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Pitching by the Numbers: FIP check

Let's try to isolate bad luck by looking at the pitchers who should have significantly better ERAs looking only at their homers allowed, unintentional walks and hit batters and strikeouts.

We've detailed before how Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) stats are not always merely a product of luck. For example, some pitchers consistently generate a high number of pop ups and thus have better than expected success in having balls in play turn into outs. And fly ball pitchers generally achieve this same result.

However, given the totality of historical evidence with this statistic, it's clear that luck – good or bad – can easily swing an ERA a run or more in either direction. That's good for savvy players because it disguises value. So let's look now at the pitchers who are the best, meaning cheapest, buys.

All of the following have actual ERAs that are at least 0.64 worse than their FIP ERA, some are as many as three runs per game unlucky. To make this list, you needed to have a FIP ERA that was in the 3.00s or lower. We don't care about J.A. Happ(notes) being 1.38 runs per game unlucky when his luck-adjusted ERA is still 4.85. To better isolate the unlucky pitchers, a minimum 2:1 K:B ratio was also required. And we want availability, so only pitchers available in at least 20 percent of Yahoo! leads are considered. Here are the results, sorted by highest Yahoo! availability, through Wednesday's action:

Name Team K/BB BABIP LOB% ERA FIP E-F Y! Owned %
Jason Vargas(notes) Sea 2.78 0.315 63.7% 5.45 3.78 1.67 4%
Jason Marquis(notes) Was 3.71 0.326 71.7% 3.66 2.89 0.77 11%
Brandon McCarthy(notes) Oak 4.5 0.338 65.9% 3.05 2.39 0.66 15%
Travis Wood(notes) Cin 2.62 0.365 59.5% 6.21 3.21 3.00 18%
Fausto Carmona(notes) Cle 2.00 0.257 63.3% 4.43 3.8 0.64 18%
Chris Narveson(notes) Mil 2.67 0.323 68.6% 4.64 3.28 1.36 20%
Derek Holland(notes) Tex 2.58 0.344 71.2% 4.66 3.69 0.96 29%
Jordan Zimmermann(notes) Was 2.57 0.294 55.1% 4.29 2.89 1.40 50%
Ervin Santana(notes) LAA 3.64 0.311 62% 4.43 3.13 1.30 60%
Ian Kennedy(notes) Ari 3.56 0.254 64.4% 3.92 3.15 0.77 63%
Derek Lowe(notes) Atl 2.85 0.339 73.7% 3.72 2.71 1.01 66%
Daniel Hudson(notes) Ari 2.85 0.343 58.9% 5.3 2.78 2.52 70%
Wandy Rodriguez(notes) Hou 3.67 0.353 75.9% 4.26 3.44 0.82 77%

Vargas's solid last start isn't included. But his correction seems to have begun.

Marquis is another guy who keeps making these lists. He was just blasted by the Phillies but even with that his ERA should be under 3.00. He's only given up two homers in about 40 innings. This is his most extreme ground ball year and also by far his best K/BB year. Maybe he's had a breakthrough or developed a trick pitch or found a novel way to hide some ball-doctoring hardware in his hat or uniform.

McCarthy's FIP ERA is 2.39 vs. 2.84 for Trevor Cahill(notes), owned now in 91% of Yahoo! leagues. This is the perfect example of what we're trying to do here. You can go trade something of value for Cahill or pick up McCarthy for nothing. You can reasonably argue that Cahill is the better bet going forward, I will stipulate. But you can't argue that Cahill has pitched better in 2011 irrespective of his better luck.

Yes, Wood – the Schleprock of this list for his unfathomably bad luck – could be sent down even by the time you read this. But he's earned a better fate and his K/9 is quite useful in all formats. If you knew he was going to stick in the rotation, he'd be a great bet. But will the Reds give him the opportunity to normalize his luck? Are they even aware he's been unlucky? He built some faith with his 2010 actual numbers. Another plus with him is that innings limits will not be a 2011 factor.

Carmona barely qualifies. His WHIP is below 1.2. That's another strong, nearly automatic, buy sign. Perhaps the Indians are good – at least in the context of the putrid AL Central – which will help the wins.

Narveson should have about a 1.2 WHIP to go with a 3.28 ERA with a K per inning. If you think that's playable on your roster, go get him. Even if you're loaded, get him anyway to keep him away from someone else.

Holland's K/BB suggests we do not even hesitate to pick him up. He's also a former top pitching prospect on a good team. We expect some tough sledding in his park when the weather heats up. But no one on this list has more upside.

People are hip to Zimmermann, with his ownership level still 50 percent. But maybe the guy who owns him in your league is clueless about his bad luck. Accepting the role that random chance plays in events is counter-intuitive for all of us. We seek meaningful patterns in everything and if they're not there, we'll find them anyway, thank you. Recommendation: get Zimmermann-plus for the luckiest pitcher on your roster (Cahill, for example) using this same FIP analysis.

Michael Salfino writes and edits the SNYWhyGuys blog that projects player and team performance for New Yorkers. He's also a quantative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal. .

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