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Starting Pitchers ERA-xFIP Differential

Posted By Mike Podhorzer On May 9, 2011 @ 8:15 am In Uncategorized | 14 Comments

As we continue through trading season, I like to use a quick and easy method to figure out which starting pitchers to target if I am need of an additional arm. Though xFIP is not perfect of course, it is the best metric that sums up a pitcher’s underlying skill into one tidy statistic. Every once in a while, I will take the difference between a pitcher’s ERA and his xFIP to give me an idea of which pitchers have been the most fortunate so far and which have suffered from some bad luck. Of course, the idea is that the pitcher’s ERA should soon trend toward his xFIP, assuming his underlying skills used in the xFIP calculation do not change. This could provide fantasy owners with a potential buy low and sell high candidate list. Below are the five pitchers with the largest differentials between their ERA and xFIP in each direction.

The Potential Sell Highs

After another poor performance in yesterday’s game, Wade Davis will likely remain the luckiest pitcher in baseball according to xFIP. He has been an extreme fly ball pitcher this year, with middling control and an atrocious strikeout rate. Coming into yesterday’s start, his fastball velocity was down over 2.0 miles per hour, which is quite significant. However, I just read somewhere that he is intentionally dialing down his velocity in order to pitch to contact. Unfortunately, I cannot remember where I saw this, but if it is true, it is a terrible strategy when you are allowing nearly 50% fly balls and do not possess stellar control.

Alexi Ogando scares me because he is an extreme fly ball pitcher in Texas and has such a short history of pitching performance. He threw just 71.1 innings in total last season, so it is hard to imagine him throwing more than 150 innings or so this year. And once we hit the second half, he could very well tire, which when combined with the expected regression toward his xFIP, makes him another excellent guy to at least attempt selling high. He should be a lot easier to sell in keeper leagues though, since he obviously lacks the track record and name value needed to get much in single-season leagues, especially shallower mixed.

The entire difference in Kyle Lohse’s his xFIP this year and previous seasons is his much improved walk rate. At age 32, it is of course possible that he will suddenly show the best control of his career, but more likely this rate will rise. Aside from that, he is doing nothing else differently, except benefiting from fewer balls in play going for hits (.205 BABIP versus .302 career).

The Potential Buy Lows

Ryan Dempster went to a possible hidden injury situation to “hmm, I guess he is fine after all”. You may still be able to acquire him at a discount and he always seems to go cheaper in drafts than he is worth to begin with. A solid target if you need pitching, especially in an NL-Only league where his value over replacement is even higher.

Travis Wood certainly does not deserve a 6.21 ERA, but he has allowed an inflated 26.8% line drive rate, so his .365 BABIP is actually deserved. Of course, that does not mean that his LD% should continue to remain at that level, so when that does decline, his BABIP will come along with it. According to xFIP, Wood is actually pitching better than last season, but his SwStk% and Contact% both suggest that his 8.1 K/9 might be a little too high to sustain. An extreme fly ball approach is a concern, as well as the possibility that Mike Leake rejoins the rotation if Wood has another poor outing or two, but his skills are solid enough that he makes for a good NL-Only target.

Matt Garza finds himself in fifth place on this list, which is no surprise given how bizarre his season has been so far. Dave Allen recently discussed Garza’s altered approach so far this season, so I won’t add much more. What is interesting is that he has coaxed a career high 50.9% GB% so far, which is a dramatic increase from last year’s 35.8% rate. If he could come anywhere close to sustaining some of these new skills, he could easily be a top 10 pitcher and you definitely won’t have to pay top 10 pitcher prices to acquire him. In fact, I think I may have just talked myself into making an offer for him in my own league.

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