May 26, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball: Leaders and Laggards Early xFIP Edition

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Zack Greinke, SP, Milwaukee Brewers


Fantasy GMs who don’t use xFIP as a deciding factor in player evaluation are at a huge competitive disadvantage from those who do. xFIP is the closest thing fantasy GMs will have to a crystal ball until an actual, reliable future predicting system using a crystal ball is invented. xFIP filters out the nonsense that has nothing to do with how a pitcher actually performs. It removes a lot of the noise from ERA and focuses on what a pitcher is actually responsible for.

A pitcher’s ERA can be influenced by defense, the umpire, the batter, the stadium and the official scorer. xFIP only uses what a pitcher is actually responsible for(walks, strikeouts and HBP) to evaluate a pitcher. FIP uses home runs, but xFIP replaces homers with a league average numbers because pitchers aren’t responsible for what happens to the ball once it leaves their hand. 

xFIP is also known to be a predictor of which way a pitcher’s ERA should be headed. A pitcher with a higher ERA than xFIP could have future success, while a pitcher outperforming his xFIP is likely to regress. Zack Greinke was a pre-season darling because of his FIP and xFIP numbers in 2011 while Jeremy Hellickson was a bust candidate because of his FIP and xFIP numbers in 2011. It’s worked out for Greinke, but Hellickson is somehow keeping his ERA under 3.00. Regression is looming over Hellickson like a vulture circling a lost hiker. 

1. Zack Greinke 2.37
2. Stephen Strasburg 2.55
3. Cliff Lee 2.57
4. Gio Gonzalez 2.79
5. Cole Hamels 2.93
6. James Shields 2.96
7. Jason Hammel 3.05
8. Anibal Sanchez 3.05
9. Justin Verlander 3.09
10. Adam Wainwright 3.10

Zack Greinke has the lowest xFIP in baseball? Who could have seen this coming? Greinke strikes out a lot of batters(9.37 K/9) and doesn’t walk very many(1.91 BB/9). He’s been a little lucky on balls in the air this year(2.9 HR:FB ratio), but he’s only giving up fly balls 22.4% of the time this year. Grienke is elite.

It seems weird to see Stephen Strasburg’s name on this list because he’s either been hurt or hasn’t had the minimum number of innings to qualify. It’s nice to actually have some reliable data on Strasburg at the major league level.  He’s been part of fantasy baseball conversations since 2009, but he only has 145 innings with the Nationals. There really aren’t any red flags with Strasburg. This was probably the last year to draft Strasburg outside the top 50 for the next 8-10 years.

It’s almost June and Cliff Lee’s record is (0-2). He did do a turn on the DL, but only missed a couple starts. He has enough innings to qualify among the league leaders so it’s not like he hasn’t pitched. This is reason number 5,342 why wins are a BS stat. Oakland’s Tommy Milone has six wins and he only throws a 85-MPH fastball, a change-up that’s only a few miles slower than his fastball and a pitch in the dirt. There is no way that he’s a more valuable pitcher than Cliff Lee. Cliff Lee strikes out almost a batter per inning(8.29 K/9) and rarely walks anyone(1.41 BB/9). Lee is elite and he will likely pick up a couple wins sooner rather than later.

Gio Gonzalez is sporting a 11.36 K/9 with a sub 2.00 actual ERA. Do you think he likes pitching in the NL? He probably won’t end up with a sub 2.00 ERA, in fact his xFIP claims he’s pitched more like a 2.79 ERA pitcher, but he’s still posting elite numbers. His .246 BABIP against is a little concerning as is his 2.4% HR:FB ratio. Both of those numbers are far off his career averages. He could be a regression candidate for the second half, but he’ll still post K-numbers that will be healthy in fantasy baseball.

Cole Hamels is following his career year in 2011 with…another career year in 2012. He’s also  managed to get support from his offense. Cliff Lee owns a lower xFIP, but he has seven fewer wins than Cole. Reason number 5,343 why wins is a BS stat. Cole is also an elite arm. There aren’t any red flags here. Start him against anyone with confidence and there’s no reason to sell high at this point.

James Shields is actually been unlucky on balls in the air. Shields is only allowing fly balls 22.9% of the time balls are put in play, but his HR:FB ratio is a crazy high 20.5%. That number should end up closer to his 11.9% career average and his ERA should come down from 3.63. Shields is actually a decent buy low guy.

Who kidnapped Jason Hammel and replaced him with this guy? Hammel is doing everything better than he has every done it before. His fastball velocity is a career high 93.7 MPH. He’s 29! Guys shouldn’t be finding velocity at age 29. His K/9 is almost double the 4.97 he posted last year. The sad fact is…this could very well be legitimate. He’s not ridiculously lucky on balls in play(.284 BABIP vs. .312 career average) or on balls in the air(7.1% HR:FB ratio vs. 10.4% career average). Hammel is a good pitcher and should enjoy continued success. Fantasy GMs should wonder what happen to our version of Hammel and which dimension this version came from, but he should be used with confidence in fantasy baseball.

Anibal Sanchez is turning in a career year. He’s striking out more than a batter per inning(9.35 K/9) and he’s only walking 2.41 batters per nine. Sanchez is also posting a career high 49% GB %. Sanchez is another guy that should be used with confidence.

Not only has Justin Verlander’s luck from 2011 carried over into 2012, but it’s gotten better. Verlander ended 2011 with a .236 BABIP. He’s currently rocking a .221 BABIP. He has to regress closer to his .282 career average at some point…right? He’s posting identical K numbers to his 2011 season and his walk rate has dropped below 2.00 BB/9. He’s an elite pitcher, but at some point his luck has to turn.

Adam Wainwright’s bloated 4.78 ERA is thanks in part to his .320 BABIP and 19.4% HR:FB ratio. He’s a great buy low opportunity. Wainwright is healthy and posting a 8.37 K/9 with a 2.91 BB/9. He’s a victim of small sample size and poor luck. This is a great time to try to pry him away from a frustrated owner.

1. Ubaldo Jimenez 5.77
2. Clay Buchholz 5.33
3. Daniel Bard 5.28
4. Barry Zito 5.18
5. Blake Beavan 4.93
6. John Danks 4.89
7. Kevin Correia 4.85
8. Randy Wolf 4.84
9. Hector Noesi 4.80
10. Jeanmar Gomez 4.65

Whatever accident that resulted in Jason Hammel being replaced by Bizarro Hammel must have also had an impact on Ubaldo Jimenez. Ubaldo’s velocity has gone from 96.1 in 2009 to 92.1 in 2012. His K/9 has dropped from 8.60 in 2011 to 5.19 this season. Oh and he’s walking over 6 batters per nine innings. Ubaldo is a mess right now. It’s not clear if the problems are mental or physical(or both), but Ubaldo is not safe to use in fantasy leagues right now.

The good news for Clay Buchholz owners is that he’s pitched better than his 7.00+ ERA would indicate. The bad news is that xFIP still claims he’s a 5.33 ERA pitcher. He strikes out too few(4.93 K/9), walks too many(4.93) and is getting killed on balls in play(.335 BABIP). He played over his head with balls in play in 2011 and 2010(.264 in 2011 and .261 in 2010) and he’s paying for it now. His high strikeout numbers from the minors simply haven’t translated to the big leagues and his velocity is down from over 94 MPH in 2010 to 92 MPH in 2012. It’s safe to send Clay to the waiver wire. He belongs there.

Daniel Bard has struggled with his transition from the bullpen to the rotation. The big 97 MPH fastball simply hasn’t followed Bard to the rotation. It’s a lot harder to maintain that kind of velocity over five, six or seven innings than it is to come in for three batters and air it out. He’s walking more batters(5.44 BB/9) than he’s striking out(5.25 K/9). It’s looking more and more like sticking Bard in the rotation was an awful idea. He’s simply not the same guy.

Barry Zito is getting by with more smoke and mirrors than Lance Burton. He’s got a 3.53 ERA, but he’s doing it with a .239 BABIP and 4.41 BB/9. He’s walking a ton of guys, but he’s managed to get lucky on balls in play. FanGraphs claims his fastball velocity is only 83.7 MPH. He’s only 33! Jamie Moyer turns 50 in November and he’s throwing 78. Do not use Barry Zito under any circumstances.

Blake Beavan owns a 4.38 actual ERA and a 4.93 xFIP. Apples and oranges. Apples and oranges. He owns a 2.89 K:BB, but that comes with a meager 4.74 K/9 and an outstanding 1.64 BB/9. He’s an AL-only spot starter at home at best. Nothing to see here.

It’s safe to send John Danks to the waiver wire. He went from bad to hurt. That usually means he goes from bench to waiver wire in most fantasy leagues. Danks’ velocity is down, but not a lot. What is down that is noticeable is his swinging strike %. He’s only making hitters whiff 7.1% of the time. That number would be a career low for Danks. He’s simply not fooling batters the way he used to and it’s reflected in his 5.03 K/9. Danks is a borderline guy in AL-only formats and that’s when he was healthy.

Kevin Correia is basically a guy who can take the ball every fifth day. He has virtually zero fantasy upside other than the occasional win. Oh, and his BABIP is over 50 points lower than his career average. He was mediocre without suffering through a regression towards his career average.

Wolfman Randy is still basically the same guy he was when he entered the league. Randy Wolf’s velocity in 2012 is identical to his velocity in 2003. His K-rate is down and his walks are up. Adding to the problem of his 6.02 ERA is a .335 BABIP. He’s been getting slaughtered on balls in play this year. He’s pitched better than his numbers would indicate even if his K numbers are down and his walk numbers are up. He’s a spot starter if you’re desperate or a back-end guy in a NL-only. That’s about as far as anyone should go on the Wolfman.

Noesi? More like “Noesi outs when Hector pitches.” Hector Noesi has been bad while maintaining a .231 BABIP. Imagine will happen when that number starts to rise? His 5.96 K/9 is nothing impressive. He’s a guy that fantasy GMs should have a hard time using even in Safeco. He’s just not a major league starting pitcher.

Jeanmar Gomez is just another lame pitcher with low strikeout numbers(4.88 K/9) and high walk numbers(3.19 BB/9). His .236 BABIP has helped him maintain his 3.94 ERA. It would be a surprise to see that number stay under 4.00.  


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