[EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first post in a series of primers to discuss some more "forward thinking" baseball statistics. We use these stats here at OTM, but we don't necessarily have time to explain them very well -- that's why I've asked redsoxstatscom to contribute.]
I started my website redsoxstats.com back in 2004 after a combination of reading Moneyball and getting my first copy of the Ron Shandler Baseball Forecaster books. There are other places on the web to find new and cutting edge sabermetric stats, those are some of my favorite places, but my site focuses on the huge second and third steps beyond evaluating players based on Batting Average, ERA, or RBI.
I was once told that the difference between a $1 HDMI TV cable and a $10 one is huge, but the difference between that $10 cable and a $50 one is very small. That’s the basic principal I use when running my site and thinking about sabermetrics. The difference between ERA and FIP is huge, but the difference between FIP and New-Random-Fancy-Pitching-Metric with a formula 50 variables long is not so huge.
Over the next few days I’ll be posting some brief primers on some of my favorite sabermetric stats and will be using Red Sox related examples of what they show.
Since I already brought it up, let’s take a look at FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching.
FIP was formulated by current top sabermetrician Tom Tango and is based off the groundbreaking work by Voros McCracken, in which he showed that strikeouts, walks, and home runs are really all a pitcher has control over. Everything else is fielding dependent and out of the pitchers hands.
Using the FIP formula, (13*HR+3*BB+HBP-2*K)/IP+3.2, we can rate how a pitcher performed based on what he controlled without having to factor in if he was benefiting from pitching in front of the awesome 2009 Mariners defense or pitching in front of a left side of the infield that included Mike Lowell and Julio Lugo.
As you can see, the formula pummels a pitcher for giving up home runs, punishes for walks and hit batters, and rewards for strikeouts. These are then divided by innings pitched and then added to a normalizing factor that puts it on an ERA scale, usually around 3.20.
There were a couple of extremes on both ends of the spectrum for the 2009 Red Sox.
Jonathan Papelbon (1.85 ERA) and Ramon Ramirez (2.84 ERA) were both back end of the bullpen arms with sparkling ERA’s, however their FIP’s of 2.98 and 4.38 tell a different story (the one of why they were frustrating to watch most of last season). Both pitchers had issues with walking batters and Ramirez’s strikeout rate was a career low.
The two pitchers that took the most abuse from Red Sox Nation probably deserved a better fate. John Smoltz and Brad Penny each had FIP’s in the 4.00’s, much more respectable than their 8.33 and 5.61 ERA’s. Fittingly, Smoltz had a 4.26 ERA after joining the Cardinals and Penny posted a 2.59 ERA with the Giants.
Jon Lester and Josh Beckett’s FIP’s of 3.07 and 3.55 show that their skills are elite, with an improved 2010 defense behind them they could both be in for dominating seasons. John Lackey’s 3.73 FIP wasn’t too shabby either.