With the Statcast data now making its way out to the public, we’re going to see new metrics proposed. This is going to be a turnoff to some people and that’s okay. What you have to ask yourself is: Am I happy with my current level of knowledge and understanding of the game or am I open to the idea that there may be things out there that would push my knowledge and understanding forward?
Whatever you’re talking about – whether it be sports or music or religion or politics or whatever – there are going to be people who are stuck in a certain time period or with a certain mindset. Shoot, I still think of the Smashing Pumpkins as a new band. My music horizons have not expanded much past the early 1990s. There are people my age who still follow new music and can tell you about Paramore or Deafhaven or Deerhunter. They don’t think that anything that’s new stinks and they’re undoubtedly right. They’re open to hearing new music and they’re richer for it.
The idea that someone else would put down or dismiss people for listening to music made in this century is just sad. I don’t put anyone down for listening to it; it’s just not where I estimate my time being best spent. To me hearing, “She had hair like Jeannie Shrimpton back in 1965” still makes me happy and fills my music needs.
But this isn’t a music blog – it’s a baseball blog whose focus is on the past, present and future. We’re not stuck in 1969 or 1986 or even 2015. We like to visit those times, for sure. But we also live in the present and think about the future. And new metrics are a big part of both now and tomorrow. To ignore them would be foolish.
We use statistics to try to help us understand the game better. Some stats can be used primarily to understand what has happened, while some have that plus have utility to forecast what might happen in the future. Those latter stats are focused on ability, rather than 100% actual performance. One example of that is FIP, which attempts to put a pitcher’s ability on the familiar scale of ERA. Unlike ERA, FIP focuses on the things that are assumed to be in control of the pitcher – strikeouts, walks/hit by pitch and homers.
The beauty of FIP is in its simplicity. It takes a few ordinarily available inputs and is able to create something that does a better job of predicting future ERA than a pitcher’s actual ERA does. If you were going to create a stat from scratch, you would make it simple and you would make it predictive. FIP accomplishes both of these things.
So it may be somewhat surprising that we are going to talk about making FIP harder to potentially make it better.
Not all home runs are created equal. You can have a Yoenis Cespedes upper deck shot that would be out in any park in the majors. And then you have wall scrapers that would be outs in many parks. On the flip side, you can have a ball that was absolutely crushed but it was hit to the deepest part of the park and caught up against the wall. Does it not seem at least possible that these blasts are more predictive to future performance than just counting them as the same as any other out?
Here’s a snippet from an interview with Taylor Tankersley, a guy the Mets signed to compete for a LOOGY spot prior to the 2012 season. Tankersley went to Spring Training with the club but never played for the Mets. But he was a likeable, intelligent guy and if you have time, you should read the whole interview. But here’s the relevant part:
Your last 8 games you got hit pretty hard (.412/.450/.1.059) including 3 HR to your last 20 BF. What happened in this stretch?
Fractions of an inch. If you were to go back and look at video of those splits that you spoke of, I can remember getting Adrian Gonzalez out twice in Dolphins Stadium and combined he hit the ball about 750 feet and both got caught on the warning track in center field. I got Josh Hamilton out; he hit a screaming line drive right at the left fielder. Things like that, the ball was bouncing my way, I had good fortune. The last half of my big league outings last year the ball was falling in the gap or sinking over the fence. On paper it looked like a dramatic difference but there really wasn’t.
Shouldn’t we be interested in those blasts allowed to Gonzalez and Hamilton, even if they didn’t result in homers at the time? In the past, we couldn’t do it; we were limited by the data. But with Statcast, we can now do it.
Casey Boguslaw from RO Baseball recently had a great article where he talked about using barrels instead of home runs in calculating the FIP statistic. Barrels are a stat created by Tom Tango and Daren Willman. Here’s how Boguslaw put it:
Simply put, a barrel attempts to define the best outcome a hitter can produce. Tango and Willman set it as any combination of batted ball exit velocity and launch angle which leads to an expected batting average of at least .500 (calculated from historical data) and an expected slugging percentage of at least 1.500; an almost sure base hit. In 2016, barrels did much better than those minimums; resulting in a batting average of .822 and a 2.386 slugging percentage; an almost sure extra-base hit.
You can find information on barrels over at Willman’s excellent Baseball Savant site.
Meanwhile, Boguslaw calculated FIP with barrels instead of homers for both the top 10 and bottom 10 FIP performers. There wasn’t a ton of new information there. Perhaps where it became most interesting was when he compared the biggest changes between FIP and what he called BarrelFIP. Here’s one of his interesting examples:
Happ went from a 3.96 FIP to a 4.45 BarrelFIP. And recall that his FIP was already substantially above his ERA. And for guys in the other direction, we have Anibal Sanchez, Carlos Rodon and Jon Lester, among others. Rodon goes from a 4.04 ERA and a 4.01 FIP to a 3.35 BarelFIP.
We only have barrels for the 2015 and 2016 seasons. To the best of my knowledge, we don’t have a ton of information on the reliability of BarrelFIP. You shouldn’t throw out FIP or ERA at this point. But it’s a potentially exciting area and one worth keeping an eye on going forward.
So, how do the Mets pitchers rank with this new information? Here are the 15 guys who pitched at least 35 innings for the club in 2016:
Note that FIP has a constant added to the results to put it on the same scale as ERA. BarrelFIP does too, but it’s not the same constant as regular FIP, as there were many more barrels than HR hit last year.
We see Syndergaard’s ERA was really good last year. His FIP was even better and his BarrelFIP was best of all. On the flip side of that is Lugo, as his ERA was very good but his FIP was not and his BarrelFIP was even worse. Blevins has some interesting results, too. He had a very good ERA but his FIP was higher. Yet his BarrelFIP was even better than his ERA. Not only that, it was better than Familia’s and almost as good as Reed’s.
It’s hard to argue that Bastardo was worth a 2/$12 deal last year and Blevins isn’t now. In 2015, Bastardo had a 2.98 ERA, a 3.33 FIP and a 3.29 BarrelFIP. Last year Blevins had a 2.79/3.05/2.24 marks. But does Blevins have visions of a three or four-year deal dancing in his head after seeing some of the contracts that lefty relievers have received this offseason?
Matz also looks really good by this measure. Gsellman’s barrel numbers are pretty close to his FIP. By this measure, the difference between him and Lugo looks even bigger. Perhaps the biggest surprise to me is that Robles doesn’t measure worse here. He seems to give up a lot of hard hit balls but obviously not enough to register a ton of barrels, as he surrendered 10 barrels compared to seven homers. If not Robles, the biggest surprise is deGrom, who does not fare particularly well by this measure.
Again, let’s be clear that to the best of my knowledge this has not been tested vigorously yet. But it makes theoretical sense so let’s keep tabs on it and check in on it again at the end of the 2017 season. Maybe it’s not better than the original FIP and since it requires a stat not found on every website, it wouldn’t be worth using.
Yet maybe it will be worthwhile. And that chance is very exciting to me.