We have a bone to pick with the fantasy nerds who decided that, even though Earned Runs are calculated as an average over nine innings (hence the acronym "ERA" for Earned Run Average), fantasy baseball scoring systems insist on using total strikeouts. Hell, even WHIP is an average, although it's based on 1 inning. In actuality, WHIP is only called "WHIP" because it's a nifty acronym that spells an easy-to-remember word. If you want to compare apples to apples, you can take a pitcher's WHIP and multiply it by nine, and that'll give you a depiction of what happens over nine innings, just like a pitcher's ERA.
As for total strikeouts, we're going to give you the Total Strikeouts cheat sheet below because that's probably what your league is going to keep track of in your scoring system. However, we're going to also give you a more-accurate picture of what to expect from a pitcher every time he takes the mound in terms of strikeouts by also listing the pitchers' K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings).
Total strikeouts in fantasy baseball is a bunch of crap for the most part. For one thing, it's reliant upon the number of starts a pitcher just happens to have based on the randomness of his team's schedule. If a crappy pitcher has two starts in a week (i.e.: if he starts Monday and then again on Saturday or Sunday), he's likely to have more strikeouts than a stud pitcher with only one start. So, even though we're going to give you the rankings based on Total Strikeouts, we want you to pay just as much attention to his K/9.
More Differentiation Between Total Strikeouts and K/9
Total Strikeouts is a positive reflection of a pitcher's durability, as well as his ability to strike guys out.
K/9 (Strikeouts per 9 Innings) is a more-accurate reflection of what you can expect of a pitcher every time he takes the mound.
Take James Shields for example: Shields struck out 196 batters which ranked 16th among all pitchers, however his K/9 were 7.71, which ranked 85th. Can you count on James Shields to strike out a fair amount of batters? Yes. Nonetheless, his total strikeouts are a better depiction of his durability. Shields started 34 games and pitched in 228.2 innings (3rd most in baseball).
Now, take Reds' starter, Tony Cingriani, by comparison: at first glance, Cingriani only struck out 120 batters (ranked 87th in baseball). But,looking deeper into his stats, we see that he only started 18 games and, therefore, only pitched 104.2 innings. Suddenly, he looks a lot more valuable, doesn't he? His K/9 are up at 10.32. Now we see him in a whole new light. Cingriani strikes out more than one guy every inning, and it looks like he's a good candidate for the Reds' rotation this season.
Will Tony Cingriani be drafted well after James Shields in your league? Absolutely. Might Cingriani be a better all-around fantasy pitcher for your team as a late-round pick or a $1-$3 auction draft pick? Could be. The strikeouts say so, even though he technically struck out fewer batters than Shields did in 2013. So don't just pay attention to total strikeouts - K/9 are a better reflection of what to expect out of a pitcher every time he takes the mound.
How to use the list above:
You'll notice there are quite a few relievers up there who weren't/aren't Closers, and there were even a few who started a good number of games (see the guys with the highest Innings Pitched). If your pitching staff just can't compete in Saves, we recommend you find a guy off the waiver wires in your league who is currently a starter but also qualifies as a relief pitcher. Two seasons ago, Kris Medlen saved a lot of fantasy pitching staffs for that very reason: he was a starter most of the year, but he qualified as a relief pitcher as well. This allows you to compete (if not dominate) in total strikeouts if you find that your team just can't compete in Saves.