2016 Fantasy BaseballAlan HarrisonFantasy Baseball

Using ERA-FIP to Identify Starting Pitchers to Target or Trade: August Update

In this piece, I’ll be updating one of my favorite strategies to identify starting pitchers to target via trade for fantasy baseball players in 2016.

Each and every baseball site you visit can probably provide you with a strategy to identify players to target via trade. One of my favorite statistics to look at for pitchers is ERA-FIP on FanGraphs. ERA-FIP provides users with the difference between a starting pitchers current earned run average and their fielding independent pitching. According to FanGraphs, Fielding Independent Pitching “measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.” Moreover, FanGraphs suggests that “FIP does a better job at predicting the future than measuring the present, as there can be a lot of fluctuation in small samples.”

The idea here is to look for pitchers who appear to be performing better than their ERA leads us to believe. These may be players that haven’t been so “lucky” to start the season, but theoretically should regress to the mean and improve as the season wears on. In addition to looking for players with the higher ERA-FIPs, I’ll take a look at the BABIP, LOB%, K%, BB%, SwStr% and SIERA to guide my search.

Below is the chart, but you can also download it directly here. Using FanGraphs general guidelines, I’ve used the color green to indicate average or better and red to display below average or worse.

Data was collected prior to the MLB contests on 8/22/16.

Arms to Target

Jon Gray | Rockies – We’ve all read about the pedigree and upside that made the big right-handed hurler the number three overall pick in the 2014 draft. For a couple of months this season we saw those flashes of brilliance, but he’s been blown up pretty good in each of his past three outings — two of which came at Coors. But even with those three disastrous appearances, Gray is still mostly green on the chart, meaning he’s a good, reasonable buy candidate.

Robbie Ray | Diamondbacks – If I told you that Robbie Ray owned the league’s fourth-best xFIP among qualified starting pitchers and owns the fifth-most strikeouts in the National League, would you believe me? Well, he does. Ray has struck out 6 or more batters in 18-of-25 starts this season and 7 or more batters in 13-of-25 starts this year. No reason he should be owned in only 35% of Y! leagues at this point.

Jose Fernandez | Marlins – Yea, no kidding. All green. Go for it if you have the ammo to acquire him, especially if you just lost Stephen Strasburg to the disabled list.

Arms to Deal

Jason Hammel | Cubs – Hammel tops the list of qualified arms that are expected to see ERA regression. Both FIP and SIERA agree that Hammel’s ERA may be a bit lucky due to some advantageous BABIP and LOB%. He’s fared well in the strikeout department, but is surrendering a few too many free passes, leaving him with an average K-BB%. Encourage owners to look beyond his most recent outing during trade talks.

Brandon Finnegan | Reds – The Reds’ southpaw probably isn’t owned in your casual ten or twelve team leagues, but those in deeper 15 -teamers may want to consider cutting bait. He galls in the “below average” range in each of the categories we use for this exercise and both FIP/SIERA seem to think things are only going to get worse. Too much red for the Red.

Dan Straily | Reds – Straily has had himself one heck of a summer. Since the beginning of July, eight of Straily’s nine starts were of the quality variety. And he owns a 26:2 K:BB in his last five trips to the hill. Even with the notable improvements, the chart is still too red for the 27-year-old. A mini “sell high” could be in order.

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