ERA-xFIP Splits Update

Last month, we took a gander at starting pitchers who had significant differences between their respective ERAs and xFIPs. xFIP, based on strikeouts, walks and a normalized home run per fly ball rate, does a better job than ERA of gauging performance in the areas over which pitchers have the most control. It’s not subject to more luck-based factors such as batting average on balls in play, strand rate and home runs per fly ball hit.

Now that another month has passed, let’s update the ERA-xFIP lists for the 2010 season. Here are the 20 starters whose ERAs are far lower than their xFIPs (minimum 30 IP for the season):

In general, you’ll note very low BABIPs and home run rates, as well as high rates of stranding runners on base.

As mentioned last time, an appearance on this list does not make a pitcher “bad” or a “fluke” — there are plenty of useful starters here, and at least one elite arm. However, looking at the ERA-xFIP split can make owners view big “breakouts” from the likes of Niemann, Cahill, Buchholz, Pelfrey, Garza and Sanchez with a more skeptical eye. Zito, Fister and Garland are generating more grounders, pitch in front of quality defenders and reside in pitcher’s parks, but those shiny ERAs are going to rise.

And here are the 20 starters whose perhipherals suggest better days are ahead:

This is basically the flip side of the previous list — very high BABIPs and home run rates, and low strand rates. Haren (profiled here), Beckett, Masterson (expect a post on him later this week) and Harang (ditto) stand out here. Jackson isn’t really pitching much differently than he did with Detroit last year, and Peavy isn’t that far off realistic expectations, once you account for his pitching in the DH league in a hitter’s park.

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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on and, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

25 Responses to “ERA-xFIP Splits Update”

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  1. Jason says:

    As before, does this mean we should really temper our expectations of what Ubaldo will do for the rest of the year? I mean, last year, Nolasco was the golden boy with the great xFIP and the stinky ERA and he’s done nothing to justify that he’s really taking a step forward to reach that point.

    How does this factor into keeper leagues, especially in the case of the younger arms on the list?

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  2. Jason says:

    Lastly, and I posit this all to everyone who reads. Right now, keeper league with no real rules, do you trade Ubaldo for Lincecum? Assuming, you think Lincecum isn’t hurt and is going to figure everything out.

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    • Chris says:

      No way. Ubaldo may lack Lincecum’s K rates, but given his velocity and his ever improving historical numbers I wouldn’t. Ubaldo put up awesome numbers last season (not Lincecum numbers) in one of the best hitters parks in the league. Not to mention if your league counts wins (most do) then Ubaldo has the edge there as he actually pitches in front of an offense. Not to mention that the Colorado defense is pretty good and very under rated. Lets not forget that Lincecum’s velocity has been dropping. While it didn’t hurt him early in the season, I fear that he wont be the same pitcher a few years from now.

      If it was me I’d hang on to Ubaldo for a good long time. The guy is good, REAL good. He’s finally figured out how to pitch and not just throw, expect many fantasy ace quality years down the road.

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      • Gary says:

        I disagree with going with Ubaldo. In a stratch redraft, who goes first? I say Lincecum. There’s something to be said about bankable value. Ubaldo is awesome, but still comes with significant risk despite his talent.

        There’s a reason why Pujols always goes for the most money in a draft even when at the end of the season other players may outperform him. Its because when you’re dealing with these kinds of dollars, you rather give up a little in performance to make sure you don’t screw up your first rounder.

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    • OzzieGuillen says:

      I would much rather have Lincecum long-term. If we are just talking about this season, I might consider Ubaldo, but would still likely opt for Lincecum. Ubaldo is like Greinke last season with all the good fortune early on.

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  3. Jake says:

    Ubaldo is great, but is it time to sell high? If you could get a pitcher who has rZip close to his like a James Shields and get a bat with it, is it time to sell?

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    • Jason says:

      This is interesting, because I also own Shields in a league. AND HE KILLED ME ON SUNDAY IN MY H2H. But it’d be interesting what bat would value up.

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  4. Bernie Brewer says:

    Im tired of this unsustainable crap. No kidding U Jimenez’s 0.78 ERA is “unsustainable” but give me some insight as to why he was able to get to this awesome number, not just a prediction that it is UNSUSTAINABLE.

    No chit sherlock.

    The numbers people have offered few new insights over the past 4 years.

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    • Resolution says:

      Dude it’s a fantasy blog. He’s just outlining good sell-high and buy-low guys.

      Ubaldo has his low ERA due to a high strand rate, a low home run rate, and also having the nastiest stuff in the league.

      Also, it’s a fantasy blog.

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  5. Rotonomics says:

    What do you mean “why he was able to get this awesome number”? Luck. You’re asking for an explanation for reasonable deviation from the mean.

    If a pitcher has a xFIP more than 2.00 above his ERA, then their performance is not sustainable. This is what “numbers people” are arguing when they expect regression to the mean. Every year, someone will likely deviate from their expected performance by several standard deviations, not just in a positive direction but also in a negative direction.

    Sure, there might be some noise; maybe Jimenez throws harder with runners on, leading to a surprising strand rate. But things like BABIP and HR/FB are pretty tough to cheat on, especially when generated based on GB/LD/FB% against. To ask “”why he was able to get to this awesome number” is like asking “why did the coin flip heads seven times in a row!” It happens sometimes, and you should be happy if it happens for your fantasy team.

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  6. Gigantic Phil says:

    I love stats and I love this site, but I could do without the unnecessary propping up of Justin Masterson. Left-handed hitters just KILL him, plain and simple. Underlying peripherals be damned, lefties see the ball better out of his hand than most pitchers.

    He is the new Dave Bush, a statistical anomaly that statisticians will try and explain away.


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  7. Joey says:

    I have Price and Garza, in a 12 team mixed 6 man keeper league, is it time to sell both?

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  8. Bernie Brewer says:

    “Luck” LOL!!!

    5 years ago the numbers dorks thought .300 as a BABIP was something nobody could change. now look where we are regarding line drive rates, fly ball rates, speed scores….etc.

    Don’t tell me it is “Luck” that nobody is scored on U Jimenez in April and May. That said, obviously he won’t keep his ERA under 1 for the entire season, but just because that is true does not mean luck dictated April and May.

    I suggest the stats geeks try to find what it is they are missing. They are usually the last to figure this out, why? Because the that is the nature of relying on the numbers, you need time to collect the numbers to tell me what I can already see with my eyes.

    I’ll wait….

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    • Seideberg says:

      How is it not luck? Do you not see how insanely low his BABIP, HR/FB and LOB% are? Do you really think those numbers are not lowered by luck?

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    • OzzieGuillen says:

      When your ERA is lower than your WHIP, then you’ve most likely been quite lucky.

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    • Strugz says:

      If we simply used only our eyes than why wouldn’t Ubaldo be able to keep his ERA under 1? We’ve seen him do it all year.

      …waiting for a constructive suggestion on how to evaluate future performance.

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  9. Rambling Rambler says:

    Wieters/Buchholz/Baker for Napoli/Gallardo

    Which side wins?

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  10. T-Car says:

    Isn’t HR/FB the more important rate to look at as far as luck goes than HR/9? Pitchers allowing significantly more flyballs than groundballs can completely earn their HR/9. HR/FB would have been my choice for this list.

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  11. Mafrth77 says:

    I agree with T-Car. A lot guys on the first list are extreme ground ball pitchers, If thier HR/FB is average, I wouldn’t worry about their HR/9 skyrocketing

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  12. MattyG says:

    Seideberg – while i am in the camp re: “luck” playing a role in the numbers, it could just as easily be said that when players get a hit off of Ubaldo right now, THAT is luck. if you watch him pitch, it is pretty disgusting. i’m shocked whenever someone touches the ball. Squaring up the bat on one of his pitched balls seems almost lucky, and to do it enough to score runs seems downright impossible. of course, he’ll start hitting the center of the plate more in key situations, have some arm fatigue, lose some confidence that comes with pitching invinsible, and the numbers will rise. but with his stuff, he can make mistake pitches tough to hit. his era should sit firmly below 2.50 by years end.

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  13. evo34 says:

    The concept of comparing peripheral ERA to actual ERA is solid, but it should be noted that xFIP tries to neutralize team defense, whereas a pitcher’s actual ERA will always be affected by defense. I would like to see an in-season metric that best predicts a pitcher’s rest-of-season ERA — i.e., one that is *not* defense-independent.

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  14. Robert Musil says:

    What about Brandon Morrow’s +1.88 ? He walks a lot but he’s definitely a buy-low candidate – especially in keeper leagues.

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  15. Robert Musil says:

    Thanks for this great article. Upon reading it, I was able to trade Trevor Cahill for Joel Pineiro.

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