Last week the Twins signed Ricky Nolasco to a 4 year, $49 million contract. The Nolasco signing is the biggest contract that a pitcher has received thus far this offseason. If you believe in FIP based WAR this looks like good value. Nolasco projects as a 2.5-3.0 win WAR pitcher based off his FIP. The Twins are paying him in the vicinity of $4million/WAR. Sabermetricians tout FIP as a better predictor of future outcome than ERA. However, there are many pitchers that routinely underperform their FIP. Ricky Nolasco is one of those pitchers. He has posted an ERA higher than his FIP in 5 straight seasons. From 2009-2013 Nolasco posted a FIP of 3.58 and a nearly idententical xFIP of 3.59. His 4.48 ERA during that time is nearly a point higher. Clearly Nolasco has been an underperforming FIPster, and there is no reason to believe that trend won’t continue.
Any pitcher can have a rough season in which poor strand rates cause their ERA to hover over FIP. In these instances they are negatively effected by the randomness of sequencing. Essentially it is bad luck. But bad luck isn’t always the cause of poor strand rates. Pitchers like Nolasco that routinely underperform their FIP appear to be pitching less effectively out of the stretch. We can see that when we look at his career splits for K/9 and BB/9 rates with the bases empty as opposed to men on base.
|R. Nolasco||bases empty||men on base|
As you can see Nolasco doesn’t have the same strikeout stuff out of the stretch. He also issues free passes at a greater frequency. This has been a trend his whole career. But does this really cause a pitcher to underperform FIP? I believe the answer is yes and an even better example to prove this is Tim Lincecum.
Here is a tale of two Tims. Lincecum prior to 2012 was basically a pitcher that pitched to his FIP. From to 2007-2011 Lincecum posted the following: 2.98 ERA/ 2.93 FIP / 3.20 xFIP. After the 2011 season Lincecum became an extreme underperforming FIPster. Here are his numbers in 2012-2013: 4.76 ERA/ 3.95 FIP/ 3.68 xFIP. So what happened to Timmy? Well, with the bases empty not much. Lincecum continued to strike out batters with a K/9 rate over 10. The free passes only rose slightly. But with men on base, oh my did his numbers plummet! His K/9 dropped 20% and his BB/9 rose 50%. Here are Lincecum’s splits for those time periods in greater detail:
|T. Lincecum||bases empty||men on base|
Obviously a drop off in performance with men on base can have a negative impact on FIP. Armed with this knowledge we can now make a better determination if the crop of still available free agent pitchers that underperformed their FIP last season were a victim of sequencing or lesser stuff out of the stretch. So lets take a look at a few of them. These are 2013 numbers:
A.J. Burnett – 3.30 ERA/ 2.80 FIP / 2.92 xFIP
|A.J. Burnett||bases empty||men on base|
Conclusion:Burnett’s numbers were stronger out of the stretch. It appears sequencing was to blame for underperforming his FIP in 2013.
Chris Capuano – 4.26 ERA/ 3.55 FIP / 3.67 xFIP
|C. Capuano||bases empty||men on base|
Conclusion:Buyer beware with Chris Capuano. His FIP may not be a strong indicator of the pitcher he will be next season. With the bases empty he was Cole Hamels. With men on base he was Zach Duke. Capuano wasn’t victimized by bad luck. He just didn’t pitch very well out of the stretch.
Joe Saunders – 5.26 ERA/ 4.72 FIP / 4.23 xFIP
|J. Saunders||bases empty||men on base|
Conclusion: Saunders didn’t pitch noticeably worse with men on base. Bad luck was the culprit for underperforming his FIP in 2013. He is a good bet for a bounce back year in 2014.
Paul Maholm – 4.41 ERA/ 4.24 FIP / 3.89 xFIP
|P. Maholm||bases empty||men on base|
Conclusion: Maholm is very similar to Saunders. If anything he appears to pitch better out of the stretch. Random sequencing impacted him negatively more than anything he was or was not doing with men on base.