Finding Value In xFIP

Edwards
Before Tuesday, I had planned on authoring a piece about the potential value of impending free agent pitchers with high ERAs and low xFIPs centered primarily around Tim Lincecum.  However, Lincecum re-signed this week with the Giants and then Fangraphs writer Dave Cameron wrote this excellent and enlightening article the following day.  http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/tim-lincecum-and-the-slow-death-of-era/ 
While I was somewhat thrilled one of my favorite baseball writers was thinking in a similar manner, I did realize I learned quite a bit about xFIP from Mr. Cameron himself. So, the fact he wrote the piece was probably both more appropriate and better written.

In the article, Mr. Cameron basically details how clubs are beginning to not pay much attention to ERA, which tends to fluctuate from year to year, and are instead focusing on statistics with more predictive value such as xFIP. The two year, $35 million dollar deal Lincecum inked might at first look like a slight overpay for a pitcher whose ERA has been 5.15 and 4.37 the last two seasons, but Lincecum’s xFIP was 3.56 in 2013, which suggests he could be a valuable mid-rotation starter in 2014 worthy of close to what his average annual value will be. Lincecum was probably wise to accept the deal from the Giants anyways because he more than likely would have cost a team signing him a first round draft choice after he declined the Giants qualifying offer, which would have diminished his value.

With Lincecum off the market, and my potentially revolutionary xFIP article all but dead, I thought I would still detail some other free agent pitchers with similar peripherals. However, as Mr. Cameron suggested, pitchers with low xFIPs could potentially no longer be quite the bargain as teams are beginning to recognize the importance and validity of the statistic. Pitchers who many presumed would not be paid much due to higher ERAs, might be paid what appears to be an exorbitant salary, but should at least cost less than Lincecum.

Dan Haren

Haren is no longer the top of the rotation type which threw 216 or more innings for seven consecutive seasons from 2005-2011. However, Haren still strikes out a lot of hitters (20.1% the last three seasons), and does not allow many free passes (4.3% since 2011). Many will look at Haren’s dwindling velocity, elevated home run rate, and high ERA the past two years as reasons not to have interest. However, Haren yielded an xFIP of 3.67 in ’14, and with home run rates typically fluctuating from year to year, Haren could provide value at the end of a rotation for a team next season. Plus, Haren will not cost a team a first round draft pick as Washington will not give Haren a qualifying offer. Dave Cameron coincidentally compared to Lincecum to Haren shortly before Lincecum signed. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/dan-haren-tim-lincecum-and-perception-gaps/

Roberto Hernandez

The artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona generated what appear to be terrible numbers in ’13 for the Rays, a record of 6-14 with an ERA of 4.89. However, pitchers like Hernandez who do not walk many hitters and induce a ton of ground balls can be very valuable. Hernandez possesses a career worm killer rate of 57.8%, and he walked only 5.9% of hitters in ’13. The 17.6% strikeout rate he yielded this past year was a career high. Steamer projects Hernandez to produce an ERA of 3.93 and be worth 1.7 fWAR in ’14. If a team can sign Hernandez to a reasonable contract, they could receive excellent value next season.

Scott Feldman

Many have probably forgotten this bit of information, but Feldman was actually the Rangers Opening Day starter the World Series year of 2010. After a horrendous ’10 season, Feldman earned the reputation of a pitcher who could not get anyone out. Due to various injuries to the starting rotation in 2012, Feldman actually started 21 games and yielded a dreadful 5.09 ERA. However, Feldman’s xFIP was 3.87 and he still produced an fWAR of 2.3. The Rangers chose not to re-sign Feldman last offseason, but Feldman still signed a 1 year, $6 million dollar deal with the Cubs. Feldman pitched effectively for Chicago, and was traded in July to Baltimore. For those dubious of xFIP’s predictive value, Feldman’s ERA in ’13 was 3.86. The former Ranger great’s combined xFIP in ’13 was 3.96. With Feldman turning only 31 in February, one would not be surprised to see him land a multi-year deal.

With the rather precarious injury situation involving Matt Harrison, I would not be opposed to the Rangers signing one of these pitchers, in particular Haren or Hernandez. Signing a Haren or Hernandez is the kind of shrewd move an astute front office makes as adding either should still allow the team to allocate their resources towards improving the offense. If the team decides to go with what they currently have, a pitcher who could provide good value is Nick Tepesch, whose xFIP was 3.82 and ground ball rate was 47.3% in ’13. Tepesch also struck out 18.7% of the batters he faced and walked only 6.6%.

CJ Edwards

I did not want to write an entire piece in regards to CJ Edwards, but a huge congratulations to the former Ranger farm hand for being named the MiLB.com pitcher of the year. Just to clarify, this award does not mean Edwards is the top pitching prospect in the minor leagues, but the fact the former 48th round draft choice could even be considered for the award is quite remarkable.

While I am aware some Ranger fans are upset Edwards is no longer in the organization, I will remind you Edwards has never thrown one pitch in AA. The second most substantial jump in professional baseball behind going from AAA to the majors, is moving from High-A to AA. Pitchers are not really very reliable to begin with, but projecting a pitcher in the low minors is even more difficult. Edwards has legit stuff, but many question if his 6’2” 155 pound body is capable of handling a lot of innings.

One truly is rooting for Edwards to succeed as a former 48th round draft pick advancing to the major leagues would only bolster the already sterling reputation of the Rangers scouting department. While it is unfortunate Edwards is no longer in the Rangers system, remember flags do fly forever, and general manager Jon Daniels did what he felt could help win one by including Edwards in the trade to acquire Matt Garza. General managers sometimes have to take calculated risks to try to improve the big league club. Garza was the top arm available at the trade deadline, and the going rate for starting pitching was quite substantial.  Had the club not suffered a litany of injuries to starting pitchers, Edwards is probably still in the organization, but it what it is. Anyways, congrats again, Mr. Edwards.

Dustin Dietz is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Dustin.Dietz@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @DustinDietz18
Dustin Dietz
Dustin graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and a minor in history. He will often write about pitching mechanics and analytical baseball stuff. You will more than likely disagree with the majority of what he writes or says. In his spare time, Dustin time travels and plays at a replacement level in slow pitch softball leagues.

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