Luck-Neutral “All-Stars”

It takes a little luck to be a real-life All-Star, or to win yourself some individual hardware. Both Cy Young winners outperformed their FIPs by a nice clip last season. Felix Hernandez (2.27 ERA, 3.04 FIP) and Roy Halladay (2.44 ERA, 3.01 FIP) also did this despite owning career ERAs and FIPs that were much closer together. Fantasy baseball sleeper lists are rife with those that underperformed their FIPs – Francisco Liriano (3.62 ERA, 2.66 FIP) and Yovani Gallardo (3.84 ERA, 3.02 FIP) might feature prominently.

But what about the players that suffered through a season of incredibly neutral luck? Should we not celebrate them somehow? They somehow managed to flip a coin a hundred times and get fifty tails. That seems worth… something.

Starting with xFIP, we find a collection of four players across different talent levels that showed ERAs that were within .05 of their xFIPs. Jon Lester (3.25 ERA, 3.29 xFIP) is the star of the group, but Ricky Romero (3.73 ERA, 3.75 xFIP) showed a smaller split. The pitcher that showed the smallest difference between his ERA and xFIP, Chris Volstad (4.58 ERA, 4.59 xFIP) probably won’t show up on many other lists, so he’ll enjoy his gold star for appearing here. Jeff Niemann (4.39 ERA, 4.35 xFIP) also won’t be enduring too much xFIP-fueled regression in the coming year.

What do these four guys have in common? Well, collectively, they averaged 9.8 home runs per 100 fly balls – all pitchers averaged about 9.5 home runs per 100 fly balls. They also had a .285 BABIP, while all pitchers averaged a .301 BABIP. Their true talent shown through, which is fine if you are Jon Lester, but a little less exciting if you are Jeff “Big Nyquil” Niemann.

If we take the focus off of the home run and return to FIP, we get a new group of four. The most talented of this crew is now Jered Weaver (3.01 ERA, 3.06 FIP) – you can argue that he may not be able to strike out a batter per inning if you like, but you can’t argue that he got extremely lucky. A .276 BABIP from a flyballer is not the same as that same number from a groundballer, for one. Tommy Hanson (3.33 ERA, 3.31 FIP) might have gotten lucky with the home run (he rode a 5.8% HR/FB to a 4.04 xFIP), but his combination of strikeouts and walks pretty much got the result that could be expected of it. John Danks had a similar statistical profile (and higher xFIP – 4.16) despite different circumstances.

Two names, though, showed neutral luck across the board. Ricky Romero (3.73 ERA, 3.64 FIP) just missed the second list by one spot, and Jake Westbrook (4.22 ERA, 4.22 FIP, 4.09 xFIP) is our true-talent luck-neutral all-star of 2010. He is the turkey-swiss of the sandwich shop, the pasta bolognese of the Italian restaurant – he was exactly who we thought he was.

You might expect the luck-neutral superstar to show a .300 BABIP and give up home runs on ten percent of his flyballs, but Westbrook’s numbers aren’t quite there (.288 BABIP, 11.7% HR/FB). What he managed to do that was so noteworthy was that he was lucky by just about as much as he was unlucky. Perhaps a few more fly balls turned into dongers than should have, and perhaps a few more grounders found gloves than should have. Somehow, those two ‘fews’ were similar in size.

And in the end, this is just a fun diversion before real baseball starts. Just because they were impressively luck-neutral this year doesn’t mean that they will repeat that feat next year. Maybe these guys are in a slightly more reliable grouping, as Tommy Hanson owns the biggest career splits betweeen ERA, FIP, and xFIP – 3.16 career ERA, 3.38 FIP, 4.04 xFIP – and that seems relatively mellow.

Jake Westbrooks’ career has mostly shown an ERA that he ‘deserves’ (4.29 ERA, 4.17 FIP, 4.02 xFIP), so maybe he would have been a little easier to project, had he not just switched leagues. Then again, in 2007, his last full year, he pretty much managed the feat in duplicate (4.32 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 4.37 xFIP). There must be something about his package that trends towards the luck-neutral. Take a look at his career, and while he’s had some more diverse years, it seems to depict a player that often puts up similar numbers in these three categories.

Perhaps we ‘know’ a little more about these pitchers than the average mound master. Their mostly neutral luck has allowed us to see them for who they are. For this group, you could actually build an argument about their value using their ERA, too. In other words, if it looks like a turkey-swiss, in this group, it probably is.



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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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Ryan
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Ryan
5 years 5 months ago

Who orders turkey-swiss at a sandwich shop? Or pasta bolognese at an Italian restaurant? Come on guys, live a little.

Chris
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Chris
5 years 5 months ago

I’ll order them every day if they come with a side of Dave Duncan and a nasty sinker!

Chops
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Chops
5 years 5 months ago

Low-risk, low-reward, just like Jake Westbrook.

Telo
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Telo
5 years 5 months ago

Mildly confused by the bouncing back and forth betwen xFIP and FIP.

If your ERA beats your FIP, you were lucky with sequencing and/or BIP. If your FIP beats your xFIP you were lucky with HR/FB. This idea could’ve been a little more clearly thought out. Not a bad idea though.

ARF
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ARF
5 years 5 months ago

Everybodys a critic

Barkey Walker
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Barkey Walker
5 years 5 months ago

Liriano fascinates me. He is a GB pitchers, which the FIP does not take into account, so I might expect him to outperform his FIP, doubly because the Twins infield UZRs are so high. Also a GB pitcher who gives up lots of singles is also a double play pitcher, but that is not taken into account either. The only problem this, otherwise excellent, pitcher has is that his LD% is about 1.4 times the MLB average (about 0.20 vs about 0.14) but his tERA and FIP get it wrong to the same extent, so that is probably not it either.

Given the number of innings he pitched, you wold not expect to see such a huge crack between his FIP and ERA. The only thing I can say is that he does give up lots of hits (average of 1 per inning). The flip side of this is that I’ve seen him get out of tons of “guy on first and third, one out” situations with a K followed by a GB force out. Lots of high drama half innings with no points put up.

Barkey Walker
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Barkey Walker
5 years 5 months ago

Oops, just deleted the part that was in response to this article and just got off on the opposite of this article. Here it is:

I’d put money that a pretty big majority of ERA < FIP pitchers will stay that way year after year.

FIP is better than ERA, but not so much better that it is perfect. The really important thing to remember about FIP is that not only does it make mistakes, it makes the same mistakes every year. It is part luck, part imperfect statistic.

Phils Goodman
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Phils Goodman
5 years 5 months ago

“Also a GB pitcher who gives up lots of singles is also a double play pitcher, but that is not taken into account either.”

Agreed. This is why I am drawn to the rationale behind SIERA.

JohnnyK
Member
5 years 5 months ago

“Well, collectively, they averaged 9.8 home runs per fly ball – all pitchers averaged 10.5 home runs per fly ball”

That sounds like really bad luck to me ;-)

I’m with Barkey though – Doc has outperformed his FIP for years, so I am not sure he can be counted on to regress.

ern
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ern
5 years 5 months ago

he said dongers….

Erik Hahmann
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Erik Hahmann
5 years 5 months ago

Pretty much everything in life is less exiting if you’re Jeff Niemann.

AA
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AA
5 years 4 months ago

Incidentally – Weaver did strike out better than a batter per inning.

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