When scouting out the potential pitchers for your fantasy team, we typically glance at ERA first and foremost to get a sense of whether they pitched well the previous year or not. This is a mistake however as a pitcher’s high or low ERA does not tell the full story. Whether a pitcher allows a run or not can be affected by so many things. As touched upon in my How To Evaluate Pitcher ERA article, we have a few tools at our disposal to really determine whether each pitcher’s actual ERA was legit or whether luck played a factor in it.
In this article, I’m looking at the biggest differences between a pitcher’s 2011 ERA and their xFIP or SIERA, which are two ERA predictor stats. In this first chart below, we have a list of 14 pitchers who seemed to have an ERA that was a lot better than it should have been last year:
The ERA-xFIP and ERA-SIERA columns show us the amount by which their ERA would have changed if luck wasn’t a factor. Jeremy Hellickson is by far the biggest abuser here. He had a mediocre strikeout and walk rate but benefited from a incredibly small BABIP which means he should regress quite a bit this upcoming year. In the 11th round, he’s not worth drafting. A couple of other interesting early round names are on the list such as Jered Weaver, Matt Cain and Ricky Romero. Even with regression, they appear to be within a pretty good ERA range under 4.00 but you don’t like to see your SP1 and SP2 have these type of red flags. However, it should be noted that Matt Cain has a longstanding habit of having a much higher xFIP than his ERA throughout his career so his appearance on this list doesn’t surprise or worry me.
Now, on the other side of the coin, let’s look at the pitchers who had an ERA that was overly inflated which should improve in 2012:
Zack Greinke had an incredible strikeout and walk rate last year but a fluky HR/FB rate and BABIP caused his ERA to balloon. He’s wisely still being taken in the 4th round of drafts but should deliver even better value than that.
As you can see, high BABIP combined with high HR/FB rates were the culprit behind most of these spikes in ERA. Those two stats are mostly out of the pitcher’s control and usually will regress closer to league average rates the next season.
So, if we’re looking at which starting pitchers to avoid and which to target in 2012, these lists give you a good idea of some potential names for both. It’s not a certainty that Jered Weaver will drop to a 3.80 ERA in 2012 but the fact that it’s even a possibility is reason enough to maybe grab someone else at that point in a draft… like maybe a Zack Greinke a round later.