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Down On The Farm – Updating Prospects You Were Expecting in 2013

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Down On The Farm – Updating Prospects You Were Expecting in 2013

Posted on 19 September 2012 by Blake Murphy

When it comes to prospects, timelines change all the time. Injury, exceptional performance, poor performance, or the needs of the parent club can all slow or expedite a prospect’s path to the Major Leagues.

In an attempt to give fans and fantasy players a gauge of when to expect prospects in the Majors, Baseball America attached an ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) with their write-ups for this year’s Top 100 Prospects list. Today, Down On The Farm looks at those players ranked inside the top 50 at the beginning of the year who had an ETA of 2013. I chose 2013 because this group is essentially players who were expected to be adding the final seasoning to their repertoires or profiles.

Players with a 2012 ETA are either no longer prospects, having reached the Majors, or probably have a well-publicized reason for not making it yet, whether it be injury or performance. For your reference, the players Baseball America listed as Top 50 prospects with a 2012 ETA who have not had significant time in the Major Leagues this year are: Julio Teheran (struggles), Trevor Bauer (organizational decision), Danny Hultzen (struggles, ETA too aggressive), Mike Montgomery (struggles), Manny Banuelos (lack of team need), Brad Peacock (struggles), and Arodys Vizcaino (injury). Players with a 2014 ETA were not expected to be on our radar quite yet, so if their projection is now 2013, they are likely a special case, and we’ll highlight them in the future. That is all to say…I couldn’t update on everyone, and those with a 2013 ETA seemed the most logical.

Top 50 Prospects, Pre-Season 2012, 2013 MLB ETA
Per Baseball America rankings.

#7. Jurickson Profar – The Rangers shortstop prospect is still just 19 but getting a taste of Major League life already as a September call-up. Profar’s glove profiles as extraordinary, and his bat held up at Double-A with a 129 wRC+ (.281/.368/.452 AVG/OBP/SLG triple-slash line). Profar has some power and will steal bases in the Majors, making him a potentially hot commodity in 2013 drafts due to positional scarcity. While he hasn’t played at Triple-A yet, the Rangers will likely try to make room for him next year, potentially moving Elvis Andrus and/or Ian Kinsler to new positions.

#8. Shelby Miller – The Cardinals’ top pitching prospect is getting a September taste of the Majors out of the bullpen even though his 2012 was not as successful as the Cardinals had hoped. His 4.74 ERA and 4.48 FIP were disappointing, but he still grades out well in the “stuff” department, striking out 10.54 per 9. The Cardinals have their entire rotation locked up beyond this year, so Miller will probably be forced to compete for a spot in the spring.

#10. Dylan Bundy – Bundy pitched at three different levels this year, dominating at each stop and closing with a 3.24 ERA and 3.86 FIP in three Double-A starts. If it were me, I’d probably send the 19-year old back for more seasoning next year, but the Orioles’ sudden rise to contender may make them more aggressive with his timeline. As I was editing this, in fact, news broke that Bundy will be joining the Orioles for the stretch run later today.

#11. Manny Machado – Machado got the nod in early August to help out the contending Orioles at the hot corner, and he hasn’t disappointed with a 95 wRC+ and solid defense thus far. He was aggressively promoted right from Double-A, where he showed 20-20 potential, making him a potential 2013 draft target and a solid keeper option. He can probably stick at shortstop, too, and may be one of those valuable dual-position fantasy players while J.J. Hardy is still around.

#12. Gerrit Cole – Cole shot through the system this year, starting in High-A and finishing with a single start at Triple-A. He strikes out over a batter an inning and had FIPs around 3.00 at High-A and Double-A, making him a likely candidate for many prospect top-10 lists next year. His ETA is probably more in the mid-season range, though.

#17. Travis d’Arnaud – d’Arnaud had a solid season derailed by injuries, and the Blue Jays have J.P. Arencibia and a recently-extended Jeff Mathis in house to hold the fort down if d’Arnaud needs extra time at Triple-A next year. When he did play, though, d’Arnaud sure looked ready, with a 147 wRC+ showing that his .333/.380/.595 line was not just fuelled by the Las Vegas air.

#19. Anthony Rendon – The Nationals’ third base prospect is blocked by Ryan Zimmerman but it may not matter in the short-term since his first year in the minors was cut short by an early ankle injury. As it is, Rendon played just 43 games across four levels, finishing up in Double-A where he was a slightly below-average bat. Rendon will almost certainly be back in Double-A to start the season but will probably be among the first call-ups should the Nationals run into injuries.

#28. Wil Myers – I believe my love and excitement for Myers has been well publicized at this point, and I don’t see how the Royals could justify him not being on the 2013 Opening Day roster. Jeff Francoeur, Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, and Billy Butler are holding down the OF and DH spots, but I don’t see a way Myers doesn’t force one of them to the bench or the trade block come March.

#31. Martin Perez – Perez has a brief stint with the Rangers in the summer and is now back working out of the bullpen down the stretch. The 21-year old lefty hasn’t missed many bats in Texas (5.52 K/9), a fact that isn’t surprising given his downward trending K-rates in the Minors (bottoming at 4.89 K/9 in Triple-A this year). I know some are still high on Perez, but if he can’t miss bats at a greater rate he won’t be ownable for fantasy purposes.

#34. Jonathan Singleton – Singleton is not really blocked in Houston given Brett Wallace’s relative lack of pop for a first baseman, but he didn’t get pushed past Double-A despite a pretty successful Minor League season. The Astros may be taking it slow with the 21-year old and waiting for his power to further develop before tapping him for a call-up.

#35. Zack Wheeler – The news that the Mets will now be affiliated with Las Vegas at the Triple-A level is bad news for Wheeler, as he’ll now essentially need to break camp with the Mets or head to a pitcher’s graveyard. Wheeler had great success at Double-A and performed well in a 6-start stint at Triple-A, so making the Opening Day roster is certainly not out of the question, though fantasy owners would want to express caution at first.

#38. Gary Brown – Brown was merely league-average at Double-A this year, but he’ll likely be challenged with Triple-A at age 24 next season. I can’t see Brown making the club out of Spring given that his only Major League-ready tool is his speed right now, but he could be in line for a call-up if he starts off hot, especially if the Giants don’t improve their outfield in the offseason.

#39. Anthony Gose – Gose was forced into action with Toronto well ahead of schedule but despite struggling so far, he seems relatively assured an Opening Day spot unless the Jays make an addition in left. Gose is ownable right away for the speed, but he’ll probably bat ninth and he’s only ever had a strong average at Triple-A Las Vegas, so tread carefully.

#41. Christian Yelich – Yelich’s timeline is definitely not 2013 anymore, if it ever was. He spent the year at High-A and outclassed the league with a 164 wRC+, but the fact that he didn’t get a Double-A promotion means it’d be far too big a jump to expect him to have an impact next year.

#42. Nolan Arenado – Many were calling for Arenado’s promotion early in the year but his Double-A performance hasn’t really warranted it. He’s been a shade above average with a 109 wRC+ but hit just 12 home runs and adds little on the bases. With the Coors Field effect he could be rosterable for fantasy, but there’s no reason for the Rockies to think he’s a better 2013 option than Chris Nelson or Jordan Pacheco.

#43. Mike Olt – Olt has struggled to an atrocious 14 wRC+ over 39 at bats with the Rangers, but this is obviously far too small a sample in which to judge him. Instead, expectations for 2013 should be tempered but his long-term outlook should stay the same. A half-season or more at Triple-A could be beneficial given that he jumped from Double-A to Texas, albeit after a dominant 95 games (28 HR, 170 wRC+).

#44. Hak-Ju Lee – Lee got his first full-season crack at Double-A and was league-average with the stick, chipping in 37 stolen bases as well. He also improved in the second half and maintained his reputation as a stud defender, so a strong start at Triple-A could put him on the radar for Tampa, where I’m sure Joe Maddon would find a way to get the most out of him.

#50. Jarred Cosart – Cosart followed the path this year, performing well enough at Double-A to get the promotion to Triple-A, where he looked great across six appearances. He’ll need to work on an out pitch to improve his strikeout rates, but there’s no reason to think he won’t join the Astros at some point in 2013.

Hopefully this article was able to update you on some players you were expecting to be fantasy-relevant in 2013. It should also serve as an early reminder to take ETAs from prospect sites with a grain of salt, as a whole lot can happen between March and September. Next week, I’ll take a look at prospects in general who could have a 2013 fantasy impact.

Follow me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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Sabermetric Mining: SwStr%, K%, and K/9

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Sabermetric Mining: SwStr%, K%, and K/9

Posted on 17 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

Strikeouts are not always the most obvious statistic to predict. While velocity, movement, and deception can all play a part, there are still instances where soft-tossers manage to get strikeouts or flamethrowers struggle to do the same. While there is no catch-all metric to help predict future strikeout performance, fantasy players can use Swinging Strike Percentage (SwStr%) as a backwards-looking tool to see which pitchers have over- or under-performed relative to their strikeout expectations. Thus, SwStr% can help players identify potential breakouts or downturns in the ever-important ‘K’ category.

The Stat
SwStr% – Simply put, this stat is the percentage of pitches a pitcher throws that a batter swings at and misses. Mathematically, it is just “swings and misses” divided by “total pitches thrown,” and it acts as a good proxy for a pitcher’s dominance level. While pitchers can generate looking strikes as well, swing and miss pitches are a better indicator of dominant performance.

K% – this is the percentage of at bats that end in a strikeout, or, K%=K/AB. While it is not the statistic used in fantasy leagues (usually just strikeouts, or perhaps K/9), it is a good indicator of strikeout ability in batter-comparable terms.

K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings, or K/9=K/(IP*9). This statistic can be more useful than strikeouts alone, especially in leagues that use innings limits, as it allows owners to identify pitchers who strikeout many or few batters, isolating for the amount of innings they pitch. For example, if you are nearing your innings limit, a pitcher with a 9.0 K/9 but with fewer anticipated innings the rest of the way may be more valuable to you than a pitcher with a 7.0 K/9 expected to have a heavy workload down the stretch.

As a rough estimate, a K% of 25% will lead to approximately a 10.0 K/9, while a 10% K% will lead to approximately a 4.5 K/9, with the points between trending together as you would expect.

How To Use
At the end of last season, Bradley Woodrum at Fangraphs looked at how Swinging Strike rate relates to K%, or the percentage of at bats that end in strikeouts. He found that, while the error terms vary quite a bit, strikout percentage and swinging strike percentage correlate pretty strongly (.6928 R^2 value, or, stated otherwise, swinging strike rate can explain about 69% of the variance in strikeout percentage). Woodrum’s regression allowed me to create the following chart, which can act as a rough approximation of the K% we should expect at given SwStr% levels.

Using this chart and standard leaderboards, we can try to identify pitchers who have a high SwStr% but a low K% or a low SwStr% but a high K%. Those with a high SwStr% and a low K% should be expected to strikeout a higher percentage of batters than they have so far, and vice versa.

Edwin Jackson – Jackson has an impressive 11.7% SwStr%, tied for the 6th best mark in the league, but boasts just a 19.3% K%. Our chart above indicates that an 11.7% SwStr% would be more in line with a 24% K%, which would greatly help Jackson improve on his 7.23 K/9 mark. In fact, based on SwStr% alone one would expect Edwin to strikeout about a batter an inning. While this might be high as an expectation moving forward, based on other factors in his profile that may impact strikeout proficiency, we can safely anticipate some measure of uptick in strikeouts for the remainder of the year.

Vance Worley – Worley has somehow managed to put up strikeout rates in line with Jackson despite causing far fewer batters to whiff. His 5.5% SwStr% would indicate an expected K% of about 13%, but Worley checks in at 18.8%. Either Worley has found a way to make batters only miss on third strikes, basically “saving up” his good stuff, or he has been a little lucky and probably won’t be striking out more than six batters per nine innings moving forward.

Gio Gonzalez – While nobody will argue Gonzalez’s dominance this season, his strikeout proficiency has been a but overstated based on his SwStr%. His SwStr% of 9.6% is more in line with a K% of 21% and a K/9 of 8.25 rather than his marks of 25.8% and 9.63. He is still an ace, but those relying on him for seven or eight strikeouts a start might be slightly disappointed down the stretch.

Candidates
I should note here that the ‘candidates’ section this week is a bit thin because I had to pick arbitrary endpoints. Really, you would want to download the leaderboards and create an “Expected K%” column and compare that to actual K%. These are just a few of the more extreme examples.

Potential Sell High – These pitchers have a SwStr% of less than 7% but a K% of greater than 15%, indicating a potential decline in strikeout rate forthcoming.

Potential Buy Low – These pitchers have a SwStr% of greater than 10% but a K% of less than 21%, indicating a potential increase in strikeout rate forthcoming.

Strikeouts can be a difficult statistic to predict as the season rolls along. Sometimes, the stats do not match what we see with our eyes, or curiosities defy logic like Aaron Cook not being able to generate a swinging strike if I was batting. While more goes into the art of the strikeout than just causing batters to whiff and any pitcher worth his salt can attest that there are a dozen factors that go into a strong SwStr%, SwStr% remains a strong metric for aiding fantasy owners in identifying potential value in the K category.

Come get to know me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

All stats courtesy of FanGraphs, for games through August 15.

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Down On The Farm: Cincinnati Reds

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Down On The Farm: Cincinnati Reds

Posted on 15 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

Billy Hamilton could be the most fantasy newsworthy prospect in all of minor league baseball, but do the Cincinnati Reds have much else in the pipeline to support the major league squad? If I am giving full disclosure, Hamilton was the reason the Reds were selected as this week’s Down On The Farm topic. He might break the 20-80 scouting scale for speed and even if he has a Dee Gordon-like OBP, he will be fantasy relevant upon his arrival. Of course, he projects as a better hitter than Gordon, so consider that his ultimate downside. But beyond Hamilton, the system ranked in the middle of the pack in the preseason and graduated three of its better prospects, potentially leaving the cupboards barren.

Pre-Season Rank: #19 (ESPN), #18 (Baseball Prospectus), #16 (Baseball America)

The Top 5

1. Billy Hamilton
Overall Ranks: #64 (ESPN), #22 (BP), #48 (BA)
In retrospect, writing about Hamilton may have been a mistake. You see, I will file this piece on Tuesday night, but by Wednesday morning the stats I am about to provide will likely be obsolete. That’s because Hamilton seems to steal two or three bags a night these days, continuing his quest to break the all-time minor league stolen base record. That mark, set by Vince Coleman in a 1983 season where he missed a month due to a broken hand, is 145. Hamilton presently sits at 139 through 113 games, making it all but a certainty he will set the new standard for prolific minor league base stealing. Obviously for fantasy players, he will be a must-add when he arrives in the majors, possibly as soon as September as an expanded-roster pinch runner. He probably needs a season at Triple-A for final seasoning, but this is not your typical Juan Pierre style speedster, as Hamilton gets on base at a prolific rate as well. In fact, he walked 12.8% of the time in 82 A-ball games and has since walked 17.2% of the time in 31 Double-A games. He has also struck out less than 20% of the time at both levels, posted an OBP better than .400 at both levels, and had wRC+s of 148 and 154, respectively. As a 21-year old, Hamilton is too advanced for Double-A both at the plate and on the bases. Zack Cozart has been nice for the Reds, but the clock is ticking for him at short.

2. Devin Mesoraco
Overall Ranks: #8 (ESPN), #24 (BP), #16 (BA)
Mesoraco is the most prominent of the Reds prospects to graduate to the majors this year, something Reds fans were understandably excited about. Unfortunately, Mesoraco has struggled in his first full season, posting a .218/.297/.367 slash line, a wRC+ of just 71, and negative values in both fielding and baserunning. There is obvious upside for the 24-year old backstop, and catcher is a position with a steep learning curve, but he has yet to show enough to warrant surpassing incumbent Ryan Hannigan for the starter’s role. He was thought to have All-Star potential before the season and was a fantasy sleeper, so there may be a post-hype case to be made in 2013 if he can show some improvements down the stretch for the Reds.

3. Zack Cozart
Overall Ranks: #N/R (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #75 (BA)
The apparent incumbent at short until Hamilton is ready, Cozart has shown little with the stick for the Reds this year. Fortunately for the team, though, he has rated out as a plus defensively and on the bases, scrounging together a 1.9 WAR despite being a negative at the dish. Cozart rarely walks and has a curiously low BABIP for a high-contact speedster (.274), giving him a terrible .289 OBP. The 14.5% infield fly rate shows that he is making a lot of mistakes at the plate, and his pitch values basically indicate he can only hit a fastball. At age 27, there probably isn’t a tonne of untapped potential here, but there is always real-life value in defensively capable players with speed.

4. Daniel Corcino
Overall Ranks: #N/R (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #N/R (BA)
Corcino gets a lot of comparisons to current Red Johnny Cueto, primarily because of his diminutive size at 5’11”, 165lbs (Cueto is 5’10” but 220 lbs). Still, the slight stature has not held Corcino back from steadily moving through the Reds’ system, making the jump from Low-A to Double-A this year with acceptable results. His strikeout rate declined and his walk rate increased, leading his FIP to jump from 2.80 to 3.78, but at age 21 he could reasonably be expected to struggle at this level. Instead, Corcino has shown he can handle a full workload for the second straight season and is likely on the path to Triple-A Louisville for 2013. If he can refine his breaking pitches to go with a 95MPH fastball and a plus change-up, he should be able to get the K-rate back up around 9K/9IP, somewhere between his 2011 and 2012 levels. As with all small pitchers, the “likely reliever” tag has been given to Corcino, but that is a few seasons premature right now.

5. Robert Stephenson
Overall Ranks: #N/R (ESPN), #N/R (BP), #N/R (BA)
The Reds are challenging their 2011 1st round pick to move through the system quickly, already promoting the 19-year old to low-A ball. He did not really leave them much choice, I suppose, after seven dominant starts at the Rookie Ball level, where he had nearly 11K/9 and a 2.52 FIP. In his four starts since the promotion, he has struggled to go deep with just 4.5 IP/start, but he has also had success with a 3.37 FIP and 10K/9. As with a lot of high school arms, Stephenson has a big fastball but his secondary pitches are still under construction. The franchise could opt to push him all the way to High-A to start 2013, and success there would have to put him on the radar as a top prospect.

Additions and Subtractions
The Reds’ big move came in the offseason, sending out multiple high-end prospects for Mat Latos, a move you have to commend the Reds for making as they sit in first in the NL Central with Latos playing a big role. The Reds did not make waves at the draft and were not regarded as big winners or losers, making it difficult to assess in the short term. They also added two non-prospects in smaller deals, picking up reliever J.J. Hoover for Juan Francisco and starter Todd Redmond for Paul Janish. Both players have performed well for Triple-A Louisville, with Hoover now being a useful arm in the Reds’ bullpen.

Other Interesting Names By Level
Triple-A Louisville – Yet another shortstop, Didi Gregorious, was prematurely elevated to Triple-A to make way for Hamilton but has performed well since arriving with a .776 OPS. Unfortunately, slugging first base prospect Neftali Soto has not been as successful, posting a .719 OPS thanks to an awful .311 OBP. At age-23 and coming off a 30-homer season, Soto will have another chance at the level before any worry sets in. The pitching staff has been entirely unspectacular, with Redmond being the only real bright spot. After the promotions of Mesoraco, Hoover, Cozart, and Todd Frazier, the pipeline of major league talent is pretty thin at the top level.

Double-A Pensacola – What is a Blue Wahoo? Sorry, I have no idea. Luckily, though, a few of them are worth checking out, and Pensacola is the best stop for Reds’ prospects. Hamilton and Corcino have been discussed in detail, but 21-year old outfielder Ryan LaMarre has also impressed, stealing 27 bases and sporting a .367 OBP, albeit with little in the way of power. 22-year old lefty Anthony Cingrani has also been worth a watch, sporting a ridiculous 1.94 ERA since his promotion from Bakersfield. Cingrani is striking out over a batter per inning while allowing opponents just a .196 average off of him. Triple-A could be in the cards for next season, and he will likely be a top-100 prospect to start next year.

High-A Bakersfield – When Hamilton left, Theo Bowe apparently decided to take up his mantle, and the speedy 22-year old outfielder has stolen 45 bases in 77 games with a .412 OBP. Unfortunately, he has also been caught 24 times. Donald Lutz, a 23-year old first baseman, hit 17 home runs in 63 games and earned a promotion to Pensacola, where he has struggled a great deal. 23-year old outfielder Steve Selsty has homered 12 times in just 49 games for a 1.052 OPS, but at that age and level he needs to dominate to catch up to his peers. On the mound, 23-year old Chad Rogers earned a promotion after sporting a 3.13 ERA with a K:BB ratio better than 3:1, and he has had two great starts for Pensacola since. 25-year old Josh Smith has also been impressive with a 3.73 ERA and over a strikeout per inning, but he is far too old for this level and needs to show more dominance to get on the radar.

Low-A Dayton – 19-year old prospect Yorman Rodriguez had a trial at Bakersfield but now finds himself back in Dayton, where a .296 OBP is holding him back from utilizing his ample tools. 22-year old shortstop Ryan Wright just received a promotion of his own after posting a .767 OPS through 100 games for Dayton. 19-year old pitching prospect Robert Stephenson just received a bump from Rookie Ball and has performed well in three of his four starts since the promotion. The level also has a few other interesting arms, but none of them are exceptional or performing above expectations at this point.

Whether it is an organizational philosophy or just conincidence, the fact that most of the Reds’ top-performing minor leaguers are old for their level is a bit troubling. With that said, there is some depth to the system, and they have two high-end talents in Hamiltion and Cingrani. While they did not do anything to restock the system after the Latos deal, a win-now edict tends to leave you a bit thin in the prospect pipeline. The Reds will likely rank in the early-20s on next year’s lists, but with the added benefit of owning the most exciting prospect in all of minor league baseball.

Come get to know me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

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Sabermetric Mining – FIP, xFIP, and SIERA

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Sabermetric Mining – FIP, xFIP, and SIERA

Posted on 03 August 2012 by Blake Murphy

The unfortunate fact of most fantasy leagues is that while ERA is a category, it is not very strong as a predictor of future performance. So how can fantasy players better predict ERA for pitchers moving forward if they can not rely on their performance in the category to date?

In addition to my weekly Down On The Farm pieces I will be writing a weekly fantasy piece called Sabermetric Mining, about how to use advanced statistics to aid you in your roster management. I start this week by looking at Defensive Independent Pitching Stats (DIPS), specifically Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), and SIERA (Skills Interactive ERA).

DIPS Theory was originally put forth by Voros McCracken, who posited that pitchers exhibit little control over what happens once they have pitched the ball. Defense, park factors, and dumb luck can all have an impact on what happens when the ball enters the field of play, so a lot of the times the pitcher will be rewarded or penalized in a way that fails to reflect what he may have deserved. As an example, a pitcher who walks three batters and then allows a home run is charged with four earned runs. However, if he allows a home run and then three walks, he is charged with just one. Here, the pitcher has allowed three walks and a home run in both scenarios, but is penalized in very different ways in terms of earned runs against his ERA. DIPS formulae use different methods to try and strip out the impact of luck, defense, and event sequencing in order to provide a better indicator of the pitcher’s performance and, hopefully, a better predictor of their future performance.

It should be noted that none of the statistics discussed claim to be ERA predictors. Rather, they are backward-looking statistics that happen to better predict future ERA than ERA alone does.

The Stats
FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching – This stat normalizes BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and event sequencing, basing the formula on walks, strikeouts, and home runs allowed. These indicators are then applied to a constant to put the metric in ERA form.

xFIP – Expected Fielding Independent Pitching - This stat takes FIP and then normalizes the pitcher’s home runs allowed based on how many fly balls they allow and the league average home run rate. This basically takes FIP and applies the caveat that pitchers can control the amount of fly balls they surrender, but not how many of them clear the fence.

SIERA – Skill-Interactive ERA SIERA was created as an alternative to FIP and xFIP, arguing that pitchers can control the types of balls in play they allow, even if they can not control the outcome of those balls. Since groundballs and pop ups are more desirable than fly balls or line drives, pitchers who display a specific trend in batted ball data should have their stats adjusted as such. The stat is far more complicated than FIP and xFIP, as it also controls for factors like walks being less damaging the fewer you allow and high strikeout pitchers allowing weaker contact. While slightly more complicated, the theory is straightforward…but is it more effective?

Which Is Best?
When SIERA first came out, Matt Swartz at Fangraphs tested the different DIPS metrics to see which was the best predictor of future ERA. If you are a math person, I suggest checking out the article for the specifics, but allow me to summarize his results as they apply to using these stats to predict the next year’s ERA:

1) SIERA
2) xFIP
3) FIP

The gap between SIERA and xFIP is relatively small, while the gap between xFIP and FIP is more pronounced. Basically, using xFIP or SIERA will both be helpful, while using FIP will help to a lesser degree.

With that said, when it comes to predicting rest of season ERA, it should be noted that FIP will do better than these tests show. This is because FIP does not normalize for home run rate, which may be in part impacted by ballpark factors. While xFIP will apply a normal home run rate for pitchers, a pitcher pitching in, say, Petco Park may exhibit a low HR/FB for the rest of the season, making FIP slightly more valuable than in end-of-season analysis.

I tend to favor using SIERA when available, and FanGraphs has all three available on their leaderboards.

How To Use
The best way to use these statistics is to look at pitchers who have ERAs that greatly differ from their FIP, xFIP, or SIERA. What gaps between ERA and one of these metrics will tell us is when a pitcher’s ERA is under- or over-stating their actual performance to date. I will go through some examples to illustrate, but basically you would hope to find pitchers with ERAs higher than their DIPS number and identify them as potential buy-low candidates, while finding pitchers with ERAs lower than their DIPS numbers and idenitfying them as potential sell-high candidates.

Again, these metrics do not claim to be ERA predictors, so when I say that a player is a buy-low, it is not because SIERA is predicting a better ERA moving forward, but that SIERA indicates the pitcher has been better than his ERA would suggest. So if a leaguemate sees only a 4.00 ERA but SIERA indicates a pitcher performing at a 3.50 level, you might be able to get a 3.50 ERA-skilled pitcher for the price of a 4.00 one.

Dan Haren – Haren’s ERA is a disappointing 4.59 so far this season, but his peripheral stats indicte that he is still a decent pitcher, though maybe not at the level we have come to expect. Haren has a 3.91 SIERA (4.01 xFIP), based on the fact that he rarely walks batters (2.18 BB/9) and has been somewhat unucky in terms of BABIP (.315). His batted ball data is in line with his career norms, but his HR/FB rate is inexplicably up, causing him to allow a career-high 1.4 HR/9. Based on this, we would anticipate Haren’s ERA to fall more in line with how he has actually performed, creating a buy-low opportunity.

Cliff Lee – The case of Lee is compounded by the fact that he has just two wins, but predicting wins is a fool’s errand so we will focus on his ERA, a respectable 3.73 mark that is significantly higher than what we have come to expect from him. Lee sports a SIERA mark of 3.15 (and an xFIP of 3.12), drawing our attention to the fact that his dominance (8.55 K/9) and control (1.72 BB/9) have not faltered at all. In addition, Lee is generating a career-best 48.1% groundball rate at the expense of line drives. Lee’s batted ball data lines up favorably with his previous performance, indicating he is still pitching like the Cy Young candidate we know, but happens to be suffering from a career-worst 13.0% HR/FB rate. Lee is a great buy-low opportunity, a chance to acquire an ace, albeit without the wins, at the price of a second-tier starter.

Ryan Vogelsong – Vogelsong has been quite the story again this year, sporting a 2.22 ERA after most thought his 2011 mark of 2.71 was a mirage. While I will touch on pitchers who can perhaps consistently outperform their peripherals later, let’s explore the case of Vogelsong anyway as an illustrative example. Vogelsong strikes out few batters (6.59 K/9), is not an elite control pitcher (2.98 BB/9), and is not an extreme ground ball ptcher (43.4%). While he has allowed fewer line drives than last year, his BABIP of .250 is unsustainably low, and he has stranded 84.8% of base runners, well above the league average. Vogelsong has also allowed home runs on just 6.1% of fly balls. As such, SIERA sees Vogelsong as a below-average starter (4.32) and xFIP sees him as more or less unownable (4.46).

James McDonald – While the bloom has come off the rose over his last few outings, McDonald still sports a 3.38 ERA for the year. SIERA (4.03) and xFIP (4.01) agree that McDonald is more of a league-average starter, primarily because his strikeout rate has regressed while his walks have increased. Whatever McDonald had going in May has been lost, and his better-than-average BABIP and LOB% do not appear sustainable based on his batted ball profile.

When To Adjust For Certain Pitchers
Obviously, none of these stats are perfect, and none claim to estimate future ERA with much a degree of certainty. Simply, they are better tools than looking at ERA alone. While there are countless examples of players regressing after outperforming their peripherals, there are also a few examples of pitchers consistently performing outside of DIPS.

Matt Cain is the primary example, having posted an ERA better than his xFIP/SIERA in every single season of his career, leading to a 3.30 career ERA despite a 4.20 career xFIP and a 4.13 career SIERA. Up until this year, Cain had always shown an ability to limit HR/FB%, has posted a low BABIP in every year but one, and has consistently been among the league leaders in LOB%. Possible explanations include a strong ability to pitch out of the stretch, the ability to fool hitters with four above-average pitches, or Matt Cain just being really good. I think at this point you can safely say Cain has an ability to outperform his peripheral stats, but I would not dare claim to know how.

Ricky Nolasco is the counter-point to Cain, a pitcher who has consistently had a higher ERA than you would expect based on his other stats. Over 169 career starts and 16 relief appearances, Nolasco has posted a 4.55 ERA despite a 3.80 SIERA and a 3.76 xFIP. The explanation for a pitcher underperforming their peripherals is an easier narrative than in Cain’s case, as Nolasco might simply make too many mistakes. This is an easier justification than “Cain doesn’t make mistakes, ever,” and as such Nolasco may have been written off entirely by the fantasy community. Specifically, while he has improved his groundball rate annually, he has done so by sacrificing strikeouts, meaning he is no longer even an attractive commodity for strikeout totals.

Candidates
Potential Sell High – These pitchers have ERAs that appear to be superificially low, with a SIERA mark at least half a run worse than their ERA.

Potential Buy Low – These pitchers have ERAs that appear to be superificially high, with a SIERA mark at least half a run better than their ERA.

Hopefully this article has helped explain some of the defense independent pitching stats available to fantasy owners, and how you can use indicators like xFIP and SIERA to add some value at the trade table. Let me know if there are any specific stats you would like to see examined for future pieces.

I’m new here, so come get to know me on Twitter @BlakeMurphyODC.

All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.

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NL Pitching Planner: April 30 – May 6

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NL Pitching Planner: April 30 – May 6

Posted on 30 April 2012 by Mark Sherrard

Pitchers are a fickle breed. One week they can dominate, the next they get shelled. Our jobs as fantasy players (and writers) is to guess which weeks they will be good. Its an educated guess, but its still just a guess.

Starting this week, I will be posting the prior results for each category of pitchers listed below, for the most recently completed week(s) and year-to-date, so you (and I) can see my track record.

Here are the two-start pitchers and those with favorable matchups for week 5 in the NL:

Two-Start Pitchers

No-Brainers

Matt Cain:  5/1 vs MIA; 5/6 vs MIL – Cain is living up to his big contract so far

Cole Hamels: 5/1 @ ATL; 5/6 @ WAS – only 3 walks in 4 starts this year

Jordan Zimmermann: 5/1 vs ARI; 5/6 vs PHI – the Nats other ace has a sparkling 1.33 ERA so far

No-Brainers results

Week 2 – 6 GS, 4 QS, 2 W, 35.1 IP, 32 H+BB, 41 K’s, 11 ER, 2.80 ERA, 0.91 whip

Week 3 – 10 GS, 9 QS, 4 W, 65 IP, 79 H+BB, 60 K’s, 17 ER, 2.35 ERA, 1.22 whip

YTD – 16 GS, 13 QS, 6 W, 100.1 IP, 111 H+BB, 101 K’s, 28 ER, 2.51 ERA, 1.11 whip

Not too shabby

Bronson Arroyo:  5/1 vs CHC; 5/6 @ PIT – has pitched well and gets to face lowly Cubs and Pirates

Brandon Beachy:  5/1 vs PHI; 5/6 @ COL – only concern is his start at Coors (11.57 ERA in only start)

Mark Buehrle:  4/30 vs ARI; 5/5 @ SD – still looking for some run support

Trevor Cahill: 5/1 @ WAS; 5/6 @ NYM – has been shaky in his last two starts (4 ER apiece)

R.A. Dickey:  4/30 @ HOU; 5/6 vs ARI – solid in his last start and gets to face the punchless Astros.

James McDonald:  4/30 @ ATL; 5/5 vs CIN – flying under the radar (18% owned in CBS) despite good start (2.79 ERA)

Mike Minor:  4/30 vs PIT; 5/5 @ COL – again, beware of Coors, but has pitched well so far

Charlie Morton:  5/1 @ STL; 5/6 vs CIN – has pitched well, but two difficult matchups

Juan Nicasio:  4/30 vs LAD; 5/6 vs ATL – beware of Matt Kemp

Ricky Nolasco:  5/1 @ SF; 5/6 @ SD – below average pitcher against weak hitting teams

Jeff Samardzija: 4/30 @ PHI; 5/5 vs LAD – may finally have learned to harness his stuff (only 8 walks in 4 starts)

Joe Wieland:  4/30 vs MIL; 5/6 vs MIA – has bounced back well after rough rookie debut

Randy Wolf:  4/30 @ SD; 5/5 @ SF – favorable matchups for the veteran lefty

Vance Worley:  4/30 vs CHC; 5/5 @ WAS – last year’s surprise rookie continues to impress

Not too shabby results

Week 2 – 18 GS, 12 QS, 7 W, 109.2 IP, 125 H+BB, 78 K’s, 31 ER, 2.55 ERA, 1.14 whip

Week 3 – 22 GS, 15 QS, 8 W, 140 IP, 158 H+BB, 110 K’s, 45 ER, 2.89 ERA, 1.13 whip

YTD – 40 GS, 27 QS, 15 W, 249.2 IP, 283 H+BB, 188 K’s, 76 ER, 2.74 ERA, 1.13 whip

Risky at best

Josh Collmenter:  4/30 @ MIA; 5/5 @ NYM – may be sent to the pen

J.A. Happ:  4/30 vs NYM; 5/6 vs STL – 4.70 ERA on the season and has to face the Cardinals offense

Aaron Harang:  4/30 @ COL; 5/6 @ CHC – 5.16 ERA so far and has to go to Coors (6.08 career ERA)

Chris Volstad:  5/1 @ CIN; 5/6 vs LAD – 6.14 ERA screams stay away

Risky at best results

Week 2 – 14 GS, 6 QS, 4 W, 77.2 IP, 99 H+BB, 56 K’s, 40 ER, 4.63 ERA, 1.27 whip

Week 3 -8 GS, 5 QS, 3 W, 53.1 IP, 71 H+BB, 31 K’s, 27 ER, 4.56 ERA, 1.33 whip

YTD – 22 GS, 11 QS, 7 W, 131 IP, 170 H+BB, 87 K’s, 67 ER, 4.60 ERA, 1.30 whip

Other Favorable Matchups

Jonathon Niese:  5/1 @ HOU

Niese has pitched well so far this year and is 1-1 with a 1.80 ERA in his career against the Astros.

Roy Halladay: 5/2 @ ATL

Doc is 4-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his career against the Braves

Johnny Cueto: 5/4 @ PIT

Cueto is 10-3 with a 2.70 ERA against the Pirates

Johan Santana: 5/5 vs ARI

Santana owns the Diamondback to the tune of 2-0 with a minuscule 0.62 ERA against

Other favorable matchups results

Week 2 – 4 GS, 2 QS, 3 W, 23 IP, 28 H+BB, 23 K’s, 6 ER, 2.35 ERA, 1.22 whip

Week 3 – 5 GS, 3 QS, 3 W, 29.2 IP, 35 H+BB, 24 K’s, 8 ER, 2.43 ERA, 1.18 whip

YTD – 9 GS, 5 QS, 6 W, 52.2 IP, 63 H+BB, 47 K’s, 14 ER, 2.40 ERA, 1.20 whip

Up next, I’ll take a look at the AL matchups for week 5.

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