Blog Archives

Batting Average and Earned Run Average: Are They Still Useful Baseball Stats?

Wednesday January 18th, 2012


Peter Stein (Fantasy Baseball Analyst – MLB reports): Just as baseball cards have become outdated, so too are the statistics that many of us memorized on the backs of those same cards as kids. The statistics that I am referring to are the generic stats used to measure a player’s success, particularly batting average for hitters and earned run average (ERA) for pitchers. Sabermetrics has taught us that there are better methods to more measure a player’s worth or success on the diamond. Far too often, numbers like ERA or batting average are skewed and do not accurately depict a player’s true level of skill.

However, batting average and ERA are statistics that are fixtures in the game, particularly in fantasy baseball. They are used to define players and probably will continue to do so. For those of us in standard 5X5 Roto Leagues, batting average and ERA account for two essential categories.

In 500 at bats, the difference between a .250 and .300 hitter is 25 hits. With six months in a season (approximately 24 weeks), that comes to about 1 hit per week. I repeat, one hit per week! I think I first heard this statistic from Major League I. Remember the old catcher with the bad knees, Jake Taylor?

If you have ever watched baseball, you know how much luck can play a factor. A guy can hit the ball on the screws four times- yet make four outs… but just as easily, getting three hits without hitting the ball out of the infield. Likewise, a pitcher’s ERA can be entirely skewed based on circumstances beyond their control. Therefore, I introduce to you two sabermetric statistics that are key in determining a player’s “true” batting average and ERA.

According to Fangraphs, Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) “measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a give time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.”

The equation for FIP: ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP-IBB))-(2*K))/IP + constant

XFIP takes it even a step further by replacing a pitcher’s homerun rate with the league average (10.6% HR/FB), since this statistic is subject to high volatility.

Considering the above, Fielding Independent Pitching and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching are great determinants for what a pitcher’s ERA should be. It can tell you if a player is overachieving or perhaps pitching better than their ERA might indicate. This is the key to fantasy baseball. Target the guys who have FIP’s lower than their actual ERA and sell high on the pitcher who’s FIP is much higher than their actual ERA. By no means is the stat perfect, but it certainly gives you insight into a player’s performance and is a better indicator of future success than ERA alone.

For batters, the key statistic in determining batting average is Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP), which according to Fangraphs “While typically around 30% of all balls in play fall for hits, there are three main variables that can affect BABIP rates for individual players: defense, luck, and changes in talent level.”

The average BABIP for players is between .290 and .310, although some hitters can maintain a much higher level. For example, Ichiro Suzuki has maintained a career BABIP of .351, well above the league average. Therefore, you can look at a player’s BABIP to see how well they are actually doing at the plate. Buy low on a guy whose BAPIP is thirty points lower than his career total. Chances are his batting average is suffering and he is a good buy-low candidate. The lower BAPIP indicates that has a victim of bad luck. Likewise, the guy who is sporting a .400 BAPIP simply cannot maintain that level and will see a major regression to the mean. In this case: sell, sell, sell!

A perfect BAPIP example is Austin Jackson, who exploded onto the fantasy scene as a rookie in 2010. With a .293 batting average and good speed, he was an attractive young player with a rising stock. However, his.293 batting average in 2010 coincided with a .396 BABIP. We know Jackson is not Ichiro (.351 BAPIP) and therefore we had to expect a major regression in 2011. Sure enough, his BAPIP dropped to .340 (still well above the league average) and as result, he finished the season with a .249 average. Therefore, I would not touch Jackson with a ten-foot pole in most leagues, at least not until he can cut down his strikeout rates and put the ball in play on a more consistent basis. Although he has proven he can produce a hit more often than most when he makes contact, he simply does not make enough contact at this point in his career to be a .300 hitter.

The young guns are generally the guys who are most difficult to read. With the veterans, you at least have their career BAPIP to use as a reference. However, do not be afraid to look at the minor league stats, which usually prove to be solid enough indicators. At the same time, never take too much stock in minor league numbers and make a hitter prove himself at the major league level.

Overall, stats like FIP and BAPIP are really just cheats for your fantasy baseball league. Batting average and ERA are statistics that are so deep-rooted that they will most likely be used forever to define a player’s success and as a result, will continue to be used in fantasy baseball. However, do not look at ERA and batting average to value a player and trying to predict their future ERA and batting average. FIP and BAPIP give you a more accurate story and are better indicators for future success- by at least attempting to eliminate the many variables that exist in the wonderful game of baseball.

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Fantasy Baseball Analyst, Peter Stein.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Peter on Twitter (@peterWstein).***

 Please e-mail us at: with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan onFacebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.


Top 10 Closers: MLB Saves Leaders

Thursday August 25, 2011



Rob Bland (Intern- MLB reports):  Closers are a topic a lot of people ask about, but I never really got around to writing about.  Mainly because, in my opinion, it is a position that is completely overrated.  While it certainly helps to have a guy that can go in and slam the door and collect saves for over a decade a la Mariano Rivera, it isn’t necessary to have a “closer” to be a contending team.  One need only to look at the top 20 leaders in saves in baseball to notice that the Texas Rangers’ closer Neftali Feliz sits 19th with 25 saves, and Philadelphia Phillies’ Ryan Madson is 20th with 23 saves.  It also doesn’t guarantee success, as Heath Bell, Drew Storen, Leo Nunez, Joel Hanrahan are all in the top 10 in saves, while their teams are not in playoff contention.


Top 10 Saves Leaders in MLB as of today:

Pitcher Team Saves K/9 BB/9 ERA FIP WAR
Craig Kimbrel Atlanta Braves 40 14.56 3.53 1.70 1.20 3.1
John Axford Milwaukee Brewers 37 10.86 3.32 2.26 2.36 1.7
Jose Valverde Detroit Tigers 37 8.31 4.79 2.72 4.08 0.2
Brian Wilson San Francisco Giants 35 8.72 5.20 3.19 3.40 0.7
Heath Bell San Diego Padres 35 6.79 3.23 2.55 3.07 0.7
Drew Storen Washington Nationals 34 8.03 2.19 2.77 3.48 0.6
Mariano Rivera New York Yankees 33 8.45 0.92 2.20 2.23 1.8
Leo Nunez Florida Marlins 33 8.31 2.88 4.63 4.02 0.1
Joel Hanrahan Pittsburgh Pirates 32 7.85 2.04 1.73 2.17 1.8
JJ Putz Arizona Diamondbacks 32 8.28 2.17 2.76 3.10 1.0

I look at this list and a few things come to mind:

1)      Craig Kimbrel is absolutely filthy.

2)      Mariano Rivera is still one of the very best.

3)      Closers are more overrated than I originally expected.

4)      A lot of saves does not equal success.

5)      Craig Kimbrel.  Wow.

Craig Kimbrel is having the best year ever for a rookie closer.  It isn’t even September and he has 40 saves.  Not only that, but he is striking out more than 14 batters per 9 innings.  His FIP is a ridiculous 1.20, and his WAR is at 3.1, which is 1.3 higher than any other closer in the Major Leagues.  His ground ball rate is 43.7% and has only given up 1 home run in 63 2/3 innings.  If the Braves end up winning the Wild Card and have a lead late in games, the shutdown duo of Johnny Venters and Kimbrel should be able to save the game for the Braves in most instances.

John Axford has had a strange way to becoming one of the premier closers in all of baseball.  It took him many years to get there, but under the tutelage of Trevor Hoffman, the career saves leader, whom Axford took his job from, he has flourished.  In 2010, Axford had 24 saves after taking over for Hoffman mid-season, and this year’s 37 so far are tied for 2nd in the big leagues.  Axford gets over 50% ground balls, and keeps the ball in the yard, two main factors for his success.

Jose Valverde is one of the closers whom I find to be overrated.  Part of his success can be attributed to a lucky .250 BABIP.   He also walks close to 5 batters per 9 innings, which is extremely high, especially when he does not strike out a very high number of batters.  Valverde may appear to be very good with 37 saves, but his 0.2 WAR suggests that he is basically a replacement level pitcher.  Surely he is not worth the $7M he is being paid.

Brian Wilson is loved by many in the game.  He is funny, has a strange personality, (which seems to be perfectly suited for the bullpen) and he has an outrageous beard.  Since 2008, he has accumulated 162 saves, so he is very valuable at the back-end of the Giants’ bullpen.  He keeps the ball on the ground, with a career 50% ground ball rate, but he walks a ton of batters (5.20/9IP).  He gets a lot of save opportunities because the starting rotation is very good, and his team doesn’t score many runs, so there are a lot of close games. 

Heath Bell has put up some ridiculous numbers over the last few years, but these numbers come with half of his games played in the cavernous PETCO Park.  While his last two seasons had his K rate over 10, he sits at 6.79 for this season.  His ground ball rate is also down 5% to 43.  Although his ERA is a good 2.55, his xFIP is 3.89, and like Wilson, gets saves because of an anaemic offense that results in his team often being in close games.

Drew Storen is another of the Washington Nationals’ young phenoms.  He moved up the ranks, throwing only 53 2/3 innings in the minor leagues before making his debut in 2010.  He has been a tad lucky as his BABIP is .241, but he gets a lot of ground balls, so the hits will even out.  He also gives up a higher than average home run per fly ball rate at 11.1%.  Storen doesn’t walk many, and as he matures, should probably strike out a higher number.  When Washington starts winning more games, he will have even more opportunities for saves.

Mariano Rivera is up to his usual tricks. Even at 41 years old, he is carving up hitters with his signature cut fastball.  Rivera has a ridiculous 9:1 K:BB ratio, as well as getting ground balls 47% of the time.  His WAR sits at 1.8, tied for second best for closers.  The only question is when will this guy ever slow down?

Leo Nunez of the Florida Marlins may be the most overrated closer in baseball.  Nunez doesn’t get a lot of ground balls, nor does he strike out a ton, as he gives up a ton of fly balls (49%) and home runs (8 in 56 IP).  Nunez’s ERA of 4.63 actually looks worse than his 4.02 FIP, so he has been a little unlucky, but still not very good.

Joel Hanrahan has found a home at the back-end up the Pirates’ bullpen, and is thriving there.  While his K rate has dropped to 7.85/9 IP from almost 13 last year, he has walked less batters.  Hanrahan has been able to induce ground balls on over half of his plate appearances, and only given up 1 home run in 57 1/3 innings.  His stellar numbers have allowed him to tie Rivera for 2nd in closer’s WAR this year.

JJ Putz’s resurgence as a closer this year comes as no surprise to many.  Last year as a setup man for Bobby Jenks with the Chicago White Sox, Putz’s K rate was just below 11/9IP, while he walked only 2.5 per 9 innings.  He hasn’t put up the same strikeout numbers this year, but he is walking less batters.  Putz’s WAR of 1.0 puts him towards the top of the list of closers.


Out of the top 30 relievers in WAR, only 9 are full-time closers.  Francisco Rodriguez is among those pitchers, but since he does not close games since traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, he was not counted.  Although this doesn’t mean that just ANYONE can close games and earn saves, it does show that many pitchers who have not been given the opportunity probably could get the job done.  



***Today’s feature was prepared by our Intern, Rob Bland.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***

Please e-mail us at: with any questions and feedback.  You can follow us on Twitter and become a fan onFacebook .  To subscribe to our website and have the daily Reports sent directly to your inbox , click here and follow the link at the top of our homepage.

%d bloggers like this: