Another Case Where ERA Deceives

I am constantly amazed by the power of most recent season ERA. It seems to drive the perception of a pitcher’s worth more than any other statistic, to the point where it often appears to be the only thing under consideration. In the last few days, we’ve seen yet another example, as two very similar pitchers have had their market value talked about in two very different ways.

Let’s start with their career numbers.

Pitcher A: 2.51 BB/9, 5.82 K/9, 1.02 HR/9, 43.7% GB%, 4.21 FIP, 4.30 ERA
Pitcher B: 2.26 BB/9, 5.72 K/9, 1.01 HR/9, 46.0% GB%, 4.15 FIP, 4.34 ERA

Pretty similar, yes? They’re basically the same type of pitcher with similar stuff and approaches to pitching. Pitcher A is five years younger and has been healthy almost his entire career. Pitcher B has a long injury history and has spent a good chunk of his career on the disabled list. Which one would you prefer?

You may have guessed by now that Pitcher A is Joe Blanton, whom the Phillies are trying to give away in order to save money, and that Pitcher B is Carl Pavano, generally regarded as the best free agent starting pitcher left on the market. Blanton is under contract for $17 million over the next two seasons. Pavano is said to be seeking $30 million over three years. He’ll almost certainly get a larger amount than what Blanton is currently owed.

Why? Pavano had a 3.75 ERA last year, while Blanton’s was 4.82. Because of those two numbers, Pavano appears to be a solid middle of the rotation arm, while Blanton is a hittable back-end starter, even though they’re about as similar as two pitchers can be.

Any team that is seriously considering giving Carl Pavano a multi-year contract should instead call the Phillies and find out just how much of Blanton’s salary they are willing to eat in order to give him away. For what is likely a fraction of the cost, you can get a younger version of the same skillset. A GM willing to look past the hypnotic powers of ERA could save his team a lot of money.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

123 Responses to “Another Case Where ERA Deceives”

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  1. Eric N says:

    One key difference. Blanton pitches in the NL, while Pavano put up similar stats in the much tougher AL. Given the known differences in the leagues, it’s difficult to say that they are truley “equals”.

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    • Mike says:

      …except most of Blanton’s stats come from the AL. His best season ever was also in the AL.

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      • GTStD says:

        Also, a large portion of Pavano’s numbers where in the NL, including his best season (2004 ERA = 3.00, FIP = 3.54 with the Marlins)…. so maybe not so much with your “key difference”

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      • MikeD says:

        Blanton’s stats in the AL from several years ago don’t mean much now since he’s not the same pitcher. Oakland has a pretty good sense of when to move their pitchers. Mulder, Zito, Blanton were sent packing, or allowed to walk, because their value had peaked and they were all about to become lesser pitchers. In Blanton’s case, he once had a low 90s fastball when pitching for Oakland (which was also a good pitchers’ park), but was down to 90 his last year with the A’s, and then down to 89 last year.

        Blanton’s FIP’s in the NL have been 4.34, 4.45 and 4.52, while Pavano’s FIP in the AL the past two seasons sit at 4.02 and 4.00. While his ERA was higher in 2009, his FIPs say he’s been the exact same (and very good) pitcher the last two years. Taking into account the difference in the leagues, I think it’s clear Pavano is the better bet today. And, interestingly, they are now both signed for two more years, with Pavano costing 500K less.

        I’ll take Pavano.

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    • Except that Blanton’s best year came with the A’s, and Pavano had his best with Florida. They’ve both pitched in both leagues.

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    • pitnick says:

      If by “much tougher” you mean “slightly tougher,” sure.

      Also, to add to what Mike said, Pavano pitched more than a little in the NL too.

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    • Doesn't Read Other Comments says:

      Also Blanton pitched some in the AL.

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    • Reading is for suckers says:

      Also Pavano pitched in the NL before.

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    • Pointless spelling n' grammar guy says:

      “Truley” ?!? I think you mean “truly” dude.

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    • Crazy non sequitur guy says:

      Pavano has a moustache too.

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    • Belabors the point says:

      Well…you get the idea.

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    • Sandy Kazmir says:

      Can we put this idea to rest at least for 2010? Outside of RF and DH the NL was better than the AL across the board. This includes the SB/CS numbers, but you may want to check it out:

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      • Rally says:

        AL was 134-118 against the NL.

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      • GTStD says:

        Its hard to make the claim just based on league average wOBA. League average numbers don’t actually tell us a whole lot because

        1) most of the games are against intraleague teams

        2) averages by position are often skewed because of 1 or 2 good players at a position, while the true talent of the league is lower, particularly when the league sample sizes are 16 and 14, respectively.

        3) it only takes into account offense

        If we approach it via fWAR, and take the total WAR contributed by both the offense and defense for each team we get the following. Because each league has a different number of teams, I was used the average WAR per team in each league to get:

        NL: 35.29
        AL: 36.22

        Oh look! In this methodology to compare the leagues, the AL comes out on top. I’m even willing to bet that there are a number of other methods to compare the two leagues, some of which will come up with the NL on top, and others with the AL on top.

        As Rally says, though, we can really just look at the interleague records over the last 3 years, wherein the AL has won 420 games to the NL’s 335, which is winning at a 0.556.

        I’m a National League fan, but the way the numbers look to me, the AL has been pretty dominant.

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  2. AK707 says:

    The problem seems to be that the only GMs that think like this work in the AL East. Not the friendliest of places for a guy with Blanton’s skillset.

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  3. Jimmy the Greek says:

    Eric: Of course there’s that tiny little difference in durability you might wanna consider, that may just tip the balance towards Blanton a little bit.

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  4. notdissertating says:

    nice article, but you completely ignore the mustache factor, leading to a possibly erroneous conclusion.

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  5. AWH says:

    Eric N, Most of Blanton’s career has been spent in the AL. He’s only been in the NL since July 2008. Look it up.

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  6. YankeesFan3 says:

    Are we going to write an article about how FIP deceives next? Pavano and Blanton had FIPs of 4.02 and 4.34 respectfully in 2010. While that isn’t as large it is still a reasonably sized difference.

    I feel like the article misses the biggest reason for the differences in perceived value which I believe is a bias towards recent performance.

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    • Danmay says:

      YankeesFan3 –

      Please read the first sentence.

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      • YankeesFan3 says:

        When I said “recent performance” I didn’t mean the most recent season. I meant the last couple of years. He says perception is driven by most recent ERA, but then only quotes career statistics. Don’t you think, if you are going to argue that one statistic drives the perception of a pitcher more than any other you should compare it to career and recent statistics?

        For example if we define “recent” as the last 2 years, it appears FIP would be the most powerful factor:
        Pavano-09: ERA: 5.10; FIP: 4.0; xFIP: 3.96
        Blanton-09: ERA: 4.05; FIP: 4.45; xFIP: 4.07
        Pavano-09: ERA 3.75; FIP: 4.02; xFIP 4.01
        Blanton-10: ERA: 4.82; FIP 4.34; xFIP: 4.06

        Now obviously you can cut the numbers different ways to make Blanton come out ahead. All I’m saying is there is logic behind putting a higher weight on a pitchers most recent performance and its not that surprising that the only recent metric would be “more powerful” when compared with career metrics.

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      • Bryz says:

        @ YankeesFan3:

        The career numbers are to cite how similar Pavano and Blanton have been in their careers. The “only consider the most recent ERA” argument is to point out how teams will consider Pavano to be a better pitcher than Blanton, even though the career stats point out that they are actually quite similar.

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      • wobatus says:

        Maybe he didn’t get passed the headline.

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      • wobatus says:


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    • Sal Bando says:

      Yes, I agree YankeesFan.

      Blanton’s career stats are also brought down by his one excellent year in Oakland (five years ago), which he hasn’t shown any signs of being able to repeat since.

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      • KyleL says:

        Pavano’s numbers are brought down by his one excellent year in Florida 6 years ago.

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      • Sal Bando says:

        Great, then let’s just use the least three years (you know, the option that makes sense…) to see that Pavano is clearly better going forward.

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    • Adam says:

      Second to last paragraph includes stats from last season.

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  7. anon says:

    now that I’m looking at his numbers from 2009 and 2010…

    dang, joe blanton was one unlucky guy. I mean, virtually all his peripherals last year, *including* pitch run values (except for his changeup), were IDENTICAL to those from his 2009 season. unreal. and his tERA even improved by 0.20. even going through his repetoire, his new cutter even has positive run value.

    addressing the “except for the changeup”, that’s might be where a lot of the damage came from – the loss of effectiveness of the changeup. going by pitchfx, his changeup seems to have gone in more on lefties, but his 2010 splits suggest that lefties seem to have picked the pitch up better.

    but then again, it’s kind of a stretch to suggest that the changeup might be a factor, cause he only used it 9% of the time, which is about the same percent as 2009.

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  8. vivalajeter says:

    Could it also be that Blanton has had 6.0 WAR over the last 3 seasons (combined) while Pavano has had 6.9 WAR over the last 2 seasons (combined)? While ERA certainly plays a factor, it’s also true that Pavano has been the better pitcher the last couple years. Using career numbers for established veterans can be very misleading.

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    • Travis says:

      I disagree. Using career numbers for established veterans is more useful than using career numbers for rookies due to SSS issues.

      The core issue is that talent level isn’t stable. With veteran pitchers, it’s likely they are getting worse, so I can see putting *more* weight on recent seasons (versus a middle-of-his-career guy). But to only look at the last 2 years is disingenuous (just like it’s a little dishonest to only look at career numbers… )

      Where a guy is in the aging curve will assist in placing more or less weight on recent years.

      It does appear, however, that Pavano could be aging a little better than Blanton. But I’m not willing to place much money that he outperforms JB next year, are you?

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    • Mike says:

      I think you’re actually proving what Dave said, when you’re trying to refute it.

      If we accept the theoretical value of 1.0 WAR as @$5m, Pavano has been worth than much more than Blanton over the last three seasons. If we want to use that was predictive, Pavano should be worth less than $2m more than Blanton next season.

      Blanton is available for 2/17 (probably less with Philly tossing in a couple mil). Pavano is looking for 3/30+, and will most likely get at least that.

      Tacking an extra year and $13m+ on a contract is overvaluing 1.0 WAR.

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  9. Marver says:

    Not entirely fair to use career numbers to make a comparison for guys separated by five years. Either compare what their expected numbers are next season or compare Blanton to players with similar numbers through their age 30 and examine what those players did in the following season(s).

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    • Marver says:

      Another important thing to mention is that Pavano throws considerably more first-pitch strikes while also getting hitters to swing and miss at a higher percentage of pitches outside the zone.

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    • Eric Feczko says:

      It’s entirely fair for the purpose of suggesting that GMs should take a look at Blanton instead of Pavano. Because one would think that the older pitcher would has a greater chance of decline, all the more so Blanton appears to be the better choice.

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      • Marver says:

        No, it’s bad science. He’s comparing a pitcher whose statistics include post-prime seasons to a pitcher whose statistics do not include post-prime seasons. To make the assumption that the age-performance curves for the two players does not matter is erroneous.

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  10. philosofool says:

    You know, sometimes Dave Cameron says something wrong and rightly gets busted for it in the comments. Okay, Dave isn’t always right, and maybe he’s snarked enough times to deserve the oversight he gets.

    But who in their right mind wouldn’t see that Blanton at half the price, Blanton is obviously a better choice than Pavano, unless the Phillies are asking more than a legit middle relief prospect and some one fringy organizational depth piece. Cameron is right this time, haters. Get over it.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      According to the article, Blanton makes $8.5MM/year and Pavano is looking for $10MM/year, so he’s 85% the price instead of half the price. Pavano might not be worth the extra $1.5MM/year, but my point (above) is that it’s not just the ERA that is leading to the perceptions. It’s also their performance over the last couple seasons.

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    • JayT says:

      Nobody is saying that Pavano is the better pitcher. The complaint is that Dave frames that article to say that pavano being more in demand shows that recent ERA is what most people look at. However, across the board Pavano has been better the last two years, so the more accurate point to be made would be that people’s perception of players is largely based on the most recent seasons.

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        It is worth pointing out that recent fangraph articles have focused on Cliff Lees last three years and not his career numbers too. There is a bit of a double standard here.

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      • Nadingo says:

        I don’t think it’s really a double standard — more a difference in circumstances. Cliff Lee clearly made a big step forward in performance. It’s not the regular development path, which is why career numbers are better to rely on in most cases, but it happens sometimes.

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    • Marver says:

      Not all critique is aimed at the crux of his argument (which is Blanton is a better acquisition, at his current price, than Pavano at his prospective price), but at the methodology of the argument.

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  11. Brad Johnson says:

    It’s my understanding that the Phillies have no intention of giving him away. If a reasonable offer comes along they will part with him, but some in the organization feel they should keep him in case Oswalt’s option is declined. Since Lee is being paid a mere 11 million in 2011, they can actually stomach the payroll as it stands.

    If no team makes a helpful offer for Blanton (which means all of his contract AND something like a RH platoon OF), look for Kyle Kendrick to be the guy who is given away. He’s in line to earn about 2 million and is probably 7th on the starting pitcher depth chart.

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    • neuter_your_dogma says:

      “It’s my understanding that the Phillies have no intention of giving him away.” Phillies gave away Lee in 09, so there is some precedent.

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  12. Rog says:

    I wish you people would stop pointing out things like this. It decreases the chance that Blanton will fly under the radar enough that my team can acquire him on the cheap.

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  13. Phillies Red says:

    I’m not sure if citing SIERA will destroy the baseball internets, but Blanton had a better SIERA than Pavano last season: 4.01 to 4.15. That’s a shock to me. And if SIERA is as good as it looks so fat, maybe the Phils ought to keep the big Joe.

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  14. pft says:

    Based on Blantons last 2 years I have named him HR Joe, or you can call him way back blanton. While he did pitch in a HR park, he also pitched against NL lineups

    The concerns about Pavano are legitimate, his lower HR rate was a function of park last year. Move him to Texas and watch the balls fly. Buyer beware.

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    • Dann M. says:

      Also, his “tough” AL stay has occurred within a division where one team put up a triple slash of .248/.322/.378 (Cleveland); another whose power leaders were Jose Guillen and Yuniesky Betancourt (Kansas City); a third that gave a full season’s worth of plate appearances to Gerald Laird, Don Kelly and Scott Sizemore; and a fourth whose most commonly used designated hitter and third baseman, respectively, were Mark Kotsay and Omar Vizquel.

      People need to go beyond the “tough” AL misnomer. The AL East is by far the toughest division. It’s easy for a 90-win team to miss the playoffs. But generally speaking, there are only one or two other decent teams in the AL. Both the Central and the West are generally pretty awful when you get down to it. The toughness, as has long been established, is the two-pronged advantage of the designated hitter.

      Prong one, of course, is replacing the pitcher with another hitter in the lineup. Prong two is the ability to employ a given player out of position in such a role on either a short-term (in lieu of a day off) or long-term (slot Damon in to clear room for Raburn) basis. Really, it’s more the latter factor, where teams gain that roster maneuverability to say, well, we don’t need a third baseman, but player X is the best hitter on the market, so our crappy defensive third baseman will now be our DH.

      13 of Pavano’s 32 starts last year were against the AL Central. He faced the Red Sox once and did not face the Yankees in the regular season. The only other scary AL offenses were the Jays and Rangers, whom he faced 6 times. He had 4 starts vs. the NL (NYM, PHI, MIL, COL). And the rest of his starts were against the Angels, Rays, M’s, A’s, and O’s. Hardly a “tough” season for the man.

      Blanton made 10 starts in the division out of his 28 in 2010. He faced the AL three times (BOS, CLE, MIN). Five starts were against the more formidable offenses of Milwaukee, Cincinnati and Colorado. And the other 10 were against SFG, SDP, LAD, CHC, STL, HOU and PIT. He didn’t see the DBacks. Like Pavano, Blanton was on the team in his division with the best offense. Neither guy had a particularly tough personal schedule.

      So looking back at 2010, we see two pitchers who epitomize the media-driven “year of the pitcher” mantra. There simply weren’t that many great offensive teams this year. Given the unbalanced schedule, unless you pitched for the Orioles (hello, Kevin Millwood), you weren’t going to see a murderer’s row on your personal schedule. So the value of both of these pitchers, while probably quite similar in reality, is very largely driven by the alignment of the suitors.

      And someone like Blanton has greater appeal than Carl Pavano, who might have some Paul Byrd Stink on him. Byrd won 20 games…in the AL Central. Blanton has simply been what he is, whereas Pavano is a bit enigmatic.

      Blanton is valuable as a trade commodity. Perhaps NYY will come calling on him as well as Big Z to see how much cash would be involved. He’d definitely command a smaller return than El Toro, prospect wise, yet likely be able to fill in ably as a #4 in the Bronx (better than Vazquez, at least). Pavano isn’t in a position to do that. And knowing that the big-market teams (CHC, CWS, PHI, NYY, NYM, BOS) have no interest in Pavano, his price tag will end up a lot lower than most people expect.

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  15. brian says:

    I think the point of the article is that the perceived value is pretty detached from the actual value. Going through the comments it seems like people are making valid arguments as to why Blanton is better than Pavano or vice versa. The fact that reasonable people can argue between the two while “the market” potentially views one guy as a $10 million a year pitcher and the other guy as overpaid rotation fodder is the purpose of the article.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Brian, I thought the point of the article is that the perceived value is pretty detached from the actual value ‘because of the ERA disparity’. As other posters have mentioned, there are other – more appropriate reasons – for why their perceived value is different.

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  16. Dale Westmoreland says:

    cool story dave

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  17. Nightrider says:

    Blanton is your solid 3rd or 4th starter, albeit he is overpaid due to the Phils exhilaration the last time they won the pennant/WS and doling out million
    dollar bills like there was no tomorrow. Pavano is injury prone and a big if, even though he just came off a relatively good season. This guy stuck it to the Yankees for millions and didn’t do a bit. In almost 200 decisions to date, this guy has just won EIGHT (8) more games than he has lost – your typical .500 pitcher. And since when did a .500 team win a pennant? Any team signing him to more than 1 year at more than $6 mil is due for a rude awakening in a year (or less).

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  18. GZ says:

    Pitcher A: 2.51 BB/9, 5.82 K/9, 1.02 HR/9, 43.7% GB%, 4.21 FIP, 4.30 ERA
    Pitcher B: 2.26 BB/9, 5.72 K/9, 1.01 HR/9, 46.0% GB%, 4.15 FIP, 4.34 ERA

    Then there’s:

    Pitcher C: 2.73 BB/9, 6.01 K/9, 1.13 HR/9, 40.2% GB%, 4.46 FIP, 4.19 ERA

    He’s about as old as Pitcher B and was just given an extension through 2013 by the reigning NL Executive of the Year.

    Baseball execs do dumb things. We know this.

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  19. Mike says:

    Pavano’s FIP was also .30 lower than Blanton last year. Blanton also had a 4.45 FIP in 2009 where Pavano’s was around 4.

    If you use the last 2 years as a sample, Pavano in the AL and Blanton in the NL, there is an absolute difference.

    You are really making to unrelated comparisons here. Career numbers, and then ERA numbers from 2010. You really can’t make that comparison without looking at FIP from 2010, which was different, and the most recent years like 2009 where Pavano had numbers even better than Blanton’s.

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    • Luke in MN says:

      This. People seem to have pitchers confused with hitters. Pitchers are who they were recently. Their stats from 5 years ago mean almost nothing. Pavano’s been a step ahead of Blanton peripheral-wise for two years, and he’ll likely be a step ahead again next year absent age-related decline.

      Also, it’s a little disingenuous to call the market for these pitchers wildly out of step when, as far as I know, no one’s been falling over themselves to give Pavano $30 million over 3 years.

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    • Cheese Whiz says:

      Yes, but their xFIPs are nearly identical. Blanton has been pitching in a bandbox, while Pavano was in Target field last year. Expect those HR/FB rates to normalize.

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  20. Andrew says:

    somewaht OT, but Kawakami isn’t far off these career numbers, and is only owed 7 mil next year. But the Braves can’t seem to give him away.

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  21. Stephen says:

    Perceptive. Objective
    And the approach may be learned

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  22. Jason B says:

    The Twins are exactly the type of team that could trade for Blanton and make him into the next Pavano.

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  23. CircleChange11 says:

    Seems like the post could be titled “Another Case Where Author Deceives About ERA.”

    Perhaps not intentionally, but likely too aggressive to take a shot at ERA.

    I don;t understand this because data presented at TT’s blog showed that “runs allowed” was the best predictor of “runs allowed” the following season. FIP was second. So, I’d look at both aspects, among other stats.

    The key is to look at the pitcher and how they could/would mesh with the team interested in them.

    I have no opposition to ERA because it illustrates how pitcher and defense work together, which is important (but it is also flawed in areas). FIP is interesting as it attempts to quantify fielding-independent aspects, but it’s not the primary evaluation of pitchers, IMHO. FIP is also flawed in some areas.

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    • Matthias says:

      Runs allowed may be a better predictor of future runs allowed because of the influences on runs allowed not controlled entirely by the pitcher. If a pitcher stays in the same ball park, with the same defense – and that ball park is Coors Field, and that defense is the Rockies’ defense (-19.4 UZR) – then his FIP would logically undershoot his ERA. FIP might then be a better predictor for this pitcher in the future in a different ball park, with a more league-average defense. Like your last point says, both ERA and FIP have theirs shortcomings, and looking at combinations of ERA, FIP, xFIP, tERA, etc. is probably smart.

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      • CircleChange11 says:


        I like FIP being used for a GM trying to see how a pitcher on another team might do with a new team, etc.

        I don’t like FIP being used to measure a pitcher’s season performance at the exclusion of other stats.

        But, I’ve already stated that I don’t view a pitcher and his defense as being independent entities. Same deal with QB’s, O-Line, and WRs.


        Here’s what REALLY bothers me about FIP … that people keep saying things like it measures things under a pitcher’s “control” or under a pitcher’s “influence”. I don’t think it does.

        The pitcher does not control whethewr the batter swings or not, nor does the pitcher control or influence the quality of the hitter.

        What a pitcher does influence or control is where he throws the pitch and what pitch type is thrown. In that regard, knowing what we know about averages per zone, the pitcher influences everything, including BABIP. If we know that batters hit .219 on pitches low and away, and a pitcher hammers the zone low and away, then that pitcher certainly influences BABIP.

        All FIP does is remove the fielding aspect of pitcher stats.

        The real “crime” IMO is that pitcher stats do not involve a component of “opposition quality”. I’ve already explained that I pitched for 20 years, and the #1 influence on my stats was simply the quality of batter that I was facing. I’ve pitched against teams that shouldn’t even be recognized as college teams, and I pitched against a team with 4 All-Americans (JuCo). Trust me, the difference in those games wasn’t “my stuff”.

        I’m saying we could do a lot better in terms of evaluating pitcher’s performance by incorporating the wquality of opposition. I’m also saying we should really tone down how much we regard FIP, and I say that as a pitchging stat junky and one who HIGHLY respects that man primarily responsible for pitching-independent statistics.

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  24. smocon says:

    I guarantee Doug Melvin does not read Fangraphs, and is entranced by Pavano’s ERA.

    Not only is Pavano the same pitcher, but he accomplished his “feat” this past year in pitcher friendly Target Field, while Blanton put his up in hitter friendly Citizens Bank.

    Given the names being floated around as acquistions for the miserable Milwaukee pitching staff, my preference in order of expected WAR for 2011 would be 1) Shields, 2) Blanton, 3) Pavano, 4) Garza.

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    • DrBGiantsfan says:

      Finally, finally someone points out the real story here. Park effects! Target Field played as tough or tougher than Petco last year while Citizen’s Bank Park or whatever it’s called in Philly is a well known bandbox.

      Dave has this one right, but for the wrong reason.

      Some team is going to spend a lot of money on Carl Pavano and be very disappointed, unless maybe it’s the Twins and they get a “hometown” discount. If I was Pavano, I’d sure take less $$$ to be able to pitch half my games in that stadium. On the other hand, once you’ve got your last big payoff, it doesn’t matter if your ERA balloons to 5. Just ask Barry Zito!

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      • Luke in MN says:

        Wow, this is wildly untrue. Target Field was almost exactly flat in park factor last year.

        It’s home-run factor was extreme, but overall park factor was not. And Pavano had neither a high fly-ball rate nor especially low homer-to-fly-ball rate, so I don’t really see any evidence that he especially exploited this feature.

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      • GTStD says:

        I’m not saying that Pavano is going to be great in other places, but lets not get over eager on park effects here. There is a decent metric to cancel out park effect for pitchers: xFIP. This normalizes the HR allowed to the league average, and eliminates the effect of defense trying harder to field in a larger or more difficult park. In this stat, the two pitchers are almost identical in 2010: Pavano 4.01, Blanton 4.06. In 2009, they were also reasonably close: Pavano 3.96, Blanton 4.07. This indicates that at the moment, they are both pitching very similarly, independent of the home park.

        This is the whole point of the article… they are about the same pitcher right now, and project about the same next year, but Blanton is 5 years younger, and Pavano is seeking more money than Blanton’s contract. The main difference between the two? Last year’s ERA numbers, which are getting too much weight in the mainstream media.

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      • DrBGiantsfan says:

        How, exactly, does a park affect offense in other ways but HR’s? Take away HR’s and you have K and walks, which the park has nothing to do with, and balls in play, which is mostly a function of luck.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        DB, there’s a few ways. If it’s a very big ballpark, it can lower the number of HRs but cause more doubles/triples. If there’s a lot of foul territory, it leads to more pop fly outs instead of do-overs where the ball lands in the stands. I haven’t looked at the #’s, but I’m sure some ballparks have other BABIP than others, on a consistent basis.

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  25. MG says:

    After watching Blanton the past 2 1/2 years in a Phils’ uniform, I can see why most GMs are down on Blanton:

    – He is a guy who got lambasted in Oakland by Beane and the coaching staff for his lack of offseason preparation. Isn’t exactly a guy either who has come into camp in shape either in a Phils’ uniform. This is something you can generally get away with to some degree in your 20s but it tends to catch up to you in your early 30s if you aren’t careful.

    – Is one of the few guys that clearly does frustrate the Phils’ coaching staff a bit. Last year, it was his lack of concentration in the 1st inning which was a constant problem all season long for whatever reason. It drove Larry Anderson (Phils’ radio analyst) crazy and even Rich Dubee (Phils’ pitching coach) voiced his frustration publicly on the radio with Blanton’s concentration early in games last year which is generally a rarity among the Phils’ coaching staff.

    Davey Lopes spoke out at one point in a harmless TV interview on Comcast and said that Utley was playing hurt. It was never really varified but the lesson was clear this offseason. Never speak against the family (it was contrary to what Amaro had said earlier in the week).

    – Blanton is a guy with little margin for error especially if he playing in a place where it is fairly easy to hit HRs. When things are going right for him, he is painting the corners with his fastball especially the outside corner, keeping his fastball below the belt, and not leaving his offspeed stuff hanging especially on the inner half of the plate to hitters. Too often the last two seasons though, that hasn’t been the case. Had some really great stretchs but also had some stretches including early in ’09 and ’10 where he was downright brutal.

    – Doesn’t really have a single plus pitch and really struggled last year to have any confidence any of his offspeed stuff when he fell behind. Part of it seemed to be his oblique injury early in the year which it was rumored never healed 100%. Other part is that seemed to be a guy in transition a bit having added a cutter which he picked up from Halladay and using his supposed decent curve less-and-less. I wonder if teams see is struggling to figure out what type of pitcher he really wants to be including which offspeed stuff he goes with when he gets behind.

    Blanton is a better value than Pavano especially if the Phils pick up say 20-25% of his contract. Also hate signing a guy like Pavano to a 3-yr deal given his numerous health issues. Pavano though is the better pitcher and I would rather have in though in my rotation even at $10M than Blanton at $8.5M.

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    • Richard says:

      On the other hand, his K rate has increased dramatically since coming to the Phillies (and it’s not just because he faces pitchers, as I believe Matt Swartz showed). It appears to be a real improvement (last year looks on the surface like a regression, but his K rate improved over the course of the season after starting really low once he came back from the DL).

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  26. MG says:

    Blanton is also a guy with shitty intangibles. He is a poor fielder of his position, not the most alert baserunner, and a generally poor SAC bunter.

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    • Franco says:

      If a pitcher even gets on base, it’s a plus. Most are actively bad at baserunning. Or just running.

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    • DJ says:

      Fielding, base running and bunting are hardly major factors when looking at a pitcher but icing on the cake. Also they are all pretty tangible.

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  27. DSK says:

    The author complains that ERA is too often “the only thing under consideration.”

    Yet today he wrote a short article in the Wall Street Journal ranking the best pitching rotations ever based solely on–ERA.

    Am I missing something?

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    • Ian says:

      I don’t believe you are allowed to criticize Dave.

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    • Krog says:

      You write for your audience. The WSJ readers aren’t picking up the paper for in-depth statistical analysis. Fangraphs readers are more fluent in sabermetrics so we can discuss the difference between FIP and ERA here, but the WSJ isn’t the proper forum for that kind of discussion. At least Dave wasn’t using wins and losses!

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  28. Chris says:

    Pretty simple:

    1. What have you done for me lately. Pavano much better lately. Last year and the year before (look at FIP).

    2. Tougher competition. AL, duh?

    4. The article isn’t anything about the hypnotic powers of ERA. Its about comparing most recent seasons to career trends. Pavano has been across the board better than blanton the past two years (not just in ERA). If thats the case then make the article about the holy trend of recent statistics bias.

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    • WY says:

      I agree. The numbers are sliced and diced to fit the premise of the post, which, in turn, fits with the familiar “ERA is bad” agenda. We know that ERA has its flaws, but so does the premise of this post. Also, note that Pavano got a pretty decent contract last year ($7M, though admittedly for just one year) after posting a 5+ ERA in 2009.

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  29. Pavano Pitched in the NL says:

    Joe Blanton also pitched in the AL, he was on the Oakland A’s in the American League West…He once shoved Ichiro and then ate 12 quarter-pounders in the dugout.

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  30. just sayin says:

    you failed to consider the context of each respective pitcher’s success

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  31. Evan says:

    Blanton had trouble coming back from an oblique injury early last leason. If you look at his splits he improved a great deal from June-August. I imagine next year he’ll have a little bit of a bounceback in terms of FIP. He still seems prone to giving up the longball (at least in Philly).

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  32. Mike Green says:

    If you look at the last 3 years, the story is the same as Dave suggests. Pavano’s ERA+ for those years is 78, 84 and 111; Blanton’s is 90, 104 and 84. Blanton was absolutely raked in the first half of 2010 and came back strong in the second half. Pavano’s K rate last year was noticeably under 5, while Blanton’s has been about 7.

    Personally, I’d rather have Blanton pitching for my team in 2011 than Pavano, and it isn’t particularly close.

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  33. Sean says:

    Target Field vs Citizen’s Bank

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  34. CircleChange11 says:

    I’m still amazed that opponent strength is not a component of pitcher’s value.

    It is possibly THE most influential influence on pitcher results.

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  35. bill says:

    Blanton was injured the first half of the year and it very much showed.

    Plus CBP isn’t the bandbox people make it out to be, it inflates home runs but plays pretty much neutral otherwise.

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  36. Joe Blanton says:

    I think I am the best pitcher in all of baseball! Go ahead and try to find a pitcher who tops out at 88 mph. Bet you can’t! That’s right, the only pitcher in baseball who is better is Livan Hernandez. He is a beast

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  37. neuter_your_dogma says:

    To Blanton’s defense this year, he had a late start and pitched better in August and September. Also, by year end, he really wasn’t all that fat anymore.

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  38. Bob says:

    Joe Blanton has done a very good job in the past two and a half seasons with the Phillies, he’s a hard worker and knows his craft well. He is also a fan favorite in tough Philadelphia. Good luck, Joe. Hope you stay with the Phillies.

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  39. Doug says:

    Well, personally, if age were the same (which I realize it is not) I’d take 3 years @ 10 mil per over 2 years at 17 mil per. *shrug*

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  40. Ed says:

    Mean statistics don’t mean anything if the time series data you’re analyzing is non-stationary.

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  41. Matthias says:

    Interesting to note:

    There were 16 “qualified” pitchers (B-R definition) who were 34 in 2009, and pitched in both 2009 and 2010.

    Here are some weighted comparisons between their 34-year-old seasons and 35-year-old seasons:

    Age SO/9 BB/9 HR/9 R/9 FIP
    34 6.10 3.26 0.96 4.52 4.22
    35 6.32 2.74 0.93 4.40 3.95

    This specific group of players got better with another year of age. (If it’s hard to read, it goes Ks, BBs, HR, Runs, and then FIP with a 3.1 intercept). I realize Pavano’s case is distinct because he has had injury problems, but perhaps he won’t fall off the table in his first season. With a back-heavy contract, the team that signs him could trade after a decent first year and get surplus value? Just a thought.

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    • Matthias says:

      I also realize this falls victim to the small sample size issue, but I don’t particularly want to do this again for each year going back to 2006 to get a sample of over 50.

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      • Matthias says:

        PPS. There were nine pitchers who pitched at age 34, and didn’t make the qualified innings cut the following season for one reason or another. So there is selection bias going on, as with most aging studies.

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  42. CarlosM7 says:

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  43. Pseudoscience says:

    This article sort of reads like a editorial that was just looking for an example.

    There’s no evidence given that GMs are really any more interested in Pavano than Blanton;

    There’s no examination of any reasons other than ERA that GMs MIGHT be more interested in Pavano than Blanton; and finally,

    The comparison of similar career values as a refutation of meaningful difference to anyone looking solely at last year’s ERA is borderline specious. There could be a lot reasons why people could undervalue Blanton’s 2010 while overvaluing Pavano’s – this article makes it seem like the author just doesn’t like ERA very much and chose this particular tandem as a soapbox.


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  44. Keith Santee says:

    How about Phillies sending Blanton, Lidge and Domonic Brown to KC for Soria and Meche.

    Meche has one year @ $12 million
    Soria has four years @ $4, $6, $8, & $8.75 million

    Lidge has one year @ $11.5 and an option year at $11.5 or $1.5 million buyout
    Blanton has two years @ $8.5 each

    Phillies would be getting an All Star closer that is signed for four more years at a very favorable contract. Meche cannot start any more but is an effective option for the bullpen.

    KC would be getting a starting pitcher, a short term closer for one or two years to replace Soria, and a top OF prospect.

    Financially, if all options are excercised the contract commitments for the coming years would look like this:

    2011 KC $20.5 million Phil $16
    2012 KC $20.5 million Phil $ 6
    2013 KC $1 million est Phil $ 8
    2014 KC $2 million est Phil $ 8.75

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  45. Dave says:

    Im kinda new at this but here i go….why does it seem to be a common thought that the AL is a tougher that the NL. Even sports radio personalities believe this. I understand NL pitchers batting and the DH in AL…but ya still gotta hit n catch? Can somebody explain this?

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    • MikeD says:

      The depth of the rosters. It’s not just DH. In fact, the DH could be removed from the AL and most talent evaluators would have the AL ahead. This is not to be confused with the success of individual players, as someone like Albert Pujols is clearly the best hitter in the game. But the belief is that the weaker AL teams are deeper than their NL equivalents. A team like the KC Royals, if they were based in the NL West, would be a .500 or better team.

      As to why, part of it is cyclical. I’m old enough to remember the NL’s domination in the 1970s, and they were a deeper league. There was decent parity by the 1980s, but the AL moved ahead by quite a margin in the 1990s and, not surprisingly, this was when the Yankees returned to the top.

      There is some belief that the Yankees “win at all costs” drive has forced the rest of the league, especially in the AL East, to continually upgrade and innovate. That’s either done through spending (the Red Sox), or simply running better and smarter. It’s not a coincidence that the two organizations that are regarded as the best run in the game (the Twins and the A’s) are both in the AL. They can’t compete financially, so they
      compete in other ways.

      I do think the gap is closing, and if you go just by the quality of the young talent that has come up recently, it seems more on the NL side of the ledger, yet that can swing year to year.

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