Sabermetrics: FIP

In honor of last week’s almost perfect game by Dodgers lefty Rich Hill, I decided to dedicate this week’s sabermetrics post to FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which was created in order to predict the ability of a pitcher to prevent runs independent of the actuality of his team’s fielding. The stat bases itself on league averages of balls in play–or the average potential of a fielder to make an out on a ball that should be an out–as pitchers have no control over the abilities of their fielders, and can sometimes be  penalized by shortcomings of their defense. FIP attempts, in one statistic, to rectify that fact.

I’ll allow the FanGraphs graphic to illustrate the specific formula used to calculate FIP:

fip-flash-card-7-11-15-e1436629435119

FIP looks like ERA, and can even be measured on the same scale–though there is some controversy over whether or not FIP should have been manufactured to use the same scale as ERA in the first place. Often, a given pitcher’s ERA and FIP are similar; or at least, they start out that way at the beginning of the season. Variance occurs between the statistics–a.k.a. ERA begins to climb–depending on luck of where the ball lands, or luck of the talent of fielders behind the pitcher. Variance can also occur depending on how good a pitcher is in the stretch–that is, depending on the pitcher’s capability of preventing successful stolen bases while he is on the mound. Even generating more easily-catchable pop-flys than line drives or grounders can cause variance, as pop-flys are easier outs than these other types of hits.

It is important to remember that, unlike ERA, which is a measure of the past, FIP is a good indicator of how a pitcher will fare in the future, because it takes approximately an entire season for FIP to be accurate measure of performance. Therefore, FIP isn’t always the best indicator of a pitcher’s performance early in the season or their career.

Like ERA, an excellent FIP is considered to fall around 3.20, with the league average around 4.20. Rich Hill’s FIP, for example, is currently 3.94 for the 2017 season, with a slightly lower ERA of 3.71. His career average FIP is 3.95. So in theory, an event like the third base error that cost Hill his perfect game last week, should not factor into FIP. However, because the Dodgers currently have one of the top 10 defenses in the Major Leagues–at least in terms of fielding percentage, or how often the defense successfully makes an out–it is understandable that Hills’ FIP as a Dodger would be slightly lower.

It is unlikely that any pitching statistic completely overrides ERA; ERA will always be the easiest and most common way to introduce and assess a pitcher. But in the age of sabermetrics, it is also important to consider other stats, such as FIP, that are better indicators of performance unaffected by factors that may be out of the pitcher’s control.

Even though, of course, those isolated performances exist in an alternate universe–the same universe where Rich Hill was able to pitch that perfect game.

 

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25 and 40: crash course on MLB’s 40-man roster

September 1 is a milestone–and not just because my gym membership runs out that day.

By September 1, MLB rosters freeze in anticipation of the postseason–trades and call-ups from the minor leagues halt, and major league rosters expand from 25 men to 40 men.

This roster expansion, often referred to as the “September call-up” period, is meant to allow teams seeking postseason runs to load up their teams with young talent and extra depth. In case of postseason injury, for example, a minor leaguer on the 40-man-roster may be added to the 25-man roster and could be eligible to play anywhere from one inning to the entire rest of the postseason, because up to 40 men can suit up to play. Major League Baseball can accomplish this drastic roster growth each season because, unlike other professional sports leagues, there is no salary cap in the MLB–only a limit on the number of players eligible on the active roster at any given time.

The 40-man roster period is often the culmination of a volatile month in many players’ seasons, where clubs are hasty to trade, call up and send down players seemingly on a whim. If a team needs an extra arm to rest a fatigued rotation, a secondary infielder from their farm system or still wants to claim a player off waivers, players can be uprooted multiple times before the Sept. 1 deadline.

From a strategic standpoint, this complex trade/roster system makes crafting a roster for an MLB team both uniquely exciting and challenging. Even post trade-deadline, player movement is not only possible but highly probably–just ask Curtis Granderson, who was claimed off waivers and headed to the Dodgers just last week. Minor leaguers are perhaps the most frequently uprooted–for example, Yankees’ starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery, who was sent down to Triple-A in mid-August in order to clear a roster spot for CC Sabathia, will again return to the Yankees as a member of the 40-man roster on September 1.

So while the unique MLB roster expansion is fascinating, it makes for some of the most volatile Septembers for minor leaguers.

However, it can also make for the most exciting career debuts–because many professional careers begin on the postseason 40-man roster. Just another reason to be excited for September/October baseball.

 

 

Reluctantly, what we can learn from this year’s Home Run Derby

Despite my many qualms with the event, I was guilted into watching last night’s Home Run Derby and reluctantly agreed for mostly for one reason: Aaron Judge.

I have to say, I enjoyed watching him participate, even if I still despise the general idea and fairness of the Derby itself–I’m looking at whoever booked Mr. Worldwide as the pre-Derby talent. And although I was sufficiently entertained by the spectacular display Judge put on,I still hate the Derby. As talented as Sano and Bellinger were, I would have been bored without Aaron Judge.

But this article is not about whether or not Judge changed any of my Derby opinions–this is about what Judge, and the Derby itself, may have just taught the world of baseball.

What did we learn from this year’s Home Run Derby? Just ask Yankees’ reliever Dellin Betances, who reacted to one of Judge’s 500+ foot homers the same way one might expect to react to witnessing a literal nuclear explosion. Rather than cheering for Judge or exhibiting jubilation or pride like most any Judge fan or friend would, Betances’ gut reaction to Judge’s sheer power was one of confusion, awe, and even, perhaps, fear.

So what exactly is that something? Betances’ memorable expression was not caused by a number–as well as Judge performed during the Derby, he was far from the most impressive statistical competitor to ever participate in the event. Marlins’ own Giancarlo Stanton, knocked out early last night by underdog and Yankee catcher Gary Sanchez, won the 2016 Derby in a record 61 home runs;  Judge only launched 47 last night. In 2007, Josh Hamilton recorded a historic 28 homers in one round; Judge halted at 23. And while Judge recorded the longest home runs of the evening, home run tracking technology has not existed long enough to decisively comment on whether or not anyone else had ever hit multiple 500-footers at a Home Run Derby.

But even though none of the biggest Derby records were broken last night, everyone, including the ballplayers, is acting like we had never seen a Derby performance like Judge’s.

Rather than statistics, it was Judge’s aesthetics that illustrated why his performance was so unique, so spectacular, so superhuman. Visualize–or watch–the ease with which Judge clobbered multiple homers in a row. Judge’s hands were quiet, leg kick almost completely absent, and his swing short. Unlike other contenders, such as Sanchez and the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger, who utilize multiple exhaustive strategies to power their home runs, Judge swung easily.

Compared to the other guys, Judge seemed to exert little to no force when smashing long, high dingers. And by the end of the Derby, when other bats were sagging, hands dropping and mechanics failing, Judge’s remained smooth, consistent and energized.

Dellin Betances acted as if he had never seen a ball swung at so easily that was hit so hard and so far–probably because he hadn’t. None of us have…until Aaron Judge.

The stats did not explain the magnitude of shocked awe that was every person’s reaction to last night’s Home Run Derby. The footage did. So perhaps what this year’s Derby showed was a taste of the baseball to come: a game played so well that a collection of saber metrics is but a mere companion to the awe-inspiring talent that we only need our eyes to see.

I hate the Home Run Derby

Well, the names are officially out. The eight players who will participate in this year’s Home Run Dery have been announced–not without excitement, and not without some rare but headlining drama. And I have to admit, it’s a damn good lineup. The appearance of the two hottest young coastal sluggers, Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger, is reason enough to watch the whole damn, hours-long event. Add in last year’s winner Giancarlo Stanton and the seeming underdog Gary Sanchez, and you’ve got a Home Run Derby that may just shape up to be as memorable as that one very warm and fuzzy Derby that showcased a rising-from-the-ashes Josh Hamilton a few years ago.

This year, there are so many stars–and not just stars but breakout stars–not just breakout stars but electric, record-breaking breakout stars–that I guess I’ll have to watch. I guess I am obligated to begrudgingly plop down with a bag of extra-buttered popcorn and endure my least favorite baseball-related event.

Why begrudgingly, you ask? Simple. I hate the Home Run Derby.

Now, if you would be so kind as the peel your incredulous jaw off the floor, and before you start with the “who doesn’t love to watch home runs!?” B.S., allow me to explain.

I hate the Home Run Derby because I never want my favorite players to participate in it in the first place. Call me paranoid or overly traditional, but I do believe that the concern of the Derby being detrimental to a player’s swing mechanics, late-season production or even health is a valid one. The statistics backing the drop in production of Derby participants is substantial, even if not proven. So I never understood why an event that has less signicance than even the All-Star Game–which really is saying something–is worth the risk of adversely altering one’s sacred swing mechanics or perpetuating injury due to multiple over-swings.

Mike Trout has passed on the Derby for this very reason; former sluggers such as Bobby Abreu–laugh all you want, he did have the numbers at one point–have substantially lost power after participating in the Derby.

Some managers buy it, some don’t, but the risk is still there. So to me, it’s just not worth it.

Because not only is the Derby unimportant, it is also painfully boring. It is perhaps the only event in sports in which the same motion takes up hours of so-called competition. There is no variation in athletic movement; just swing after swing after swing after swing after swing after swing after…continue for approximately 50,000 more words and you get my point. So the entertainment factor isn’t there.

And don’t try to tell me the Derby is one of the few times when baseball players get to be “fun.” This is not the NBA, folks. The outlandish guestures of sweat-wiping and child head-patting, the joking competition and even the petty drama–I’m looking at you, Logan Morrison–is just not interesting enough.

In fact, this theatrical aspect of the Derby illustrates exactly what is wrong with baseball: only a select few–and by a select few I mean Bryce Harper–can get away with the theatrics in a genuine manner. Theatrics are not part of baseball, and no effort of the league to make baseball “funnier” or more “dramatic” is realistic. Smeared pie on a player who has hit a walk-off or cleared benches during a brawl are as theatrical as baseball can get. The Derby is an excellent example of baseball trying desperately, for the sake of ratings, to be something that it is not. And I, loving baseball just the way it is, cannot stand it.

So, on second thought, not even the great Judge and Jury could sentence me to watching the Home Run Derby. Someone just call me if Judge smacks at 600-footer, and I’ll watch a highlight of it the next morning.

But even that incredible event could not be as historic as it should, because it will have taken place during the Home Run Derby. It’s just not real.