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Five ERA-FIP Laggers

Every year a few pitchers run into particularly poor luck or get stuck with a bad defense or shoddy bullpen work and see their ERA suffer despite strong peripheral stats. It drives fantasy owners nuts because a guy is pitching well but we aren’t reaping the full benefits. With less than five days left in baseball’s regular season, here are five starting pitchers who outperformed their ERA by more than half-a-run this season…

Edwin Jackson | FIP: 3.86 | ERA: 4.51

Jackson obviously split time between each league, with his stint in Arizona representing the ugly half (well, really two-thirds). The K/9 (6.97) and BB/9 (4.02) weren’t anything special with the D-Backs, but his ERA was still almost a run greater than his FIP. The numbers improved across the board after the trade to the ChiSox (9.22 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, 3.25 ERA, 3.09 FIP) despite moving to the tougher league, but more than anything he benefited from a LOB% regression. After consecutive seasons of a ~76% strand rate, it dipped to 67.1% in Arizona before rebounding to 75.6% in Chicago. I thought maybe the D-Backs horrifically bad bullpen cost him a bunch of runs, but it turns out they allowed just four of Jackson’s nine inherited runners to score (compared to three of nine with the ChiSox).

Anyway, it’s easy to forget that Jackson is just entering his prime (turned 27 this month), so his best years should be coming very soon. In fact, at 3.7 WAR, 2010 was a career year for the former Dodger. Some unfortunate luck did him in this season, but going forward an ERA right at 4.00 or even a touch below isn’t out of the question.

Brandon Morrow | FIP: 3.17 | ERA: 4.49

Shut down due to an innings limit earlier this month, Morrow’s first full season as a big league starter has been a smashing success for the Blue Jays, even if his ERA doesn’t necessarily agree. His 10.95 K/9 was by far the best by a pitcher with at least 140 IP (Yovani Gallardo and Jon Lester tied for second at 9.71), and even though his 4.06 BB/9 is a tad high, it did improve as the summer went on. A .348 BABIP is a little up there for a guy that gets swings-and-missed 11.0% of the time, and the 69.0% LOB% is a bit on the low side. Either way, there’s every reason to expect Morrow to continue to improve with experience, and he could be primed for a take-off next season.

Ricky Nolasco | FIP: 3.87 | ERA: 4.51

Nolasco was the ERA-FIP darling coming into 2010, with 2009’s 3.35 FIP being sabotaged by a 61.0% LOB% that resulted in a 5.06 ERA. His K/9 dropped more than a full strikeout to a still respectable 8.39 this year (perhaps due to decreased movement on his splitter) while his walk rate actually improved to 1.88 BB/9, though his homerun rate jumped a bit to 12.4% from 11.0% (FB% increased 1.3% to 41.1%). Nolasco’s season ended in late-August because of a knee injury, and there’s always the possibility that it was hindering his performance. He’s consistently posted stellar DIPS numbers (this year’s FIP is the worst of his career for a full season), and I’d jump right back on this horse next season. In fact, he could end up being a little undervalued on draft day.

Rick Porcello | FIP: 4.33 | ERA: 5.01

The 21-year-old wunderkind got a little taste of statistical correction this season, after enjoying a 3.96 ERA and a 4.77 FIP last year. He cut down on his walk (2.19 BB/9) and homerun rates (9.5% HR/FB) this season while maintaining a strikeout rate right around 4.6 K/9, but a BABIP jump (.306 after .281 last year) and LOB% drop-off (64.2% after 75.5%) really did him in this season. Of course the awful start to the season hurt Porcello’s numbers more than anything, but until he starts missing some more bats he’s not going to post low enough ERA’s to justify the lack of strikeouts and the unspectacular WHIP’s.

James Shields | FIP: 4.26 | ERA: 5.04

What happened to Jamie? He was Jamie all throughout his minor league career, but as soon as he got to show it was James. Meh, whatever.

Anyway, Shields caught a real bad case of homeritis in the middle of the season, allowing 19 longballs in just 77.1 IP from late-May to early-August. His strikeout rate is at an all-time high (8.44 K/9), and although his walk rate is the worst of his career, a 2.22 BB/9 is nothing to be ashamed of. I guess the concern is that his BB/9, GB%, HR/FB, BABIP, LOB%, AVG against, wFB/C, and wCB/C have all been trending in the wrong direction for a few seasons now, which is not something you want to see from a guy that’s about to complete his age-28 season. Don’t get me wrong, Shields is absolutely still a quality pitcher, but it’s not a slam dunk that he’ll return to being a very good fantasy starter in 2011.

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Later this week we’ll look at the opposite, five guys who outperformed their peripherals and posted shiny ERA’s. Those are my favorite.