Almost everyone who plays fantasy baseball follows some numbers in the game. Common statistics that most fantasy baseball owners follow are HR, R, RBI, SB, batting average, W, SV, WHIP, ERA and strikeouts. Winning in fantasy baseball is about finding an edge or information to utilize that your other league members aren’t. This is where next level statistics come into play. These are commonly referred to as sabermetric statistics. Going forward this is what my “Follow The Numbers” posts will be about. Exposing a statistic that says something about the current production (or lack thereof) of a player. All statistics are courtesy of fangraphs.com.
This article focuses on starting pitchers.
When a pitcher’s FIP is a half a run or more better than his ERA I like to call that pitcher a FIP diamond. FIP is a much better predictor of future success for a pitcher than ERA is because it focuses only on things within a pitcher’s control. So, basically FIP diamond pitchers are performing even better than their ERA suggests. I get really excited when a pitcher’s FIP is over a run better than his listed ERA as other fantasy baseball owners might be valuing the pitcher purely off his ERA while I’m heavily factoring in the FIP predictive statistic into my player valuation. Sometimes a savvy fantasy baseball owner can get a player via trade at a bit of a discount when armed with this information. So, without further delay, I now will list for you 7 FIP diamonds.
Jacob deGrom: 3.09 FIP
Mr. deGrom has an ERA of 3.68 as of Monday morning. As you can see, his FIP is noticeably higher than that. In 36.2 innings pitched this season he has 49 strikeouts. The guy is on pace, as long as he stays healthy, to shatter his personal best of 205 strikeouts in 191 innings pitched that he achieved in 2015. Another positive sign is his swinging strike percentage (SwStr%) has jumped from a personal major league career best of 12.7% in 2015 to 15.6% so far this season. I’m really loving what Mr. deGrom has been doing this season and would give the green light to anyone who is considering adding him via trade.
Charlie Morton: 3.12 FIP
The veteran starting pitcher has already pitched more innings than he did last season (17.1 innings). He has pitched well, with an ERA barely under 4 as of Monday morning to show for it (3.97). In his 34 innings this season he has struck out 39 batters. The longer he keeps striking out hitters at this rate and maintaining this FIP the more I will be buying into the thought that this just may be a nice veteran to add via trade.
Danny Salazar: 3.27 FIP
It’s time to get really excited! Here we have a starting pitcher with a FIP just barely over a run lower than his ERA (4.28). What’s even more exciting is that he pitches for a team that has a superb bullpen. As of Monday morning the Cleveland Indians bullpen has the best ERA in the major leagues at 1.83. Oh yeah, and they lead the major leagues with a bullpen FIP of 2.11. This is especially important to Mr. Salazar because in half of his games started he’s only pitched 5.2, 5 and 4.2 innings. In 33.2 innings pitched he already has 49 strikeouts.
An unlucky .385 BABIP is a lot of the reason behind the much higher ERA compared to FIP. As that experiences some positive regression we should see a much more attractive ERA emerge going forward as long as he continues to pitch at the level of effectiveness that he has displayed thus far in 2017. One other very positive sign is after 3 seasons with a SwStr% in the 11% percent range the 27-year-old has been downright dominant in this area in the early part of the 2017 season with a 16.6%.
Josh Tomlin: 3.40 FIP
Ummm….Mr. Tomlin has a 7.12 ERA in 30.1 innings pitched in 2017. That’s way over 3 runs higher than his FIP! In 174 innings pitched last season he had a 4.88 FIP and 4.40 ERA, so we need to keep our enthusiasm in check some here. However, having said that, it’s so darn hard not to get excited if we can get him in a trade at a steep discount! Just like with his teammate, Mr. Tomlin has been saddled with an unlucky BABIP. His is .362. As his BABIP drops, if he can maintain this level of effectiveness, then we’ll see his ERA likely continue to improve. He’s also been killed with only a 51.5% LOB%. That should normalize as the season continues on and that too will only help improve his ERA.
Justin Verlander: 3.55 FIP
In 36.1 innings pitched during this season Mr. Verlander has a 4.21 ERA. His strikeouts are down from his impressive 2016 campaign and his walks are up. The big concern is that his SwStr% is the lowest it has been in any year of his major league career in which he’s pitched extensively at the MLB level. This season is still young so it is entirely possible that he rights the ship the rest of the way in this area and finishes with a much higher SwStr% than 7.6%. However, his past 3 starts have seen SwStr% of 5.6%, 6.7% and 5.1% through his most recent start when I collected this data on Monday morning. If you have Mr. Verlander on your fantasy baseball team I would suggest that you pay specific attention to this sabermetric statistic for a while.
Jeff Samardzija: 3.63 FIP
The 0-4 record with a 5.03 ERA doesn’t look particularly attractive from a real world or fantasy baseball world perspective when looking at a starting pitcher. However, he seems to be being a little unlucky in left on base percentage (LOB%) with a 60.6%. Historically, over the course of his major league career, that number has been higher so it seems as if Mr. Samardzija is due for some positive regression in this area as the season moves along, which most likely will only help lower his ERA as long as he continues to pitch at the level of effectiveness he has displayed thus far on the pitchers mound in 2017. One positive sign is the spike in his strikeout percentage being a major league career best 28.6%. Of course, there is much of the season yet to play so this sabermetric statistic certainly could regress back to his major league career average of 21.5%, but there is always the chance a player posts an outlier season, even if he’s 32-years-old, so do keep an eye on this. Also, I recommend you keep an eye on his SwStr%, which is at 11.5% currently. I consider that to be a great SwStr%.
Adam Wainwright: 3.73 FIP
I could have finished this article with other starting pitchers but felt like doing a quick look at Mr. Wainwright. He has that ugly 6.30 ERA in 30 innings of work, but as you can see with the disparity between that and his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) you now know that he has been a victim this season of a lot of bad luck. That .446 BABIP against him this season is the main culprit, and as long as he continues to pitch at the same level as he has this season then it is very likely he will encounter some good luck with BABIP to help lower that number and his ERA as the season progresses. Don’t give up on the 35-year-old veteran starting pitcher just yet.