You can find more from Michael Salfino at Comcast SportsNet
The best check on overall hurler stats right now is Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which measures only things that a pitcher is inarguably responsible for – homers, hit batters, walks and Ks.
With the help of the Hardball Times, let's spot the outliers – those most lucky and unlucky in having their ERAs impacted by the defense behind them. We focus on starters now because the samples are too small for relievers.
It's not enough to recalculate ERAs so they are FIP-free. To better inform our recommendations, let's also look at K:BB ratio (we want at least twice as many K's as walks), line-drive rates (75 percent of those are hits regardless of defense) and rate of homers on fly balls (it should be about 10.5 percent).
We boldly go where the numbers tell us. To better understand our recommendations, "Buy" means our stats analysis predicts the pitcher is likely to perform significantly better, "Hold" means to expect consistency relative to season-to-date numbers and "Sell" indicates a major negative correction is likely coming.
Ricky Nolasco(notes), Marlins: The line-drive rate is well above average. But his FIP ERA now is 3.73 vs. 7.03 actual. Last year, the line-drive rate was 10 points lower. The Ks are okay at 7/9 innings and the walks are good at 2.3/9. Like most of these "buy" guys, an inordinate number of baserunners have scored – 45 percent for Nolasco versus about 30 percent for the average pitcher.
Carl Pavano(notes), Indians: Health is the major caveat, of course, but I love the control (1.7 walks/9) and will take the K's (6.5/9). And unlike Nolasco, he's not even giving up an average rate of line drives (18.4 percent). You also don't get better than 3.4 pitches per plate appearance.
Justin Verlander(notes), Tigers: The cat is out of the bag after Sunday night. But his ERA should be 3.05 with average defense. Verlander is a No. 1 starter in all formats considering his 11.3 K/9 versus just 3 BB/9. Of course, the easy 99 mph fastball even late screams "Buy," too.
Clayton Kershaw(notes), Dodgers: He's been more modestly unlucky (his ERA should be about 4.20). But he's just 21 and learning how to pitch in the hot glare of the big leagues. The talent is limitless, so the growth for the balance of the year likely will be significant.
Jon Lester(notes), Red Sox: More than a K/inning and good control (3.0/9) say the ERA should be in the 3.00s, not the 5.00s. His rate of homers on fly balls is too high (19 percent) and should normalize.
Kevin Slowey(notes), Twins: How does 0.6 walks/9 sound? Yes, he gives up a ton of fly balls, so the homers will continue to be a problem. But if you need ratio, here is the cheapest of the best places to look. And it's not like his K-rate is a problem (6.6/9).
Javier Vazquez(notes), Braves: FIP says his ERA should be 1.66 given he's K'ed more than five times as many as he's walked. But he consistently seems to under perform his peripherals. Like Nolasco, the line drive rate is too high –28 percent. And the ERA is depressed by his rate of homers on just 4.6 percent of fly balls –about half the average rate.
Todd Wellemeyer(notes), Cardinals: Like Vazquez, everything looks unlucky until you see the rate of homers on fly balls – 4.4 percent (average is about 10.5 percent). Normalize that and correct his average allowed on balls in play and his ERA is still over 5.00.
Fausto Carmona(notes), Indians: If you normalize the rate of homers, his expected ERA goes down to 5.47. While the line-drive and fly-ball rates are very good, I cannot accept 4.8 BB/9, as I generally expect a pitcher's ERA to trend pretty close to that (so, a 4.80 ERA for Fausto).
Matt Cain(notes), Giants: I don't have it out for him, honest. The numbers do. His ERA should be over 5.00 now. You want to put that much stock into the park, be my guest. Again, like Carmona, 4.1 walks/9 means a 4.00-plus ERA.
Dallas Braden(notes), A's: His ERA stands today at 2.10. It should be 4.16 with average luck/defense on balls in play or 5.79 with that plus an average rate of homers on fly balls. Split the difference and find a buyer, pronto.
James Shields(notes), Rays: Where are the Ks? 5.4/9 is bad. The line-drive rate is average, yet he's allowed hits on just 24.2 percent of balls in play. With average luck/defense his hits allowed thus far would climb from 36 to 45.
Jair Jurrjens(notes), Braves: His ERA should be 3.82 with average defensive luck or 5.75 with that plus a normal rate of homers (his is 2.6 percent). Jurrjen's actual ERA of 1.89 will find multiple buyers willing to pay much more than he cost in March.
Michael Salfino's work has appeared in USA Today's Sports Weekly, RotoWire, dozens of newspapers nationwide and most recently throughout Comcast SportsNet, including SNY.tv, for which he also analyzes the Mets and Yankees. He's been writing "Baseball by the Numbers" weekly since 2005.