Fantasy Baseball

Using ERA-FIP To Identify Starting Pitchers to Target or Trade: Mid-April 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 2019.

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. It’s also important to cross-reference this data with pitch velocity and batted ball velocity.

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. Green in the ERA-FIP column indicates a potential trade target while red indicates a potential trade candidate.

Data was collected prior to the MLB contests on 4/19/19 courtesy of FanGraphs.

Names to consider trading for based on this research:

Pablo Lopez | Marlins

A decent amount of industry buzz provided some recent ownership helium for Marlins’ right-hander Pablo Lopez – and understandably so. ERA estimators SIERA (3,33) and FIP (2.85) suggest that his current ERA of 5.85 should be in line for some improvement going forward due to some unfortunate batting average on balls in play and a below average strand rate through four starts. He’s posted above average 23% K%-BB% against the Cubs, Rockies, Reds and Braves with the bulk of his whiffs courtesy of his changeup (39.1% whiff%) and curveball (37% whiff%), his two best offerings per whiff%. Lopez is currently owned in only 5% of Yahoo! leagues and 88.5% of Ottoneu leagues.

Jakob Junis | Royals

The chart reflects Junis’ statistics prior to his start last evening against the Yankees. Junis didn’t seem to have his best stuff last night as he surrendered four earned runs (two homers) on five hits and two walks while striking out only two. He’s now allowed three or more earned runs in each of his five starts on team that may not accumulate very many wins. The chart likes him, but you should proceed with caution. Consider as a streaming option only for now. Junis is owned in 12% of Yahoo! leagues and 63% of Ottoneu formats.

Joey Lucchesi | Padres

The Friars’ southpaw has two good and two bad starts under his belt to start the season. He was tuned up for seven earned against the Giants and most recently five earned against the Rockies at Petco Park. Per Statcast, Lucchesi’s hard hit rate is in the 70th percentile and average exit velocity allowed is in the 90th percentile, which a great per the metric. More strikeouts and less walks would be ideal, but that can be said for just about every hurler to take the bump. Lucchesi is owned in over 70% of Yahoo! leagues and 99% of Ottoneu formats, so exploring trade options is probably your best avenue of acquiring shares of the southpaw at this time.

Noah Syndergaard | Mets

Velocity looks good across the board for Syndergaard compared to previous seasons — his slider is even up a tick or two. However, he’s not getting as many whiffs on the slider so far this season (33.3% vs. 46.1% in ’18) or his change for that matter ( 31.4% this season vs. 38.9% in ’18). He is, however, getting more whiffs on his curveball (61.5% vs. 39.8% in ’18) but he’s just not showing it as much as his other three offerings. You’re not going to be able to very buy low on Thor even though he has battled some injuries over the years and has had somewhat of a slow start to the season. Given the rough start for many aces I’d still be willing to pay a minimum of 90 cents on the dollar and upwards of full price if someone is panicking.

Brandon Woodruff | Brewers
Carlos Rodon | White Sox

Names to consider trading based on this research:

Jake Arrieta | Phillies

Arrieta posted a 7:9 K:BB in his first two outings which somewhat skew his spot on the chart. The two most recent outings he posted an 11:3 K:BB – a major improvement. SIERA and FIP still believe that Arrieta’s current 2.25 ERA is due for some major regression towards 5.27 and 4.71, respectfully. He has a great lineup behind him, so he could be a good source of wins, but if you can’t handle the ratios you may want to part ways.

Matt Shoemaker | Blue Jays

Editors Note: Unfortunately Matt Shoemaker tore his ACL and will miss the remainder of the season. Should be dropped in all formats.

Frankie Montas | Athletics
Brad Keller | Royals

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