Behind the Stats Curtain
In which Brandon from World of B introduces and explains complicated-seeming statistics in an effort to enlighten the masses that have neither the time nor inclination to do so themselves. Apologies to the hard-core statheads who will likely be offended by the occasional over-simplifications.
Featured stat: FIP
What does it mean?
What does it measure?
Let us start with BABIP. See, a long time ago, deep in the bowels of some mother’s basement, a hardcore nerd came across a brilliantly simple thesis: pitchers can’t control a whole lot of what happens once a ball is put in play. At that point, it’s up to his defense.
People freaked out and were like “nah, can’t be true” but he did a bunch of research and was all “check it. True, bros.” The stat he created, BABIP (batting average of balls in play) showed that terrible pitchers and all-timers alike have wildly divergent season-by-season numbers. Line drives can be caught, 9-hoppers can find holes, bloopers fall in. For the most part, pitchers have zero control over the amount of hits they surrender.
Building off that, FIP attempts to measure a pitcher’s worth within the three factors he has 100% control over: walks, strikeouts and home runs. League average FIP, like ERA, is around 4.30.
Not like I care, but how is the number equated?
According to Hardball Times, “The formula is (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP, plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2) to round out the number to an equivalent ERA number.”
Don’t worry about the calculation. Trust that the geeks who created and tinkered with it spent a lot more time perfecting the formula than the 1.5 seconds you just spent questioning it.
Can it measure heart?
Goodness no, not even close. Like pretty much 99.1%* of baseball, heart, passion, hustle and want-to have nothing to do with winning games.
*I came up with that percentage by adding up the amount of positive plays that are the result of pure hustle (extra bases taken when outfielders were being lazy, sprinting to first on the off-chance the fielder bobbles the ball, reaching first after a strikeout/wild pitch), subtracting the plays that hustle actually does harm (sliding into first, getting thrown out trying to take an extra base) and dividing by total number of plays in a given season. The result: 99.1%. Simple math, people.
Will it make me question my heroes?
Occasionally. For instance, did you know our own Francisco Liriano was 3rd in the league in FIP last year? His ERA was almost a full run higher, which means he was terribly unlucky. To sum up: many Twins fans have spent the offseason whining about the lack of an ace on a pitching staff that owns one of the best pitchers in the league. Let’s focus our gripes elsewhere, folks. Might I suggest the outfield defense that makes all our pitchers’ ERAs higher than they deserve?
Beyond the plight of Franny, a quick glance at the rest of the FIP leaderboard features the best pitchers in the league at the top. For the most part, everyone you already thought was awesome is awesome.
Should I tell my dad about it?
You’ll get about nine seconds into an explanation of FIP before your dad interrupts you to report that you are out of his will. You may be able to convince a few of your more progressive friends of FIP’s worth, but other than that you might want to keep this one to yourself and use it for fantasy baseball purposes.
Is it widely used/accepted?
Only in nerd-circles. John Kruk has never heard of it and Joe Morgan just lashed out at the Starbucks barista standing before him simply because I wrote this, though he has no idea why. (Neither does the barista, but she’s used to this sort of mystery tantrum from Joe.)
How valuable is it?
Very valuable. FIP has been proven to be a much better indicator of future performance of ERA, which, now that you think about it: duh, right?
Bonus stat! There is another number called “xFIP” that replaces the pitcher’s home run rate with the league average, the belief being that home runs are many times more luck-based that you’d think (park factors, wind, etc). If an xFIP is lower than FIP, that means the pitcher was giving up an inordinate amount of taters, which will likely regress to the mean soon. Fun fact: xFIP predicts future ERA better than any other stat.
What can FIP tell me about the Twins’ 2011 season?
Barring injuries, the starting staff looks solid. Liriano was outstanding last season, and though Pavano had the prettier ERA, Baker and Slowey pitched just as effectively. Duensing and his 3.85 FIP deserve to be penciled in to the 5th spot, and if that happens, all five of the Twins starters had a lower-than-league-average FIP in 2010. Can ‘t ask for much more than that.
As for relievers, I don’t want to talk about it.
Final grade: A-

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