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Pitcher Analysis - FIP - The Unlucky

FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching. Basically, a measure of those things for which a pitcher is in control (walks, strikeouts, HBP, and HR). Calculated based on these counting stats and normalized for league and made to resemble ERA.
FIP – ERA – if you take a pitcher's FIP less his actual ERA and come up with a significantly high negative number, that would be an indicator that the pitcher pitched better than his ERA indicated and that his defense and/or bullpen let him down. Note: the number next to player name is his FIP-ERA.
Certainly this takes a relatively simplistic approach to pitcher analysis, but there's a relatively good chance that many of the pitchers on this list will put up better numbers than they did a year ago as it's unlikely that a specific pitcher will consistently accumulate negative FIP-ERA's.
The Unlucky
Nate Robertson (DET) – -1.38 – Yes, Robertson was unlucky on balls in play (.343 BABIP), but his ERA was still 6.35 and you have to figure the BABIP was relatively high due to all the meatballs he tossed up there last year. Robertson is reportedly in better shape this year (Pilates – apparently his local Target was sold out of the Wii Fit), but strikeouts were down, walks were up, and he was hit hard – 11.6 H/9. AVOID.
Kevin Millwood (TEX) – -1.01 – Yet another bad pitcher with reports of increased offseason workouts. Millwood has posted back-to-back 5+ ERA seasons since signing a five-year $60 million deal prior to 2007. I still like him a bit in AL-only leagues though. Strikeouts were up a tick and his walk rate took a nice dip – from 3.5 BB/9 to 2.6. He was also unlucky on balls in play to the tune of a .366 BABIP, so I'm expecting some rebound this year. 15 wins and an ERA in the 4.30 range seems possible. AL-only/streamable.
Javier Vazquez (CHW) – -0.86 – This one is obvious – four straight years with a strikeout rate about 8.0 K/9 and now he moves from Cellular Field to the NL. Vazquez was unlucky on balls in play a year ago (.328) and he played in front of a mediocre defense, particularly in the outfield, which is less than ideal for a guy who surrenders his share of flyballs. I like Vazquez quite a bit this year. TARGET
Andy Pettitte (NYY) – -0.80 – Strikeouts were up more than 1.0 per nine innings while walks declined by 0.4 per nine and he allowed more groundballs. So why did Pettitte's ERA jump half a run? Some bad luck and a few more flyballs finding the seats than in 2007. Pettitte does offer consistency and 200+ innings four years running, so figure the ERA winds up around the midpoint of his 2007 and 2008 seasons, say 4.30. Having a Gold Glover at first won't hurt either. AL-only/streamable.
Ian Snell (PIT) – -0.78 – One of my more frustrating pitchers to watch. Snell's stuff is not questioned, but the results just haven't been there consistently in his three full seasons. On the surface, it's pretty easy to see why Snell's ERA jumped from 3.76 in 2007 to 5.42 last year – walks were up (21 more walks in 44 fewer innings), BABIP way up (.358), and an apparent unwillingness to pitch inside contributed to a 50|PERCENT| increase in Snell's LD|PERCENT| to 24.8|PERCENT|. On a positive note, Snell's strikeout rate was only down a tick to 7.3 per nine innings and early spring reports on his work with new pitching coach Joe Kerrigan are positive. Snell could be a fantasy bargain this year, though again, don't expect more than a dozen wins given the team around him. NL-only/streamable.
Josh Beckett (BOS) – -0.70 – Strikeouts were up, walks about the same, but there are some warning signs. Beckett fizzled down the stretch, leading to concerns about the health of his shoulder. Metric-wise, he allowed a lot more line drives and flyballs over 2007, so we're guessing his 4ish ERA was really legit and that he defense behind Beckett simply wasn't always there. The strained oblique and moreso, the inflamed elbow last year are causes for concern, but unless the warnings signs are there this spring, Beckett is still a top-20 guy on draft lists with the potential to be a top-10 guy in terms of actual results. TARGET
Justin Verlander (DET) – -0.68 – FIP says his ERA should have been 4.16, but even that is a disappointment from a guy on many pre-season Cy Young candidate lists. Verlander saw his strikeout rate dip from 8.1 K/9 to 7.3 last year, but more concerning were the 87 walks. On the flipside, Verlander cut his line drive rate to 17.7|PERCENT| from 19.1|PERCENT|, indicating that hitters weren't exactly teeing off on him despite the bump in ERA. The Tigers are tweaking Verlander's mechanics this spring, but regardless, expect a bounce back in a big way. TARGET
Brian Bannister (KC) – -0.66 – Bannister flip-flopped this year in terms of FIP-ERA, going from +1.06 and +0.65 in 2006 and 2007 to the negative last year. Of note: his 22|PERCENT| LD|PERCENT| (fifth-worst in the AL among starters who qualified for the ERA crown), a strikeout rate that, while it rose a full point, was still a low 5.4 per nine innings, and an increase in flyballs and home runs. Bannister benefited significantly from a 63.9|PERCENT| strand rate, a number that's likely going to regress in 2009. He'll probably win the No. 5 starter job over Luke Hochevar, but I'm not going anywhere near Bannister this year. AVOID
A.J. Burnett (TOR) – -0.55 – Burnett's 4.07 ERA should have been a half run better according to FIP, but fantasy owners certainly can't complain about the 221 strikeouts. Interestingly, Burnett's ERA against the Yankees was 1.64. Versus the rest of the league: 4.57. Probably nothing worth reading into there. Burnett's BABIP did spike a bit - .328 vs. .293 for his career, but a healthy Burnett should be a dominant Burnett. Therein lies the risk. Prior to 2008, Burnett had accumulated 200+ innings in two other seasons. His totals in each of the seasons following those: 23 and 135.2. I'm not saying avoid him, but if he does wind up on your roster, pawn him off on a Yankee fan (there's always one or two in your league most likely) if he gets off to a hot start. ONLY TARGET IF HE SLIPS.
Barry Zito (SF) – -0.53 – Two years into a seven-year $126 million contract, Zito has compiled a 21-30 mark with a 4.82 ERA for the Giants. Not good obviously, but there may be some hint that he's set for a "less terrible" year in 2009. Over the second half of 2008, batters hit just .232 off Zito and for the year, his BABIP sat at 22 points above his career mark. Still, it's difficult to express how bad a 120:102 K:BB is and Zito may have been a bit lucky on flyballs last year as just 8|PERCENT| of his flyballs allowed went for home runs versus the league and Zito's career norm of around 11|PERCENT|. He's a guy you'll probably want to sit against the league's better offenses, but like most pitchers, he's streamable when the Giants visit the league's more pitcher-friendly parks and/or offenses. NL-only/streamable.
I'll tackle the opposite side of the ledger in a separate post.