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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Peter Stein (Fantasy Baseball Analyst – MLB reports): Just as baseball cards have become outdated, so too are the statistics that many of us memorized on the backs of those same cards as kids.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).***

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Jair Jurrjens: Braves Ace of the Future or Trade Candidate?

Wednesday July 20, 2011

 

Rob Bland (Intern- MLB Reports):  Now that the trade deadline is fast approaching, teams in contention are scrambling to find the pieces they desperately need to reach the playoffs.  Teams that are out of contention are scouring other teams’ minor league affiliates in search of suitable trade partners.  One man who is terribly busy fielding on calls on one of his biggest talents is the GM of the Atlanta Braves, Frank Wren.  Opposing GMs have coveted his ace pitcher, Jair Jurrjens over the past few years.   But now that Jurrjens has developed into a solid dependable pitcher who has exceeded his potential, Wren’s phone will be ringing right up until the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline.

 

Why Atlanta should hold on to their ace

Jair Jurrjens is young and controllable with an inexpensive contract.  He is an inning eater, and a dependable arm that will give 6+ innings per game.  Jurrjens is in his fourth full season, with the key variable that many people forget is that he is only 25 years old.  At the halfway mark of this season, Jurrjens has a 12-3 record with a sparkling 2.26 ERA.  Jair also induces a ton of ground balls, with a GB% of 48.2.  When a guy can throw strikes consistently, it makes it much easier to be successful.  Three walks per nine innings is a pretty good career mark, and he has seemingly improved almost every year, as Jurrjens currently sits at a 2.10 BB/9 for 2011.  A young, controllable ace that is continually improving might be something that the Braves want to hold onto.  Further, the Braves should even consider giving a long-term extension to Jurrjens given what he means to the ballclub.

 

Why Atlanta should trade Jurrjens

Why would a contending team trade their ace, you might ask?  Well, a guy like Jurrjens might be overachieving for a few reasons.  First of all, the velocity on his fastball has dipped every season since his rookie campaign.  His average fastball was once 93 mph, whereas it sits at 89 now.  Now this could mean a couple of things, such as he has learned how to pitch and doesn’t need the velocity.  However, his extra reliance on his change-up and slider; each of them up in usage about 3% over previous years, tells me that he knows his fastball isn’t quite as effective.  Jurrjens doesn’t strike many guys out, and there is almost no way that he can maintain a 4.1% homerun per fly ball rate.  His xFIP is exactly a run and a half higher than his ERA at 3.76, so a measure of his performance has been attributed to luck.  Numbers can be sometimes be deceiving and in Jurrjens case, he might not be as good as his statistics appear to show.  Sometimes its good to maximize a return when the market is at its peak and Jurjjens may very well be sitting at the top of his ceiling of potential.  Otherwise, if Jurrjens does regress, he value will never be higher than it is at the moment. 

 

Which teams could trade for Jurrjens

If the Detroit Tigers are willing to give up a ton of prospects for Ubaldo Jimenez, I believe they would do the same for Jurrjens.  Same goes with the Red Sox and Yankees. Detroit has at least kicked the tires on many starting pitchers, including Derek Lowe, Aaron Harang, and Jeremy Guthrie.  I see Jurrjens as an upgrade over those pitchers, so it would take a decent package to steal him away.  The Rockies covet four top prospects for Jimenez, so I don’t see why the Braves wouldn’t try to get at least three top prospects for Jurrjens.  He may not have the electric stuff that Ubaldo has, but he certainly has a track record of success.

Another fit to trade for Jurrjens that may fly under the radar could be the Indians.  Mitch Talbot and Fausto Carmona have underperformed, and they desperately need an upgrade if they are to contend.  This could cause a bidding war for Jurrjens.  I can see righty Alex White, lefty Drew Pomeranz and outfielder Nick Weglarz being involved in such a deal.  Prospects Jacob Turner (RHP), Andy Oliver (LHP) and Nick Castellanos (3B) may be included in a potential deal with Detroit.

In the NL, if the St. Louis Cardinals decide to make a push in the wide open Central Division, they may be looking at starting pitching help.  Kyle McLellan and Jake Westbrook have both struggled, so it could be a possibility they get in the mix.  Third baseman Zack Cox and starting pitcher Shelby Miller are possible candidates to be moved in such a scenario.

 

Verdict

Atlanta doesn’t appear to be actively shopping Jurrjens, but it would be in their best interest to at least gauge the interest of other teams.  The Braves could get a return for Jurrjens that would be impossible to refuse. With some of the prospects named, the Braves could still contend, and restock their system for years to come.  Until then, we expect Jurrjens to remain a Brave unless Frank Wren gets blown away a trade proposal.  With the active trade winds blowing this year and numerous contending teams desperate for starting pitching help, anything is possible. 

 

 

Editor’s Note:  Today’s feature was prepared by our Intern, Rob Bland.  Rob was selected from the many candidates who applied to write for MLB reports.  Please feel free to leave comments and to welcome Rob aboard.  You can also follow Rob on Twitter.***

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