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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).