Fear and Loathing In Small Samples

by Bill M on May 28, 2014 · 0 comments

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I ranked the top ten in xFIP for qualified pitchers over the last 30 days (from FanGraphs).  Some of the names are expected, but there were a few you may not have expected.  Here is the entire list:

PLAYER TEAMS xFIP ERA
Corey Kluber Indians 2.38 2.45
Dallas Keuchel Astros 2.47 1.79
Brandon McCarthy Diamondbacks 2.49 3.79
Masahiro Tanaka Yankees 2.62 2.40
Jon Lester Red Sox 2.68 4.05
Ian Kennedy Padres 2.68 3.58
Aaron Harang Braves 2.69 6.11
David Price Rays 2.70 4.75
Ubaldo Jimenez Orioles 2.76 3.45
Adam Wainwright Cardinals 2.87 1.84

For those unfamiliar, xFIP is a predictive number that converts the peripheral statistical profile of a pitcher into an “expected” ERA.  I have included the player’s actual ERA during the same time period for perspective.  Next is a brief breakdown of each player.

Corey Kluber was a “sleeper” darling for many pundits prior to the season, and I bought in drafting him in my AL only keeper league that drafted from start this year.  He has periodic command problems, but he’s been legitimately fantastic in the last 30 days.  His ERA matches his xFIP, which is an excellent sign for sustainability, he was second in K/9 over the period, and led the period in WAR.  He has even battled through an elevated 0.347 BABIP.  I’m giving Kluber a big “buy” recommendation.

Dallas Keuchel (pronounced KYK-ill) is in the midst of a breakout season, especially in the last 30 days.  He has completed two of his last three starts, and fell only two outs short in the middle outing.  He’s not overpowering (6.9 K/9), but he’s kept the walks to a minimum (0.9 BB/9) and kept the ball on the ground (68.6% GB rate).  He has been the beneficiary of a low 0.229 BABIP in this sample, which is really the only blip in this profile.  It’d be folly to think he’ll sustain a sub-2 ERA, or even maintain an ERA close to this xFIP, but this performance is enough to take a chance.  I have, adding him to one of my CBS H2H teams.

Brandon McCarthy was gasoline in April with a 5.28 ERA, so this performance over the last 30 days (which includes some of April) is encouraging.  He’s still giving up nearly a home per nine, which is discouraging since he plays in homerific Chase Field.  There is some buy-low potential here, but he just seems to have a penchant for giving up runs.  I’d be cautious.

This series focuses on trying to explaining what you don’t expect, not what you do expect, so I don’t have much to say about Masahiro Tanaka.  He’s lived up to the expectations since coming over from Japan and signing his big contract, and the stats support the productivity.

I was surprised to see Jon Lester’s ERA be over 4.00 during this sample.  He has good K and BB per 9 ratios, which supports his xFIP.  He had a relatively low LOB rate (63.8%) which likely contributed to his elevated ERA, but he also had a relatively low BABIP of 0.266.  My warning sign is an exceptionally low GB rate (34.2%).  His career level is 47%, so this may be a result of the small sample, but it is what I would have my eyes on moving forward if I owned him or wanted to trade for him.

I am not surprised to see Ian Kennedy on this list, nor that his ERA was nearly a full run higher than the xFIP.  He doesn’t have particularly good velocity (92 MPH, up an MPH from past), and he throws mostly fourseam fastballs (~60% of the time).  That said, he is having the best statistical season of his career by far and he pitches half of his games in Petco.  He is a buy if you can get him cheap, but don’t pay for these stats.  They are encouraging, but he’s never done this before, so the small sample does not support this as the new norm.

Aaron Harang’s presence on this list is interesting.  After his 04/30 start against the Marlins when he gave up 9 ER in 4.1 innings, everyone figured he’d turned back into a pumpkin, but this shows that he’s still having statistical successful.  The ERA is skewed by that horrific start.  He’s truly been good in everything he has control over (10.0 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9. 46.9% GB).  The ERA is also high because of the BABIP (0.437) and LOB rate (55.6%), both exceptionally worse than the generally accepted expectations (0.300 and 70%).  I’d bench him while he’s going through this unlucky streak, but I wouldn’t cut the cord just yet.

David Price is having a bizarro season.  He’s having by far the best K and BB rates of his career, in fact they’ve been otherworldly.  This sample is a slight downturn from the season numbers, but they are still amazing (9.5 K/9, 0.9 BB/9).  He’s giving up a bunch of HR despite a career normal GB rate.  He has a slightly elevated BABIP of 0.347, but there has to be more than that.  I just don’t know what it is.  He’s David Price, so you have to have faith he’ll turn it around, but it’s been very disappointing so far this season and in this small sample.

Ubaldo Jimenez has already had two seasons in one.  His April was like 2011-12, and May has been 2013.  This sample represents the 2013 version.  He struck guys out (9.4 K/9), with barely decent control (3.5 BB/9), and really kept the ball on the ground (58.7%).  You can’t put complete faith into a guy this unpredictable, but it’s a fun ride when he’s good.

Adam Wainwright is back.  Actually, he might be better than the pre-TJ Waino.  Just put him in the lineup and let it ride.

The following were used for this blog: FanGraphs, BaseballHQ, Baseball-Reference, and BrooksBaseball.

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