April 1, 2012 posted by Matthew Dewoskin

2012 Fantasy Baseball Leaders and Laggards: xFIP Edition

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Justin Verlander, SP, Detroit Tigers


Expected fielding independent pitching(A.K.A. xFIP) is quite possibly the best stat available to evaluate exactly how effective a pitcher is and has some ability to project which way a pitcher’s ERA is headed. This is useful for fantasy GMs to know about because, well, we have to have enough pitchers to fill out a roster and it’s really good if they have low ERAs. A stat that can tell us where an ERA is headed is one we should be interested in.

xFIP cuts out all of the noise involved in calculating ERA. With ERA, you have to consider the ballpark, the umpire, the official scorer, the defense and the hitter. xFIP eliminates a great deal of that and focuses on what a pitcher is actually responsible for. There are simply too many factors influencing ERA to make it a reliable stat to evaluate what a pitcher actually does.

xFIP is calculated the same way as FIP, but it replaces the HR:FB ratio with a league average number. It’s been proven that home run rates are difficult to predict over time and tend to fluctuate around league average. xFIP tries to correct for that variation by substituting a pitcher’s HR:FB ratio with a league average number.

xFIP is represented on a scale similar to ERA, so a sub-3.00 xFIP is really good and anything over a 4.50 is really awful.

1. Zack Greinke 2.56
2. Cliff Lee 2.68
3. Roy Halladay 2.71
4. Clayton Kershaw 2.84
5. Cole Hamels 3.02
6. C.C. Sabathia 3.02
7. Madison Bumgarner 3.10
8. Justin Verlander 3.12
9. Felix Hernandez 3.15
10. Yovani Gallardo 3.19

There has been a lot of space on the internet dissecting Zack Greinke’s 2010 season. Instead of rehashing all of the arguments we’ve read over the last six months, let’s just say that a lot of very smart, very talented writers will look very stupid if Greinke doesn’t end the year as a top 10, top 15 pitcher this season.

Cliff Lee is elite and his 2.68 xFIP only confirms that. One thing that fantasy GMs need to look at is his cut fastball rate. Lee threw the cutter 22.7% of the time and turned in a career year without having a ridiculously low BABIP or HR:FB rate. The cutter was a very effective weapon for Lee and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he relied on it even more in 2012.

This just in, Roy Halladay is really, really talented at throwing a baseball. He’s also another guy whose career was helped by the cutter. Halladay threw the cutter 44.8% of the time last year and turned in yet another quality season. Halladay also had his quality season without a ridiculously low BABIP, but his HR:FB rate was a little low for him. Halladay posted a 5.1% HR:FB ratio in 2012, but has a 9.8% mark for his career. Ho hum. That’s not really a reason to stay away from him. Halladay is elite and should reward fantasy GMs with elite production in 2012.

The only concern with Clayton Kershaw is not from his sabrmetric stats. It’s from his slider rates. Kershaw’s slider percentage has been on the increase since he broke into the league in 2008 and ended up at 25.5% last year. The Dodgers have been responsible with the increase in Kershaw’s workload, but sliders have been known to chew up elbows. Kershaw isn’t a bet for continued success if he keeps spinning sliders at rates that high. Owning Kershaw in a dynsasty league has to feel a lot like owning Adrian Peterson in a football dynasty league. Everyone knew that Peterson was a solid bet to suffer a bad injury, but his level of production was so high that few really cared. Kershaw should be viewed in a similar manner as his career progresses. Kershaw could very well be the best pitcher in fantasy baseball in the short term, but the long term prognosis isn’t nearly as bright.

Cole Hamels had a very good season, but he was a little lucky on balls in play. He posted a .255 BABIP in 2012 and owns a .280 career mark. The bigger issue is that he posted a career high 1.60 GB:FB ratio with a 75.4% contact rate. He gave up more ground balls, but they managed to find their way into gloves last year. Hamels is fine to draft as a high round pick, but fantasy GMs need to monitor him closely in the beginning of the year. Don’t be afraid to bench him if he starts to regress.

There’s not much evaluation to be done with C.C. Sabathia. His actual ERA has outperformed his xFIP since 2006. He’s an elite level innings eater who laughs in the face of regression and is talented enough to avoid getting burned by the dreaded luck dragons. Draft and use with confidence.

Remember what you just read about Zack Greinke? Same goes for Madison Bumgarner. A lot of smart people will look very stupid if Bumgarner has a bad 2012 season. The 32.4% slider rate is a little scary(okay, a lot scary), but the innings bump was much easier on Bumgarner. He threw 111 major league innings in 2010, but he also had 82.2 innings in AAA. Bumgarner tossed 204.2 innings in 2011. For an innings bump of exactly 11 innings. That’s not a concern.

Justin Verlander is being drafted as the first or second pitcher in most mixed leagues. He probably shouldn’t be. Verlander’s actual 2.40 ERA outperformed his 3.12 xFIP by 0.72. That’s a pretty big difference and he’s due to regress closer to that number in 2012. Verlander was basically the same guy(0.96 GB:FB ratio in 2011) that he’s always been(0.99 GB:FB ratio for his career), but his BABIP ended up at .236 in 2011. He owns a .285 career BABIP. He’s due to regress and a lot of people who used a very high draft pick could be in for some pain.

You would have noticed that Felix Hernandez was a solid bet to regress in 2011 if you paid attention to xFIP. In 2010, King Felix posted a 2.27 actual ERA versus a 3.14 xFIP in 2010. xFIP claimed he wasn’t as good as his numbers were and he regressed to a 3.47 ERA in 2011. The good news for GMs with Hernandez on their roster is that he’s gone through his regression and is due for a bounce the other way. So, is a more of a 2.27 ERA pitcher or the 3.47 ERA pitcher? The answer probably lies closer to the 3.15 xFIP that he posted last year.

Yovani Gallardo is reasonably safe to own in 2012. The key with Yovani is his BABIP and HR:FB ratio. He actually had a better year in 2010, but he was betrayed by his defense and allowed a career high .324 BABIP. Last year, it was his 12.7 HR:FB ratio that gave fantasy GMs headaches. He’s been a guy who has either been hurt, betrayed by his defense or unlucky on balls hit in the air. He still posts elite K-numbers and his walk rate has been trending in the right direction. Yovani could post top five numbers if the planets ever aligned and allowed Yovani to have health with defensive help and luck on balls hit in the air.

1. Wade Davis 4.82
2. Brad Penny 4.77
3. Jeremy Hellickson 4.72
4. Jason Hammel 4.65
5. Mike Pelfrey 4.55
6. Bronson Arroyo 4.54
7. Jeremy Guthrie 4.47
8. Randy Wolf 4.46
9. James McDonald 4.46
10. Jason Vargas 4.45

Wade Davis is likely headed to the bullpen or back to Triple A. He won’t be getting saves or holds and he won’t be starting. He really shouldn’t be on your radar for fantasy baseball and for good reason. He’s not very good.

It’s safe to ignore Brad Penny as he’s pitching in Japan this year. No, the American teams didn’t leave him behind when they left Tokyo. He signed months ago.

As much e-ink that has been spilled on Zack Greinke’s quasi-sleeper status for 2012 has been spilled on telling fantasy GMs to stay away from Jeremy Hellickson. His xFIP only confirms what we already know. He walks too many(3.43 BB/9), strikes out too few(5.54 K/9) and managed to get really, really lucky on balls in play(.223 BABIP).

Remember what you just read for Jeremy Hellickson? Yeah, same goes for Jason Hammel except he wasn’t nearly as lucky on balls in play. Oh, and he gets to move to Baltimore this year. Stay away from Jason Hammel this year unless you want a bloated ERA and WHIP with too few K’s.

The Mets have been talking about releasing Mike Pelfrey before the season starts. He’ll likely get picked up by another team looking for some pitching depth, but he should be ignored in every format imaginable.

Whatever skills Bronson Arroyo ever had have started to erode. He gives up lots of homers, doesn’t strike anyone out and goes out of his way to kill your ratios. He’s another guy who should be left on the waiver wire.

If Jamie Moyer is your #2 starter, who’s your ace? Well, it’s Jeremy Guthrie if the depth charts are to be believed. He’s a guy with a career fly ball rate of 41.0% going into Colorado. Hmmm. His 2.68 career BB/9 is actually competent enough to get by, but his 5.52 career K/9 isn’t going to win anyone any leagues. He’s a deep NL-only league play and that’s about it.

Randy Wolf is entering his age 36 season and his 4.47 xFIP indicates he’s headed for some pain in the 2012 season. His K-rate has been in decline since 2007 and there doesn’t seem to be much value in anything but a deep NL only league.

James McDonald has proven that he’s capable of posting fantasy-relevant strikeout totals, but that’s all he’s proven. Those strikeout totals come with a ratio killer. He’s waiver wire fodder/an occasional spot starter in most formats.

Jason Vargas has morphed into a guy who is capable of throwing 200 innings, posting a 4.00ish ERA, striking out fewer than six batters per nine innings and being completely ignored in fantasy baseball.


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