MLB: 7 Starting Pitchers Who Are Overachieving
It can be agreed upon that 2010 was the year of the pitcher. But this season, the pitchers have come out of the gate strong again. From Jered Weaver to Josh Johnson, there is a great crop of strong young arms that is dominating major league hitters so far this season.
There are also some surprising pitchers towards the top of the leaderboards. Some of these guys have staying power, but some of them are destined to fall off.
How do you determine who will fall off? There are several stats—xFIP, strand rate, BABIP, and HR/FB rate—that help to determine who has been overperforming. Though it is early in the year, enough baseball has been played to make some reasonable predictions.
Here are seven pitchers who are due for a drop-off in performance.
Explanation of Stats
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xFIP: Expected Fielding Independent Pitching is essentially ERA corrected for defense. There is a barebones (FIP) statistic, but xFIP uses a normalized (average) home run rate. Statistically speaking, it is the strongest predictor of future ERA.
BABIP: Batting Average on Balls in Play. This is pretty self-explanatory. League average: .285
Strand Rate: Also known as LOB%, this is the percentage of runners on base that the pitcher is able to keep on base (and therefore prevent from scoring) at the end of an inning. League average: 72.3 percent
HR/FB Rate: Simply a ratio of how many home runs are hit per fly ball, converted into a percentage. League average: 10.6 percent
Alexi Ogando, Rangers
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2011 stats: 3-0, 2.17 ERA, 0.88 WHIP
HR/FB: 10.0 percent
Ogando has been a terrific spark in Texas' rotation this year. However, his incredibly low BABIP, astronomically high strand rate, and almost a full two-run difference between xFIP and ERA indicate that Ogando has been the beneficiary of terrific defense and some good luck. It is nearly impossible for a pitcher to hold a 93.1 percent strand rate the entire season.
Josh Johnson, Marlins
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2011 stats: 3-0, 0.88 ERA, 0.71 WHIP
HR/FB: 2.9 percent
This one is pretty obvious from an ERA standpoint, because no modern pitcher has ever had an ERA below 1.12. But despite Johnson's ridiculous start, he too has been somewhat lucky. His BABIP of .173 is a huge factor, but that is perhaps due to the fact that he is giving up the fewest line drives of his career. What is certain is that his HR/FB rate will go up. His xFIP is terrific, so even though it's a gimme that Johnson's numbers will inflate, it won't be by much.
Josh Tomlin, Indians
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2011 stats: 4-1, 2.43 ERA, 0.81 WHIP
HR/FB: 14.9 percent
Tomlin has burst onto the scene this year just as his team, the Indians, have. He is a soft-tossing pitcher who relies on great movement and command.
Despite his numbers, luck seems to be in his favor. No matter how good your defense is, to have a .157 BABIP indicates that batters are just hitting the balls right at the fielders. And his 90.9 percent strand rate as a non-strikeout pitcher indicates some luck too.
Though his HR/FB rate will drop, expect Tomlin's ERA to head more in the 3.50-4.00 range.
Josh Beckett, Red Sox
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2011 stats: 2-1, 2.35 ERA, 0.86 WHIP
HR/FB: 7.9 percent
This hasn't been a good list if your name is Josh. Boston's Beckett has been excellent this year, with most people agreeing that he is back in top form.
Not to disagree, but Beckett probably won't be able to keep up this level of dominance all year. His BABIP is out of sight and his HR/FB is slightly below average. With the addition of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, he has probably also benefited from an improved defense. Beckett looks like he will be solid, but don't expect his ERA to stay under 3.00 much longer.
Wade Davis, Rays
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2011 stats: 3-2, 2.76 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
HR/FB: 1.6 percent
Davis has not been nearly as dominant this year as some of the other pitchers on this list, but he caught my eye because of the discrepancy between ERA and xFIP. There is a 2.34 run difference between the two, which says that Davis has been helped an incredibly amount by his defense. Along with that, his HR/FB rate is among baseball's lowest. Once his home run rate drifts towards the average, he will see his stats start to drift away from this excellent start.
Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
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2011 stats: 4-1, 2.44 ERA, 0.83 WHIP
HR/FB: 7.1 percent
Lohse has been a pleasant surprise this season for the Cardinals, especially important with Adam Wainwright on the shelf. But he has been one of the luckiest pitchers in terms of BABIP.
This is partially due to defense, but because the difference between xFIP and ERA isn't that high, it can be more attributed to good luck. His LOB% is around average and his HR/FB will probably stay around seven to eight percent, so Lohse's numbers will inflate, but not by much.
Zach Britton, Orioles
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2011 stats: 5-1, 2.63 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
HR/FB: 8.8 percent
Baltimore's talented rookie southpaw has been off to a dazzling start to 2011. Combining a great fastball with a plus changeup and good slider, Zach Britton is a promising pitcher. But his numbers do seem to be pretty inflated to start the year.
His strand rate is especially high considering he is not a strikeout pitcher (strikeout pitchers usually have higher LOB%), so once that comes back down to Earth and runners start scoring, Britton's ERA will start climbing more towards his xFIP of 4.14.
A Brief Glimpse at Who Is Underachieving
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Cliff Lee, Phillies—High BABIP, so ERA should float down to lower 3.00s.
Travis Wood, Reds—Has astronomically high ERA that will drop because of high BABIP and strand rate.
Yovani Gallardo, Brewers—Has high HR/FB, strand rate, and BABIP. ERA will not be above six for long.
Ryan Dempster, Cubs—Hard for Cubs fans to believe, but his HR/FB is baseball's second-worst with high BABIP/LOB%.
Luke Hochevar, Royals—Actually has great stuff, just been plagued by high HR/FB.