, or Dickey has learned to confidently command and control his knuckleball. I tend to lean toward the latter.

From 2008 to 2012, the correlation between the percentages of knuckleballs Dickey's threw was a fairly strong .69 with his K%. At 50/1, I would take the risk and put my money on Dickey. If he doesn't lead the lead in Ks he should at least be in the running.