Evaluating the Toronto Blue Jays starting pitching using FIP


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

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.

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.