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. Here’s a recap of those who have posted an ERA significantly higher than their FIP would indicate. These are the guys who will very likely post better numbers in the coming months, should their peripherals hold up.
Justin Verlander, Tigers
6.75 ERA, 3.22 FIP
Verlander’s ERA looks like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock horror film (how appropriate, given Comerica’s tendency to go to the birds). However, the Old Dominion product actually pitched very well in April: again flashing mid-90′s gas (his fastball is up to 95.3 MPH in ’09, after coming in at 93.6 MPH in ’08), Verlander has fooled 34 batters in 28 innings (10.93 K/9) while shaving slightly over 1 walk per nine innings off his ledger (2.89 BB/9, down from 3.90 last season). Only a mind-bending .408 BABIP and 50.3% strand rate have kept Verlander from being recognized as improved. Don’t let the Maroth-like ERA fool you: Verlander is dealing, and he’s a great buy-low candidate.
Ricky Nolasco, Marlins
6.92 ERA, 3.64 FIP
After a ridiculously productive second half in 2008, Nolasco has spurred a lot of “what’s wrong with him?” talk in the first month of the season. While his control hasn’t been especially sharp (3.12 BB/9, after a pinpoint 1.78 BB/9 in 2008), it’s not as though Nolasco is getting shelled and struggling horrendously. His K rate has remained stable (7.62 per nine): it’s the .391 BABIP that’s killing him (you’ll note a trend on this list: strong peripherals sabotaged by very poor showings on balls put in play) as well as a 56.9% strand rate. Don’t discard Nolasco at a bargain-basement price: he’ll likely reward you in the coming months.
Josh Beckett, Red Sox
7.22 ERA, 4.05 FIP
Beckett has gotten shelled his last two trips to the mound against New York and Tampa Bay, and to be sure, he hasn’t been ace-quality so far. He’s struggling to locate (5.02 BB/9, after walking less than 1.8 per nine in 2007 and 2008), and has placed just 42.3% of his pitches in the strike zone (48.9% MLB average, 53.5% career average). So, to say there are no problems would be incorrect. But still, a .398 BABIP and a 58.6% strand rate have made Beckett look like a batting practice dummy as opposed to a very good hurler who’s experiencing some control issues. Don’t hit the panic button just yet.
Joe Blanton, Phillies
8.41 ERA, 6.08 FIP
This falls into the “damning with faint praise” category, no? Unlike the first three guys on this list, Blanton has been legitimately bad. Or has he? FIP is a great stat, but it falls victim to wacky HR performances. Blanton has posted decent strikeout and walk ratios (an uncharacteristic 8.85 K/9 and 3.10 BB/9), but he’s giving up taters at a pace that would make Brett Myers laugh: 2.66 HR/9, on the back of a 22.2 HR/FB%. For comparison, Blanton’s career HR/FB% is 8.5.
If we used Expected Fielding Independent ERA (XFIP) instead, Blanton comes in at 4.41. That’s actually better than his 2008 mark, and is the third-best figure of his career. Blanton has basically been the same mid-rotation Average Joe in 2009, but has given up homers like he’s throwing under-handed with a beach ball.
Dana Eveland, Athletics
5.95 ERA, 3.79 FIP
Eveland might actually be the reverse of Blanton: his FIP says he’s been better, but I’m not so sure. He’s both struck out and walked 5.49 batters per nine innings, and has yet to allow a homer in 19.2 innings. His BABIP is a loopy .400, but it’s hard to recommend a guy who lacks both the fine touch to paint the corners (career 4.57 BB/9) and ability to punch out hitters with great frequency (6.71 K/9). At least he’s kept the ball on the ground (59.7 GB%).
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