The Top 8 Pitchers Whose Statistics Are Getting Slaughtered by Bad Team Defense
For whatever reason, pitchers are the only players assigned the entire team’s wins and losses. Even if a poor defense is the cause of a loss, for instance, the pitcher is still the only one saddled with this negative statistic.
The most accurate way to evaluate how a pitcher’s defense is negatively affecting his statistics is by calculating the difference between a pitcher’s fielding independent pitching (FIP) and total run average (as opposed to earned run average). If there is a significant disparity between the FIP and TRA (aka "total run average"), then a pitcher is undoubtedly being done in by his defense.
Following are the eight pitchers whose statistics are getting slaughtered most by bad team defense.
All statistics and data sourced (through July 21, 2013) from Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com. Only starting pitchers with at least 70 innings considered. The physical calculation of "FIP-TRA" was performed by me.
8. Tim Lincecum
Tim Lincecum recently pitched a no-hitter on July 13. The right-hander allowed four walks and struck out 13 batters in the contest.
Another interesting statistic is that Lincecum only allowed five ground balls in nine innings—the fewest (in terms of ground balls to innings pitched) he surrendered all season.
Given the 29-year-old’s minus-1.39 FIP-TRA, it’s possible that if “The Freak” had allowed more ground balls, the San Francisco Giants’ brutal defense might not have saved his impressive feat.
Lincecum may no longer be the back-to-back Cy Young Award-winning pitcher he was from 2008 to 2009, but a 3.33 FIP (versus 4.26 ERA) isn’t bad either.
7. Aaron Harang
Aaron Harang is experiencing one of his oddest major league seasons in 2013. Despite hurling a 5.38 ERA, the 35-year-old has also posted career bests in BB/9 (1.6) and K/BB (4.27).
With a FIP a full point below his seasonal ERA, it’s apparent Harang is receiving little help from the Seattle Mariners defense. The right-hander’s minus-1.46 FIP-TRA solidifies this unfortunate theory.
Harang is no longer a mid-rotation starter, but if the veteran was handed outstanding defense like the type Jeff Locke has received (1.49 FIP-TRA differential), perhaps he’d be a deadline asset as opposed to a DFA candidate.
6. Rick Porcello
On the surface, Rick Porcello is enduring yet another disappointing season (4.80 ERA) since seemingly bursting onto the scene in 2009 (3.96 ERA versus 4.77 FIP).
The irony is that Porcello is secretly enjoying his finest major league season in 2013. The 24-year-old has posted a career-best 3.06 FIP and 4.21 K/BB. The biggest issue for Porcello has been the Detroit Tigers defense, as the pitcher’s minus-1.48 FIP-TRA has been too great for him to overcome.
If the Tigers could somehow improve their defense in the second half, Porcello might actually emerge as the top starter the organization always thought he’d be.
5. Jordan Lyles
Being a Houston Astro is tough. The Astros are the most publicly rebuilding franchise and have filled their roster with several well-below replacement-level players.
The 22-year-old Jordan Lyles is not one of the above-mentioned players, but his pitching performances are certainly affected by them. Lyles’ minus-1.50 FIP-TRA differential is one of the worst in the majors—which is unfortunate, as the youngster has spun a 3.84 FIP.
With a solid 52.1 percent ground-ball rate, 0.64 home run-per-nine-innings ratio and 2.23 K/BB, the right-hander could, one day, be a productive pitcher for the Astros.
4. Justin Grimm
Justin Grimm was just included as one of three pieces headed to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Matt Garza, via the team's website. While Grimm is probably excited to head to Chicago to escape his minus-1.98 FIP-TRA differential, Edwin Jackson might have to curb his enthusiasm.
As a Texas Ranger, Grimm posted a 6.37 ERA and 1.65 WHIP. But before you judge the 24-year-old rookie, his (still mediocre) 4.79 FIP at least illustrates the type of pitcher Grimm has actually been in 2013.
Moving from the hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to the more pitcher-friendly Wrigley Field should help reduce Grimm’s 1.5 home run-per-nine-innings metric. But whether Cubs fielders will prevent more hits and runs is another story.
3. Edwin Jackson
Perhaps the only thing more surprising than Edwin Jackson being handed a four-year, $52 million contract this past offseason is Jackson enduring his worst season since 2007.
The usually steady 29-year-old has posted a dismal 5.03 ERA despite a more indicative 3.63 FIP. Jackson’s minus-2.08 FIP-TRA differential speaks to his unfortunate 2013 season, as the right-hander has obviously not received help from his defense.
If the Chicago Cubs can improve their team defense in 2014, expect Jackson to spin statistics closer to his 2013 FIP.
2. Wade Davis
The Kansas City Royals had high hopes for Wade Davis when they acquired him as part of the James Shields blockbuster in the offseason. Re-converted to starting pitcher, Davis has posted some ugly surface statistics, including a 5.89 ERA and 1.75 WHIP.
While a solid case could be made for how the 27-year-old is more effective as a reliever (park-adjusted 157 ERA+ in 2012), the real issue in 2013 has been the Royals defense.
Davis’ minus-2.20 FIP-TRA differential is the second worst in the major leagues. It also doesn’t help matters that Davis’ inflated .382 BABIP in 2013 is 103 points higher than his .279 career rate.
1. Edinson Volquez
Edinson Volquez hasn’t been a noteworthy pitcher since posting a 3.21 ERA (versus park-adjusted 137 ERA+) as a rookie in 2008. As bad as the 30-year-old Volquez has been in 2013 (5.73 ERA), however, the right-hander hasn’t been nearly as horrendous as his surface statistics would lead you to think.
With a league-leading (in a bad way) minus-2.23 FIP-TRA differential, the San Diego Padres defense has been markedly abhorrent while Volquez is on the hill. The pitcher’s .342 BABIP is also 37 points above his career .305 rate.
And unlike Dan Haren, who has surrendered 63.6 percent more home runs per nine innings in 2013 versus his career, Volquez is actually allowing fewer dingers in 2013.
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