With a month’s worth of games in the books, let’s take a quick look at the starting pitchers who have significantly over performed or underperformed, based on their Fielding Independent ERA (FIP). By taking a gander at those core numbers (strikeouts, walks, homers), we can get a better idea of which hot starts are unlikely to last or which “struggling” starters might be in for a rebound. First up, those who have posted an ERA significantly better than their FIP would indicate. These are the guys who might slip going forward, if their peripherals don’t improve.
Kevin Millwood, Rangers
2.13 ERA, 4.37 FIP
This is certainly change for Millwood, whose FIP outpaced his ERA from 2006-2008. The 34 year-old has hardly been bad (Millwood isn’t missing many bats with 5.21 K/9, but his walk rate is a nifty 1.89 per nine). It’s just that his .220 BABIP and a very high strand rate (86.7% of runners put on base have been left out in the cold) make his work look ace-like as opposed to just slightly above league-average.
Ian Snell, Pirates
3.72 ERA, 5.90 FIP
Snell is one of many Bucco hurlers outperforming his FIP thus far- Pittsburgh’s staff has a collective 3.38 ERA, but a much less impressive FIP of 4.75. Snell rode the opposite wagon in 2008, posting a middling 4.57 FIP but a ghastly 5.42 ERA. The righty has an unimpressive 1.11 K/BB ratio in 2009, the product of 6.21 K/9 and a Blassian 5.59 BB/9. Just 43.4% of his pitches have been in the strike zone (48.9% MLB average).
Chris Volstad, Marlins
2.67 ERA, 4.83 FIP
Toting a low-90’s sinker and a big curve, Volstad was never considered a power pitcher in the minors (his career K rate was 5.9 per nine innings.) So far in ’09, though? The 6-7 righty has punched out 8.01 per nine, while still generating grounders (53.2 GB%). His control hasn’t been very sharp (3.56 BB/9) and his BABIP is absurdly low (.182, lowest among all starters). Volstad surely won’t keep a sub-three ERA, but there are actually a number of positives here: in addition to the extra whiffs and continued grounders, Volstad has been rather unlucky in the HR department (1.48 HR/9 and a wacky-high 19.2 HR/FB%). If you view his work through Expected FIP (XFIP) instead (which normalizes HR/FB rates to root out outlier performances on flyballs), Volstad checks in at 4.09. He’s not an ace, but there’s a lot to like.
Braden Looper, Brewers
2.45 ERA, 4.54 FIP
Looper has basically been his league-average self in Bratwurst Town, though he’s both whiffed (6.55 K/9) and walked (4.5 BB/9) more than normal (career 5.25 K/9 and 2.87 BB/9). The former Cardinal, Marlin, Met, Cardinal again and now Brewer has lucked out in stranding runners (86.5% strand rate).
Edwin Jackson, Tigers
2.25 ERA, 4.24 FIP
Jackson has gotten a lot of play as a breakout performer in 2009, and to his credit he has shown some improvement in Mo Town. His previously oscillating control (his career BB/9 is 4.37) has been pretty crisp (2.25 BB/9 in ’09), and batters are offering at a higher percentage of the pitches that he throws out of the strike zone (28.5 Outside Swing%, well above his 21.3% career average and the 24.3% MLB average). He’s also avoided being beaten like a drum by left-handed batters, holding southpaws to a .497 OPS in 2009 (his career mark is .810).
So, Jackson performed like a pretty good mid-rotation starter in April. But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here: his BABIP is .233, and he’s still missing bats at a clip slightly below the league average (Jackson has K’d 5.91 per nine this season).
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