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Scour the Pitching Peripherals

It’s not a category in your typical fantasy league, but Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is a useful metric to uncover undervalued assets on draft day. FIP attempts to isolate the factors under a pitcher’s direct control to determine whether he was a victim of poor defense or rotten luck.

Intuitively and anecdotally, we all know that routine plays get botched, bloop hits land, and sometimes the sequencing of this leads to more runs being scored through little fault of the man on the mound. FIP is simply an attempt to quantify this. A pitcher can control strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs, so all of these are included in the formula. It is designed to be on the same scale as ERA for ease of comparison.

The following pitchers had some of the largest disparities between their ERA and FIP last season. While this doesn’t guarantee that they’re due for a little positive regression, it does tell us that they pitched better than a cursory glance at the traditional stats would suggest.

 

Clay Buchholz (1.34 ERA-FIP)

A season after posting a ludicrous 1.78 ERA that sat a full run below his FIP, the pendulum swung all the way back for Clay Buchholz. His E-F was the highest among all qualified starters. As you might imagine, it’s fairly uncommon to see a pitcher’s ERA triple from one season to the next. Buchholz is an interesting case in that he’s had a large disparity between his ERA and FIP almost every season of his career. For his career, though, both marks are right around 4.00…which was his FIP last season. Given his pedestrian strikeout and walk rates, Buchholz profiles as a streamer in most leagues, but he’s not as bad as his ERA made him look last year.

 

Nathan Eovaldi (1.00 ERA-FIP)

Nathan Eovaldi was the only other qualified SP to have a full run difference between ERA and FIP. Take a look under the hood, however, and we see that his profile was pretty similar across the board to his 2013 campaign. The two main differences? He improved his walk rate significantly and suffered from a rather low LOB%. In fact, the only pitcher with a worse strand rate was Buchholz. And while the strikeouts are pretty underwhelming for a guy with his velocity and two plus breaking pitches, he is only 25. There’s room to grow, even though he’ll have the AL East and Yankee Stadium to contend with now.

 

Marcus Stroman (0.81 ERA-FIP)

I touted Drew Hutchison in my first article for RotoBaller, and he could easily be on this list as well. But Marcus Stroman looks like the real star of the Blue Jays staff. He’s the total package – great repertoire, excellent command, keeps the ball on the ground. As a 23-year-old rookie, he posted a sub-3.00 FIP, and there’s no reason to expect anything other than improvement. His small stature is a concern, and he still needs to prove he can pitch 180+ innings. He will.

Update: Unfortunately Stroman suffered a torn ACL and will miss the entire 2015 season. He still has a bright MLB and fantasy baseball outlook for the future, but should be ignored in all redraft leagues. Teammate Drew Hutchinson has a 0.63 ERA-FIP, and is another candidate I like to be an ERA surger in 2015.

 

Hyun-Jin Ryu (0.76 ERA-FIP)

Coming off an impressive rookie season, Hyun-Jin Ryu improved across the board last year. He struck out a batter more per inning while trimming his already excellent walk rate and allowing fewer homers. He gets lost in the shuffle because the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, but Ryu’s 2.62 FIP was seventh in the majors among SP with at least 150 innings. Ryu did suffer a shoulder injury late in the season, but a successful return in the playoffs assuaged any doubts. It’s time to start appreciating him more.

 

Justin Verlander (0.80 ERA-FIP)

Perhaps it’s because I never owned him during his peak, but I’m almost starting to feel like Justin Verlander might be undervalued heading into 2015. I know the velocity is declining. I know he’s got a lot of miles on the arm. I know his strikeout rate fell off a cliff last season. But with all that said, he still tossed 206 innings and managed a 3.74 FIP, which was actually better than any of his first three seasons. Verlander probably won’t ever be the best pitcher on the planet again. Based on early drafts, he’s a solid buy-low candidate.

 





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