Two weeks in and we have about 5% of our total pitching data (4.9% by games, 4.6% compared to IP in 2013). It is hard to get a reasonable sample size when we are so early in the season and there is a large variance in individual pitching performances. Yet, the Reds season is not exactly going according to plan, so I thought we could parse through some of the numbers and see if there are any major trends that jump out.
To get a reasonably large sample size, I’m going to pool all the data we have from the 2014 season and compare it to the 2013 Reds team numbers. Pooling the data (which could end up causing more problems than it solves) could help us see the trends that are emerging out of the staff as a whole. I want to emphasize caution here: We only have 68 innings of data, so please do not draw strong conclusions.
I am going to use the statistic Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) instead of ERA for two reasons. First, studies have shown that FIP is a better predictor than past ERA of future pitching performances, including future ERA. Second, using FIP avoids variance associated with defense. Since we are already using perilously small numbers, adding in an extra source of variance would not be helpful.
With 68 innings under their belts, the Reds rank 23rd in FIP (4.10) in 2014. The 2013 Reds’ pitching ranked thirteenth in the majors with a 3.81 FIP and a 3.62 xFIP. If you remember from Steve’s post, xFIP uses FIP but substitutes the league average home run rate into the equation and then weights it by a pitcher’s fly ball percentage.
That sounds complicated, but its actually pretty simple: home runs are fly balls, and there is a fairly consistent number of fly balls that turn into home runs. Therefore, you take the percentage of fly balls that a pitcher gives up and multiply it by the expected number of home runs per fly ball. Some pitchers are able to “out pitch” their xFIP because they give up fewer home runs per fly ball, while others may give up more home runs than expected.
xFIP assumes that pitchers are responsible for keeping the ball out of the air, while other variables, such as BABIP, park factors, and luck, should not be held against a pitcher.
You might think that luck has nothing to do with a home run. In one sense, that is correct: Many home runs are hit off mistake pitches. But also think about the number of times a pitcher throws a hanging curveball but the batter pulls it foul, or when Miguel Cabrera hits a ball three inches off the ground over the wall. That’s why some people argue that in order to properly compare pitchers, we need to average out a pitcher’s home run rate. Keep in mind that pitchers face different batters in different ballparks (something that, after playing the Cardinals, the Reds are quickly discovering).
The discrepancy between these two numbers show that the Reds had an above average number of home runs hit against them last year. This is probably not surprising given they play in Great American Ball Park. The trend is holding true this year as well, the Reds FIP (4.10) is higher than their xFIP (3.86).
The difference between these two numbers has held constant over the past two years. In other words, it doesn’t look like the Reds are giving up many more home runs than they did last year. This is backed up by the similar HR/FB [home runs to fly balls, as a percentage] rate for the 2013 squad (11.5)% and the 2014 version (12.5%). Strikeouts (K/9), too, are holding pretty constant: 8.07, 2013; 7.91, 2014.
On the old Riverfront Stadium scoreboard, every time a Reds batter drew a walk, an image of a ghost with the phrase “Walks will haunt” would appear. That could be the story here, too. The 2013 Reds had a BB/9 rate of 2.66 whereas in 2014 that number is all the way up to 3.97. How high is that? Even the AAAstros, who led the league in this category last year, had a lower BB/9 rate in 2013 (3.85).
From that, there is good news and bad news. The good news: That number will almost certainly decline as the Reds continue through the season. The bad news? These walks might haunt us for awhile. At Fangraphs, Jeff Sullivan shows that the Reds early season losses have already harmed their chances at making the post-season. It is not a large margin, but baseball can be a game of inches, or a few feet.
Like sixty feet from home.