FIP Flashpoint: Matt Guerrier to the Dodgers

In a continuation of the free-agency bonanza for players in general and relievers in particular, Matt Guerrier is reportedly going to be signing a three-year, $12 million dollar contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Three years for a middle reliever in his thirties seems to be a bit much, but in the case of Guerrier, what is particularly interesting is the great difference between his defense-independent pitching statistics and his ERA/RA.

It is still hard to tell how the market for a marginal win is going to settle. I’ve been assuming five million dollars this offseason, which seems a bit high given the past seasons, but generally is “working” so far. I’ll also assume that amount will increase by ten percent each season. I usually use a generic 0.5 win-per-season decline curve for players, but for relievers I use 0.3 per season. Given these components, $12 million dollars over three years indicates that the Dodgers are paying for Guerrier to be about a one-win “true talent” pitcher in 2011.

Looking at Guerrier’s player page, the initial response is incredulity (assuming a lack of familiarity with Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti’s body of work). Sure, Guerrier’s ERA the last couple of seasons looks good, and he doesn’t walk many batters. However, he also doesn’t get many strikeouts, his groundball rate isn’t anything special, and he seems to have been “lucky” on balls in play the last two years. In fact, the only time he has gotten close to performing as the 1 WAR pitcher the Dodgers are paying him to be was back in 2007 when he was 0.9 WAR. Over the last three seasons, he has accumulated a grand total of 0.2 WAR. He did have a bit of bad luck with home run/fly ball rates in 2008, but overall his xFIP the last few years doesn’t indicate he’s anywhere near being a 1 WAR pitcher. Moreover, in going from Minnesota to Los Angeles, he’s moving to a park much more friendly to home runs.

That might be that, but there’s another issue lurking with Guerrier: his career ERA (3.38) is significantly better than his career FIP (4.44) and xFIP (4.41). This isn’t the place to lay out the place of FIP (and other defense-/”luck”- independent pitching stats) relative to ERA. I generally agree with Dave Cameron’s two posts on the issue. But while FIP does a lot of work, it has (acknowledged) limitations. Some pitchers do have the skill of “outpitching” their FIP (something I have been guilty of downplaying in the past). The problem is determining which pitchers those are, since it takes a really large sample relative to other skills. This is important in Guerrier’s case because while he’s been barely above replacement the last few years according to FanGraphs WAR, according to Baseball-Reference’s RA-based implementation of WAR (I’ll leave aside the defense issue for the sake of space), Guerrier has actually been quite valuable for a reliever lately, sporting a 2.3 WAR in 2009 and 1.4 in 2010. Of course, he also put up a -0.6 in 2008, perhaps illustrating the point that FIP is more “consistent” from season-to-season because it reflects true talent better than RA/ERA.

Without getting bogged down in a debate about whether FIP is appropriate for WAR because it reflects true talent rather than actual value, in this case we definitely want to know what Guerrier’s true talent is because that is what he is being signed for. It is likely that he has the skill of outperforming his FIP? Over seven seasons he has pitched 472 innings. In one good discussion about the relative merits of FIP, it was suggested that while FIP is better over a one-year sample, that (E)RA is better after three seasons. That might seem to favor Guerrier until you remember that he’s a reliever, and that 472 innings is just over two seasons of what a starter would produce. The reliever small sample/variance issue strikes again!

I don’t have a conclusive answer on the general issues mentioned here or in Guerrier’s case in particular. I can understand why some might be tempted to think that Guerrier is better than his FIP indicates. However, given the reality of the sample size generally needed to indicate such a skill along with Guerrier’s peripherals and age, I think the Dodgers overpaid, with the third year being a particularly bad idea. Sure, other relievers are getting three years, but if Dave Dombrowski wants to jump off of a cliff, does that mean Ned Colletti has to, as well?

Register your own opinion on how Guerrier will perform for the Dodgers by entering your 2011 Fan Projection for him by clicking here.



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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


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D4P
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D4P
5 years 6 months ago

“if Dave Dombrowski wants to jump off of a cliff, does that mean Ned Colletti has to as well?”

It doesn’t mean he has to, but it’s a good idea nonetheless.

Joe P.
Guest
Joe P.
5 years 6 months ago

Please, please let it happen. I’m mystified as to how the Dodgers conjured up all of this money to spend and significantly less mystified that Colletti went and spread it around to a fistful of awful-to-mediocre players instead of, you know, trying to obtain value.

Azmanz
Member
Azmanz
5 years 6 months ago

Don’t relievers generally have lower ERA’s than FIP’s? Every time they come in with 1 or 2 outs, the chances one of their runners score are lower than if they came in with 0 outs, like a starter does. ERA normally reflects this, where FIP doesn’t.

KB
Guest
KB
5 years 6 months ago

Yes, exactly. I don’t see how people miss this.

josh
Guest
josh
5 years 6 months ago

In addition, I don’t know why don’t expect relievers to have differences in their ability to effect BABIP.

(sorry for the double negative)

Azmanz
Member
Azmanz
5 years 6 months ago

I don’t understand. Why would a RP be able to control their BABiP compared to SP?

Matthias
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

Yeah I did some quick run expectancy math on that once upon a time :-)

http://sportsstatsanalysis.wordpress.com/2009/06/30/run-expectancy-and-relievers-eras/

Mike
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Mike
5 years 6 months ago

Always nice to see the numbers back up intuition.

AA
Guest
AA
5 years 6 months ago

Not that I advocate paying Guerrier so much or the Dodgers’ off-season moves generally, but he also profiles to do well in a large, dense air, near-sea level stadium.

adam
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

Matty’s a fine pitcher. 3y/12m is freakin’ madness, man.

I just wish I could figure out why the Twins didn’t offer him arb. It’s not like we couldn’t have traded him on the 1y/5m or so he would’ve gotten had he accepted.

nolan
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nolan
5 years 6 months ago

Three years and twelve million for Guerrier? The Dodgers can have him.

Pat
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Pat
5 years 6 months ago

looks like Jesse Crain has the benchmark he can use to negotiate his contract

CarlosM7
Member
CarlosM7
5 years 6 months ago

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John
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John
5 years 6 months ago

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AJS
Guest
AJS
5 years 6 months ago

That said, it’s impressivel topical spam! It does seem awfully easy for even mediocre MLB players to get jobs during the recession…

Frank
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Frank
5 years 6 months ago

I believe Guerrier succeeds by inducing a good deal of “weak contact.” If this is true, it can probably explain why numbers as simple as K%, LD%, FB%, and GB% don’t explain ERA (or how ERA can consistently beat FIP. Unfortunately, right now a quantifiable stat for weak contact doesn’t exist. However, whenever HitF/X data is made available, I hypothesize that comps like these can be made.

For example, one could calculate overall effectiveness and effectiveness by pitch for a pitcher by comparing opposing hitters’ “off-the-bat” velocities overall and by individual pitches. Pitchers who seemingly draw weak contact should have this backed up by the numbers–are hitters actually making weaker contact? In addition, pitch values measured by wRC could eventually be evaluated by differential speed on contact off the bat. Likewise, hitters who consistently make poor contact (coughCarlosLeecough) would be punished by stats measuring velocity off the bat instead of excused by saying they were simply unlucky on BABIP.

As for evidence, other than my own eyes all I have to offer is the fact that LD% shows the closest correlation with BABIP (R^2=.19 FOR hitter, .27 for pitchers) while GB% and FB% have R^2 values under .05 for both hitters and pitchers in 2011. Additionally, Guerrier, Jesse Crain, and the great Mariano Rivera have career BABIPs of ~.270, much lower than the average accepted figure of .300. Unsurprisingly, their career ERAs have outperformed their FIPs by 1.06, 0.62, and 0.56, respectively. By the same token, relievers notorious for giving up hard contact like Bobby Jenks (BABIP .306) and Kevin Gregg (BABIP .300) have seen their career ERAs slightly higher than FIPSs (3.40 vs 3.16 for Jenks and 4.03 vs. 3.95 for Gregg).

I don’t know if this will be backed up by the hard HitF/X data but I have a strong suspicion it will. It seems unlikely that these guys have just been extremely lucky for several years and weak contact is my favorite explanation.

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