Matt Garza, FIP Poster Boy

With any luck, some of the DIPS proselytizing Parkes and I do around here rubs off on a new non-believer a week. Pitchers are at the mercy of so many different factors beyond their control – it only makes sense to judge them by a few specific criteria.

By just about any measure, Matt Garza‘s move to the Chicago Cubs is proving successful. The former Rays “ace” is setting the National League ablaze, striking out 41 hitters in just 30.1 innings while walking just 9. He is yet to allow a home run and pushed his ground ball rate over 50% for the first time in his career.

He is pitching as well as he ever has. He ranks first among starting pitchers in FIP (fielding independent pitching) and expected FIP, both numbers sit under 2.

Oh by the way, Matt Garza is 0-3 with a 4.11 ERA.

Thanks in no small part to the pitiful Cubs defense, Garza brings a deeply unfortunate and wildly unsustainable .417 in play average. How bad is the Cubs defense? Pick your poison. By advanced stats, they rank last in defensive runs saved, making 23 fewer plays than average and fifth from the bottom in ultimate zone rating.

Another, simpler way to quantify the futility of the Cubs defense? Defensive efficiency. How many balls in play do they turn into outs? A mere 67.3% of the time, good for second worst in baseball.

The baby bears put this defense on display last night during a miserable night at Wrigley. Playing the West-leading Rockies in a driving rainstorm and frigid temperatures, the Cubs kicked the ball around to the tune of 4 “errors.” Stud shortstop Starlin Castro committed three puntings – in a single inning! – while Matt Garza showed real leadership by throwing a ball away in the fifth, allowing a run to score and himself to take the blame.

“We lost tonight because I can’t throw the ball to first base,” Garza said. “I throw the ball to first base and it’s a 3-3 ballgame, we’re still playing. That’s all there is. They spotted me three, and we had some hiccups in that second, but that ball thrown away, you can’t do anything like that. That was more the turning point than anything.”

Sorry Matty, I just don’t buy that.

You are doing ALL that you could possibly hope to do. Sure, throwing a ball away hurt you team last night, but that isn’t what they pay you for. They pay you to pitch…and pitch you have. Like a champ (or a man, if you prefer).

The BABIP will come down just as Garza will allow a home run or two (or three, when the wind starts blowing in Wrigleyville.) So long as Matt Garza keeps striking out 5 guys for every 1 he walks, I’m pretty sure his team will find a way to win a game or two behind this kind of special pitching performance.

Comments (49)

  1. One of these days I will fully understand what you and Parkes are talking about, and I think I will enjoy the game just a little bit more because of it. Or hate it. Time will tell.

    • Just think about it this way: extra outs. How many extra outs is Garza forced to record because his defense can’t convert balls into out? By striking out so many more than he walks (think about the differential rather than the ratio) he more than holds up his end of the bargain.

  2. I was at the Cubs game on Sunday. You don’t need advanced metrics or stats to see that they are a terrible club. I asked the people around me and they all agreed that there is virtually no upside in the roster.

    On the other hand, Wrigley is a great place to see a game and I enjoyed myself. I think that’s the attitude most Cubs fans take as well.

  3. So it’s possible that if he wasn’t on a crap defensive team like the Cubs,and was still pitching the way he is, he could be 3-0 instead?

    This really makes the “win” for pitchers pointless right? But how else do you “measure” a pitchers success in a way that is easily consumed by the masses?

    • @Travis – to be fair, just because you get FIP doesn’t mean it is any easier to understand. It takes a bit of re-wiring to get people on board sometimes.

      @Steve – if he was on a more competent defensive team pitching as he is, he would certainly have a better record. Not even just errors but balls they should reach but cannot.

      I really think WAR, when explained properly, can be a very palatable alternative. Failing that, looking at strikeouts versus walks and home runs paint the clearest picture.

  4. I don’t see why FIP is so difficult to understand. The math is no more complicated than SLG or ERA. There’s actually a really simple equation for it.

    The point is that is win-loss record and his ERA should eventually normalize if he continues to pitch so well.

  5. A high strikeout pitcher does not need to rely on his defence as much and that is seen as a good thing as fielding errors are less likely. Still, I’m not sure a high strikeout pitcher is always better than a pitcher who gets a lot of outs from grounders. If a pitcher needs a good defence because he induces a lot of ground balls, how can that be compared to a high strikeout pitcher?

    • Fly ball pitchers need good defense too.

      All pitchers benefit from good defense just as all pitchers suffer from bad defense. Ground balls are going to get through at a much higher rate than non-home run fly balls turn into hits. The difference is ground balls never turn into home runs. The more strikeouts, the fewer balls for fielders to boot.

  6. Thanks Drew, I appreciate it.

  7. I don’t think a stat should assume that a certain % of balls in play should be converted into outs. What if they’re all frozen ropes into the gap?

    Have you never heard of Josh Towers?

  8. @Dan – the same goes for this blog’s stance on the perpetual “unluckiness” of Aaron Hill with his BABIP being so low. I think if any one of Hill’s infield popups with bases loaded dropped for a hit, Gehrig’s estate would have to retract certain statements from his farewell speech.

    • I don’t think you read anything regarding Aaron Hill’s BABIP on this blog like that. Not from me anyway. His BABIP and his expected BABIP are very low that’s what happens when you are a fly ball hitter. Hill was unlucky in that his low BABIP in 2010 was one of the lowest ever recorded – and he certainly isn’t the worst hitter in baseball history.

      As for pitchers, that is a different story. Though the league wide BABIP this year is low (.290 I read somewhere) almost all pitchers and teams hover around the same number (.300) year in and year out. It comes back to a long-held debate: how much to pitchers control the type of contact they surrender? Ground ball rates tend to stabilize.

      To be fair – even if a pitcher surrendered 100% line drives, a few of them would hit some gloves. Last year, major league hitters managed a .715 BABIP on line drives. So there’s that!

  9. spitballer – I’m sure these guys can defend themselves but NOBODY here has ever said Hill’s BABIP is low because he’s unlucky. He’s the poster boy for people misunderstanding BABIP, and as far as I can remember, he’s never been referred to otherwise around these parts.

  10. I can’t tell you how glad I am that Garza is no longer in the AL East.

  11. I can’t tell you how glad I am that Garza is no longer in the AL East.

    Same here, but probably moreso because it means we no longer have to see his chin pubes several times a year. Between him and Reed Johnson, the Cubs definitely lead the league in gross facial hair.

  12. Ty- I thought anyone with a low BABIP was unlucky. Isn’t that what the stat is trying to say?

    • @Dan – in relative terms, yes. Relative to their career marks or relative to the number of line drives they hit. If your line drive rate goes way down, so will your BABIP. If you’re Ichiro and you routinley put up .350 BABIPs and suddenly you’re looking at .280 – that’s bad luck.

  13. Ty- I thought anyone with a low BABIP was unlucky. Isn’t that what the stat is trying to say?

    That is often the case, but no, that’s not necessarily what it means. I won’t pretend to have the most thorough understanding but to my knowledge, that’s generally more true for pitchers than hitters. You can expect BABIP to hover around .300 (I think) for all pitchers, but for hitters it will fluctuate more because it depends on the type of contact they’re making.

    Take the case of Aaron Hill in 2010, for example: of the balls he hit into play, only about 10% were line drives (compared to around 20% over the rest of his career) and 54% were fly balls (way higher than it should be). This means he was taking bad swings, making bad contact — he wasn’t hitting the ball well, and he was popping up way too much. As a result, his BABIP was very low. Luck was likely a factor somewhat as well, but he simply wasn’t making good contact, so his BABIP should be expected to be low.

  14. @Drew — just to check my understanding here — in your example, if Ichiro’s BABIP dropped to 280 but in the same year his FB% was way higher than normal (since he usually hits so few fly balls), that would imply that he changed his swing/approach somehow and the low BABIP would be at least partially due to that, right? I am assuming that fluctuations FB% and LD% and such cannot be simply attributed to luck – is that correct?

  15. drew, no hill’s babip is low because that’s what happens when you’re BA is low. you know they both include hits/ab’s? the reason why people keep mentioning it is because most hitters who suck don’t keep getting 500 ab’s like hill does. babip is completely useless for hitters, it doesn’t measure anything.

    and no, pitchers don’t all hover around .300. josh beckett’s babip fluctuates all over the place year to year.

    • @grouchy – A pitcher’s BABIP may fluctuate but the in play average across the board sits right around .300. Pitchers in the general sense.

      Plenty of hitters who suck get 500 ABs and have equally flawed approaches at the plate. Consider a guy like Rob Deer – he was an all or nothing slugger like Hill who didn’t walk too much. In 1989, he hit 26 home runs (just like Hill in 2010) and hit a piss-poor .210. His BABIP that season? .250. His average was 5 points higher but his BABIP was SIXTY points higher than Hill’s 2010.

      Bautista is another guy with a low BABIP because of all his fly balls. Nobody expects it rise too high, not without another change in approach.

  16. Must have been this article:

    “Aaron Hill suffered from a horrible BABIP in 2010. Well, most of that isn’t his fault.”

  17. @spitballer: Way to ignore the Ed. Note at the end of that post that completely agrees with you, and then provides links to back it up.

  18. no ty, that is not “often the case”. there is no such thing as luck in baseball. baseball is a game of skill, not chance. your skill is measured in BA. every player who bats .200 is unlucky or just white players who play for the blue jays?

  19. Drew- if a player’s BABIP can only be understood relative to his BA (or his past BABIP, I’m not sure what you meant above) then it’s not a very good stat. The relativity should be worked into the stat itself so we can compare Player A to Player B immediately.

  20. I’m sorry drew, but you really don’t understand the formula for BABIP. BABIP is BA that is skewed by k’s and hr’s. this is math and it applies to all hitters because the laws of math have to apply. when you compare rob deer to hill, I already knew the reason without even looking it up. high hr’s will lower your BABIP, high k’s will increase your BABIP.

    both deer and hill had similar BA and similar HR, so what was the big difference? That’s right k’s. Hill had only 85 k’s vs Deer’s 158 in fewer ab’s.

    so that high k ratio caused Deer’s BABIP to jump higher. it wasn’t luck

    jose bautista’s low BABIP is not because of fly balls, it’s because he hit 54 home runs! BABIP subtracts hr’s

    • Really quickly grouchy, explain to me how higher strikeouts increase your batting average on balls IN PLAY? Be a dear and break it down, I must be lost in this maze of numbers.

      Once more, in case you aren’t able to read or understand the above: Hill’s BABIP was low because he was bad and unlucky. It would have been low even without bad luck, the combination made it historically significantly bad.

  21. dan, you are absolutely correct. BABIP is a useless stat for hitters and should never be used. The existing stats like BA, OBP, and SLUG tell you all you need to know. They measure probabilities which is what baseball is all about. No one would ever say a .200 hitter is unlucky but a .200 BABIP sure.

  22. drew, you undertand in statistics there is no such thing as luck? it’s called deviation and it can be measured. can you tell me what percentage of hill’s outs were unlucky? how do you measure luck? you use this word as a fact but can’t even measure it.

    BABIP = H-HR / AB – K – HR (exluding sf for simplicity)

    any player with high k’s is lowering the denominator thus increasing the result. k’s are just another form of out. a player who strikes out is NOT putting the ball IN PLAY, so in effect he is being rewarded for it. his in play outs are SMALLER because of it.

    ichiro doesn’t strike out a lot. that means he creates lots of in play outs. jack cust strikes out a tonne, so very few in play outs, thus very high BABIP

    • Perhaps you cannot measure luck, what you can do is plug Hill’s raw batted ball numbers (ground balls, pop ups, fly balls) into an expected BABIP calculator. Using an approximation for his speed you can, based on the reams of data and batted ball averages throughout baseball lore, to create an approximation of what Hill’s in play average would look like with some of the luck stripped out.

      Doing so produces an expected in play average of .282. Still not that great but significantly higher than the .196 he posted. Why is that? Why did he only hit .159 on grounders? League average is .219. Were his grounders all so weakly hit that he we can attribute a 60 point difference to skill, not random chance spread among the 157 balls he hit on the ground?

    • I actually don’t tend to use BABIP when it comes to hitters because you have to look at a lot of other things, like Drew has broken down further (i.e. Hill’s average on ground balls). And I’m certain that you already know this, and are just trying to be difficult, but the last time I checked, batters, even very good ones, don’t have perfect control over where the ball goes once it makes contact with the bat. Sure, they can direct it through their timing and angle of swing, but they can’t place it perfectly. This is where luck enters. Baseball, with its gigantic sample sizes lends itself better to statistics than other sports, but it’s still not a research experiment. There are far too many parameters that are beyond control or even recording. So when there’s a particular average for which baseball players don’t hit into outs and one player doesn’t come remotely close to that average, let alone his anticipated numbers, you can look at BABIP and see that this could have a lot to do with luck regarding the everything from the weather on the day to the placement of the defense.

      Ks are not just another form of out

  23. drew, if it’s random chance then why is he struggling again this year? is it bad luck again? you can’t keep using the same excuse year after year. if BABIP is useless then I don’t know what valid info xBABIP would give you. if BABIP can fluctuate violently then how in the world can you predict it with xBABIP? so if you are saying that hill should be hitting .282 and he isn’t, doesn’t that suggest the calculator is not very accurate? what good is a calculator if the predictions are all wrong?

    if you’ve watched hill you should know that he was not hitting line drives all over the place. mostly pop ups and lazy fly balls. don’t tell me you are shocked by this. do you not undertand that it’s also statistically impossible for a hitter to be consistently unlucky? he can’t be hitting line drives all over the place and not get hits. not over the long term. and that’s not what he was doing last year or this year either.

    his low numbers are due to his poor skill. why does he have poor skill? I don’t know, just like I don’t know how sam fuld is suddenly hitting. that’s baseball. hill has always had a very poor approach, dead pull hitter who doesn’t walk.

    players are paid for results not on some make believe stat. you are in big trouble if you say a player should keep his job because he’s unlucky.

    • I’m trying to be patient with you but you seem determined to miss my point and keep this fight going. He was indeed bat last year, and the .282 number is not his actual average but his in-play average. I am not and have not said his entire performance is chalked up to random chance – some aspects of his admittedly poor performance can be attributed to random chance but mostly owes to bad process.

      Yes, he isn’t hitting line drives as he once did – that’s part of him being bad as I’ve said many times. But there is bad and there is transcendently, epically, all time bad. As I said above, so few of Hill’s ground balls got through for hits. Even the worst hitter can expect more hits to bounce through than Hill experienced in 2011. The pitchers of the National League had a better in-play average than Hill last year!

      If Hill doesn’t get “unlucky” as we’ve debated here, does that make his 2010 a success? NO. He was awful. If he keeps hitting line drives only 10% of the time he will keep being awful (he’s at 20% in 2011) and likely lose his job.

      Players are paid for results as you said. Sometimes the results don’t line up with the process, that is what some stats are trying to provide: context for the performance and expectations for the future.

  24. dustin, the point you’re missing is that baseball is a game of probabilities. so any perceived luck or unluck is already factored into the avg’s. the reason the best hitters only hit .300 is because there are 9 fielders trying to throw you out. sure there will be line drives hit right at someone just as there will be bloop hits that fall in. they are all factored into the probability which is your BA. hits/chances.

    I find it funny how people use SABR analysis to try to get more accurate info then use the word luck as a valid argument without providing any measurements for it at all.

    wouldn’t weather affect all hitters then? why don’t defensive shifts affect david ortiz then? when you start using the luck excuse you are saying ignore the stats staring you in the face because they no longer apply because some other unmeasureable force is at play.

    • Okay. Done with you. Thanks for playing along. That you’re unable or unwilling to even attempt to grasp my point or the difference between “random chance” and “luck” shows your intentions quite clearly. Keep trolling bro.

    • Okay, so then why not look closer at just the balls that are landing in play to see what’s happening to a more select grouping of those samples? Eliminating HRs and Ks from the equation and comparing it to past seasons with different numbers gives us hints at what the cause for those different numbers might be. The idea is that HRs and Ks are markedly different from other hits or other outs, and I’m inclined to agree, because they are the ones depending on those particular factors like nine fielders trying to get you out, live drives hit directly at someone, bloops that fall in.

      In you’re final paragraphs, you’re also assuming that a player for the Minnesota Twins will face the same conditions as one who plays for the San Diego Padres. It’s not the case. There are also an almost infinite number of defensive placements beyond the shift. But in a way, you’re last sentence is correct. We’re saying to take certain numbers with a grain of salt because as you can see via these other numbers, there’s a difference between what a typical hitter is facing and what the one in question is.

  25. drew, I’m trying to be patient with you. I’ve already explained to you that there is no such thing as in play avg. you’re hitting ability is already measuring in batting avg! any variance is due to k’s and hr’s. it’s basic math. you can’t just throw random chance out there because you can’t measure it. do you not realize that I can just as easily say hill was lucky last year? I can say he was a .150 hitter who was lucky to hit .200. I have no proof of this just as you don’t either. it’s simply your belief system that hill is a good hitter.

    balls are not randomly bouncing around. if you keep hitting pop ups and lazy fly balls you won’t get hits. it’s that simple.

    regarding NL pitchers. you realize most have no power and strike out a lot? and what did I say that would result in? high BABIP.

    roy halladay batted .141 last year. his BABIP a whopping .260!! was he some great hitter on balls in play? of course not. he struck out HALF the time!!! k’s inflate BABIP!!!! as I’ve explained BABIP just manipulates BA to get another number which doesn’t actually measure anything. if roy halladay doesn’t prove this to you nothing will.

    • Ks don’t inflate in-play average. In saying that you are wrong. I let it go before but if you actually believe it, I’m sorry. Ks don’t factor into the batting average on balls in play as they do not represent balls in play. K’s deflate batting average but that is okay because, for all intents and purposes, batting average is useless. Any stat that treats a single and a home run as they same thing isn’t worth much attention.

      Ks deflate average, they don’t inflate BABIP. If a batter had 100 at bats and struck out 100 times, his batting average is .000. His balls in play average – also zero. Where’s the inflation? If he had 85 strikeouts and 15 pop outs to the pitcher – his batting average on balls in play would still be zero. But you know this.

      Batting average is not the measure of hitting ability. At all. You’re wrong on that too. Dead wrong. But you know this. You’re just trolling and saying idiotic, inane shit trying to get a reaction. Shit that isn’t correct. And that’s cool. I’ve given you far, far too much time already. I hope you’re happy.

      Do me one favor: point out the line where I said Aaron Hill is a good hitter and I’ll admit you’re right. Please, go ahead. Try to ignore the countless times I said he was bad last year and that his BABIP is a result of said badness. Ignore all those and tell me where I said it was all about luck.

  26. Going back a bit, am I reading correctly that all pitchers’ BABIP against will revert to approximately .300? I’ve done 0 research on this, but it seems dubious that balls hit off of Pedro would be hits at the same rate as balls hit off Joey Hamilton.

  27. dustin, you are correct that there are ballpark effects. adrian gonzalez will not hit as many homers in sd. and yes poor weather or great weather could affect numbers but they would show in the split stats, home/away etc. and defensive shifts would affect all players not just one. these factors are not what we are talking about with hill. there are no legitimate excuses for hill’s decline.

    is sam fuld a lucky hitter right now? of course not. he’s hitting line drives all over the place. he has a compact swing and great approach, hits to all fields. these all lend themselves to good hitting.

  28. dan, that’s a gross generalization. take a look at josh beckett. his BABIP is all over the place. saying that a pitcher’s babip will hover around .300 is like saying all hitters will hover around .250. it’s true but not very accurate. and some pitchers have shown they can consistently have low babips as well. babip for pitchers can be an indicator of a poor defence not poor pitching.

  29. drew, “Hill was unlucky in that his low BABIP in 2010 was one of the lowest ever recorded – and he certainly isn’t the worst hitter in baseball history.” there you said it.

    “Ks don’t factor into the batting average on balls in play as they do not represent balls in play.”

    k’s are not in play correct. what you are missing is that k’s are not independant of other outs. if you don’t k then that means you hit a ground ball or fly ball which IS IN PLAY. outs are a zero sum game. striking out more means fewer gb’s and fb’s, which means higher BABIP.

    if a player hits 1/100 with 99 k’s his BA is .010 but his BABIP is 1.000. sounds like inflation to me.

    BA measures probability of getting a hit. sorry if you don’t understand this. if you can’t come up with an intelligent response and feel the need to name call, then you are the troll.

  30. @Dan – not sure which year (1999 or 2000) but check put Pedroa babips. One season was way off the charts, like .350 or something. It happens.

    @grouchy – that isn’t inflated, that’s what happned. One ball in play, one hit. Is that inflated related to his ba? Sure. But so what? Is that to suggest his true talent is that of 1.000 hitter, where every ball is a perfectly placed liner? Of course not.

    Think back to the Halladay example: Roy halladay can’t hit. Yet 26% of the pitches he flailed at landed safely. That is what babip tells us. That is all it tries to tell us. If anything, it shows that a bad hitter can get lucky and vice versa.

  31. drew, wrong only 14% of halladays chances resulted in hits (13/92). remember the probability of a hitter getting a hit is based on his CHANCES (ie ab’s) not on whether he put the ball in play. if a hitter strikes out, he still had a chance to get a hit, he had 3 swings and failed. by ignoring halladay’s k’s you are saying he didn’t have a chance to get a hit which is false.

    26% doesn’t mean he was lucky. this is what happens when you manipulate the numbers. you’re including all the hits, but not all the chances. BA includes all hits and chances.

    most pitchers are going to have higher babips because they have no power and strike out a lot. are you saying they are all lucky?

  32. That is true, though it isn’t a probability as much as a rate.

    A .260 BABIP isn’t high, it is higher than his batting average but it isn’t high.

    At the risk of slipping down another hypothetical rabbit hole, consider a batter with 100 ABs. he strikes out 50 times but has 50 hits. His average is .500 but his in-play average – the number of times he put the bat on the ball and it landed safely – is 1.000.

    You are right to say that is inflated – no way will his every contact result in a base hit. That is what this number does – it provides context to performance. If you see a player has a .400 batting average into June, does that mean he is a .400 hitter forever more? Of course not.

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