Gio Gonzalez is back on top of the FIP Leaderboard in August, with teammate Stephen Strasburg second and Zach Greinke third.
While conventional pitching stats like ERA and WHIP are nice for agents when negotiating contracts, they are not really that predictive from a betting standpoint, so we are presenting monthly updates to the Major League FIP leaderboard, as FIP is better indicator of future performance and thus leads to making more informed MLB picks.
Besides, it is just about impossible to beat the sportsbooks using widely available conventional stats because the sportsbooks have just as easy access to those numbers and believe us when we tell you that they have much more intricate algorithms to produce sharper lines than 95 percent of bettors can come up with.
Keep in mind too that ERA and WHIP include some components that are out of the pitcher’s control, which also makes those numbers flawed as a predictive tool. Those factors could range from his team’s defensive range and ability to even the official scorer scorekeeper deciding if a play is a hit or an error.
This is why we favor FIP so much, as it is composed of factors that the pitcher can control on his own. FIP stands for Fielder Independent Pitching and it incorporates strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. The formula for FIP is (13xHR+3xBB-2xK)/IP + a constant, which is usually about 3.20. The constant is used to put FIP on the same scale as ERA, and since the constant is based on league-wide ERA, it fluctuates from year to year and throughout the season.
Because they can better control it, pitchers tend to maintain their FIP much better than ERA and WHIP, making it a better indicator of future performance. Obviously, there will be some superstars on the FIP leaderboard that will be huge favorites in the MLB odds when they take the mound, but the more important use of FIP is directing you to under-the-radar and therefore undervalued pitchers.
Just like earlier in the season, two Washington Nationals’ teammates hold the top two spots in our August update as Gio Gonzalez is back on top after falling to third last month with Stephen Strasburg second. Here are the top 10 FIP pitchers in the Major Leagues through games of Thursday, August 9, 2012. (FIP is in parenthesis).
1 – Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals, 2.68): Gonzalez moves up from third to reclaim the top spot he held earlier this year. He has been a bit more erratic recently than he was earlier on, but when he has been good, he has been very good, such as when Gio allowed two runs of five hits with nine strikeouts in six innings vs. the Miami Marlins, or when he did not allow an earned run in seven innings vs. the New York Mets. Gonzalez is coming off of his first Complete Game of the year vs. the Astros, and he has now allowed three runs or less in 17 of his last 22 starts. He is 14-6 for the season with a 3.32 ERA and 1.14 WHIP while permitting just a .209 batting average, with 154 strikeouts in 141 innings, and he has allowed just six home runs in his 23 starts this year.
2 – Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals, 2.69): Strasburg maintains his second position to make it a Washington Nationals’ sweep at the top two positions. He is coming off of another fine outing where he tossed six scoreless outings vs. the Miami Marlins while allowing only three hits and striking out six, meaning that Strasburg has allowed three earned runs or less in 18 of his 22 starts. He ranks second in the National League in strikeouts with 160, accumulating those in just 127.1 innings while issuing only 34 walks! Strasburg is 12-5 with a 2.97 ERA and 1.13 WHIP, but the biggest news surrounding him is that Washington management seems adamant about shutting him down after around 160 innings this season, which could make for some interesting drama with the Nationals currently leading the National League East.
3 – Zack Greinke (Los Angeles Angels, 2.83): Last month’s leader Greinke now drops two spots. The biggest news regarding Greinke this past month was his trade from the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League over to the Angels. He has made three starts for his new team, and in a continuance of his pattern throughout his career, he pitched well in his lone home start for the Angels, allowing two runs on seven hits on seven innings with eight strikeouts, and not so much in his two road starts, allowing a total of 10 runs and 16 hits in 12 innings. Looking at Greinke’s combined split stats this year for both the Brewers and Angels, he is 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA and 0.97 WHIP at home while permitting a .205 average with 70 strikeouts against only 13 walks, compared to 5-3 on the road with a 4.59 ERA and 1.47 WHIP while allowing a whopping .300 batting average, striking out 67 and walking 23.
4 – R.A. Dickey (New York Mets, 2.87): Dickey climbed a spot from fifth to fourth over the past month. He had tailed off a bit after a sensational start to the season, but he is starting to become unhittable again, which is bad news for the rest of the league. Dickey tossed a Complete Game five-hitter vs. the Miami Marlins last time out, allowing only one run while striking out 10. That marked the third straight start that Dickey has allowed two earned runs or less, and he now leads the National League win wins (15-3) and strikeouts (166) while ranking fourth with his 2.72 ERA. Dickey throws his knuckleball in the 75-80 MPH range and is somehow able to control is, as his 166 strikeouts have come over 162.1 innings against only 36 walks! It is no wonder that he made his first All-Star Game at the age of 37 and he is a bona fide Cy Young candidate.
5 – Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners, 2.90): Hernandez just may be the hottest pitcher in baseball, and that is reflected by his rising three positions from eighth last month. To say that Hernandez is on a major roll right now would be a major understatement. He made the mighty New York Yankees look helpless while tossing a Complete Game two-hit shutout his last time out, leaving him at 5-0 over his last five starts and with a 1.41 ERA over his last 10 outings with 75 strikeouts against 14 walks in those 10 starts. King Felix now leads the Major Leagues with his three shutouts, and he ranks third in the American League in strikeouts (159) and fifth in ERA (2.63) while going 10-5 for a last-place team that is 11 games under .500.
6 – Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers, 2.92): Kershaw is the first pitcher in this month’s leaderboard that was not on it last month as he reports home sixth. He has now allowed one run or less in four of his last five starts after limiting the Chicago Cubs to one run on only three hits with seven strikeouts in seven innings his last time out. Truth be told, Kershaw is not pitching worse than he did when he won the National League Cy Young Award last season, but rather, he received very little run support while Matt Kemp was out of the Dodgers’ lineup, so the wins should start coming more frequently now that Kemp is back and Los Angeles is scoring runs again. Kershaw is 9-6 with a 2.88 ERA and 1.04 WHIP while holding the opposition to a .216 batting average, with 150 strikeouts against only 41 walks in 156.1 innings.
7 – Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox, 2.93): Sale takes the biggest drop since last month, although that would be only three spots from fourth. He had a couple of rough outing recently, allowing five earned runs in back-to-back starts vs. the Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers after allowing more than three runs just once in his first 16 outings, but the White Sox then gave his nine days off before his last start and Sale responded by allowing only two runs in eight innings vs. the Kansas City Royals. Sale ranks fourth in the American League in ERA at 2.59 while posting an excellent 1.02 WHIP in 132 innings, and he has a outstanding ratio for someone so young of 121 strikeouts vs. 31 walks. He has also allowed only nine home runs all year in his 19 starts.
8 – Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers, 2.96): Verlander moves down one spot from seventh. However, it is not as if Verlander has been bad, as he has still allowed three earned runs or less in five of his last six starts while allowing four earned runs on the other outing, and he did not allow an earned run in eight innings while striking out 14 Yankees and walking only one in an awesome performance his last time out. The 2011 American League Cy Young Award winner and MVP may be only 12-7, but he is tied with R.A. Dickey for the Major League lead with 166 strikeouts, and he has issued only 41 walks in 168.2 innings. Verlander has a 2.51 ERA and a terrific 0.98 WHIP while permitting just a .203 batting average.
9 – Adam Wainwright (St. Louis Cardinals, 3.00): Wainwright is making his 2012 debut on the FIP Leaderboard at ninth. Wainwright missed all of last season following Tommy John surgery and he was understandably off to a slow start this year, but he is in raging form right now having allowed two earned runs or less in his last five consecutive outings and in nine of his last 11 starts. His command certainly appears to be back to where it needs to be as Wainwright has 137 strikeouts and just 36 walks over the entire season in 145.1 innings, and he has 80 strikeouts vs. 12 walks in his last 12 starts.
10 – Johnny Cueto (Cincinnati Reds, 3.02): Cueto probably has the distinction of being the most notable snub in this year’s All-Star Game, and he is now 10th on the list. Cueto has allowed three runs or less in 11 of his last 13 starts and he is now 14-6 while ranking third in the National League with a stellar 2.39 ERA, He has 124 strikeouts against 35 walks and only eight home runs allowed in 153.2 innings, which might be his most amazing feat of all considering he pitches half of his games in the most hitter-friendly stadium in the National League in Great American Ball Park.
Since conventional pitching statistics like ERA and WHIP are already incorporated into the MLB betting odds and are not really that predictive to begin with, we are presenting monthly updates to the Major League FIP leaderboard in an attempt to let you make more informed MLB picks, as FIP is more predictive of a pitcher’s future form than the more conventional and widely available pitching stats.
It is almost impossible to beat the books using conventional stats because the sportsbooks have equally easy access to those figures as their customers do, and the algorithms the books use to make the lines are a lot sharper than any approach bettors could have.
Also, ERA and WHIP are not necessarily predictive either because they include some components that are out of the pitcher’s control. These factors could range from his team’s defensive ability to even the official scorer, whose decisions on questionable scoring plays could have an impact on a pitcher’s ERA and WHIP. That could make those common stats rather deceptive when gauging a pitcher’s ability.
This is why we favor FIP so much, a popular Sabremetric stat which keys on factors that the pitcher can control on his own. As a reminder, FIP stands for Fielder Independent Pitching and it only incorporates strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed.
The formula for FIP is (13xHR+3xBB-2xK)/IP + a constant, which is usually in the vicinity of 3.20. The constant is solely used to put FIP on the same scale as ERA, and since the constant is based on league-wide ERA, it fluctuates from year to year and throughout the season.
Pitchers tend to maintain their FIP much better than ERA and WHIP because FIP does not factor in the aforementioned extraneous factors, and thus FIP is a better indicator of future performance. Now granted, there will be some known superstars on the FIP leaderboard that will land you on some big favorites in the MLB odds, but it will also point you to some under-the-radar and undervalued pitchers, which is where FIP is most useful.
Zack Greinke continues to top the FIP leaderboard in our July update, but there is a flip-flop of Washington Nationals’ teammates in the second and third spots at the All-Star break. Here are the top 10 FIP pitchers in the Major Leagues through games of Sunday, July 8, 2012. (FIP is in parenthesis).
1 – Zack Greinke (Milwaukee Brewers, 2.35): Greinke maintains the top spot for another month after an eventful week that saw him start on Saturday, get ejected from the game after throwing only four pitches as he spiked the ball following a close play at first base, and he then came back to start on Sunday. Greinke has been the subject of trade rumors and there were several scouts in attendance in Houston over the weekend, but unfortunately they did not get a long look at him as he was pulled after just three innings and 66 pitches on Sunday, allowing three earned runs on five hits with five strikeouts and three walks. Interestingly, Greinke is currently slated to start the first game after the All-Star break for the Brewers Friday, giving him three straight starts for the team! The mediocre outing Sunday further contributed to Greinke’s drastic home/away splits, as he is still a perfect 4-0 with a 1.89 ERA and 0.86 WHIP at home, allowing opposing batters to hit .181 off of him, compared to 5-3 record with a 4.41 ERA and 1.50 WHIP on the road, where the opposition is hitting .310.
2 – Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals, 2.50): Strasburg jumps up a spot from his third ranking in our June update, leapfrogging Washington teammate Gio Gonzalez, and the irony is that he does so despite losing his last three starts. It is not as if he has been getting bombed however, as two of those three losses were official Quality Starts and Strasburg has now allowed three runs or less in seven consecutive starts. His “dead arm’ period that scared many about six weeks ago because it came less than two years after he went through Tommy John surgery has long since been forgotten, as he leads the National League in strikeouts with 128 in just 99 innings, and he has only 28 walks and eight home runs allowed in 17 starts while sporting a 2.82 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.
3 – Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals, 2.52): Gonzalez drops from second to third place after being in the top two all year since we started doing these updates. Yes, Gonzalez is 4-0 in his last four stats, but that included back-to-back outings where he allowed exactly four earned runs in only five and six innings respectively following a streak of 13 straight starts where he allowed three runs or less. Gonzalez did bounce back in his last start before the break by limiting the Colorado Rockies to one run and three hits with six strikeouts in six innings. He is a nice 12-3 with a 2.92 ERA and 1.11 WHIP overall while allowing just a .192 batting average, with 118 strikeouts in 101.2 innings against only 42 walks, and he has allowed just four home runs in his 17 starts this year.
4 – Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox, 2.58): The decision by the White Sox to convert Sale into a starter this season after he excelled in the long relief role last year continues to look like a stroke of genius, as he limited the high-powered Texas Rangers’ lineup to only one run and five hits in 7.1 innings in his last start before the All-Star break. Sale is 7-0 in his last nine starts and he has allowed more than three runs in a game just once in his 15 starts while going 10-2 on the year. He ranks second in the American League in ERA at 2.19, trailing only Jered Weaver, while posting an outstanding 0.95 WHIP in 102.2 innings, and he has a phenomenal ratio of 98 strikeouts vs. 25 walks. He has also allowed only five home runs all year while demonstrating that his arm can handle the additional workload that comes with being a starter.
5 – R.A. Dickey (New York Mets, 2.76): To give you an idea of what Dickey has done over the past month, he was not even in the FIP Top 10 at the time of our last update in June and he is now all the way up to fifth! And that is even after he was lit up for five earned runs on 11 hits in seven innings by the Philadelphia Phillies in his last start. Even with that stinker, Dickey has failed to allow an earned run in six of his last eight starts, including a stretch where he went 44.2 consecutive innings without doing so. He throws his knuckleball in the 75-80 MPH range, which is one of the hardest knuckleball ever, and he has developed a knack for being able to locate it with near precision, making him seemingly impossible to hit at times. He is an amazing 12-1 for the year with a 2.40 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP and 123 strikeouts vs. 26 walks in 120 innings, and he made his All-Star Game debut at the age of 37.
6 – Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers, 2.94): Verlander rebounded from a rare mediocre outing vs. the Tampa Bay Rays by tossing a Complete Game vs. the Minnesota Twins in his last outing, allowing only one run and four hits with seven strikeouts and one lonely walk. That marked the fifth time in Verlander’s last six starts that he allowed two runs or less, and he is 4-1 in his last five outings after going through a four-start winless streak that was mostly not of his own doing. The reining American League Cy Young Award winner and MVP may be only 9-5, but he is tied with Felix Hernandez for the American League lead with 128 strikeouts, and he has issued only 30 walks in 132.2 innings. He ended the first half with a 2.58 ERA and 0.95 WHIP while permitting just a .200 batting average.
7 – Jered Weaver (Los Angeles Angels, 2.94): Weaver missed some time on the Disabled List with a groin injury, but he has been unbelievable in his four starts since returning, allowing a grand total of one run and 16 hits in 27.2 innings! Weaver had his second straight scoreless outing in his last start before the break, allowing only three hits in eight innings vs. the Baltimore Orioles. He has a good ratio for the season of 73 strikeouts vs. 22 walks, but interestingly his strikeouts are noticeably down over his recent starts despite the fact that he is not allowing many runs or hits. We do not think that Weaver cares all that much though as he is an amazing 10-1 with a nifty American League leading 1.96 ERA and 0.90 WHIP and the league batting .188 against him. Also don’t forget that it was Weaver who tossed the first no-hitter in the league this year.
8 – Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners, 2.96): Hernandez makes his FIP Top 10 debut for this season this week as Seattle’s All-Star has a 1.75 ERA over his last five starts with 44 strikeouts over 36 innings during that recent span. King Felix also allowed one run or less in four of those five starts, leaving him at 6-5 for the whole season while pitching for a last-place team with a 3.13 ERA and 1.23 WHIP, and he has had outstanding command with 128 strikeouts against just 35 walks in 123.2 innings. He is tied with Justin Verlander for the American League lead in strikeouts and Hernandez has also allowed a reasonable nine home runs in 18 starts.
9 – James McDonald (Pittsburgh Pirates, 2.97): The Pittsburgh Pirates have been a pleasant surprise while leading the National League Central entering the break, and McDonald has been a key reason why. He out-dueled Ryan Vogelsong in his last start in a battle of two pitchers in the top five in the National League in ERA, as McDonald allowed only one run and four hits in seven innings, and he allowed more than three earned runs just once in his 17 starts over the first half of the year. McDonald ranks third in the NL with his 2.37 ERA, to go along with his excellent 0.97 WHIP. He also has 100 strikeouts vs. 31 walks in 110.0 innings, and he has allowed only seven home runs in his 17 starts.
10 – Cliff Lee (Philadelphia Phillies, 3.00): Incredibly, Lee won his first game of the year in his last start after going 0-5 in his first 13 starts after his belated 2012 debut after beginning the year on the Disabled List. So how does he crack the FIP Top 10? Well, as usual, Lee has one of the best strikeout-to-walk ratios in all of baseball with 98 pinch-outs against 20 free passes in 97.1 innings. Still, he has allowed a rather high 10 home runs in his 14 starts and he has allowed double-digit hit totals in two of his last four outings, so it remains to be seen how long he will stay on this list. To his credit though, he was great while earning his first win on the 4th of July, allowing two runs in eight innings with nine strikeouts against one walk vs. the New York Mets.
In order to help you with your MLB picks, we started posting up-to-date FIP updates two months ago, since it is our feeling that FIP is more predictive of a pitcher’s future form than the more conventional and widely available pitching stats such as ERA and WHIP, as those are easily incorporated in the betting lines. We are now updating the FIP Leaderboard monthly and you will see that there is now change in the top two positions between May and June.
As a refresher, one reason why conventional stats don’t work is because the sportsbooks get that same information just as easily as bettors do, and rest assured that the algorithms the books use to make the lines are a lot sharper than any approach bettors could have. Thus, you have to go a bit outside the box if you want to attempt to outsmart the books.
A second important reason not to use ERA or WHIP is that they are not necessarily predictive, as they include some components are out of the pitcher’s control. These factors range from his team’s defensive ability to even the official scorer, whose decisions on questionable scoring plays have a direct impact a pitcher’s ERA and WHIP. Because of these extraneous factors, a pitcher’s numbers could look better or worse than they should.
This is why we are turning to FIP, a popular Sabremetric stat which keys on factors that the pitcher can control on his own. FIP stands for Fielder Independent Pitching and it only uses strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed.
The formula for FIP is (13xHR+3xBB-2xK)/IP + a constant, which is usually in the vicinity of 3.20. The purpose of adding the constant is solely to put FIP on the same scale as ERA, and since the constant is based on league-wide ERA, it fluctuates from year to year and even throughout the season.
Pitchers maintain their FIP much better than ERA and WHIP because FIP does not factor in the extra factors mentioned earlier. Granted, there will be some known superstars among the FIP leaders that will put you on some very heavy favorites in the MLB odds, but its real prize lies in finding the other under-the-radar and hence undervalued pitchers.
Before going on with this month’s update, note that we tracked the results of the FIP Top 10 pitchers from last month’s update, and their teams have gone a collective 26-20 in the games that they have started the last four weeks for a scant profit of +0.68 units, based on the closing lines from Pinnacle Sports. We expect better profit as the season goes on as the list becomes more solidified.
And now here are the top 10 FIP pitchers in the Major Leagues through games of Thursday, June 14, 2012. (FIP is in parenthesis).
1 – Zack Greinke (Milwaukee Brewers, 1.99): Greinke has held on to the top spot by sensationally allowing one earned run or less in six of his last seven starts! He is now 7-2 on the season with an amazing ratio of 89 strikeouts against 18 walks in 79 innings, and he has allowed only three home runs in 13 starts. The biggest knock against Greinke has always been his home/away splits, and he is taking things to new heights this season. Greinke has a 1.08 ERA and 0.79 WHIP at home while allowing opposing batters to bat just .170 off of him. He is now 4-0 at home this year and 15-0 at home in his two-year Brewers’ career. On the flip side, he is only 3-2 with a 5.06 ERA and 1.69 WHIP on the road, where opponents are batting .340 against him.
2 – Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals, 2.07): Gonzalez retains the second spot on the leaderboard, and he bounced back well after just his second loss of the year by posting a Quality Start vs. the Boston Red Sox on Saturday, allowing only two runs and three hits in 6.1 innings. However, he did match his season low from his previous start with only five strikeouts. That aside, Gonzalez still has 89 strikeouts in only 72.2 innings as opposed to just 28 walks, and he has allowed only one home run all season. His conventional numbers are also superb as Gonzalez has a 2.35 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while allowing a opponents’ batting average of .168.
3 – Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals, 2.21): Strasburg hit a bit of a rough patch where he was complaining about “arm fatigue”, and there was legitimate concern surrounding him following Tommy John surgery. That has now been quickly forgotten though as Strasburg has reeled off three straight strong starts over which he has allowed four runs and 13 hits in 19 innings with a scintillating 30 strikeouts vs. three walks! He has now taken over the National League lead in strikeouts with an even 100 in just 77 innings against only 20 walks. With Strasburg and Gonzalez at the top of the Washington rotation, it is very apparent that the Nationals are not going to go away as far as the pennant race is concerned.
4 – Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox, 2.53): It was a stroke of genius by the White Sox to convert Sale into a starter this season, as he has is relishing his new role. Sale would have tossed his second straight Complete Game last time out vs. the Houston Astros if he were allowed to, but he instead was pulled with a 10-0 lead after tossing eight scoreless innings and allowing only four hits while striking out seven and not walking a single batter. Chicago obviously knew what it was doing when taking Sale out of the long relief role that he flourished in last year, as he has yet to allow more than three runs in any start this season. He is 8-2 with a 2.05 ERA and a microscopic 0.92 WHIP with an impressive 76 strikeouts in 74.2 innings against just 18 walks.
5 – Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers, 2.54): Verlander has now gone a month without a victory, but he pitched well again last time out by holding the potent Cincinnati Reds to only two runs on six hits with nine strikeouts in six innings, although he did not factor in the decision in a 3-2 Tigers’ victory. Therefore, the American League Cy Young Award winner has now gone four straight starts without a win since coming within two outs of pitching a no-hitter vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 18th. Verlander is not to blame however, as he three Quality Starts out of those four outings. He now has 95 strikeouts for the year in 93.2 innings compared to only 23 walks, and he has a 2.69 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while allowing only a .207 batting average.
6 – Matt Cain (San Francisco Giants, 2.60): Cain pitched just the 22nd Perfect Game in Major League history vs. the Astros on Wednesday, and it was also the second Perfect Game in the majors this year as he joined Philip Humber of the Chicago White Sox, who accomplished the feat vs. the Seattle Mariners earlier on. Cain has now remarkably allowed one earned run or less in four straight starts, and he is 8-2 for the season with a 2.18 ERA and an extraordinary 0.85 WHIP in 95 innings. He has an impeccable ratio of 96 strikeouts vs. a measly 16 walks with the league hitting only .192 off of him.
7 – James McDonald (Pittsburgh Pirates, 2.73): McDonald is the most pleasant surprise on this list as he is putting things all together this season after only showing brief glimpses of greatness in past seasons. McDonald has yet to allow more than three runs in any game in 2012, so imagine how much better his record would be that his current 5-2 if he didn’t pitch for a Pirates’ team that struggles so much to score runs, although to be fair the Pittsburgh offense has been a bit better lately. McDonald has a 2.39 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with 73 strikeouts vs. 22 walks in 75.1 innings, and he has allowed only four home runs in 12 starts..
8 – Jaime Garcia (St. Louis Cardinals, 2.78): Unfortunately, Garcia will not be on this list for very much longer as he will now probably be out for at least two months and possibly for much longer if he opts to have Tommy John surgery. Garcia had been in good form, but it was revealed after his fine start vs. the San Diego Padres on May 21st that he had been bothered by discomfort in his elbow, and he was placed on the Disabled List after getting lit up by the Astros last Tuesday, when he took the loss while surrendering six earned runs on five hits plus two walks in only two innings. He still has a nice ratio of 51 strikeouts against 19 walks and he has also allowed only two home runs in his 11 starts, but unfortunately those could end up being his final numbers for this year.
9 – Josh Johnson (Miami Marlins, 2.80): Johnson got off to a terrible start this season, but he now looks like his old self again as he has allowed three runs or less in seven straight starts. Johnson began the year 0-3, but he evened his record at 4-4 while allowing only one run and four hits in seven innings vs. the Boston Red Sox this past Monday with seven strikeouts. He still has a 4.27 ERA and a 1.42 WHIP, but Johnson has 66 strikeouts vs. 23 walks in 78 innings with only three home runs allowed, so now could be the most opportune time to jump on him while he is a tad undervalued, as his conventional numbers are almost certain to improve the rest of the way.
10 – Lance Lynn (St. Louis Cardinals, 2.89): Lynn is now a 10-game winner after tossing 7.1 scoreless innings at the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday while allowing only three hits and striking out 12. That leaves Lynn at 10-2 for the year with a 2.42 ERA and 1.09 WHIP and the league hitting only 209 off of him. He also now has 86 strikeouts in 81.2 innings compared to 27 walks and he has allowed five home runs in 13 starts, so his FIP suggests that he has not been a fluke as some others have suggested.
In an attempt to help you make more informed MLB picks, we introduced you to FIP two weeks ago as we feel that using conventional and widely available pitching stats such as ERA and WHIP is fruitless in attempting to find value in the betting lines. We are now updating the FIP Leaderboard this week and will attempt to do so once monthly going forward.
To refresh your memories, one reason why conventional stats that can be found anywhere don’t work is because the sportsbooks have that same information and have already incorporated it into the betting line. Trust us when we tell you that the algorithms the books use to make the lines are a lot sharper than any approach bettors could have, so you will not be able to outsmart them using commonly known information.
A second reason not to use ERA or WHIP is that they are not necessarily predictive of future performance, as those numbers include factors that are out of the pitcher’s control, ranging from his team’s defensive ability to even the official scorer, whose decisions scoring questionable plays as hits or errors directly impact a pitcher’s ERA and WHIP. These extraneous factors can make a pitcher’s numbers look better or worse than they should be.
Thus, if you really want to seek pitching value, you need to turn to more advanced Sabremetric stats that key on only the factors the pitcher can control himself. The stat that we are examining that we feel is a good indicator of future performance is FIP, standing for Fielder Independent Pitching.
FIP is a favorite among Sabermetricians because it theoretically only uses factors that the pitcher can control on his own, namely strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. The formula for FIP is (13xHR+3xBB-2xK)/IP + a constant, which is usually in the vicinity of 3.20. The purpose of adding the constant is solely to put FIP on the same scale as ERA, and since the constant is based on league-wide ERA, it fluctuates from year to year and even throughout the season.
Pitchers maintain their FIP much better than ERA and WHIP because FIP does not factor in the pitcher’s defense behind him making his more conventional and easily available numbers look better or worse than they should be. Sure, there will be some well-known studs among the FIP leaders that will land you on some prohibitive favorites on the MLB odds, but its real value lies in finding the other under-the-radar and hence undervalued pitchers.
Before going on with this week’s update, note that we tracked the result of the FIP Top 10 pitchers from our last update since then, and their teams have gone a collective 15-10, 60.0 percent in the games that have started the last two weeks. Because that list had some well-known superstars, the profit over this span was only +2.99 units based on the closing lines from Pinnacle Sportsbook, but we expect better profit as the season goes on.
Moving on to this week’s update, you will notice that the Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals and surprisingly the Chicago Cubs each have two pitchers in the top 10. Here are those top 10 FIP pitchers in the Major Leagues through games of Thursday, May 17. (FIP is in parenthesis).
1 – Zack Greinke (Milwaukee Brewers, 1.71): The biggest knock against Greinke is that he has one of the most severe home/away splits you will ever see, but he quieted some skeptics with a fantastic performance on the road last time out vs. the New York Mets as he tossed seven scoreless innings while allowing only five hits with seven strikeouts and not a single walk. That leaves him with 15 scoreless innings in his last two outings, during which he has allowed just seven hits, struck out 18 and walked not a soul! His splits are still extreme as he is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 0.79 WHIP at home while allowing an opponent’s batting average of .184, compared to 2-1 with a 4.91 ERA and 1.55 WHIP on the road while allowing opponents to hit .318 off of him, but his last road start was certainly a step in the right direction.
2 – Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals, 1.94): As we brought up in SBR Forum, Gonzalez just may be the best pitcher in baseball that relatively few baseball fans know about. He improved to 5-1 in his last start vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates, although he did finally allow his first home run of the year while allowing three runs on only four hits in seven innings. He also struck out 10 to take over the National League strikeout lead with 60 in only 48.2 innings, and he has only issued 19 walks. He has been so good that those three runs he allowed on Wednesday were the most he has allowed in a game since allowing four runs in his first start of the year, and opposing batters are hitting .169 off of this southpaw. Keep riding this hidden gem until his odds catch up to his ability, which unfortunately may not take much longer.
3 – Ryan Dempster (Chicago Cubs, 2.10): Dempster moves up to third on this week’s FIP leaderboard despite still being winless at 0-1 after six starts, but that is entirely due to the Cubs’ horrible offense. Dempster has usually been a slow starter in the past, but that has certainly not been the case this year. Granted he is coming off of his worst start of the season as he allowed four earned runs in six innings vs. the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday after not allowing more than two runs in any start this year prior to that, but he still has a fantastic 1.74 ERA and 0.97 WHIP with opponents hitting .196 off of him, and Dempster has 41 strikeouts vs. just 11 walks in 41.1 innings while allowing just one home run. That last fact is rather remarkable considering he pitches half his games in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field.
4 – Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies, 2.32): This annual Cy Young Award candidate was off to a slow start by his standards, although 99 percent of Major League pitchers would be ecstatic to have eight Quality Starts out of nine total starts like Halladay has. He had his five start winless streak snapped with a win over the Chicago Cubs on Thursday, although that streak obviously was not his fault as he had just one bad outing vs. the Atlanta Braves, an outing where he may have been distracted given that he left the team the next day to attend to a personal family matter. Halladay has raised his strikeout totals lately with 21 in 22 innings over his last three starts, leaving him with 50 strikeouts against only 12 walks in 64.1 innings for the year.
5 – Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals, 2.39): Strasburg was the FIP leader in our initial update two weeks ago, but he has only looked like himself once in his last three starts. That was a superb outing vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates where he struck out 13 batters in six innings, but it was sandwiched between two mediocre efforts with his last outing vs. the San Diego Padres being his worst start of the year. Strasburg was touched up for four runs and seven hits in just four innings, but to be fair, he was dealing with a variety of issues ranging from a brief rain delay to a soggy rosin bag to some Hot Stuff getting to what Manager Davey Johnson described as “the wrong place”. While that last part may add some comedy relief after the fact, Strasburg was feeling anything but relief at the time. We’d be inclined to just toss that effort and refer to his overall numbers, which still have him at 3-1 with 56 strikeouts against 12 walks in 48 innings with the league hitting .214 off of him. As long as he avoids the Hot Stuff, he will be just fine.
6 – Cole Hamels (Philadelphia Phillies, 2.42): Hamels made news recently by admitting that he intentionally threw at the Washington Nationals’ rookie phenom Bryce Harper, resulting in a five-game suspension. Because of the silly rule that suspensions for starting pitchers only count calendar days just like suspensions of every-day players, all that meant was that Hamels’ last start was pushed back one day and he was brilliant in his return, holding San Diego to only one run and five hits in seven innings. Hamels is 5-1 with a 2.26 ERA and 1.04 WHIP for the season with a scintillating ratio of 49 strikeouts vs. nine walks in 47.1 innings. The Phillies might be in last place because of their current starting lineup, but Hamels and Halladay are certainly not part of their problems.
7 – Jered Weaver (Los Angeles Angels, 2.43): Weaver was on a major roll heading into his nationally televised start vs. the Texas Rangers last Sunday night, as he had allowed three hits in fifteen innings over his previous two starts vs. the Minnesota Twins including a no-hitter. However, Weaver quickly discovered that the Rangers are not the Twins as he had easily his worst start of the season, surrendering eight runs and 10 hits while lasting just 3.1 innings. Even after that debacle, he still has a 2.83 ERA and a great 0.94 WHIP while allowing just a .208 batting average, and he still has a fantastic ratio of 49 strikeouts to 10 walks in 54 innings, so we would not hold one rotten start vs. the best lineup in baseball that has done that to a lot of fine pitchers against him.
8 – Justin Verlander (Detroit Tigers, 2.44): The reining American League Cy Young Award winner is having another fine campaign and he looked unhittable vs. the Oakland Athletics in his last start on Sunday, allowing one run on only two hits in seven innings with a solo home run by Seth Smith being the only blemish. That outing marked Verlander’s sixth straight without a loss with five of those starts being Quality Starts, and he now has a 2.47 ERA and a remarkable 0.87 WHIP while limiting the opposition to a .186 batting average with 56 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 58.1 innings.
9 – Anibal Sanchez (Miami Marlins, 2.46): Sanchez has always had great stuff but he has had battles with inconsistency, that is, until this year. Sure, the Marlins have lost his last two starts but that had nothing to do with him, as he allowed only three earned runs in 14 innings over those two starts with 13 strikeouts and three walks. He is still averaging a career-high 9.70 strikeouts per nine innings and a career-low 2.28 walks per nine innings and has allowed only three home runs in seven appearances. The fact that he has just a 2-1 record to show for it should continue to leave Sanchez undervalued for now.
10 – Jeff Samardzija (Chicago Cubs, 2.54): If you recognize the name, yes, Samardzija is the former wide receiver at Notre Dame that set a single season receptions record for the Irish. He apparently made the right decision when he chose baseball over football however, as he has allowed a grand total of three runs in his last four starts, allowing exactly one run three times and no runs once while still getting clocked at 96 MPH as late as the eighth inning. The Cubs made the right move putting Samardzija in the rotation after he pitched out of the bullpen since being recalled to the majors two years ago, as he is 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA and 45 strikeouts vs. 14 walks in 43.2 innings with only two home runs allowed.
When bettors are trying to find value on the MLB odds, using conventional and widely available pitching stats such as ERA and WHIP just might be the worst way to find that value.
The reason for this is twofold at the very least. First of all, because these numbers can be found anywhere, they are already incorporated into the betting line. You are not going to be able to analyze a database of common stats and be able to outwit, say, Pinnacle Sports, because trust us when we tell you that they have the same stats and they are a lot better than you and I.
Secondly, ERA and WHIP are not necessarily predictive of future performance as those numbers include factors that are out of the pitcher’s control, ranging from his team’s defense and range preventing base hits to even the official scorer, whose decision can change an earned run to an unearned run to affect ERA and whose call between a hit or an error can affect WHIP. These extraneous factors can make a pitcher’s numbers look better or worse than they should be.
Therefore, if you really want to seek pitching value, you need to turn to more advanced Sabremetric stats that key on only the factors the pitcher can control himself. As so astutely pointed out by the poster antifoil on SBR Forum, one advanced stat that is a good indicator of future performance is FIP, which stands for Fielder Independent Pitching.
FIP is a favorite among Sabermetricians because it theoretically only uses factors that the pitcher can control on his own, namely strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. The formula for FIP is (13xHR+3xBB-2xK)/IP + a constant, which is usually in the vicinity of 3.20. The purpose of adding the constant is solely to put FIP on the same scale as ERA, and since the constant is based on league-wide ERA, it fluctuates from year to year and even throughout the season.
It stands to reason that pitchers maintain their FIP much better than ERA and WHIP because FIP does not factor in the pitcher’s defense behind him making his more conventional and easily available numbers look better or worse than they should be. Taking a look at the current FIP leaders, it is easy to see why the Washington Nationals are one of the biggest surprises in baseball, as two Nats are ranked one-two.
Furthermore, while we are only taking a look at the Top 10 FIP leaders here, take note that a third Nationals’ pitcher Jordan Zimmermann is currently ranked 11th. So to help you make your MLB picks in the near future, here are the top 10 FIP pitchers in the Major Leagues through games of Thursday, May 3. (FIP is in parenthesis).
1 – Stephen Strasburg (Washington Nationals, 1.68): Strasburg missed nearly a full year following Tommy John surgery, and while mere mortals take a about a year to get back to where they were before the surgery or many times better, Strasburg looked to be much closer than that in some very good starts when he did finally return last September. He has looked better than ever this year, as he has 34 strikeouts against only six walks in 32 innings and has yet to allow a home run. We was his usual brilliant self in his last start vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, as he allowed one run on five hits in seven innings with nine strikeouts and not a single walk despite not getting a decision.
2 – Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals, 1.89): The second National in the top two is not yet a household name, but he may be soon. Even with a scintillating 1.82 ERA in his first year in the National League after coming over from the Oakland Athletics, Gonzalez still seems undervalue despite, as mentioned, his ERA being widely available from any source. More importantly, Gonzalez’s FIP proves that the ERA is not a fluke in this case. Yes, he is coming off of his first loss of the season vs. the Dodgers, but he allowed only two runs and three hits in six innings in that 2-0 loss, and this was after holding the San Diego Padres scoreless on only two hits in six innings in his prior outing. Gonzalez has 34 strikeouts in 29.2 innings with only 12 walks.
3 – Jered Weaver (Los Angeles Angels, 2.00): The only thing that Weaver did for the Los Angeles Angels in his last start was toss the second no-hitter in the Major Leagues this season vs. the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday night. Obviously, no-hitters cannot be predicted, but Weaver’s FIP shows that he is certainly one of the best pitchers in baseball, which should not be that surprising after he finished second in the American Cy Young Award voting last year. He is now 4-0 with a fantastic ratio of 45 strikeouts to seven walks in 44.2 innings, and four of those walks came in one game vs. the Cleveland Indians two starts ago where he still pitched six scoreless innings without his best stuff.
4 – Jake Peavy (Chicago White Sox, 2.04): Peavy used to be considered one of the best pitchers in baseball while with the Padres and he won the Cy Young Award in 2007. However, he has been mostly inconsistent since then and there was some thought that his success in San Diego had a lot to do with the ball park. Well, Peavy has quieted those critics this year by finally regaining that Cy Young form, as he has 33 strikeouts and just five walks in 37.2 innings while allowing two home runs in five starts. While he is coming off of his first loss of the year vs. the Boston Red Sox, he still tossed his second straight Complete Game in the process while allowing one run and four hits in a 1-0 defeat.
5 – Josh Johnson (Miami Marlins, 2.16): Along with Strasburg, Johnson is the second pitcher in the FIP top five that is coming off an operation, in this case being shoulder surgery, but that did not prevent the Marlins from making him the opening day starter in their brand new ballpark. Truth be told, Johnson has been disappointing as he has a brutal 5.34 ERA while allowing 41 hits in 28.2 innings. However, he grades out nicely on the FIP scale due to his 25 strikeouts vs. nine walks in 28.2 innings and also due to not allowing a home run. So what do we do with Johnson? Well, of the 41 hits he has allowed, 37 have been singles and the other four were doubles. We are inclined to trust his FIP here and follow him while the price may be cheap.
6 – Zack Greinke (Milwaukee Brewers, 2.29): Greinke has electric stuff, but he also has some of the most extreme home vs. away splits you will ever see, which actually follows the same pattern as his first year with the Brewers last season. He has been great at home in 2012, going 2-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 1.00 WHIP while allowing an opponents’ batting average of .222, and abysmal on the road, going 1-1 with a disgusting 8.38 ERA and 2.17 WHIP while allowing opponents to hit .381 off of him. His FIP suggests that he will be fine bit we are not sure what to make of that discrepancy.
7 – Jeff Samardzija (Chicago Cubs, 2.30): Samardzija is the former wide receiver at Notre Dame that apparently made the right decision when he chose baseball over football. He proved that even further in his last start vs. the Cincinnati Reds on Wednesday when he allowed only three hits in 7.2 innings of a 3-1 Cubs’ win with seven strikeouts while maintaining a velocity of around 96 MPH on his fastball throughout. He now has 32 strikeouts in 31.2 innings with just 10 walks.
8 – Ryan Dempster (Chicago Cubs, 2.33): Who would have expected two Cubs to be in the top 10? Dempster has actually been a slow starter in April in the past, but that was not the case this season. Dempster has yet to all more than two earned runs in any of his four starts while going at least six innings in all of them, and his first May outing was his best one yet as he tossed eight scoreless innings vs. Cincinnati.
9 – Wandy Rodriguez (Houston Astros, 2.34): Wandy actually had a breakthrough season last year, but few people took notice because his record was not what is should be while pitching for the worst team in baseball. The Astros have actually given him run support in his last three starts and he won all three outings. His conventional numbers say that he is 3-2 with a 1.64 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, and his FIP says that those great numbers are warranted as he has 27 strikeouts vs. 10 walks with no home runs allowed in 38.1 innings.
10 – Anibal Sanchez (Miami Marlins, 2.36): Sanchez has always had an ace’s type stuff but he has been maddeningly inconsistent in past years. He seems to be putting it all together while peaking this year though. He is averaging a career high 10.26 strikeouts per nine innings and a career low 2.43 walks per nine innings thus far while going 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA Climb aboard now while Sanchez is still undervalued.