Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is it the pitching?

A few weeks back i referenced ways the Twins could improve the team without making moves off of their 25 man roster. They were scuffling a little but not too terribly. Most of those things have not been done and most are still applicable. Check it out here. I suggested Delmon Young be moved up vs right-handers and Micheal Cuddyer moved down. This is a change that would still help the team. I suggested the Twins skip Blackburn's start in the rotation any time they can skip a starter. He has been the team's worst pitcher and this move would still help the team without making a major change.I turned out to be wrong about Alex Burnett and he has been sent down for now, in favor of Anthony Slama.

The real problem for the Twins lately has been their starting pitching. Baker, Slowey and Blackburn have drawn a lot of Twins fan ire. There was also an interesting argument this last week on the other 2 starters. Liriano or Pavano as the Twins best pitcher was a hot debate on twitter last week. Digging deeper into this debate might help show some of the weaknesses (real and perceived) of the Twins starting pitching. Pavano was favored by many fans for his 11-6 record and his 3.48 ERA vs. Liriano's 7-7 and 3.76 ERA. Liriano supporters point to his 2.16 FIP, 2.76 xFIP and Fangraphs.com suggests Liriano is worth 4.6 WAR. Pavano has a 3.93 FIP, 3.91 xFIP and Fangraphs.com suggests he has been worth 2.2 WAR.

So, what the hell am I talking about?

FIP/xFIP are two different measurements that suggest what a pitchers ERA should be based on different factors related to defense, luck, etc.... They use factors such as HRs allowed, strikeouts and walks. Both suggest a pitcher who gives up less HRs, less walks and strikes out a lot of guys should expect a lower ERA. The reason being, a pitcher cannot control balls in play. Once it hits the bat, the pitcher has to count on his fielders and the park he is playing in. So, what FIP and xFip are saying is that Liriano's ERA should be lower than it is and Pavano's should be higher. Well, what is going on here?

Let's look at the whole pitching staff.

Francisco Liriano has given up a .358 BABIP. (Batting Average Balls in Play) This is the highest in all of major league baseball by 7% points over Dan Haren. (Another reason I like Dan Haren vs. his numbers but more on that in a different post) What does this mean? It means that more balls put in to play become hits for Liriano than any other pitcher in major league baseball. He also has a 69.5 LOB% (runners stranded on base percentage), which is 17th worse out of 54 AL starters. Based on these numbers, it is easy to see why Liriano's actual ERA is higher than his expected ERA.

Scott Baker is 7-9 and had a 5.15 ERA with a 4.01 FIP/3.84 xFIP after the loss last night. His BABIP is .343, which is 5th highest in the American League out of 54 starters. His 69.3 LOB% is 16th worse out of 54 AL starters. His FIP and xFIP look similar to Carl Pavano's. In fact, his xFIP says he is the 10th best pitcher in the AL, 3 spots ahead of Pavano. Not many fans would not buy this, but there is a good article about Baker's season here.

Kevin Slowey is 8-5 and has a 4.98 ERA with a 4.40 FIP/4.68 xFIP. He has been a little better than his ERA probably due to his .333 BABIP. (8th highest out of 54 in the AL) His 71.9 LOB% is a little better than average. There is a good article on his ground ball rate here.

Nick Blackburn is 7-7 with a hideous 6.53 ERA. He has a 5.77 FIP/5.11 xFIP suggesting he has been less horrible than the numbers suggest. His BABIP is .329 (10th highest in the AL) and his LOB% is 65.1. (3rd worst in the AL) As I mentioned above, I believe the Twins should minimize the use of Blackburn, but he hasn't been quite as bad as it seems. More on Blackburn's season here.

Finally, we get to Carl Pavano, his FIP and xFIP are lower than his ERA as explained above. Probably due to his .259 BABIP (5th lowest in the AL) and his LOB% is 73.2 (19th best in the AL).

What does this all mean? Why would 4 of 5 starters look to be worse than they appear? I'll discuss the reasons and some potential ways to improve the pitching staff in my next post. The Twins pitching has been frustrating this season, but as the numbers above suggest, there are probably other factors at play.

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