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September 25, 2014 6:00 am

Fantasy Freestyle: Using FIP to Find Value

3

Wilson Karaman

Examining some pitchers whose second-half ERAs belied strong peripherals to see whether a breakout 2015 might be in store.

Well, it’s that magical time of year. The season is winding down, and here we sit preparing to begin our annual stare into the frozen, dead abyss of a fantasy-baseball-less winter. Fortunately, those of us in keeper and dynasty leagues are somewhat exempt from this situation because, as the saying goes, there is no offseason. This is actually, legitimately one of my favorite times of the year for those formats, as it’s the time when we can start to analyze the breakouts and the disappointments of the past season and begin to construct rudimentary target lists for upcoming trade talks over the winter and, in shallower formats, drafts next spring. I play primarily in head-to-head leagues, and particularly in this format I’ve found the following exercise to be quite valuable as a quick and dirty starting point. Since head-to-head championships are determined by player performances during weekly format playoff matchups the it tends to open up opportunities for acquiring players on the relative cheap who performed poorly down the stretch and may have contributed to a league-mate losing his or her final matchup. This “recency bias” plays off exactly the kind of negative memory impact my colleague Jeff Quinton took a long and engaging look at last offseason, and I highly recommend the read for context.

One of the primary places I like to direct my efforts at the start of each off-season is the FIP bin of second-half pitching performances. Particularly given that starting pitchers will usually only get one shot, maybe two, to contribute in a head-to-head matchup a poor finish to the year can sting that much more. And the metric also provides a valuable opportunity to sniff out some emerging talent among guys who may have started to come into their own at the big league level but might not quite have the production (or, subsequently, the hype) to back it up just yet.

To this end, here are the top 20 pitchers with the biggest gap between their second-half ERA and FIP numbers:

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Which players do the BP staff expect to have breakout campaigns in the coming year?

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In an article that appeared last week on ESPN.com, Peter Gammons provided a list of 20 players whom respondants to an informal straw poll described as candidates for a breakout season. The list, derived from a survey of major league executives, included a mix of pitchers and hitters, five-tool talents and makeup guys, united only in their ability to tease hibernating fantasy leaguers into dreams of greener days ahead. If one needs any reminder that lists like these are little more than a grownup's version of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, it's worth reviewing a similar list that Gammons produced last year.

In an article that appeared last week on ESPN.com, Peter Gammons provided a list of 20 players whom respondants to an informal straw poll described as candidates for a breakout season. The list, derived from a survey of major league executives, included a mix of pitchers and hitters, five-tool talents and makeup guys, united only in their ability to tease hibernating fantasy leaguers into dreams of greener days ahead.

If one needs any reminder that lists like these are little more than a grownup's version of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, it's worth reviewing a similar list that Gammons produced last year. That list includes roughly equal representation of the good (Alfonso Soriano and Derek Lowe), the bad (J.D. Drew), and the ugly (Juan Uribe), as well as four players whose performances were so impressive that they made repeat appearances on this year's list.

Now, none of this is meant to be a knock on Gammons, or the lists he has compiled. Everybody likes to talk about breakout candidates this time of year, ourselves included (Eddie Yarnall, anyone?). Having formerly moonlighted as a daily team correspondent for another baseball website, I can attest to the fact that virtually every player provides at least some excuse each winter for gushing commentary, delusions of grandeur, or other forms of irrational exuberance.

As it happens, however, we're unrolling a new forecasting system at BP this year--one that is also preoccupied with the question of breakout candidates. The PECOTA system--short for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm--seeks to identify potential breakouts by comparing a player against a database of his historical peers. In so doing, it comes up with an objective estimate of the probability that a player will display marked improvement in the upcoming season (defined as an increase of at least 20% in his Equivalent Runs per plate appearance, or a decrease of at least 20% in his PERA, relative to a weighted average of his previous three years of performance). We refer to this estimate as a player's Breakout score. Readers interested in a more extensive treatment of the PECOTA system will find it in this year's book, and in the PECOTA glossary provided here.

One brief caveat: the PECOTA system is new technology. That doesn't mean that we stole it from the Raelians, or that we haven’t tested it thoroughly. But sometimes PECOTA provides us with definitive and unexpected answers, and we need to work backwards to try and explain why they came about. That's a bastardization of the scientific method, and I'll ask that you'll excuse me as I run through the hitters on Gammons' list.

Rank on Gammons List, Player, PECOTA Breakout Score

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