Baseball season has arrived and TheLines has prepped some primers on key metrics that can aid your daily handicapping. We’ll start with FIP. When projecting pitchers and trying to estimate their true talent levels, you should always take a look at their FIP and how it reflects their performance.
So, what is FIP and how can you apply it when looking at baseball odds and betting on MLB?
What Is FIP?
FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching. It essentially attempts to use the ERA scale to more accurately reflect events under the pitcher’s control: home runs, strikeouts, walks (intentional ones stripped out) and hit-by-pitch. Balls in play are completely taken out of the equation, which helps eliminate variance on two fronts: the randomness of where the ball lands in the field, and the defensive ability of the fielders.
So, a pitcher with a FIP of 4 “should have” allowed four earned runs per nine inning, given neutral defense and batted balls in play (BABIP) luck. In actuality, players’ ERAs frequently differ greatly from their FIPs. This can be due to a variety of factors, some of which may reflect a true talent on the part of the pitcher and some of which may reflect good or bad fortune.
That’s where one of the shortcomings of FIP comes in. By completely eschewing balls in play, FIP ignores the fact that some pitchers do have a true talent for inducing weak and/or poor contact. Kyle Hendricks comes to mind as a pitcher whose ERA generally comes in lower than his FIP.
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Why Is FIP Useful?
Still, FIP generally does a better job than ERA at telling you how a pitcher has performed. Key word being, “performed.” Remember that FIP is backwards-looking. It’s not trying to predict the future, it’s trying to tell you how effective the pitcher has been at controlling the three true outcomes of home runs, strikeouts and walks.
Since balls in play are subject to incredible variance, this generally gives a cleaner look.
Thus, if a pitcher has a significantly lower FIP than ERA, there’s a decent chance a bettor can find value betting him if the market too heavily judges him for his ERA. You can use freely available online databases like FanGraphs and Baseball Reference to crosscheck these stats.
The Case Of Eduardo Rodriguez
For a good example from 2021, let’s look at Red Sox (now Tigers) starting pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. He spent a good portion of the year with an ERA north of 5. He has a career mark of 4.16, so this was a little out of the ordinary, but not incredibly so.
Yet, if you look at his peripherals, he was actually pitching better than he ever had in his life. He set a career-high in K% (27.4%) and a career-low in BB% (7%). He did all that while inducing his usual level of above-average weak contact (27.9 Hard%, tied for second-best year of his career).
His FIP wound up at a sterling 3.32. If the market treated him like a 5 ERA starter, you could bet him and get a ton of value since he was playing significantly better than that.
Unfortunately, a career-worst (by a huge margin) .363 BABIP dogged him last season. His ERA never quite stabilized, winding up at 4.74.
Yet, if you look at the projections, they nearly all expect 2022 production far closer to his 2021 FIP than his 2021 ERA. FanGraphs houses four distinct projection systems (ZiPS, Steamer, ATC and THE BAT) and the aggregate expected ERA comes out to 3.74. Baseball Reference’s Marcel is admittedly more pessimistic, pegging Rodriguez for a 4.37 ERA.
Use FIP To Help Judge Pitchers’ Talent Levels
Obviously, it’s not usually going to be as simple as “find large ERA-FIP, bet and print” but the market seemed to remain biased against Rodriguez the whole year.
Ultimately, ERA is a very noisy stat. Pitchers who play in front of bad defenses (especially those who induce a lot of grounders) and/or are victims of poor luck will look like worse players than they really are if you simply use a cursory look at ERA to estimate their true talent levels.
FIP can help you get a better look at how a pitcher has been performing, and you can use that as a tool to get a closer estimate to his talent. At the end of the day, that elusive true talent level will give you the best gauge of how he’ll perform going forward.
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