Data Dump: Breaking up FIP

There is a lot to be said for component stats. Some say there is an over-reliance on these numbers in the modern internet world. “Some” might be right. Strikeouts, walks, home runs allowed are the foundation of invaluable tools like Fielding Independent Pitching. These components, however you take them, tell a story.

They describe pitchers who limit damage by keeping runners off the basepaths and the ball in the park – skills essential to effective big league pitching. Rather than shoving these rates into a mathematical stew to create semi-esoteric numbers, let’s throw a bunch of pitchers and their numbers (Strikeout differential K%-BB% and home runs per ball in play) and see how they rate.

All starting pitchers with 300 innings pitched over the last three seasons are represented below. As noted above, K differential is the x axis while HR/BIP is the Y. Why HR per ball in play? There is less wiggle room in terms of stat stringers definitions of what makes a line drive or a fly ball or whatever. Which is a longer way of saying ballpark matters. Correcting for ballpark is important but a good team shapes its roster around the environment in which they compete.

Using ground ball rate might also suffice but there is more than one way to “Matt Cain” a cat. Again, fly balls aren’t bad in and of themselves if the pitcher who favours them is supplied the correct place to ply his trade.

Enough preamble: on to the charty goodness. These are combined over the last three seasons with the red lines representing the averages of this grouping and providing us with some tidy little quadrants to work with. The actual league average numbers are slightly lower as cups of coffee and swing starters shallow up the gene pool.

Some pretty clear clusters emerge: the lower right is the aces/number one starters, above them the #2s and good #3s. The lower left quadrant is the wide swath of 4th/5th starters, innings eaters and Twins bait. Guys who consistently get work. They may not miss too many bats but they seem to keep the ball off the barrel, as they say. That counts for something.

The upper left is the village of the damned. Too many walks or too few strikeouts with too many home runs.

More assorted observations:

  • Special shoutout to Rich Harden who barely qualified but I excluded him anyway. His insanely high HR/BIP made this thing impossible to read and his innings were so low I don’t feel bad axing him. Sorry, Canada.
  • Edwin Jackson is the most average pitcher in baseball. Seriously, he could not be any closer to the intersection of these two league averages. Buyer beware, as we detailed before.
  • Gio Gonzalez is equally average though more pronouncedly in the “good” corner of life. Dave Cameron points out that Gio keeps good company and this image supports it.
  • Why did the Reds give up so much for Mat Latos? Even if his home runs increase, he still finds himself in the middle of a damn good group of starters.
  • Joe Saunders wants a three-year deal. Me thinks he won’t quite get there.
  • Roy Halladay is better at everything than you are at anything.
  • Is C.J. Wilson somewhat underrated? Anyone who can keep the ball in the park while playing his home games in Texas has a lot going for him, we all quickly forgot. See, Lewis, Colby.
  • Brandon Morrow and Ricky Nolasco should start a support group for fantasy owners. So tantalizing!

Let me know in the comments if you want to know where a specific pitcher sits. Does seeing pitchers divided in this manner change your mind on anyone? Is the HR/BIP a sticking point for you? There is literally nothing else going on, let’s talk about pitching on the internet instead of staring out the window waiting for spring.

Stats courtesy of Fangraphs, as you probably assumed.