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J.A. Happ, FIP and Situational Walks

“That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.

“You’d like everybody to cut down on walks,” [J.A. Happ’s pitching coach Rich] Dubee said, “but you have to look at the walks . . . Are they just some real bad deliveries or are they walks where you are pitching around a guy in a situation? Some walks are justifiable. Some aren’t. He’s got intelligence. He’s got awareness of lineups, hitters, situations. Those all play into the game.”

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FIP is fielding independent pitching, a metric I devised following Voros McCracken’s sabermetric-shattering DIPS (defense-independent pitching stats) theory. If you split a pitcher’s performance based on those that involve his fielders and those that don’t, then FIP is only concerned with that one component of pitching which does not involve his fielders. This would be analogous to SLG not considering walks, or OBP counting a walk and HR equally. Each of these metrics is only concerned with one perspective.

The focus of FIP is on weighting a pitchers walks, strikeouts, hit batters, and homeruns, and it is a constant across all game situations. This is of course wrong. It is wrong because a strikeout has much more value with a runner on 3B and less than 2 outs than if it occurred with bases empty. A walk is less costly with first base open and two outs, than if you had a runner on first base. As I said, all these metrics are focused on one perspective.

There is another metric I devised called Situational Wins (i.e., sum of each individual WPA/LI), and it gives a separate equation for each game situation. In short, the very thing that Happ’s pitching coach is (correctly) bringing up as a shortcoming of FIP is being handled with Situational Wins.

The average walk costs a pitcher about .030 wins. That is, a pitcher gives up a walk, and his team’s chances of winning goes down by 30 points. If they had a .560 chance of winning before the walk, it goes down to .530. This is true on average. But, Happ’s pitching coach is saying that Happ is not the average and that his walks are actually issued more often when it least matters. Is this true of Happ?

David was kind enough to send me the Situational Wins for J.A. Happ’s unintentional walks. Of the 54 walks he issued, their average win value was… .030 wins! That is, his walks were NOT situational. His strikeouts tell a similar story, as the win value of Happ’s strikeouts are similar to those of the average pitcher.

Where Happ did excel was not allowing many singles, doubles, and triples. In addition to that, he minimized this aspect of his game in dangerous situations. This double-whammy is where he was very successful. It explains how he was able to strand a league high 85% of his runners on base, and no one was anywhere close to that. However, it’s more accurate to say that the Phillies with Happ on the mound were very successful.

The historical precedence is that it would be very difficult for a pitcher to repeat his situational pitching with regards to batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Not only did Happ have a low BABIP overall (.270, which was among the league leaders), but in high-leverage situations, it was an unfathomably low .141.

In the face of two metrics that show Happ performed fantastically well, but in an expectedly non-persistent manner, it is his performance with walks, strikeouts and home runs that are persistent. And his performance in that regard, his FIP, was league-average.