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— Cubs Baseball for Thinking Fans

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What the FIP?

The Cubs pitching has been statistically extreme in some interesting ways.

First, let’s look at FIP.  FIP (“fielding independent pitching”) attempts to capture a pitcher’s performance, in a term similar to ERA, that does not depend on the fickle fate of balls hit in play. As a team, the Cubs have greatly outperformed their team FIP, posting a 3.13 team ERA (best in MLB), compared to 3.80 FIP (fourth in MLB).  I believe the last time a team finished the season with a higher difference was 2002, when the Atlanta Braves finished with a 3.13 ERA and 3.83 FIP.  Oh, and if you look at teams that vastly outperform their FIP, it’s a list of mostly excellent won/lost records (the ‘02 Braves, for example, went 101-59).

Each of the Cubs starters is outperforming his FIP, by a pretty decent margin:

Arrieta: 2.62 ERA, 3.30 FIP
Hendricks: 2.19 ERA, 3.37 FIP
Lester: 2.81 ERA, 3.67 FIP
Lackey: 3.41 ERA, 3.72 FIP
Hammel: 3.07 ERA, 4.27 FIP

Not surprisingly consider the extreme FIP numbers, Cubs pitchers have also held opponents to remarkably low batting average on balls in play (BABIP).  The Cubs hold the second (Arrieta, .231), fifth (Hendricks, .247), sixth (Hammel, .248), thirteenth (Lackey, .258) and sixteenth (Lester, .263) lowest BABIP values among the 93 MLB pitchers with at least 120 IP.  The overall BABIP against Cubs pitchers is .255, with the Blue Jays coming in second at .281.  The last time a pitching staff kept season BABIP to less than .265 was 2001, when the Mariners did it with .260.  They won 116 games.  Perhaps most remarkable is that Cubs pitching has held opponents to a ridiculous .213 batting average.  The last time a team’s opposing BA was <.220 over a full season was 1968, when Detroit (.217), Boston (.212) and Cleveland (.206) did it.  Of course, the MLB BA was .237 in 1968, compared to .256 today.

The Cubs starters also look good in the WAR boards, taking up four of the top 25 spots in MLB among pitchers. Arrieta ranks highest, at 15th (3.5), with Hendricks 16th (3.4), Lester 22nd (2.9), and Lackey 24th (2.8).  Hammel trails far behind, but it’s awfully good to have a fifth starter post a 1.6 WAR.

Does this mean the Cubs have been lucky?  Sure, but teams don’t play 126 games of .643 ball without some luck in their favor.  Some say they’d rather be lucky than good, but being both is even better.

Andere Richtingen Posted: August 24, 2016 at 01:50 PM | 7 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Andere Richtingen Posted: August 25, 2016 at 05:54 PM (#5290060)
Commenting so this shows up (I held it back because I submitted at almost the same time as Moses' did yesterday).
   2. Eric J can SABER all he wants to Posted: August 25, 2016 at 07:01 PM (#5290099)
Oh, and if you look at teams that vastly outperform their FIP, it’s a list of mostly excellent won/lost records (the ‘02 Braves, for example, went 101-59).

I imagine it's also a list of teams with really good fielding. Which the Cubs are generally regarded as having, I think. (By DRS, which is what B-R uses for WAR, they're plus-64 on defense, and above average in the aggregate at every position. TotalZone has a total of +91 and above-average overall ratings everywhere except catcher.)
   3. Andere Richtingen Posted: August 25, 2016 at 07:33 PM (#5290118)
I imagine it's also a list of teams with really good fielding.

I would expect that, and indeed the Cubs lead MLB in defense in multiple measures. But their margin in defense doesn't seem commensurate with their historically ridiculous FIP-type stats. So I think it's a combination of quality pitching and defense, plus a good bit of luck too. I sure hope defense is playing a much larger role.
   4. KB JBAR (trhn) Posted: August 25, 2016 at 08:23 PM (#5290150)
We would also have accepted FIP the Script for the title.

But their margin in defense doesn't seem commensurate with their historically ridiculous FIP-type stats

I'd argue that it is commensurate. Sixty-four runs in 126 games is half a run per game. Add that in and you get a 3.63 defense adjusted ERA vs. 3.80 FIP.
   5. McCoy Posted: August 25, 2016 at 08:29 PM (#5290154)
Or, "Are you FIP'ing kidding me?"
   6. Walt Davis Posted: August 26, 2016 at 03:05 AM (#5290290)
I noted this early in the year. Here are the 2015 Cub BABIPs (some reasonable # of innings) followed by 2016 for those we kept:

Arrieta 247 232
Cahill 188 255
Grimm 255 291
Hammel 290 253
Hendricks 300 249
Lester 306 265
Ramirez 289 250 (just 7.2 IP)
Richard 297 411 (gone)
Rondon 273 232
Strop 227 227
Wood 301 234

Coke 406
Haren 276
Hunter 340
Jackson 309
Motte 289
Rodney 259
Rosscup 304
Russell 339
Wada 287

Team 290 257
League 303 301

So team BABIP was better than league in 2015 but also note that we kept nobody who was worse than league average (OK, Lester by 3 points). This year those guys are all better than league average and Arrieta, Cahill, Rondon and Strop have repeated crazy low BABIPs and Grimm and Hammel were substantially below league-average in both years.

This year the Cubs have given up 2596 BIP so that 50 point edge vs. league average equates to about 130 hits vs outs or about 100 runs. Rfield puts the Cubs defense at +56 and gives the Cubs pitchers another 8 runs (this is zeroed out in WAR but is found in the fielding table) -- that should be about 80 hits. We've saved more in Rfield than we've added in Rbat. Wow, 13(!) of the Rfield are for David Ross in a measly 372 innings -- how is that possible? Anyway, figure an extra 35-40 runs saved in BABIP dominance.

It's enough to make me wonder whether Bosio has discovered something. In his first 1.5 seasons with the Cubs, Arrieta had BABIPs of 193 and 277 so it's getting very non-flukey for him. Hammel's numbers are tilted by Colorado but still he was nothing special before Chicago, then 273, 290 and 253. Lackey's a small sample but it's still 261 vs a career 306. Hendricks is at 277 for his career.

It's probably just a combo of good luck and excellent defense but the worst BABIP for a Cubs SP this season is Lester at 265. That's over 1991 BIP, not a particularly small sample. In their time with the Cubs, Lester is the worst of the 5 at about 290, probably a bit lower.
   7. Moses Taylor loves a good maim Posted: August 26, 2016 at 02:07 PM (#5290545)
The Cubs worst pitching stretch of the season was when Fowler was out. Perhaps that was a coincidence - in theory, Almora is a better defender, but there was a lot of talk around these parts that it was just regression since the pitching couldn't be as good as it was early in the year. Well, things have gone back to how they were early in the year. I think you definitely have to point at work the coaching staff has done, not just Bosio, but defensively. And most likely, their scouting and game planning. I agree that I really don't think this is a fluke, even if they're on the upper ends of likely, or that this is something we shouldn't expect to continue.

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