Another Case Where ERA Deceives

I am constantly amazed by the power of most recent season ERA. It seems to drive the perception of a pitcher’s worth more than any other statistic, to the point where it often appears to be the only thing under consideration. In the last few days, we’ve seen yet another example, as two very similar pitchers have had their market value talked about in two very different ways.

Let’s start with their career numbers.

Pitcher A: 2.51 BB/9, 5.82 K/9, 1.02 HR/9, 43.7% GB%, 4.21 FIP, 4.30 ERA
Pitcher B: 2.26 BB/9, 5.72 K/9, 1.01 HR/9, 46.0% GB%, 4.15 FIP, 4.34 ERA

Pretty similar, yes? They’re basically the same type of pitcher with similar stuff and approaches to pitching. Pitcher A is five years younger and has been healthy almost his entire career. Pitcher B has a long injury history and has spent a good chunk of his career on the disabled list. Which one would you prefer?

You may have guessed by now that Pitcher A is Joe Blanton, whom the Phillies are trying to give away in order to save money, and that Pitcher B is Carl Pavano, generally regarded as the best free agent starting pitcher left on the market. Blanton is under contract for $17 million over the next two seasons. Pavano is said to be seeking $30 million over three years. He’ll almost certainly get a larger amount than what Blanton is currently owed.

Why? Pavano had a 3.75 ERA last year, while Blanton’s was 4.82. Because of those two numbers, Pavano appears to be a solid middle of the rotation arm, while Blanton is a hittable back-end starter, even though they’re about as similar as two pitchers can be.

Any team that is seriously considering giving Carl Pavano a multi-year contract should instead call the Phillies and find out just how much of Blanton’s salary they are willing to eat in order to give him away. For what is likely a fraction of the cost, you can get a younger version of the same skillset. A GM willing to look past the hypnotic powers of ERA could save his team a lot of money.



Print This Post



Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.



Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Eric N
Guest
Eric N

One key difference. Blanton pitches in the NL, while Pavano put up similar stats in the much tougher AL. Given the known differences in the leagues, it’s difficult to say that they are truley “equals”.

Mike
Guest
Mike

…except most of Blanton’s stats come from the AL. His best season ever was also in the AL.

GTStD
Member
GTStD

Also, a large portion of Pavano’s numbers where in the NL, including his best season (2004 ERA = 3.00, FIP = 3.54 with the Marlins)…. so maybe not so much with your “key difference”

MikeD
Guest
MikeD

Blanton’s stats in the AL from several years ago don’t mean much now since he’s not the same pitcher. Oakland has a pretty good sense of when to move their pitchers. Mulder, Zito, Blanton were sent packing, or allowed to walk, because their value had peaked and they were all about to become lesser pitchers. In Blanton’s case, he once had a low 90s fastball when pitching for Oakland (which was also a good pitchers’ park), but was down to 90 his last year with the A’s, and then down to 89 last year.

Blanton’s FIP’s in the NL have been 4.34, 4.45 and 4.52, while Pavano’s FIP in the AL the past two seasons sit at 4.02 and 4.00. While his ERA was higher in 2009, his FIPs say he’s been the exact same (and very good) pitcher the last two years. Taking into account the difference in the leagues, I think it’s clear Pavano is the better bet today. And, interestingly, they are now both signed for two more years, with Pavano costing 500K less.

I’ll take Pavano.

Michigan Matt
Guest

Except that Blanton’s best year came with the A’s, and Pavano had his best with Florida. They’ve both pitched in both leagues.

pitnick
Guest
pitnick

I’m a slow typist apparently.

pitnick
Guest
pitnick

If by “much tougher” you mean “slightly tougher,” sure.

Also, to add to what Mike said, Pavano pitched more than a little in the NL too.

Doesn't Read Other Comments
Guest
Doesn't Read Other Comments

Also Blanton pitched some in the AL.

Reading is for suckers
Guest
Reading is for suckers

Also Pavano pitched in the NL before.

Pointless spelling n' grammar guy
Guest
Pointless spelling n' grammar guy

“Truley” ?!? I think you mean “truly” dude.

Erstwhile Pedant
Guest
Erstwhile Pedant

You forgot a comma after ‘dude’, dude.

Nacho Grammerman
Guest
Nacho Grammerman

Don’t you mean before dude, dude….dude?

Current Pedant
Guest
Current Pedant

Are you sure you aren’t still a pedant, Erstwhile?

Crazy non sequitur guy
Guest
Crazy non sequitur guy

Pavano has a moustache too.

Nick
Guest
Nick

that mustache must be worth the additional 2 million per season.

Belabors the point
Guest
Belabors the point

Well…you get the idea.

Michael
Guest
Michael

I wrote a blog post about ERA and FIP, bringing Quality Starts to the forefront.

http://sabermetricmachine.blogspot.com/

Sandy Kazmir
Guest

Can we put this idea to rest at least for 2010? Outside of RF and DH the NL was better than the AL across the board. This includes the SB/CS numbers, but you may want to check it out:

http://i273.photobucket.com/albums/jj216/SayHeyRays/Rays/LAs.jpg

Rally
Guest
Rally

AL was 134-118 against the NL.

GTStD
Member
GTStD

Its hard to make the claim just based on league average wOBA. League average numbers don’t actually tell us a whole lot because

1) most of the games are against intraleague teams

2) averages by position are often skewed because of 1 or 2 good players at a position, while the true talent of the league is lower, particularly when the league sample sizes are 16 and 14, respectively.

3) it only takes into account offense

If we approach it via fWAR, and take the total WAR contributed by both the offense and defense for each team we get the following. Because each league has a different number of teams, I was used the average WAR per team in each league to get:

WAR/Team:
NL: 35.29
AL: 36.22

Oh look! In this methodology to compare the leagues, the AL comes out on top. I’m even willing to bet that there are a number of other methods to compare the two leagues, some of which will come up with the NL on top, and others with the AL on top.

As Rally says, though, we can really just look at the interleague records over the last 3 years, wherein the AL has won 420 games to the NL’s 335, which is winning at a 0.556.

I’m a National League fan, but the way the numbers look to me, the AL has been pretty dominant.

wpDiscuz