Finding edges in baseball games can be extremely hard without the right stats in front of you. In the MLB and all baseball leagues, we’ll mostly look at someone’s win-loss record and their ERA.
Sometimes records and ERA can be deceiving. There have been pitchers with an earned run average of 6.00 with more wins than losses. There have also been pitchers with few wins after having a 2.00 ERA.
It’s always good to look at these basic numbers when evaluating a pitcher. A pitcher’s record and ERA will show how effective he’s been on the season or in his career. However, if you want to dig deeper and really look at a pitcher’s performance throughout the season, these are the stats to use.
If you’ve watched my baseball shows or read my baseball articles, you’d know how much I appreciate the sabermetric called Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). This number is very similar to someone’s earned run average. It measures what a player’s ERA would look like if the pitcher had league average results with balls in play and league average timing.
Basically, pitchers don’t have much control over balls in play as there’s always fluctuations of batting average of balls in play. To better estimate a player’s performance, FIP uses strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and home runs. Each one of these scenarios doesn’t include any fielders whatsoever.
In comparison to ERA, the FIP eliminates defense, luck, and sequencing. This helps keep a more consistent number on how the pitcher is actually pitching. At times, a pitcher might have a FIP that is much lower than his ERA. This essentially means that the pitcher is performing better and has been unlucky throughout his season. If a pitcher has an ERA lower than his FIP, it generally means that he’s been luckier with solid fielding behind him.
The formula: FIP = ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP))-(2*K))/IP + constant
If a pitcher has a FIP of 3.20 or lower, it’s considered “excellent”. An awful FIP would be a 5.00 or higher.
K/9 and BB/9
Whenever I’m evaluating a pitcher, I love to look at their Strikeouts Per 9 Innings (K/9) and Walks Per 9 Innings (BB/9). This tells me how many strikeouts and walks a pitcher averages over nine innings. This is based on nine innings and we rarely see complete games from pitchers these days. By limiting the statistic to nine innings, it gives us an easy way to understand the rates of pitchers, which are scaled to 27 outs.
Therefore, if a pitcher is averaging 10 strikeouts per nine innings, they’re striking out a third of their outs, which would be extremely impressive. On the contrary, if a pitcher is averaging five walks per nine innings, they’re walking way too many batters and putting guys on base throughout the game at a fast pace.
If a pitcher strikes out 10 batters per nine innings, it’s considered excellent. However, if a pitcher is only striking out five batters per nine innings, it’s looked at as awful. Five batters would be just 13 percent of their outs.
With FIP and BABIP, we know that if there are more balls in play throughout the game, there’s more of a chance that runs will be scored. Having a high strikeout rate is crucial when looking for a pitcher who will be able to limit damage. If a pitcher does allow damage, the chances that it’s a solo homer instead of a three-run homer increase.
When it comes to walks, pitchers who limit walks to 1.5 per nine innings are considered excellent in that category. On the contrary, pitchers who walk four batters or more are considered awful and would have a walk rate of nine percent.
Left on Base Percentage (LOB%) looks at the percentage of base runners that a pitcher strands on base over the course of a season. Is a pitcher good under pressure or does he allow many hits and runs with runners in scoring position? This stat is calculated using a pitcher’s hits, walks, and runs allowed.
Here’s the formula: LOB% = (H+BB+HBP-R)/(H+BB+HBP-(1.4*HR))
The average percentage of players left on base is around 70-72%. Basically, if a pitcher has a 60 LOB%, they are letting lots of runners on base score. That means that they will have a higher ERA, but if they regress back to the mean, they’ll end up stranding more runners in the future. Then their ERA would be lower.
However, don’t think that every pitcher is going to regress to the league average. High strikeout pitchers have the best chance at controlling this percentage as they have a higher chance to strike batters out with runners on third base and one out, for example.
Pitchers with strikeout stuff will be able to swivel their way out of jams. Pitchers who don’t have high strikeout numbers usually have to rely on the fielding behind them, which isn’t usually a good thing. It’s good to note that if a player strands 80 percent or more batters they’re viewed as excellent while pitchers who only 60 or less percent of base runners on base are viewed awful.