What Goes Up…

With spring training in full swing and most drafts set to begin, now seems like the perfect time to recap which starting pitchers might see a dip or rebound in their respective performances. Here’s a quick look at the five hurlers with the largest discord between their Earned Run Average and Fielding Independent ERA (FIP). Let’s start with those who were a little too fortunate in 2008.

1.) Armando Galarraga, Tigers
3.59 ERA, 4.81 FIP

Acquired before the ’08 season from the Rangers for a nondescript minor league outfielder, Galarraga turned in the best starting line for a disappointing Tigers rotation. However, his peripherals (6.35 K/9, 2.97 BB/9) suggest that he’s more likely to post an ERA north of four and a half if he retains similar rates next season. Galarraga’s .250 BABIP (third-lowest among all starters) is sure to rise.

2.) Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox
2.90 ERA, 4.03 FIP

Matsuzaka was the subject of one of the first articles on Rotographs, where I pointed out several trends that portend to a less shiny ERA in 2009. Dice-K missed bats (8.27 K/9), but he was the beneficiary of a .267 BABIP, a high strand rate (80.6 LOB%) and a low HR/FB rate (6.1%). Add in a maddening tendency to dish out free passes (5.05 BB/9), and Matsuzaka’s year begins to lose some of its luster.

3.) Johan Santana, Mets
2.53 ERA, 3.51 FIP

We’re obviously speaking in relative terms here: Santana’s FIP ranked 16th among all starters, as he whiffed 7.91 batters per nine innings with 2.42 BB/9. The soon-to-be 30 year-old is still one of the prime starters in the NL, if not quite the cyborg that tore through the AL earlier in the decade. With a lower strand rate (his 82.6% mark was the highest among all starters), Santana’s ERA will likely revert to great as opposed to otherworldly.

4.) Joe Saunders, Angels
3.41 ERA, 4.36 FIP

A former first-rounder out of Virginia Tech, Saunders looks like he should fool batters. The 6-3 southpaw has fair velocity on his fastball (91 MPH) and complements the heater with a changeup, curveball and occasional slider. While Saunders possesses solid control (2.41 BB/9), his K rate (4.68 per nine) and low BABIP (.267) suggest that he’s more Average Joe than fledging ace.

5.) Gavin Floyd, White Sox
3.84 ERA, 4.77 FIP

The perennial prospect finally turned in a full season in a major league rotation, tossing 206.1 frames for the White Sox. The former Phillies farm hand did perform better in the second half of the year (6.65 K/9, 2.18 BB/9 after the all-star break, 6.04 K/9 and 3.79 BB/9 prior), but Floyd had auspicious luck on balls put in play (.268 BABIP) and southpaws continued to rake against him (.259/.340/.485).

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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 ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, 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 david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

13 Responses to “What Goes Up…”

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  1. Frank says:

    I understand that the prevailing wisdom is that Matsuzaka’s peripherals from last year do not match the results, and therefore portend a drop in numbers this season. I certainly wouldn’t expect another sub-3 ERA, but I think that for anyone who watched his starts last year, the BABIP number might not be as unsustainable as theory suggests. He is a nibbler that refuses to cave in and lay a strike in there. His pitches have a lot of movement, and he maddeningly misses the strike zone a lot, but he does generates a lot of weak contact. It is as if he is trading walks for singles (which probably impacts that strand rate somewhat as well). Unless he or the Sox try to change his approach, I would expect a ton of walks and a low BAA and BABIP again this year.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      Actually, Dice K was even luckier than you think last year. Despite allowing over 43% flyballs, he only allowed 12 homeruns. His 6.1 HR/FB ratio was the third lowest in baseball.

      His xFIP was nearly 5, which means with a normalized hr/fb and babip rate, he would have been terrible.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Although. His ERA adjusted TRA was solid at just under 4.

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      • Mike Awesome says:

        Only because it doesn’t regress the home run rate.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        ah. I should have thought that through.

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      • ParkManther says:

        Actually HR/F could just be another example of Matsuzaka’s nibbling paying off to induce weak contact at the cost of walks. He’s a pitcher who keeps throwing unhittable junk without caring about walks, hoping hitters will get themselves out, which they usually do if they swing. That’s cause and effect, not luck.

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  2. fanOFdefenseAGAIN says:

    Your theory on Matsuzaka is suspect. First, he sported a .306 BABIP in 2007. Second, he has an 18% LD rate. Maybe he does nibble effectively or maybe it is all noise in a small sample.

    Either way, the author is trying to point out that his BABIP will likely rise considerably. Even with a good defense behind him and an 18% LD rate, it is hard to argue against this analysis.

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  3. funkybass says:

    Gotta agree with Frank here. Dice-K pitches to contact; since he has a good variety of pitch types and some late movement, he’s able to nibble away in the the hopes the batter will swing— often resulting in poor contact (and just as often Ks as well as BBs). That has as much to do with so few HRs as blind luck I’m sure. Also this guy is pitching at Fenway so I would give a smidgen of credit for that too.

    What about his GIDP numbers? anything significant there to explain so many stranded baserunners? Last year he had pedroia/youkilis, but also an injured lowell at third and up-and-down defense at short.

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  4. Mod518 says:

    I am looking for a stat that says how many of the Mets 29 blown saves last year happened when Santana was pitching. Does such a stat exist or would i need to go through his game log and get this? thanks.

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  5. Eric Cioe says:

    They couldn’t have blown 29 saves just when he was pitching. He only started 34 games, and he still won 16. Even if they blew every save he didn’t win, that would be 18 blown saves, not 29.

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  6. ryan says:

    he didn’t say that they had 29 blown saves in santana’s start. he asked how many of the 29 total blown saves for the mets happened in santana’s starts.

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  7. Mod518 says:

    I did find No Decisions which suprisingly Santana wasnt even the leader on his own team. Oliver Perez had 17 ND’s.

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  8. Danny says:

    I believe on 7 occasions last season Santana left with the lead only to have the Mets bullpen blow it. That was more than his previous 2 or 3 seasons with the Twins combined. With K-Rod and Putz, 20 wins is well within reach.

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