MLB Betting: First FIP Leaderboard of 2014

LT Profits Sports Group

Friday, April 18, 2014 4:00 AM UTC

Friday, Apr. 18, 2014 4:00 AM UTC

There is a familiar face at the top of our first FIP Leaderboard of 2014 that should be near the top of this list all season long, although there are also some anomalies elsewhere.

While conventional pitching stats like ERA and WHIP are nice for fan talk around the water cooler and for agents when negotiating contracts, they are not really that predictive from a betting standpoint. We have always felt that FIP is a better indicator of future performance, so we are now presenting our first Major League FIP Leaderboard for 2014 in an attempt to help you make more informed MLB picks.

Besides not necessarily relating to future performance, another reason why we prefer FIP is it is just about impossible to beat the sportsbooks using widely available conventional stats because the oddsmakers have just as easy access to those numbers as the bettors do and they have much more intricate algorithms to produce sharper lines than probably 98 percent of gamblers can come up with.

Keep in mind also that ERA and WHIP include some components that are out of the pitcher’s control, which also makes those numbers flawed as predictive tools. Those factors could range from the pitcher’s team’s defensive range and ability to even the official scorer deciding if a play is a hit or an error.

FIP on the other hand is composed of factors that the pitcher can basically control on his own. FIP stands for Fielder Independent Pitching and it incorporates strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. The simple formula for FIP is (13xHR+3xBB-2xK)/IP + a constant, usually around 3.20. The constant is used to put FIP on the same scale as ERA, and since the constant is based on league-wide ERA, it fluctuates from year to year and even throughout the season.

Since they have more control over it, pitchers tend to maintain their FIP more long term than ERA and WHIP, thus making it a better indicator of future performance. Obviously, there will be some superstars on the FIP leaderboard that will be huge favorites on the MLB odds whenever they take the mound, but the more important use of FIP is in uncovering the under-the-radar hidden gems that are underrated, thus offering nice betting value.

While a stud that should be near the top of this list all year tops our initial leaderboard, there are also some pitchers on this list at this early stage of the season that do not figure to be here long. However, this list will start becoming more meaningful once we hit the month of May, and who knows, maybe we will be pleasantly surprised with the list not changing much.

With no further ado, here are the top 10 pitchers in the Major Leagues on the FIP Leaderboard through games of Thursday, April 17, 2014. (FIP is in parenthesis).

1 - Yu Darvish (Texas Rangers, 1.50): Darvish was one of the best pitchers in baseball last season despite his 13-9 record as he curiously received little run support from the Texas offense, and he is off to another great start this season. In fact Darvish did not give up a single run in 15 innings over his first two outings before allowing two to Seattle his last time out, leaving him with a 0.62 ERA and 0.86 WHIP with a fantastic ratio of 23 strikeouts vs. four walks in 22 innings, and he has yet to allow a home run.

2 - Scott Kazmir (Oakland Athletics, 1.70): Kazmir has been a nice early-season story, but we also feel that he is one of the anomalies that are not long for this list. Still, he has been impressive in his first three starts while going 2-0 with a 1.40 ERA, a tiny 0.78 WHIP and 19 strikeouts vs. four walks in 19.1 innings without a homer allowed. Kazmir has shown glimpses of this greatness in the past without being able to carry it through the season, and he did leave his last start on Sunday with a sore triceps, although the injury is not serious and he is not expected to miss a turn.

3 - Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners, 1.74): Hernandez made a habit of turning up on this list last season and here we go again with the former Cy Young winner off to another hot start! Hernandez finished fifth in the majors in FIP last year and is off to a 3-0 start in 2014 that would be 4-0 if Mariners’ closer Fernando Rodney did not blow a save for him last time out. All in all, Hernandez has a 1.91 ERA and 0.74 WHIP with a simply amazing ratio of 39 strikeouts vs. three walks in 28.1 innings, making up for the two home runs he has allowed already. Hernandez leads the American League with his 12.55 strikeouts per nine innings.

4 - Mark Buehrle (Toronto Blue Jays, 1.95): Buehrle is making us look rather foolish right now for ranking him among the five most overrated pitchers in baseball for 2014, but remember that it is early. Still, Buehrle has turned back the clock, not allowing more than one run while winning each of his first three starts, and he has a 0.86 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. Buehrle has never been a big strikeout guy and he has 16 through 21 innings, but he has also issued only two walks. And this is after issuing 2.25 walks per nine innings last season! Buehrle has also yet to allow a homer.

5 - Masahiro Tanaka (New York Yankees, 1.96): Tanaka may have been the object of the most aggressive free agent pursuit ever for a Japanese pitcher after going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 212 innings last season, and the Yankees won the bidding war. Well, Tanaka has still yet to taste defeat since the beginning of last season as he is 2-0 through his first three Major League starts with a 2.05 ERA and 0.77 WHIP. Big league hitters have yet to solve him as he has 28 strikeouts in 22 innings with two double-digit strikeout performances already. That has offset the two homers he has allowed, as has issuing only two walks.

6 - Chris Archer (Tampa Bay Rays, 1.99): There is some controversy on SBR Forum regarding just how good Archer is as we are on record saying he is a bit overrated. He managed to get on this list because of his 17 strikeouts in 18 innings and no home runs allowed, but he also has five walks and a high 4.50 ERA and 1.50 WHIP after getting tagged for seven earned runs and 12 hits in five innings by the Baltimore Orioles in his last start. We stand by our comments and expect Archer to fall off of this list sooner rather than later.

7 –Nathan Eovaldi (Miami Marlins, 2.07): A couple of Miami Marlins rank seventh and eighth on our initial FIP Leaderboard, and while one will probably be a mainstay on this list all season, the other one is expected to have a brief stay. Unfortunately, Eovaldi is the latter despite actually being the National League FIP leader at the moment. Eovaldi is a very hard thrower that has always had bouts with inconsistency, and that is a key reason we do not see him maintaining his remarkable current ratio of 19 strikeouts vs. one walk in 19.1 innings. His regression may have already begun as he was touched up for four earned runs in 6.1 innings by the Phillies last time out, ballooning his ERA to 4.19.

8 - Jose Fernandez (Miami Marlins, 2.12): Unlike Eovaldi, Fernandez is the real deal and probably a future Cy Young winner. Fernandez is 2-1 with a 2.66 ERA and 1.10 WHIP and he is second in the National League with his 33 strikeouts, two behind Johnny Cueto of the Reds. The 21-year-old Cuban defector has accumulated those 33 strikeouts over 23.2 innings, and this is after a great rookie campaign where he went 12-6 for a lousy Marlin team last year with a 2.19 ERA and 0.98 WHIP over 172.2 innings, a 2013 season where he finished seventh in the National League in FIP.

9 - Sonny Gray (Oakland Athletics, 2.15): Many casual baseball fans never heard of Gray until his two very good starts in the ALDS last year vs. the Detroit Tigers, but he did post a 2.67 ERA and 1.11 WHIP over 12 regular season appearances and he has continued to progress this season as he is 2-0 while allowing a grand total of two earned runs in three starts covering 19 innings, leaving him with a 0.95 ERA and 1.21 WHIP. He also has 19 strikeouts in those 19 innings, although he can still improve upon his seven walks, which the youngster probably will.

10 - Cliff Lee (Philadelphia Phillies, 2.16): The cagey veteran Lee just continues to roll along as he may be the brightest spot of the entire Philadelphia team this year. Granted Lee was roughed up for eight runs on opening day by the Texas Rangers to help account for his 4.00 ERA, but he has since allowed a total of four runs in 22 innings over his last three outings including a very unlucky Complete Game vs. the Atlanta Braves last time out where he had 13 strikeouts but took the 1-0 loss! All told, Lee has 28 strikeouts vs. two measly walks in 27 innings with two home runs allowed.

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