Using ERA-FIP To Identify Starting Pitchers to Target or Trade: June 30th 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 6/29/16.
Arms to Target
Aaron Nola | Phillies – Green is good. And we see plenty of green on Nola’s chart with just one exception in the swinging-strike rate department. FIP and SIERA agree that Nola’s ERA should be more in the low-3’s as opposed to the 4.45 mark he currently sports. The right-hander’s ERA inflated significantly over his last four starts, where Nola failed to pitch past the fourth inning of each and allowed 22 earned runs to go with a 14:7 K:BB. Woof. Recency bias may have owners willing to talk Nola, so reach out and express your interest in taking him off of their hands. To read more about Aaron Nola and why you may want to keep/target him going forward, check out Gerard Martin’s 3x3x3 from this past Monday. Great work as always by G.
Gio Gonzalez | Nationals – Yes, really. I know what you’re thinking. Gio Gonzalez has been beaten, battered and bruised by opposing hitters over the last month — 35 earned runs over his last seven starts — so, why Gio? Both FIP and SIERA suggest Gonzalez’s ERA should settle in the mid-to-upper 3’s, meaning an improvement of more than a run to his ERA going forward. Strikeouts, walks and swinging strike rates are all above average to this point with a tiny bit of misfortune in the batting average on balls in play and strand rates to this point (compared to career rates). There are some concerns to mention, too. Gonzalez is surrendering hard contact (Hard%) at a 32.8% clip — a career high for the southpaw — compared to a 27.3% Hard% career rate. Additionally, on average, his velocity is down on each of his offerings a tick or more compared to previous years. The good news is, since the start of the season the velocity has been on the rise. At the time of this writing, Gio Gonzalez is only owned in 67% of Y! Leagues. If he’s available in your league, stash him now. If there’s a frustrated Gio owner in your league, test the market and offer up someone who’s on the opposite side of this list and overachieving.
Corey Kluber | Indians – Let’s make this clear — Corey Kluber is in no way underachieving. The reason he makes this list is that he’s green all the way across our chart, which is a bit unusual. Not unusual for Corey Kluber, but in general among pitchers. The only other arms that have green across the board are Clayton Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Greinke and Steven Matz — pretty elite company. Like the other pitchers we just noted, Kluber is already above average in each of the categories we’re assessing but both FIP and SIERA believe his ratios are still going to get better. You’re not going to get any discounts on this guy, but if you’re looking to make a play for a big name arm, you might be able to acquire Kluber for a bit less than the other names (outside of Greinke/Matz) we just mentioned. Pay ace price.
Arms to Deal
Mike Fiers | Astros – Let’s be blunt: there’s not much to like here about Mike Fiers outside of the above average walk rate. He owns a 4.41 ERA and FIP thinks it’s going to get a bit worse. Fiers is inducing swinging-strikes at a below average clip, explaining the dip in strikeout rate. He has induced more ground balls this season, thanks mostly to his slider and cutter, but batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is up as is hard contact (Hard%) allowed to opposing batters. Too much red here, float Fiers and his five wins to league mates in need of an arm.
Doug Fister | Astros – Like Fiers, Doug Fister’s walk rate is the easiest on the eyes when looking at his marks on our scorecard. His FIP and SIERA think the right-hander’s 3.36 ERA is a mirage, likely to slip into the depths of the mid-to-high 4’s when batting average on balls in play and strand rate start to correct themselves. WIth eight wins, a shiny ERA and some name value, you may be able to get something of relative value in return.
Josh Tomlin | Indians – We’re seeing red with Josh Tomlin, you guys. The 31-year-old is 9-1 with a 3.32 ERA, but FIP and SIERA feel he should be more of a mid-to-high 4’s ERA hurler. The righty’s K-BB% is pretty damn good — still below average, but good — and that’s mainly because Tomlin has allowed very few free passes so far this season — 2.2% BB%, second to only Clayton Kershaw’s 2.0% among qualified starters. Batting average on balls in play and strand rate this season are beating Tomlin’s career rates, so the “regression” in those areas could be two of the factors that contribute to the potential slip in ERA going forward.