One of the things I want to try to do here at New English D is to introduce sabermetrics into the common vernacular of baseball fandom. I think the biggest reason for resistance to new stats and metrics is that they are not commonly understood. It’s not because people are too stupid, they just simply aren’t looking to spend a lot of time learning new things that don’t seem relevant.
Basically, most baseball fans don’t really understand why the basic statistics are misleading them about a player’s true value.
I’d like to start with one of the more prominent sabermetrics for pitchers, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) which is essentially a stand in for Earned Run Average (ERA).
The problem with ERA is that so much of it is outside of a pitcher’s control. For example, if you have a terrible defense, your ERA is going to be higher than if you have an awesome defense, even if you make identical pitches for an entire season.
What FIP tries to do is factor defense out of the equation by presenting a formula that predicts what your ERA would be if you had league average defense and league average luck by looking at your strikeouts, walks, and homeruns allowed (things you can actually control as a pitcher). Generally speaking, the most contact hitters make against you, the more variation we could see.
The formula goes something like this and is based on long run averages in MLB history:
FIP = (13 x HR) + (3 x (BB+HBP)) + ((2 x K) / IP) + constant
What this formula does is give you a number that looks like ERA, but only responds to things inside a pitcher’s control and FIP is a better predictor of future performance than ERA. Generally speaking, it’s a great place to start your analysis. You want to dig deeper into batted ball data and other trends, but FIP starts you off with a number that is based solely on a what a pitcher can control.
For reference, an average FIP is 4.00 with an excellent one being 2.90 and a terrible one being 5.00. For a full explanation from the people who created it, see this.
To give you an idea, let’s take a look at the some ERA to FIP comparisons from the 2012 season. For a complete listing of FIP, head here.
MLB’s top five in FIP this year were Gio Gonzalez (2.82), Felix Hernandez (2.84), Clayton Kershaw (2.89), Justin Verlander (2.94), and David Price (3.05). That seems to jive with what you might think. Remember Gio and Kershaw get to face the pitcher, so their number is going to look a little better just like ERA.
So of the qualifying starts in 2012, whose ERA made them look better or worse than they are?
I’m picking a few examples to demonstrate FIP’s usefulness. Tigers’ sinkerball Rick Porcello seems an obvious candidate for an ERA inflated by bad defense, right? Very true. Porcello’s ERA is a robust 0.68 runs higher than his FIP. The Royals Luke Hochevar didn’t get much help either with an ERA a whopping 1.10 runs higher than his FIP.
How about guys whose ERA made them look better than they are? Jeremy Hellickson got a full 1.50 runs back from his defense per nine innings and extreme fly ball pitcher Jered Weaver, with the help of the crazy good Angels outfield, got 0.94 runs better in ERA than FIP.
Now four random examples might not convince, but I encourage you to take a look at the FIP leaders and start using that metric to learn a little bit more about how someone is pitching.
Two final thoughts. One don’t bother with RA Dickey because there are so few knuckleballer’s in history and the averages don’t control for how differently knuckleballs get hit.
Two, whose defense and luck has been the most average so as to keep their FIP in line with their ERA this year? That award goes to the Pirates’ James MacDonald who posted an ERA and FIP of 4.21, making him the only player to have both numbers equal.
Come back next week for another Stat of the Week and feel free to suggest some that you would like to learn about.