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Triple Play: Matt Moore, Carlos Gonzalez, Adam Wainwright

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Triple Play: Matt Moore, Carlos Gonzalez, Adam Wainwright

Posted on 29 April 2013 by Chris Caylor

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Who’s Hot?

Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays

The Rays’ 23-year-old lefty is off to a sensational start in 2013, going 5-0 with a 1.12 ERA and a WHIP of 0.87. If you’re lucky enough to have him on your fantasy team, chances are it is off to a good start as well. He does need to limit his walks (4.2 per 9 inn.), but he is permitting a league-best 3.7 hits per 9 innings. Expecting Moore to sustain that (and his ERA and WHIP by extension) would be foolish; however, there is reason for hope that he will be able to keep them in the 3.30/1.20 range: his swinging strike rate is BELOW the league average. Moore was fifth in the AL with 175 strikeouts in 177 innings pitched in 2012, so he has the ability to whiff hitters. If his swinging strike rate goes up, then he could be even more dominating than he’s been. That should be a scary thought for major-league hitters (and a dream for fantasy owners).

Who’s Not?

Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

CarGo is the poster child for the Rockies’ slump. Although Gonzalez has 4 HR, 12 RBI and 4 SB in the season’s first four weeks, Gonzalez is hitting a paltry .111 with three singles in his past six games. He has not hit a home run in his past 10 games. The slump is severe enough that Rockies manager Walt Weiss gave Gonzalez the day off Sunday. While it’s obviously too early to get too concerned about the kind of season CarGo will have, it may not be too early to wonder if the Rockies’ hold on first place in the NL West is already slippling away. With Gonzalez slumping, the timing of Troy Tulowitzki’s shoulder injury might be enough to push the Rockies out of first place in the division. And once they’re out of first, the chances of them getting back there aren’t good. If you own Gonzalez, you really have no choice other than to ride out this slump.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .271/.326/.365, 1 HR, 10 RBI, 11 runs, 4 SB
Player B: .286/.307/.514, 4 HR, 17 RBI, 10 runs, 0 SB

Both of the players listed here batted cleanup for their teams on Saturday night. Player A is the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp. Player B is Yuniesky Betancourt. Yes, you read that correctly. Milwaukee manager Ron Roenicke actually did this. I know Corey Hart and Aramis Ramirez are both on the disabled list. I know Rickie Weeks is slumping horribly. But, still, really? A guy with a career OPS+ of 83 hitting cleanup? Naturally, of course, Betancourt would go 2-for-5 with an RBI. This means it will likely happen again (although it didn’t repeat itself on Sunday). I can’t actually bring myself to suggest that a fantasy owner pick up Yuni, so I’ll just say this instead: all fantasy stats count, regardless of who accumulates them. He would be an easy drop once the inevitable regression back to his usual terrible self happens.

Player A: 0-0, 1.00 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 4 saves
Player B: 2-0, 0.81 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 6 saves

Player A is Edward Mujica, the Cardinals’ current closer. Player B is Jim Henderson, the closer for the Brewers after John Axford’s implosion. Mujica replaced Mitchell Boggs, who had replaced Jason Motte. A fellow owner in my NL-only league mentioned Mujica as soon as Motte’s elbow injury became public knowledge. He had the foresight to pick up him. I, on the other hand, figured that young flamethrower Trevor Rosenthal would become the closer. While that may still happen, Mujica has done an excellent job closing games. Henderson, meanwhile, may not give the job back at all. He is 6-for-6 in save chances and I would not put much stock in manager Ron Roenicke’s concern about Henderson throwing too many pitches as the closer. Axford may have had a few scoreless innings of late, but he has proven repeatedly that he cannot handle the ninth-inning pressure on a regular basis. Yanking Henderson from the job would be a terrible decision. Then again, Roenicke has shown a flair for terrible choices before (see Yuniesky Betancourt above).

Random Thoughts

  • Any questions about whether Adam Wainwright is “all the way back” from Tommy John surgery? Through five starts, the man they call “Waino” is averaging more than 7 innings per start, with a 37/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. One walk in five starts. Lots of pitchers can’t get through five innings without issuing a free pass.
  • Conversely, the Cardinals’ bullpen is a hot mess right now. While it’s so frustrating to watch the bullpen ruin two decent starts over the weekend from Jake Westbrook and Shelby Miller, it is still April. Here’s hoping that general manager John Mozeliak stays true to his history and does not make a knee-jerk trade in response. It would be easy to deal a useful player like Matt Carpenter for a fungible setup man or middle reliever.
  • Doug Fister has hit eight batters already in 2013. Good thing he didn’t plunk Carlos Quentin that night or it might be him on the DL.
  • Shin-Soo Choo has already been hit by pitches 10 times this season.
  • Nelson Cruz is on another one of his carry-the-team-on-his-back hot streaks: 3 HR, 13 RBI, 6 runs scored, along with a hitting line of .440/.533/.840 over the past week.
  • Hilarious on-pace stat of the year so far: Mike Napoli is on pace to drive in 190 runs for the Red Sox.
  • Seriously, though, I don’t think Boston misses Adrian Gonzalez so far this year.
  • In the same at-bat versus Albert Pujols last week, Yu Darvish threw a 97 mph heater and a 64 mph curveball. Proving that he is human, Pujols struck out.
  • Going into Sunday’s games, Justin Upton and Allen Craig had each driven in 18 runs for their teams. The difference? Upton has 12 home runs and Craig has none.
  • Most of the hype among the game’s youngest players goes to Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, but don’t overlook 20-year-old Manny Machado in Baltimore. Machado is on a seven-game hitting streak, during which time he has compiled a .433 average, 5 RBI, 5 runs scored and two steals.
  •  Which one of these statements is true? Edinson Volquez pitched seven consecutive innings without walking a batter last week. Petco Park was sold out.
  • Believe it or not, it’s Volquez. Someone call Ripley.

Follow me on Twitter: @ccaylor10

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Triple Play: Matt Harvey, Matt Adams, “42″

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Triple Play: Matt Harvey, Matt Adams, “42″

Posted on 15 April 2013 by Chris Caylor

Welcome to this week’s Triple Play. This week, we will be discussing the Mets’ new ace, a young slugger called Big City, and “42.” With the season being a mere two weeks old, all the standard small-sample-size disclaimers apply. With that out of the way, let’s dive in.

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Who’s Hot: Matt Harvey, New York Mets

I mentioned Harvey in last week’s Triple Play. He’s only gotten better. Two weeks into the season, Harvey is thrilling fantasy owners with a 3-0 record, 0.81 ERA, 0.54 WHIP and 25 strikeouts (compared with just six walks in 22 innings). While he obviously won’t continue this pace, Harvey is showing enough dominance to help Mets fans forget R.A. Dickey. Harvey’s composure on the mound has to be exciting for Mets fans, especially when you realize that he just turned 24 in March. As an added bonus for fantasy owners, Harvey will not be pitching this week at Coors Field. That’s almost as good as another victory in itself.

Who’s Not: Aaron Hicks, Minnesota Twins

Hicks earned the starting CF job for the Twins with a sizzling spring, during which he hit .370 with 18 RBI and 18 runs scored. This led to hope that the 23-year-old would be an effective table-setter in front of Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham. The regular season has been a disaster for Hicks. Through his first 10 games, Hicks has whiffed 20 times and batted a ghastly .047. Worse, Hicks got himself in manager Ron Gardenhire’s doghouse due to a lack of hustle on a routine pop-up (that was dropped by Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain). It’s nothing new for a young player to start off cold, but a lack of hustle is the surest way for Hicks to find himself back in the minors. He is fortunate that the Twins lack decent alternatives. As a fantasy owner, though, you should not hesitate to drop him if there are better options sitting on your waiver wire.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .233/.277/.372, 1 HR, 5 RBI, 4 runs, 0 SB, 43 AB
Player B: .643/.667/1.214, 3 HR, 8 RBI, 5 runs, 0 SB, 17 AB

Player A is the Phillies’ Ryan Howard. Player B is St. Louis’ Matt “Big City” Adams. In addition to having a great nickname, Adams is having a great impact on the Cardinals. In just 14 at-bats (entering Sunday), Adams has punished opposing pitchers, while Howard continues to struggle at the plate. He was one of the players on my “do not touch with a 10-foot-pole” list when my auctions before the season. Adams, meanwhile, is adjusting to major-league pitching just fine, thank you. Actually, Adams’ situation right now reminds me of Howard’s situation with the Phillies in the mid-2000s. Each player had bashed his way through the minors and had an established first baseman blocking his path. In Philadelphia, it was Jim Thome. In St. Louis, Allen Craig is entrenched at first. Fortunately, the Cards have the luxury of using Craig to spell Carlos Beltran in right field, thus allowing Adams to start two or three times a week. If he keeps hitting this way, though, Adams is going to force his way into the lineup more regularly. What a wonderful “problem” for the Cardinals (and fantasy owners) to have.

Player A: 0-1, 7 K, 11.04 ERA, 2.73 WHIP
Player B: 3-0, 20 K, 0.40 ERA, 0.81 WHIP

Player A is the Blue Jays’ Josh Johnson. Player B is Justin Masterson of the Indians. Johnson is off to such a horrendous start that he could have been this week’s choice for Who’s Not. Several respectable baseball analysts have noted a decline in Johnson’s velocity compared to last season. Obviously, it’s early, but this is definitely not how most Blue Jays’ fans and fantasy owners envisioned the season starting in Toronto. On the other hand, Masterson is blossoming into a top-of-the-rotation starter in his age-28 season. In my AL-only auction league, Masterson went for the bargain price of $5, while Johnson fetched $24 from an optimistic owner. Right now, that is looking like money down the drain.

Random Thoughts on “42”

I tried to avoid reading reviews before seeing it on opening night because I didn’t want someone else’s complaints about the film in my head as I watched it. Didn’t want baseball historians nitpicking things, didn’t want film critics bashing the acting performances, cinematography, musical score or who knows what else. So, with that in mind, here are five things I took away from “42”:

1)     The acting was good. Not great, but good enough.

a. I had been apprehensive about Harrison Ford taking on the role of Branch Rickey. Would I be thinking to myself “Look, that’s Harrison Ford!” or would he immerse himself sufficiently enough that I could forget it was Ford beneath all that makeup?  I think he succeeded. He dominated his scenes without hamming it up or turning Rickey into a caricature. Bravo to Mr. Ford.

b. Chadwick Boseman’s role was difficult. The movie did not really allow for many nuances in Jackie Robinson’s character, since the film focused on a three-year span in Robinson’s life. During those three years, Robinson had to turn the other cheek; in other parts of his life, he was much more combative. Boseman wasn’t always 100% believable to me off the field, but on the field, he did well.

2)     The little things were brilliantly done. The CGI images of the stadiums in the film (particularly Ebbets Field) were gorgeous. The uniforms were as well. I’m not an historian, but if those things had not been done right, they would have bothered me. I also enjoyed the Red Barber-isms in the latter half of the film (Incidentally, Barber discovered Vin Scully. More on him below).

3)     The action on the field was pretty good. The sliding, the fielding, the baserunning all looked believable to me. And using an actual pitcher like CJ Nitkowski was a very savvy decision. As we all learned watching Bull Durham, it’s darn near impossible to teach an actor how to pitch without looking like a buffoon. Much better to leave something like that to a professional.

4)     The movie to which I compare “42” the most is “Miracle,” the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team. Why? Because I already knew the story going in. The hockey team, made of up of college kids, stunned the world by beating the mighty Soviets, who routinely humiliated the NHL’s best. “Miracle” did justice to the story and then some. Would “42” do the same?

5)     In my mind, the answer is a resounding yes. Many baseball analysts have complained that the movie did not cover enough of Robinson’s life. That’s an apples-and-oranges argument to me. The movie sought to tell the story Robinson breaking the unwritten color barrier in major league baseball. It does that in grand fashion. It was not an attempt to chronic Robinson’s entire life, or even his entire career. Most importantly, writer-director Brian Helgeland did not take liberties with the action on the field just to enhance the story. The uncomfortable scenes with the Phillies manager Ben Chapman happened. Racist Dodger teammates really did circulate a petition against Robinson. Robinson really did hit a late-season, game-winning home run off the Pirates pitcher who drilled him early in the season. The movie is a terrific 30,000-foot view of Robinson’s 1947 season that will thrill viewers who don’t know Robinson’s story and should not disappoint those who do. That’s enough for me.

Bonus random thought

Vin Scully is a national treasure, reason #99,999: Listening to his description of the Dodgers-Padres brawl last Thursday was just priceless. No hysterical yelling, no denouncing of the Padres or ridiculous defense of Dodger players, none of it. Just cogent observation of the action on the field. As Matt Kemp spewed one particular profanity repeatedly at the Padres, Scully said this: “That’s fertilizer, Matt Kemp says. That’s fertilizer.” I found myself smiling at how Scully turned an R-rated moment into one appropriate for all audiences, while still conveying all relevant information to his viewers or listeners. If this is his last season broadcasting, then I’m going to savor it for all it’s worth.

Follow me on Twitter @ccaylor10

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Barry Zito – Am I a genius?

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Barry Zito – Am I a genius?

Posted on 15 April 2013 by Trish Vignola

Or have I just gone plain insane? Fearing the impending Joey Votto 2012 injury to sink my team, I perhaps overcompensated a tad bit this year regarding my everyday players. By doing that, I neglected my starting pitching.

BarryZito

Ok. I only have five starting pitchers and three of them go on the same day.

This is not the wisest move you can make when playing head-to-head. So, it was time to let go of one of my three center fielders. (Seriously, I had three…I know.) Today, I went trolling the free agent market.

As of 6:50 AM this morning, I announced on Facebook (to an audience of no one) that “Beat with an Uggla Stick” picked up Barry Zito to solidify its staff. Stop, laughing. I’m serious. I might be a mad genius. Follow me here…

Why was he just sitting there? That’s the real shocker. Is anyone aware that he has not lost a game since Aug. 2? True! Barry Zito has not lost a game since early August 2012.

This baffling streak (as compared to Zito’s history with the Giants) included him winning his last six straight regular-season starts. He then proceeded to go 2-0 in three postseason starts. This spring Zito put the icing on the cake, going 2-0 within six spring outings (technically five starts) this year. This is an amazing fete, considering the Giants were looking for every reason to run this guy out on a rail last year.

Why are Fantasy owners overlooking this outstanding run? He should not have been siting there for the taking.

Barry Zito posted a 3.92 ERA in his last 11 regular-season starts in 2012. He posted a 2.70 ERA this spring and opened the 2013 season with seven scoreless innings. He was the team’s fourth starter in a row to toss a scoreless outing in a 1-0 win.

Zito threw 102 pitches and limited the Cardinals to just three walks and three singles. He picked up seven groundball outs and 10 flyball outs. He struck out four batters!

Zito allowed a runner to reach second base just once in the game. That was in his final inning of work. However, he quickly retired the side to secure the win.

Did you see what he did today versus the Rockies? He went 7.0 innings again. He allowed only 7 hits, walked 1 and struck out 4. He’s got a 0.00 ERA and a 1.00 WHIP. Heck! He might be leading the team in batting average now too.

Not that I care. Barry Zito’s batting average buys me nothing!

Don’t get me wrong. At some point, Zito is going to start walk batters. His strikeout rate won’t be mesmerizing. Nonetheless, if he can make 30+ starts and maybe eat up some innings, I will look like a mad genius. CBSSports.com’s prediction of a 12 and 12 record will look like a woeful estimation if he keeps up this rate. Last week, he garnered his owners 27 points. That’s Strasburg territory. If he can help me get out of the gate strong, even if he starts to lose steam mid-season, he’ll still be worth the move.

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Triple Play: Who’s Hot/Not, Playing the Name Game, Random Thoughts

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Triple Play: Who’s Hot/Not, Playing the Name Game, Random Thoughts

Posted on 09 April 2013 by Chris Caylor

Welcome to the first edition of Triple Play, a new weekly column in 2013 that combines three features from last season (Who’s Hot/Who’s Not, Playing the Name Game and Random Thoughts). Look for this column on Mondays or Tuesdays throughout the season. Off we go:

Colorado Rockies' Dexter Fowler, right, smiles as he is congratulated by teammates in the dugout after scoring on an RBI-single by Omar Quintanilla in the seventh inning against the Arizona Diamondbacks during a spring training baseball game in Tucson, Ariz., Thursday,  April 2, 2009. (AP Photo/Ed Andrieski)

Who’s Hot: Dexter Fowler, Colorado Rockies

While Chris Davis and Justin Upton have gotten tons of headlines – deservedly so – for their scorching first weeks of 2013, let’s not forget about Fowler, who put together a .370/.413/.852 batting line in the season’s opening week. The Rockies’ center fielder is at that magic age of 27, when so many pro athletes hit their peak, and he is tantalizing fantasy owners with the promise of a breakout season after just one week.

Who’s Not: R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays

On the flip side is R.A. Dickey, who has not been the ace the Blue Jays expected when they acquired him from the Mets over the winter. The knuckleballer has been battered to the tune of an 8.43 ERA and 1.97 WHIP in his two starts. During his time in New York, Dickey’s ability to avoid walks was perhaps the most impressive aspect of his pitching – especially considering the knuckleball’s unpredictability. So far in 2013, he has walked six hitters in 10 2/3 innings. That has to change, or the boo-birds Dickey heard Sunday will only get louder.

Playing the Name Game

Player A: .391/.423/.696, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 1 SB, 5 runs

Here’s a 2nd baseman who is off to a good start this season, particularly when you consider that he is 34 and had multiple injury issues the past two seasons. In fact, people were wondering if his career was rapidly meeting its end. Perhaps the most encouraging sign of his improved health is the stolen base and the triple he legged out on Opening Day? Got his name yet? Sure you do: it’s Chase Utley of the Phillies.

Player B: .500/.567/1.000, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 7 runs

These stats belong to a shortstop who has always been a good hitter, but has had trouble staying healthy. Troy Tulowitzki? Good guess, but no. This player is on his third team in as many seasons, and all of them now play in the American League. It’s the Athletics’ Jed Lowrie (who started last year for the Astros).

Random Thoughts

 If it weren’t for bad luck, Brian Roberts (and his fantasy owners) would have no luck at all. At age 35, after missing nearly three seasons with his horrible concussion issues and other injuries, Roberts was looking like an above-average option at a tissue paper-thin position in fantasy. So what happens? He strains his right hamstring in the third game of the season and is slated to miss about a month. The Orioles are a fun team to watch. They would be even more fun to watch if Roberts could stay healthy.

 From two grizzled veterans to an overhyped youngster: Jackie Bradley Jr. will be back in the minors by the end of April. He might be a major league talent, but Daniel Nava is the player to own.

 A’s pitcher Dan Straily pitched a beauty Friday night against the Astros, striking out 11 and permitting just three baserunners in 6 2/3 innings. His reward? A ticket back to Triple-A Sacramento so Bartolo Colon can take his place in Oakland’s rotation.

Jeff Samardzija leads the majors with 22 strikeouts after two starts, but the guy is 2nd place is surprising: the Pirates’ A.J. Burnett. Unfortunately for him, the Pirates haven’t scored a run in either of his starts. Yikes (for the Pirates’ offense, not Burnett).

 The Mets took a lot of heat for not making any big-name additions to the team, particularly after trading Dickey to Toronto, but the cupboard is not bare. Matt Harvey, 24, flashed ace-like potential in his debut (10 Ks, three baserunners in seven innings). Outfielder Collin Cowgill can flat-out hit. He will turn 27 this season and won’t even have a better opportunity to seize an everyday job than right now.

 Re: “42” – I haven’t been this pumped to see a sports movie since “Miracle.” After reading how pleased Rachel Robinson is with it, I am more excited than ever to see it. If she thinks the filmmakers did well, then I don’t much care what the critics have to say.

Follow me on Twitter @ccaylor10

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Sabermetric Mining: K-BB Metrics – The Simpler The Better?

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Sabermetric Mining: K-BB Metrics – The Simpler The Better?

Posted on 21 September 2012 by Blake Murphy

Over the past few weeks, I’ve done a weekly Sabermtric Mining piece attempting to provide utility for fantasy owners using more advanced statistics. But is it possible that when it comes to predicting in-season pitching performance that it’s one of the simplest “advanced” metrics that you should be using?

For my first Sabermetric Mining piece, I had looked at FIP, xFIP, and SIERA as ERA predictors, highlighting SIERA as the favourite but identifying the benefits of each. Earlier this week, though, Glenn DuPaul of The Hardball Times put the estimators to the test in terms of their ability to predict in-season performance.

His conclusion?

At the same time, I think these results should be taken as both a lesson and a cautionary tale. The ERA estimators that were tested (xFIP, FIP, SIERA and tERA) all did a better job of predicting future ERA than actual ERA; which was to be expected and is the normal assumption in the sabermetric community. But although they did better than ERA, simply subtracting walks from strikeouts did a better job of predicting ERAs for the second half than any of the advanced statistics.

In other words, for all the advancing ability of ERA estimators to predict future ERA, it is still this simple formula that does the best as it pertains to in-season ERA prediction:

(K-BB)/IP

Tom Tango of Inside The Book reflected on Glenn’s work, suggesting:

I also seem to remember that in terms of forecasting 2, 3, 4 years down the line that kwERA did better than anything else out there.  Basically, for all our sabermetric advances, simply relying on K and BB (differential, not ratio) is just about the best we’ve been able to come up with.

He also noted that (K-BB)/PA (plate appearances) is preferable to using innings pitched as a denominator, but that the results would be more or less the same. Further to that notion, he indicated he uses FIP and kwERA but not really xFIP. He goes into detail on why, but basically it’s because we know for certain what these two are measuring.

For the record, kwERA is an ERA estimator with K and BB as its sole inputs. I didn’t identify it in my original piece, but it is another tool you can utilize when it comes to predicting pitcher performance, and it seems it may be both the simplest and the easiest. Again, though, using (K-BB)/IP or (K-BB)/PA would tell you the same story, just not on an ERA scale (rather, it would be a ratio).

Pursuant to that, I found a 2011 post from Tango that summed up some research as follows:

Overall, we see that while the ratio may have some additional information for us, a simple and straight strikeout minus walk differential per PA is a great indicator of performance.

Not to over-link, but I thought Eno Sarris’ piece at Getting Blanked did a nice job summing up this week’s saber-community discussion on this topic:

If you make a simple sauce, it’s easy to evaluate the ingredients. The more complicated the sauce, the more likely you’re left wondering which input was the spoiled one. Everything we needed to know about pitching we learned in the kitchen, it seems.

Here, of course, K and BB are the simple ingredients he is referring to.

None of this is to say that FIP, xFIP, SIERA and others don’t have a place or value, because they definitely do, especially for offseason analysis. Anything that improves your understanding of the components of pitcher success has value, this new research simply reinforces that scanning the xFIP leaderboard is not sufficient.

In addition, further research could be done on how the components of strikeouts and walks, for example swinging strike percentage or first pitch strike percentage, do in predicting future ERA, perhaps letting us improve on K-BB metrics.

Beyond just this K-BB analysis, you can expand your research to include components of strikeouts, as I outlined in August, and perhaps look for pitchers due to improve or decline in the strikeout category, and thus, K-BB metrics.

Candidates
On the odd chance you’re still streaming pitchers to try and win a fantasy title at this point, the chart below shows pitchers available in more than 60% of Yahoo leagues and their ERA, FIP, (K-BB)/IP and (K-BB)/PA.

The higher the (K-BB)/PA, the better, obviously, as it indicates a greater ability to generate outs and a decreased propensity to allow free baserunners and thus scoring opportunities. Since those two things are the core components of ERA, it makes sense that a ratio that indicates increased outs and decreased runners (and therefore scoring opportunities) is a strong predictor of ERA. What’s even more appealing is that strikeouts and walks are generally considered the elements most within a pitcher’s control, so there are less situational mitigating factors at play than with some other metrics.

It will certainly be an interesting offseason in the statistical community, as I’m sure Glenn’s findings will encourage further research on ERA estimators, their efficacy, and how the components of K and BB work to predict ERA as well.

Follow me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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