Jul 25, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Mark Buehrle (56) is congratulated by manager John Gibbons (5) after his complete-game victory against the Houston Astros at Rogers Centre. The Blue Jays beat the Astros 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Evaluating the Toronto Blue Jays starting pitching using FIP

I have a dream, that one day I will be watching a baseball game and instead of seeing a pitcher’s ERA flash up on the stadium’s scoreboard I will see in its place his FIP. In this day of advanced baseball statistics, there are many different ways to evaluate a pitcher using game scores or RA9-WAR but Fielding Indepedent Pitching (FIP) is still one of my favourites. In case you aren’t familiar with FIP, here’s a quick tutorial.

ERA still exists these days of course. And I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter, since it basically calculates how many earned runs a pitcher allows per nine innings, which if lower obviously means your team has a better chance to win. But ERA isn’t always controllable by a pitcher. It can be impacted by a fielder’s range, the speed of a batter and/or a multitude of other factors. FIP is a preferred method to evaluate and predict performance since it isolates only outcomes the pitcher controls, which are home runs, walks, hit by pitches and strikeouts.

FIP eliminates certain plays that shouldn’t be credited to the pitcher. For example, how many times this season did we see Melky Cabrera not get to a ball in time to catch it that an average fielder would have? It’s not technically an error but once the ball is put into play, unless it leaves the park, a pitcher is at the mercy his defense.

It goes the other way too of course, like when Brett Lawrie robs a hot-shot down the line that would have been a hit if the Blue Jays had Maicer Izturis at third. The pitcher gets the out, but Lawrie was the player who potentially saved a run.

I think you get the point. Well then, enough for my preamble and let’s get to the goods! I’ve listed the Toronto Blue Jays starting pitchers by in order by FIP and will attempt to briefly interpret the factors leading to these results.

I’m making the cut off for my list at an arbitrary 60 innings, mostly so I don’t have to include Brandon Morrow, who fellow staff writer Kyle Matte wrote about so eloquently yesterday.

Mark Buehrle – 3.97 FIP

Buehrle’s has been about the only Blue Jays pitcher that most of us can stomach on a regular basis and his FIP holds up. He’s increased his strikeout efficiency for the second consecutive season, which comes as a bit of a surprise considering that he isn’t exactly in his prime at 34. Or maybe he is? His K% this year is 16.1%, which just a shade off his career mark as a starter in 2000 of 16.2%. He’s walked slightly more batters than average (6% this year vs. 5.5% career, which are both great numbers) but has also allowed less home runs per nine at 0.97, which is actually quite remarkable considering he gave up six home runs in April and five more in May. End of the day his FIP is better this season than his career average of 4.13. And with a 10% HR/FB rate his xFIP is almost identical at 4.06. Marky Mark is the man.

J.A. Happ – 4.52 FIP

Happ may be second on our list but that’s more due to the underwhelming competition than any real merit. His FIP could be described as “poor” based on FanGraphs definition and missed time could be the only reason why it wasn’t worse. He barely made it to my random 60 inning minimum with 63.1 IP. It would be nice to think that Happ wouldn’t be this bad if he didn’t miss time with head and knee injuries but in reality his absurdly low HR/FB rate was eventually destined for regression regardless of whether he was healthy or not. He’s always been considered a fly ball pitcher and his FB% is even higher this year (45.7%) than his career average (42.7%) but has managed to keep the ball in the park, with a 7.8% HR/FB rate and 0.99 HR/9. His low HR/FB rate makes his xFIP even worse at 5.05, which is scary to think about. Happ’s strikeout rate is slightly better than Buehrle at 17.7% but that’s still a pretty pedestrian percentage plus J.A. walks too many batters, which negates his effectiveness as evidenced by his 1.55 SO/BB. Happ’s also struggled to find an “out” pitch recently and will be fighting once again for a spot in the Blue Jays rotation next year.

Esmil Rogers – 4.59 FIP

If you would have told me at the start of this year that Rogers would have the third most innings as a starter this year for the Blue Jays (with 86.1) I probably would have told you to put down whatever you are smoking. But low and behold, it actually happened. Esmil puts a lot of balls in play and doesn’t strike out (17.5%) or walk (6.6%) many batters as a stater. He doesn’t produce many fly balls (25.5%) but has been victimized by the worst HR/FB rate among our qualifiers at 19.4% to lead to a 1.46 HR/9. If he could get the home runs down a bit his xFIP isn’t bad at 4.04. When he was first moved to the rotation he found early success with a sinking fastball but he started to go away from it. It’s very interesting how often he used the pitch his last start when he had a great game against the Arizona Diamondbacks. According to BrooksBaseball.net, Rogers threw his sinker (or two-seamer, whatever) 41% of the time, which was more often than his four-seamer at 34.94. I also included the graphic below since there seems to be a positive correlation between his sinker usage and his success on the mound.

Esmil Rogers Pitch Selection

R.A. Dickey – 4.61 FIP

Robert Allen actually started in last place when I began writing this post but thanks to his four strikeout, one walk and one home run outing last night he moves up to a tie for fourth in the Blue Jays FIP rankings. That’s not saying much. Dickey’s strikeout rate is well down from last year but is still at the second highest mark of his career at 18.4%. He has seemed to lose control of the knuckleball at times and his 7.9 BB% is at its highest point since he pitched with the Minnesota Twins in 2009. Dickey also is producing fly-balls at a career pace of 40.2% and has allowed 1.37 HR/9. His FIP was under four in each of his three seasons with the Mets but Citi Field’s gaudy dimensions make it one of the most FIP-friendly parks in the league. I should also note that Dickey has allowed 20 home runs at home but only 10 on the road.

Josh Johnson – 4.61 FIP

I’ve written a fair share of content about Johnson this season and he may never throw another pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays so I’m not going to spend too much time here. But despite his brutal FIP, Johnson may actually show a bit of promise. His strikeout rate is the best among our qualifiers at 21.6% and his walk rate of 7.8% makes for a solid ratio. It’s his 1.66 HR/9 that really does the damage. With an HR/FB rate of 18.5% there’s hope for regression and a comeback season for Johnson next year. It just probably won’t be in Toronto.

All stats are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.com.

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Tags: Starting Pitching Toronto Blue Jays

  • Justin Jay

    I swear if Rogers throws that 2FB/SNK more often and locates it, he’s going to be an effective pitcher for Toronto. His FB at 96-97, 2FB at 91-92, SLD at 85-87, and CRV 79-81 are an effective rep for him. His CHG is the same speed as his slider with little break and his CRV is average at best and should be used as a “show me” pitch… but the other 3 pitches are above average and that makes him a legitimate #3 pitcher if he’s locating. He starts mixing in that 2FB/SLD combination, his FB is going to be so much more effective and the Ks will come up. Too many times, there’s a love affair (65% or more) with that 96 MPH heater and those are the games he gets shelled. It’s pretty flat and, like his SLD, he leaves it over the middle too often. He locates the black, he’s more effective… like any pitcher would be.

  • brad

    Warning: unintentionally long comment….

    Cool article. Especially liked the bit on Esmil. I quite like FIP but I hope your dream never comes true. I think FIP is a good way to compare pitchers across different teams because, like you say, not everyone is blessed with the same defensive range. That being said, I don’t think it is a be all and end all stat. In fact, I don’t think it’s as close as ERA to being a be all and end all stat. ERA may not account for fielding but FIP perceives an RBI double and an inning ending double play the same.

    I’m not sold on the love affair we’re currently having with the strikeout either. I get the feeling that some team maybe 5 years from now is going to start drafting and developing contact pitchers with low strikeout numbers because they are undervalued….. leading to an eventual change in mindset baseball wide. I wonder how well FIP can hold up in a not so strikeout happy MLB. It’s true that to be a good ground ball pitcher you can’t give up a lot of HRs(fly balls…duh) but I think the ratio they came up with (13*HR, 3*BB, 2*K) works well now because of the big percentage of outs that seem to come on the K. Why is an infield popout any less pitcher controlled than a strikeout? What about a routine ground ball?

    In my opinion, for a stat to take the place of ERA without using runs scored, it needs to take every scenario into account. Walks, HRs, and strikeouts are quite important but there are a ton of other ways that a pitcher can be responsible for runs scored against him that ERA takes into account intrinsically. I would like to see FIP up on the scoreboard too because it has less “noise” but I don’t know about taking ERA off. The goal after all is to prevent the other team from scoring.

    • http://jaysjournal.com/ Michael Wray

      Thanks for comment Brad. FIP definitely has it’s holes but has held up pretty nicely over the years. I don’t necessarily buy-in 100% that strikeouts, home runs and walks are completely controllable outcomes but like you said it does eliminate some of the “noise” that ERA carries.

      FanGraphs actually introduced a new Fielding Dependent Pitching (FDP) last week and it’s pretty cool. I haven’t had time to grasp the concepts completely but since FIP ignores batted balls that are not home runs, FDP attempts to quantify run prevention on pitches that are not HR/walks/strikeouts. Pretty cool if you ask me!

      • brad

        That could actually be very useful. If its any kind of accurate it seems like we’re moving towards completely splitting up ERA into components. What does the pitcher “cause” on his own(FIP)? What does the pitcher “cause” on batted balls(this FDP witchcraft)? and finally, what do the fielders contribute(UZR etc.)? If they ever got all 3 of them perfect you could theoretically add them all up proportionally and get ERA. Pretty cool indeed

    • Justin Jay

      Honestly Brad, the “constant” value they provided is what has me miffed on the equation in itself. It’s suppose to bring the equation into something more “ERA worthy” but what are the determinants to that?

      I’m a huge fan of WHIP. I think that’s more telling about a pitcher, even if the human factor is still involved (hit vs error.) But take a look this season. Every pitcher (4) with a WHIP under 1.00 has an ERA under 3.00 with the average being 2.32 (which makes sense). Every pitcher (9) with a WHIP between 1.00 and 1.10 has an ERA approaching 3.00 or higher with the average being 2.96. Between 1.11 and 1.20, the average ERA is 3.31 and of the 21 pitchers in the this range, only 4 have an ERA under 3.00. All of this makes sense. It’s like OBP. It’s more valuable than BA because to score runs, you need to get on base. To prevent runs, you need to keep runners off base.

      I look at guys like Jose Fernandez and I think “DAMN!” and then I look at guys like Joe Kelly and think “Lucky!” Why? Jose Fernandez 0.97 WHIP, 2.23 ERA is more dominant than Joe Kelly’s 1.40 WHIP and 2.74 ERA. Kelly is 7-0 with a 1.93 ERA, 1.47 WHIP in his last 8 starts. Fernandez is 5-1 1.17 ERA, 0.78 WHIP in his last 8. Kelly’s run support is 7.6 R/G during that stretch. Fernandez gets 4.5 R/G. The average pitcher with a WHIP around 1.40-1.50 has an average ERA of 4.39. So Kelly is, in fact, lucky. Most pitchers that put on almost 2 baserunners per inning are not successful MLB pitchers. So yea, I’m a WHIP fan

      • brad

        Another long one…. I seem to be into rambling this week…

        I also love WHIP. I think it’s a lot like ERA in that it is more of a “black box” stat… it just sets the black box a little smaller. Gives you a much better sense of the “dominance factor”…. especially like it for relievers…. but the key to a lot of pitchers’ success is in why WHIP and ERA are not always perfectly related (ie. how is a guy when he pitches from the stretch, can he bear down, ground ball stuff vs fly ball stuff etc etc)… pitchers with a low WHIP almost always have a low ERA but the opposite is not necessarily true.

        Honestly, I think with all these new saber-metric stats we, as fans, are losing the ability to look at a player’s full stat line and make a decision on what we think of him all by ourselves. The kind of analysis you just put forth relating WHIP to ERA is sorely lacking among most saber inclined writers today. There is a whole lot more “this stat is better than that stat” going on for my liking.

        Take AVG and OBP for example(and this is no kind of attack… you mentioning it just got me thinking about it). Why is OBP “more valuable” than batting average? I understand the whole moneyball thing but these are 2 different statistics that each serve different purposes in analyzing a player’s effectiveness. Just the same as you need people on base to score a run(most of the time), you need someone to get a hit to score a run. Say you are a cleanup hitter who constantly comes up with runners in scoring position. Are you going up there as a premier run producer and just trying to get on base or are you trying to drive in runs? That approach is going to cost some points on the OBP and show up in your RBI column…. which everybody thinks is a poor gague of talent nowadays.

        Adam Jones is a great example. He has an OBP of .326. Not terrible but not very good either. Justin Upton has an OBP of .351 which is quite good. Upton also has a higher WRC+ and a wOBA just slightly lower than Jones. If you were comparing a hitter on one stat it would probably be one of those and you would most likely think that Upton is the better hitter. But what about the fact that Jones has more HR, runs, RBI, steals, doubles and a higher average? If Upton is “more likely” to produce runs than Jones, why hasn’t he(a total of 53 runs separate these 2 offences)? Seems to me that Jones is hitting the ball more often with more authority and doing a better job with runners on(which are all true)…..being a better hitter.

        I just wish that there was more of a push for individual analysis on why hitters are successful in parallel to the search for the “all encompassing stat” because until we find one that works better than what we have now there are going to be a lot of very uninformed fans…. which makes an armchair GM frustrated

        • Justin Jay

          I mostly agree with what you’re saying. I’ll give you a great example about WHIP anomalies. Daisuke Matsuzaka went 15-12 in 2007 with an ERA of 4.40 his rookie season. His WHIP was 1.32 over 204 IP. The next season, 2008, Matsuzaka was being considered for the Cy Young Award going 18-3, with an ERA of 2.90. He threw only 167.2 IP. He had a 5.0 BB/9. His WHIP was 1.32. It’s going to happen. Sometimes, pitchers get lucky. His BAA was only .211. In 2009 he got hurt, so throw that out. 2010, his WHIP was 1.37 and his ERA was more like his 1st season, at 4.69. I think WHIP is definitely a great tell of a pitcher. Check out Kevin Millwood’s 1999 season and compare it to his 2005. Then look at the rest of his career. Right in line with the higher the WHIP, the higher the ERA, and other than the VERY few anomalies, it makes sense.

          As far as hitting goes, I think a 3-4-5 hitter should be coming up to the plate with the mentality of knocking in the run, but IF possible. I hate when hitters force themselves to swing at bad pitches. It often does nothing and gives up an out. I’d rather see my RBI guys get on base than swing at crap pitches to try and bring in the run. I think that puts more pressure on the pitcher than anything else. Force the pitcher to make good pitches. That’s why I love OBP, plus guys who value OBP drive up pitch counts. BA doesn’t factor that little intangible in.

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