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Cleveland’s ERA-FIP Gap: The Defense IS That Bad

The ‘Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis’ process is regarded as a central tenet of Western Dialectic; namely, one begins with a thesis, an original assertion, which is refuted by an an antithesis, a rebuttal of the thesis, before finally a synthesis is reached, a combination of the thesis and antithesis, perceived to be the truth of the matter.

In terms of evaluating pitcher effectiveness, the thesis in question is what has been termed the ‘Old School’ of baseball thought – the idea that pitchers can will the ball to be hit harder or softer, that pitchers have control over how hard a ball is hit once it reaches the bat. The antithesis, then, is Voros McCracken’s idea of Fielding-Independent Pitching, the idea that the Three True Outcomes – strikeouts, walks, and home runs, those outcomes considered most within a pitcher’s control – are the only things within a pitcher’s control.

The synthesis of these two, then, has been the advent of derived, or regressed, FIP-like equations, such as SIERA or xFIP. It’s been proven to be the case that pitchers do have control over Ground Ball and Fly Ball rates – Justin Masterson’s sinker, for instance, induces ground-ball contact at an elite rate, but it does not limit the strength of contact that is made with the sinker. Hence, the incorporation of the two pitcher-dependent Batted Ball outcomes – GB/FB – has led to the advent of xFIP, the synthesis between old-school and new-school.

Yet there exists an opinion that the Indians’ pitching staff is not so skillful as their xFIP lets on. In the article ‘The Indians’ Paradoxical Pitching Staff‘ published nearly a week ago, Tony Blengino detailed why he believed the Indians’ pitching staff was better than its below-average ERA but worse than its xFIP. While Blengino has compiled thus far an extremely lucid, intelligent body of work, this particular assertion is very probably incorrect. Continue reading