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July 2, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Those Who Dare To Outperform SIERA

by Marc Normandin

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Earlier this week we took a look at some of the pitchers who were underperforming their SIERA rates, so this time around we'll head in the other direction and analyze those who are well over expectations. You won't want to sell high on all of these pitchers—for instance, Jon Garland and Wade LeBlanc, who are in the "Other Notables" section, benefit from one of the best defenses in the league as well as their home park, so it's expected they will outperform their SIERA to a degree. But there are pitchers who have leaned more on luck than context, and those are the ones you are going to want to deal before regression kicks in.

Name ERA SIERA Dif.
Livan Hernandez 2.98 4.97 -1.99
Clay Buchholz 2.45 4.37 -1.92
Ubaldo Jimenez 1.83 3.49 -1.66
Jason Vargas 2.80 4.45 -1.65
Tim Hudson 2.37 3.94 -1.57
Matt Cain 2.93 4.49 -1.56
David Price 2.44 3.97 -1.53
Jaime Garcia 2.27 3.77 -1.50
Jeff Niemann 2.80 4.17 -1.37
Andy Pettitte 2.72 4.05 -1.33

It shouldn't be a surprise that Livan Hernandez is the leader of this unruly pack. He's not a groundball pitcher (1.2 G/F is very average) and he's whiffing just 4.3 batters per nine in a season in which the average K/9 is a hair over 7.0 per nine. While his control has been solid, it's not along the lines you would expect for a pitcher with an ERA still in the 2's this late into the year.

There's a better chance that someone brings democracy to Livan's homeland of Cuba than there is of him finishing the year with an ERA anywhere near his current one. Hernandez's BABIP is .276, below-average and, given Washington ranks #24 in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, not the kind of thing we can expect to be sustained. This is your classic overachiever in a small sample—the first 100 innings of his season—and when the hammer comes down on Livan, it's going to feel like it came straight from the hand of Thor. Don't be stuck with him on your roster when that moment comes—package him as part of a deal if you have to.

It's easier to believe Clay Buchholz will beat out his SIERA, given he's a young pitcher showing flashes of dominance. He also has an infield defense behind him that sucks up groundballs with an insatiable appetite normally reserved for games starring a pink puffball, though the loss of Dustin Pedroia for a few weeks may injure those numbers somewhat. Will Buchholz finish the year with an ERA in the two's? It's unlikely, and also would not be a viable indicator for future successes, so don't get too attached to it either way.

The main difference between Buchholz this year and last is his homer rate—whereas in 2009 the long ball was a bit of a problem for him, he's managed to keep it in the yard in 2010. This somewhat mirrors his time in Triple-A—in his initial stint, he allowed 1.2 per nine, but was down at 0.6 in his second trip there. He'll most likely give up more than 0.3 per nine when all is said and done, but that explains some of the reason his ERA is where it is. He's thrown exactly as many innings as 2009 (when his SIERA was 4.16) and has roughly the same strikeout and walk rates—the homer rate is the lone noticeable difference. If you can sell high on Buchholz with the person receiving him believing he's already an ace-type pitcher, then do so, but if you're fine with him as he is then stay the course.

Tim Hudson has had an excellent career, and has recovered well from injuries to help propel the Braves to first place in the National League East, but there are some worries about his performance staying where it is. His strikeout totals are low, but that's no surprise—if you drafted Hudson for strikeouts then you were looking in the wrong place. He does his work via the groundball, with 68 percent of his balls in play coming that way and a 3.2 G/F ratio. He's relies on these balls in play being converted into outs in order to succeed, and the Braves have done that for him this season: he has a .234 BABIP, two points off of the lowest rate in the majors amongst qualifiers and the lowest in the National League.

The worry is that the Braves aren't known for their infield defense—Chipper Jones at third and Troy Glaus at first don't make for the best pair of gloves on the corner—which is reflected in their Defensive Efficiency ranking (#11, 69.7 percent of balls in play converted into outs). Yunel Escobar and Martin Prado make up a solid double play combo though, which makes it easier to believe that Hudson will maintain at least some of his average BABIP busting ways. The current .234 showing is a bit extreme though—the good news is that, even with full regression that doesn’t take into account the defense behind him, his SIERA still ends up in the three's, albeit almost four.

Hudson's a good pitcher to have around on your fantasy team, but if he starts giving up more base hits (and he will—he currently ranks #91 in quality of opponent OPS, so he's had luck in his schedule as well) his WHIP will climb, as will his ERA, and he isn't providing you much in the way of strikeouts. It's worth at least gauging your league mates' interest in him to see if you can pull in more than he could produce in the second half.

David Price's inclusion here may seem odd, given how much praise has been heaped onto his progress in 2010, but just about anyone with an ERA in the two's whose name isn't Pedro Martinez has probably had some luck on his side (True story—Pedro Martinez's ERA in 2000 was 1.74, which was higher than his SIERA of 1.66. In 1999, his SIERA was 1.42 with an ERA of 2.07). Price is no different, as he should be closer to 4.0, but there are reasons to expect him to beat that out. Namely, Tampa Bay's defense, which as it has since 2008, sits near the league's best in Defensive Efficiency.

Price ranks #53 in quality of opponent OPS, so he's managed to avoid the wrath of the American League East to a degree—at least more so than teammates Wade Davis (#15) and James Shields (#21). He is an ace in the making and had himself an excellent June with 34 strikeouts in 33 innings, just 11 walks (better than his seasonal rate heading into the month) and just a pair of homers, so the suggestion is not that you should be getting rid of Price—his mention here is just to remind you of his proper value. He's closer to his SIERA than his actual ERA, though the answer given his development and the defense behind him lies somewhere in between the two. Keep Price and remain giddy heading into and following his starts, but remember that regression by him to the mid three's means you may want to work on improving your pitching elsewhere to make up for it.

Other notables: Wade LeBlanc (4.57 SIERA; -1.32 Dif.), Mike Pelfrey (4.23 SIERA; -1.30 Dif.), Jon Garland (4.53 SIERA; -1.29 Dif.), Anibal Sanchez (4.46 SIERA; -1.28 Dif.), Mitch Talbot (5.14 SIERA; -1.26 Dif.).

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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buffum
(458)

Note: Fasuto Carmona is NOT on this list.

Jul 02, 2010 14:47 PM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

That's partially because Fausto's ERA has already begun its ascent to his SIERA--his ERA was 3.23 while his SIERA was 4.59 when I wrote about him a few weeks back. Now his ERA is 3.68, though his SIERA also dropped slightly to 4.35. There's still 2/3 of a run of difference between the two.

Jul 02, 2010 15:59 PM
rating: 0
 
buffum
(458)

(And neither is Fausto Carmona, who has the added advantage of being spelled correctly)

Jul 02, 2010 14:47 PM
rating: 2
 
Eric M. Van

It's seldom mentioned that the crappy way earned runs are calculated often contributes a bit to these differences. Besides the obvious issue of inherited runner support, there's the bogus way that pitchers are absolved from all responsibility after they should have gotten three outs in an inning, no matter how hard they're hit (any batter who reaches bases after the deserved third out and then scores without benefit of a subsequent error should be an earned, not an unearned run, unless the third out would have ended the game).

In Buchholz case, he coughed up 4 "unearned runs" on 4/17 after an error with a delta-RE of 1.5. Oddly enough, he has subsequently pitched out of error-instigated jams at a better than average rate, negating that difference, but he has also gotten 0.9 extra runs of inherited runner support from the pen. His "True ERA" (adjusting for inherited runners plus a similar adjustment for errors, crediting the delta-RE instead of the number of actual unearned runs) is 2.72.

More widespread use of such a True ERA would nicely take out a little bit of noise.

Jul 03, 2010 09:37 AM
rating: 0
 
BuzzingThalami

I wonder if anyone can answer this for me. It seems like both SIERA and xFIP (the mainstay on fangraphs and other sites) could quite easily made better, at least for the purposes of both fantasy players and fans/front office types who want to know what to expect out of the pitcher going forward on that same team and in that same ballpark. (As they stand, both of these metrics are great for comparing pitchers on a level playing field and knowing who's performed better in a generic way.)

Specifically, neither of these metrics, to my knowledge, factor in either (a) the real defensive efficiency of the team - instead just inserting some league-average possibly historical constant or (b) the real HR/FB rate for a pitcher playing in his actual ballpark half of the time. Apologies if I've missed something, but neither formula seems tailored for the pitcher in his current situation. Instead, we are left with "so and so's out/underperforming his [insert semi-advanced pitching metric], but maybe that's expected, kinda, sorta given that he's got a team DefEff of X behind him and he's playing in a ballpark that turns pop flies into homers". If you have those numbers right... there... in that same... database... if you only reached... for them... why not actually stick them in the equation?

Computers really don't sweat when you make them work harder. They LIKE to crunch numbers. They're like sled dogs. It's okay to put them through their paces.

Don't get me wrong, I appreciate the helpful work done here and elsewhere, I just wonder why everyone stopped ten feet from the finish line and are pretending there's nothing more to see. Anyone?

Jul 03, 2010 11:53 AM
rating: 1
 
Brian Oakchunas

Well, if you own a fantasy team, you want to factor that stuff in. If you control a real team, you want to know how good he is outside of his environment. These stats are tailored more so that we can compare pitchers on a level playing field.

Furthermore, you'd need a projected DER prior to the season for a projection and in April when teams have small sample DERs of .780 or .620 you'd end up with SIERAs lower than one and others up around ten. That kind of information would be far less useful than a SIERA that does *not* use defense.

Jul 03, 2010 14:26 PM
rating: 1
 
BuzzingThalami

Agreed on all points in general, Brian. Though I would note that even real GMs might appreciate the "context included" version. Say it's trade deadline time, and you want to know if the pitchers you have in your rotation will keep doing as they have with *this* defense behind them in this ballpark. That sort of information is a key input going into the decision of whether to bail, hold, or buy for the team as a whole. In other words, to really know if you've gotten lucky, unlucky or neither to date.

As to your second point, absolutely. So toward the beginning of the season - or really all the way through - you could use a pro-rated linear combination of the projected DER (or simply grab last year's DER, if that's not available) and the DER so far this year (weighted by portion of the season that has passed). The point is that even using last year's DER (granting that personnel changes over the winter will change that some) would be better than using some league-average/historical constant and then scratching your head wondering how much SIERA is off for the going-forward question.

Given the millions of people playing fantasy, and the millions of fans simply wanting to know if Ubaldo Jimenez is likely to keep this up, etc., I'm surprised nobody has jumped on this refinement.

Jul 03, 2010 14:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Oakchunas

Maybe it could just be regressed heavily depending on how big the sample of DER is? I can probably agree on that. But then maybe you open a can of worms where you start regressing everything and then the SIERA tells you nothing about how good a guy has been after a few starts. I don't think DER correlates well enough from year to year to use last years percentage, and then, of course, you have to worry about double counting the effect of the ballpark in the DER as well as the park effect. It gets mucky pretty quickly once we start down this road. I think just having the park effect would be useful as a second stat (PIERA?), but I'm not sure there is any way to apply the DER without without having a bunch of caveats.

Jul 03, 2010 15:56 PM
rating: 0
 
BuzzingThalami

Well, if DER doesn't correlate well from year to year (given, in the ideal case say, of the same group of starting fielders), then it isn't a real and reliable skill going forward, and nobody should be talking about it as anything but an explanation for what's already happened (which would be kind of circular). But I'm pretty sure it's accepted that it is a real (and more importantly repeatable) thing. I.e., you put a bunch of rangy gold glovers out there, swat a thousand balls at them, and they'll consistently produce more outs than a team of Matt Stairses. If not, then it's random and everywhere in Marc's column above where he mentions the team DER as a caveat to the SIERA discrepancies would be specious (for the record I don't think it is).

Obviously, there is some turnover between seasons, but I'd be willing to bet that for any organization, this year's eventual DER correlates better with its previous year's DER than it would with the league DER.

As for double-counting, I think the HR/FB park effect is partially (not completely) independent of the DER, which only pertains to balls in play.

Again though, SIERA and xFIP already DO use both of those as inputs, they just compare them to the league-average/generic figures. All I'm suggesting is to use a figure that's "closer to home" for each of those, for a given pitcher. Again, for fantasy/contextual predictions going forward - not evaluating generic pitching talent.

Beating a dead horse perhaps here, if so my apologies.

Jul 03, 2010 17:03 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

The gigantic differences between SIERA and ERA are only going to come from luck. I mean, how big is a run park factor for a given stadium? Maybe, a hair more than half a run at the extremes? And defense probably can do something similar to that, I think, though I'd need to work out the numbers in more detail. The point is that if David Price has a 2.44 ERA and a 3.97 SIERA but plays in front of good defense in a pitch stadium, his defense- and park-adjustments to his ERA indicate he might regress to something like 3.5 instead of 3.97 but 2.44 isn't a realistic adjustment for park and defense unless you played in a ginormous stadium and with 8 superheroes playing defense for you.

Jul 04, 2010 06:55 AM
 
BuzzingThalami

I'm sure that's the case - that defense and park effects couldn't justify a 1.5 run discrepancy. But I also agree that both conspiring could mean a half run discrepancy. Even that is interesting though, if you're wondering who will regress and who is right where they "should" be given their context. I'm just surprised nobody is putting in this refinement, when the better numbers are largely available.

Again, you wouldn't want to do that if your goal was comparing pitching performances across contexts. But I daresay that most people looking at xFIP or SIERA are doing it because they play fantasy, or just want to know if a pitcher will "keep this up in the second half".

Jul 04, 2010 12:21 PM
rating: 0
 
Brian Oakchunas

A few weeks ago, I bought Livan in a very deep league that uses faab for $1 (out of a budget of $1000) and he has never been owned in the small 12 teamer I'm in. Five years ago you might have been able to sell high, but I really think fantasy players are too savvy for that with all the information that is available to them these days.

While I completely agree that his performance is unsustainable, pitchers who throw substantially slower than their peers tend to allow less homers and that is something that SIERA does not account for. He'll regress for sure but it helps to explain some part of the difference.

Jul 03, 2010 14:15 PM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

Agreed. I don't think you could get anything for Livan in a 1-for-1 deal, but throwing him in a package could get him off your hands, open a roster spot, and maybe help seal the deal for a player you want. He's not worth much more than someone's willingness to take a flyer on him, but he can cause far more damage by remaining on your team.

Jul 03, 2010 14:29 PM
rating: 0
 
gazoo1

I find both this, and the other corresponding article, very useful. Is there anyway I can access these stats on my own? I would think it would be helppful to track this bi-weekly or monthly.

Jul 04, 2010 18:37 PM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

The difference portion isn't listed in the stat reports, but you can access SIERA (with ERA next to it) in our Pitcher Reports:

Pitcher Season - Standard

Jul 05, 2010 09:51 AM
rating: 0
 
etothepiiplus43

Without putting down Marc's article at all (I liked it), I actually have enjoyed reading the discussion in the first fourteen comments here just as much. Good stuff.

Jul 04, 2010 19:55 PM
rating: 1
 
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