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Mound Musings: Learning From xFIP

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

First, a quick definition:

xFIP - Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. Phew. Basically this is a metric that takes into account only those things that a pitcher can control - walks, strikeouts and home runs. While it is true that some pitchers are able to consistently post a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) that is lower or higher than the league average (about .300), xFIP has been shown to be one of the better predictors of a pitcher's future performance. If a pitcher is striking out a lot of hitters, walking few and allowing a league-average HR/FB rate and he has a high ERA, you might consider him worth targeting as a value/buy-low pick. The inverse holds true as well.

Now let's look at 20 pitchers on each side of the ledger. The number cited for each pitcher is his ERA minus his xFIP. Pitchers with a negative number have had good luck, but which ones have the skills to survive when their luck moderates? Conversely, pitchers with a positive number have had bad luck, but not all bad-luck pitchers are destined to rebound.

Good-Luck Pitchers

Wade Davis, Rays (ERA-xFIP: -2.41) -
Like Davis; don't love him. Yes, he'll develop and improve, but a 3.4 K/9 is ridiculously low, lack of experience or not. He's not a viable 12-team mixed league every-start pitcher.

Michael Pineda, Mariners (ERA-xFIP: -2.25) -
All he's doing is averaging 95.9 mph with his fastball. That's about all you want to know, but he's also posting a solid-enough 3.2 BB/9. His .254 BABIP and 0.0-percent HR/FB rates won't last, but still, love this guy.

Alexi Ogando, Rangers (ERA-xFIP: -2.22) -
A .155 BABIP explains Ogando's presence here. That said, despite the impeding huge jump in innings as he sticks in the rotation, I think he does pretty well with a 1.78 BB/9 and a 2.8 K:BB.

Dustin Moseley, Padres (ERA-xFIP: -2.12) -
2.9 K/9 and a mediocre track record. But we're still talking Petco Park here, so use him in certain spots.

Kyle McClellan, Cardinals (ERA-xFIP: -2.11) -
Good control guy, but his 5.4 K/9 isn't likely to get much better. His 48.7 GB% is pretty solid, so he has a shot at a 4.25ish ERA, but don't expect Dave Duncan to turn him into much more.

Jered Weaver, Angels (ERA-xFIP: -2.00) -
He might be the AL MVP right now, so don't worry about an 0.99 ERA versus a 2.99 xFIP.

Josh Johnson, Marlins (ERA-xFIP: -1.80) -
An 8.7 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 aren't Cliff Lee numbers, but the 51.3 GB% is up over last year, and he's averaging 94 mph with his fastball. The .154 BABIP is obviously not sustainable, but then again, you knew the 1.06 ERA wasn't either.

Josh Tomlin, Indians (ERA-xFIP: -1.71) -
.182 BABIP here, but he's vastly improved his GB% over last year (43% vs. 28.4%), and he has solid control. Tomlin's value is derived primarily from his control, but if he keeps the GB rate low, he's serviceable.

Dan Haren, Angels (ERA-xFIP: -1.60) -
This isn't Bob Gibson, so the 1.46 ERA will rise, but an 8.0 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 are strong ratios. Haren isn't quite Jered Weaver, but it doesn't get much better in terms of No. 2 starters outside of Philadelphia.

Justin Masterson, Indians (ERA-xFIP: -1.60) -
Masterson makes the list because just four percent of his flyballs are going for home runs. Still, all five of his starts have met the "quality start" definition. That said, he still hasn't figured out left-handed hitters (.290 avg), so expect bumps in the road.

James Shields, Rays (ERA-xFIP: -1.39) -
Shields' xFIP this year and last (3.55 and 3.74) are nearly identical, but the ERAs are not - 5.18 last year, 2.35 in 2010. Easy to point to a BABIP that is 105 points lower year over year, but the truth lies somewhere in the middle - a 4.00ish ERA.

Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles (ERA-xFIP: -1.31) -
A 3.12 ERA for a pitcher with so-so stuff in the AL East isn't a number likely to decline any time soon. Guthrie might be a nice guy to have around to mentor a young pitching staff, but don't expect a sub-4.25 ERA the rest of the way.

Livan Hernandez, Nationals (ERA-xFIP: -1.29) -
A 4.4 K/9 and 39.3 GB% aren't numbers that predict future success. The 76-year-old Hernandez is still a valuable innings eater, and you pretty much know what you're getting here.

Charlie Morton, Pirates (ERA-xFIP: -1.23) -
92.1 mph fastball and a 68.0 GB% are encouraging numbers. Morton, though, is throwing his fastball a whopping 85.8 pecent of the time, so the lack of secondary stuff likely will hold him back. Hard to think too highly of the 4.9 K/9 and 4.9 BB/9 as well, but he still has some potential for a future breakout.

Kevin Correia, Pirates (ERA-xFIP: -1.23) -
The truth likely lies somewhere in the middle of Correia's 2009 and 2010 seasons, but before we get too optimistic, we're going to have to see a increase in Correia's 3.7 K/9. One encouraging item is Correia's quite-low 10.3 LD%, meaning hitters are making a lot of contact, but it's not "good" contact.

Brett Myers, Astros (ERA-xFIP: -1.15) -
The 5.0 K/9 is to blame here. If the Astros are smart (questionable), they will shop Myers this summer to help restock a decrepit farm system.

Kyle Lohse, Cardinals (ERA-xFIP: -1.12) -
The simple explanation here is that he's finally healthy. Lohse's .207 BABIP will rise, but a 6.3 K/9 and 1.2 BB/9 are nice off-setters. I've seen Lohse pitch a couple times and both times, his location was stellar and he was getting a lot of movement on his fastball. I see a strong year ahead.

Zach Britton, Orioles (ERA-xFIP: -1.07) -
Early front-runner for AL Rookie of the Year. Britton's 5.4 K/9 is a bit low, but he's still young and learning, so that's not necessarily his baseline. A huge correction in his 2.84 ERA is not a given with his 57.3 GB%.

Josh Beckett, Red Sox (ERA-xFIP: -1.06) -
This is the real Beckett. More ground balls and a far more effective fastball. Don't be surprised if he makes a run at a top-5 Cy Young finish, if not better.

Brett Anderson, Athletics (ERA-xFIP: -1.02) -
A lot of good here - 7.0 K/9, 1.0 BB/9, 68.4 GB%. What's driving his xFIP, though, is a 0.0-percent HR/FB rate. Anderson has the talent to compete with Jered Weaver and others for the AL Cy Young, and a sub-2.90 ERA the rest of the way wouldn't be a huge surprise.

Bad-Luck Pitchers

Ryan Dempster, Cubs (ERA-xFIP: 3.92) -
Dempster's 7-plus ERA is a direct byproduct of a whopping 22.2 percent of his flyballs going over the fence. That happens in Wrigley Stadium (a nod to NASCAR's Jeff Gordon here) from time to time, but this is a number destined to drop. Combine that with an 8.5 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 and Dempster should post an ERA in the 4.00 range the rest of the way.

Jake Westbrook, Cardinals (ERA-xFIP: 2.49) -
Love the 61.4 GB%, hate the other numbers - 4.8 K/9, 5.9 BB/9. Westbrook is worth spot-starting here and there, but generating a lot of ground balls only gets one so far.

Joe Blanton, Phillies (ERA-xFIP: 2.45) -
A .357 BABIP hasn't helped Blanton's cause. Expect his normal 4.25ish ERA effort as his strikeout and walk rates are in line with his past performances.

Edinson Volquez, Reds (ERA-xFIP: 2.42) -
I'm buying anyone with a 9.9 K/9, especially if they have a 6.35 ERA. Volquez can only improve, as I'm pretty sure 30 percent of his flyballs turning into home runs isn't normal or sustainable.

Matt Garza, Cubs (ERA-xFIP: 2.17) -
A 12.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and no homers leave Garza with a 4.11 ERA. Expect a 3.00-type effort from here on.

Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks (ERA-xFIP: 2.02) -
Not sure Hudson is anything more than a solid No. 3-type starter, but he should be better than a 5.50-plus ERA if he continues to post a 9.49 K/9 and a 2.67 K:BB.

Fausto Carmona, Indians (ERA-xFIP: 1.95) -
Still tons of groundballs (more than 61.0 GB%), and his 6.4 K/9 is up from his 5.5 career mark. His ERA was 4.43 for his career prior to 2011, and I see no reason why it would vary significantly from that mark the rest of the way in 2011.

Barry Enright, Diamondbacks (ERA-xFIP: 1.88) -
Nothing to see here. He'll have the occasional 7-7-2-2-1-5 type outing, but too volatile for my taste.

Kyle Davies, Royals (ERA-xFIP: 1.86) -
I think 730-plus career innings is enough for me to buy into is 1.60-plus WHIP being for real. I'm done here.

Ervin Santana, Angels (ERA-xFIP: 1.82) -
A couple of awful starts recently, but unless there's an injury we don't know about, focus more on the 7.7 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9, and buy his stock.

Wandy Rodriguez, Astros (ERA-xFIP: 1.80) -
16 strikeouts in his last two starts, so it appears he may be rounding into form. An 8.1 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 suggest he'll be just fine.

Cliff Lee, Phillies (ERA-xFIP: 1.76) -
A 10.9 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 suggest he might be pretty good.

Travis Wood, Reds (ERA-xFIP: 1.69) -
It's doubtful that despite a 5.40 ERA that Wood would get the boot once the Reds' injured starters are ready, as he's much better than that - 7.6 K/9, 2.2 BB/9, .345 BABIP. Wood surrenders far too many flyballs, so he'll have the occasional bad outing, but I've come to like what he brings to the table.

Jason Vargas, Mariners (ERA-xFIP: 1.67) -
Everything about Vargas screams "average," with the exception of his control (2.2 BB/9). You never know when pitchers like that are going to put this up some night: 4-9-6-6-3-2. He's worth owning in deeper leagues because he pitches at Safeco Field, which limits the damage of his flyball ways, but be cautious.

Mike Pelfrey, Mets (ERA-xFIP: 1.65) -
1.56 K:BB for his career prior to 2011 and a 12:11 mark so far this year. As much as I hate to give up on former top-10 overall draft picks, I might have to here. There's simply nothing that leads me to think he can be a consistent starter over the long term, particularly given the spike we're seeing in his flyball rate so far this year - 44.9 percent vs. 30.8 percent career.

Luke Hochevar, Royals (ERA-xFIP: 1.65) -
Considering the state of the Kansas City farm system, it's likely that if Hochevar is still in the K.C. rotation in a couple years, he'll be the fifth starter. Although I'm pretty sure the Royals would love a mulligan on the 2006 draft (Hochever No. 1, Evan Longoria No. 3, then Clayton Kershaw, Tim Lincecum, etc.), Hochever still has the ability to be a decent back-of-the-rotation starter. Incredibly, Hochevar has allowed more homers (nine) than walks (eight), but a 49.6 GB% is actually pretty good, and the homers will come down given his 20.9-percent HR/FB rate. Factor in vastly improved control (1.9 BB/9), and Hochevar is at least interesting in deeper formats.

Carlos Zambrano, Cubs (ERA-xFIP: 1.62) -
One great start, one so-so "quality" start and three mediocre starts for Big Z this year. Considering his drop in velocity (89.3 mph average fastball), there is reason for concern. Don't use him against the tougher offenses until he proves himself.

Edwin Jackson, White Sox (ERA-xFIP: 1.48) -
.370 BABIP a result of a whopping 23 hits allowed (12.2 IP) over his last two starts. Jackson should see more batted balls find gloves.

John Lackey, Red Sox (ERA-xFIP: 1.45) -
Back-to-back strong starts, so the buy-low time is gone.

J.A. Happ, Astros (ERA-xFIP: 1.36) -
The consummate soft-tossing lefty, Happ has a 5.8 K/9 and 4.6 BB/9. Don't own him in any of my leagues, and don't plan on that changing.

Regan, a four-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

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