Pitching by the Numbers: Getting a grip on FIP

Small sample sizes still abound. But we have decisions to make and the season for some of us just cannot wait.


Perhaps we can isolate some randomness out of the numbers by looking at who has the best and worst fielding independent ERAs while also comparing them to their actual ERA's. We've noted some limits to FIP here in the past. It has a bias against extreme fly-ball pitchers. It's doesn't factor in pop-ups as 100 percent outs, or near it, as they are. But we can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good and FIP is a good stat.
Thanks to Fangraphs for the data, which is through April 25th. Let's start with the pitchers with the best FIP ERAs.

    Player   

    Team   

    K/9   

    BABIP   

    LOB%   

    ERA   

    FIP   

    ERA-FIP   

Gio Gonzalez

Was

10.27

.228

80.0%

1.52

1.51

0.01

Johan Santana

NYM

12.0

.311

63.6%

3.00

1.57

1.43

Zack Greinke

Mil

10.65

.381

62.9%

4.56

1.72

2.84

Clayton Kershaw

LAD

    8.87   

.288

78.3%

    1.61   

    1.74   

    -0.13   

Stephen Strasburg

Was

    9.00   

.262

87.5%

    1.08   

    1.74   

    -0.66   

Justin Verlander

Det

    8.9   

.215

73.1%

    1.72   

    1.79   

    -0.06   

Jake Peavy

ChW

    8.16   

.219

77.7%

    1.88   

    2.07   

    -0.18   

Cole Hamels

Phi

    10.25   

.333

75.4%

    2.73   

    2.07   

    0.67   

Jered Weaver

LAA

    8.49   

.244

74.3%

    2.43   

    2.09   

    0.33   

Edwin Jackson

Was

    9.47   

.250

51.3%

    4.26   

    2.11   

    2.15   

Kyle Lohse

StL

    5.27   

.200

85.0%

    0.99   

    2.17   

    -1.18   

Mike Pelfrey

NYM

    5.95   

.353

82.1%

    2.29   

    2.19   

    0.10   

Cory Luebke

SD

    7.20   

.280

72.4%

    2.52   

    2.26   

    0.26   

Josh Johnson

Mia

    6.56   

.408

68.4%

    4.63   

    2.35   

    2.28   

Wandy Rodriguez

Hou

    5.68   

.241

69.2%

    1.42   

    2.35   

    -0.93   

Jeff Samardzija

ChC

    9.38   

.352

64.4%

    4.13   

    2.36   

    1.76   

Jason Hammel

Bal

    8.65   

.254

85.4%

    1.73   

    2.40   

    -0.67   

Ryan Dempster

ChC

    10.18   

.213

79.6%

    1.33   

    2.46   

    -1.13   

Mike Minor

Atl

    7.18   

.278

58.6%

    3.42   

    2.48   

0.93

Jordan Zimmermann

Was

    5.33   

.200

80.7%

    1.33   

2.53

-1.20


I do really like Gonzalez, as I've said in this space before. Santana is interesting but is among the leaders in pitches per inning. He's not a guy you want expending a lot of effort and, of course, this also hurts him with wins. What do we make of Peavy? He's frequently disappointed so I would look to cash him in right now. Jackson is over the magic number of a K/IP in Yahoo! formats so hold him, for sure. He was cut in our Yahoo! Friends and Family league by Scott Pianowski, a savvy owner. So that concerns me enough not to be a buyer on the trade market, for now. Lohse doesn't K enough for many formats but keeps popping up on these lists in good ways, if you can handle that sub 6 K/9 that isn't likely to get better. Pelfrey looks like he's out for a while with an elbow injury. Hammel is worth grabbing if he's a free agent in shallow leagues. Zimmermann is interesting in so many ways but are we overvaluing him given his K-rate? It spiked to very useful levels in his last 50 innings last year. His velocity is exactly what it was then, but he's generating misses on swings 7.5% of the time, slightly lower than in 2011 when his K-rate for the season was barely acceptable for most mixers. Of course, it's hard to put a value on his other averages, which are top shelf. Zimmermann is one of the trickier pitchers out there, but if someone was giving me a sixth-round type of hitter, I'd move him.
Now let's take a look at the other end of the FIP ERA spectrum:

    Player   

    Team   

    K/9   

    BABIP   

    LOB%   

    ERA   

    FIP   

    ERA-FIP   

Ervin Santana

LAA

    6.08   

    0.257   

    73.90%   

    7.23   

    8.18   

    -0.96   

Clay Buchholz

Bos

    4.43   

    .329   

    59.0%   

    8.87   

    6.89   

    1.98   

Tommy Hunter

Bal

    5.84   

    .239   

    76.3%   

    4.74   

    6.75   

    -2.01   

Brandon Morrow

Tor

    4.05   

    .190   

    84.2%   

    3.71   

    6.32   

    -2.60   

Jeremy Guthrie

Col

    1.85   

    .239   

    65.8%   

    5.92   

    5.98   

    -0.07   

Henderson Alvarez

Tor

    2.73   

    .188   

    78.3%   

    4.10   

    5.79   

    -1.69   

Randy Wolf

Mil

    5.48   

    .329   

    66.9%   

    7.17   

    5.67   

    1.50   

Matt Moore

TB

    5.12   

    .288   

    75.5%   

    5.12   

    5.64   

    -0.52   

Jhoulys Chacin

Col

    8.55   

    .291   

    73.0%   

    5.85   

    5.55   

    0.30   

Anthony Swarzak

Min

    5.03   

    .277   

    79.0%   

    5.03   

    5.55   

    -0.51   

Josh Beckett

Bos

    5.61   

    .228   

    78.7%   

    4.56   

    5.40   

    -0.84   

R.A. Dickey

NYM

    8.14   

    .288   

    85.4%   

    4.44   

    5.29   

    -0.85   

Jeremy Hellickson

TB

    4.97   

    .218   

    87.6%   

    2.84   

    5.27   

    -2.43   

Kyle Drabek

Tor

    6.75   

    .226   

    94.5%   

    2.25   

    5.19   

    -2.94   

Ubaldo Jimenez

Cle

    4.88   

    .253   

    75.5%   

    4.50   

    5.19   

    -0.69   

Clayton Richard

SD

    5.47   

    .221   

    45.5%   

    5.11   

    5.13   

    -0.02   

Justin Masterson

Cle

    6.23   

    .286   

    56.6%   

    6.65   

    5.12   

    1.53   

Homer Bailey

Cin

    4.82   

    .250   

    67.3%   

    3.86   

    5.05   

    -1.19   

Bud Norris

Hou

    8.03   

    .320   

    68.8%   

    5.84   

    4.97   

    0.87   

Gavin Floyd

ChW

    7.92   

    .200   

    77.9%   

    3.6   

    4.90   

    -1.30   


Some big names on this list. Santana throws too many sliders so I'd always pass on him because even if he's pitching well, I half expect an injury. Buchholz has been horrible and I can't think of a reason to own him now even in AL-only leagues. Morrow is another big name who chronically fails to pitch up to his "stuff." Moore is turning into the poor man's Hellickson. Maybe the Rays are teaching their younger guys to pitch to contact because they have such good defenders and position them so well. Hellickson don't need no stinkin' strikeouts.  Remember, Hellickson is extreme fly-ball pitcher and is on a FIP-defying team. However, his swinging strike rate is way down and he throws too many pitches per inning, too. Whenever you have a chance to get anything reasonable for Beckett, who rarely pitches to his talent level, do it. Drabek is a ground-ball pitcher, so trade/waive him (depending on your format) because I doubt his good luck lasts.  Bottom line, you have to really work hard to come up with reasons to hold any guy on this list with a K/9 below 7.00.


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