Pitchers With High Negative ERA Minus FIP (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
What is FIP, and why is it useful? I am glad you asked! FIP, otherwise known as Fielding Independent Pitching, is an ERA indicator. FIP focuses solely on the events a pitcher has the most control over, such as strikeouts, unintentional walks, hit-by-pitches, and home runs. The idea behind FIP is that it removes defense from the equation by completely removing all batted balls into the field of play. When a pitcher has a high BABIP, the pitcher’s FIP will likely be lower than his ERA and vice versa. Batted balls in the field of play are not included in FIP because pitchers have little control over the outcome once the ball is in play.
So which pitchers had the highest negative ERA minus FIP in 2021, and what does it mean moving forward? Let’s take a look.
*Note that I previously ran the flipside of this analysis for best positive ERA minus FIP performances.
After years of being a hyped San Diego Padres prospect, Cal Quantrill finally got the chance to get a near full seasons workload at the Major League level with Cleveland. Quantrill pitched the first two months of the season out of the bullpen before earning a role as a starter and making 22 starts.
Quantrill pitched to a 3.12 ERA as a starting pitcher with a 1.15 WHIP and a 20 percent strikeout rate. The ratios were fantastic, but the strikeout rate is not enticing for fantasy owners. Years ago, if a pitcher like Quantrill had posted a 2.89 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP over 150 innings, that pitcher would have quickly been taken inside the top-100 of fantasy baseball drafts. So why is Quantrill still going at pick 234 in the FantasyPros Consensus ADP?
It is likely due to the strikeout rate and a much higher FIP than ERA. Quantrill's FIP comes in at 4.07 but does not paint the whole picture, as his xERA finished at 4.43 and his SIERA was even higher at 4.52.
Quantrill's FIP of 4.07 probably paints the most accurate picture of who he is. He finished the season with an 80 percent strand rate last season. That was the ninth highest strand rate among all pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched in 2021. Quantrill's BABIP was also very low at .267. These factors likely are why his SIERA and xERA are even higher than high FIP.
There is a reason that Cal Quantrill is being drafted where he is, and it's because of the limited upside. The lack of strikeouts led to a 12 percent strikeout minus walk rate, which is not going to get the job done for fantasy baseball. Every projection model on Fangraphs has Quantrill projected for an ERA of 4.22 or higher, and there is a good reason for it. Draft accordingly.
Robbie Ray was a very improbable Cy Young candidate in 2021, but props to you if you put a wager on him in the preseason. Coming off a 2020 season where Ray posted a 17.9 percent walk rate, I cannot imagine believing his 2021 season was possible.
Ray's Cy Young trophy was well earned, as he pitched 193.1 innings with a 2.84 ERA and a 32.1 percent strikeout rate. Ray's slider and curveball were elite, with a 45.8 and 51.9 percent whiff rate, respectively. Ray also had a career 13.1 percent walk rate between 2018 and 2020 before posting a 6.7 percent walk rate in 2021. How did he do it? He grooved his fastball in the zone more often. His strike percentage on his fastball jumped from 58.9 percent to 70 percent in 2021.
Everything looks great on the surface for Ray, but his FIP was nearly a run higher than his ERA. That should not be a huge surprise, though, as it was unlikely Ray would have sustained a sub-three ERA all season, especially given his high strand rate of 90.1 percent. That was the highest strand rate of any pitcher in baseball with at least 100 innings pitched. Ray's BABIP was also just .268, nearly 40 points lower than his career BABIP.
Ray is a solid buy in 2022 drafts despite having a much higher FIP than ERA as he moves to one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in baseball. The biggest question is if he can continue throwing as many strikes as he did in 2021.
Walker Buehler seems to be an arm that will constantly outperform his peripheral ERA indicators. Last season, Buehler posted a FIP that was .69 higher than his ERA. His xFIP and SIERA were over an entire run higher than his ERA. This likely continues to happen because Buehler is not an elite strikeout pitcher and historically runs low BABIP's.
There are very few flaws in Buehler's profile. We are talking about a 27-year-old ace with a career 2.90 ERA in his first 573 innings of Major League Baseball. The only small wart is that Buehler doesn't strike out batters at a high rate, as his strikeout rate peaked a 29.2 percent in 2019 and dropped to 26 percent last season. The good news is that Buehler induces a ton of weak contact, so he can get by with a lower strikeout rate and still produce elite ratios.
Some may point to Buehler's spin rate decline when the sticky substance ban was implemented. However, spin rate is not as relevant when you produce enough active spin as Buehler does. Buehler still has solid movement on his pitches thanks to a ton of active spin, even with the RPM drop. Active spin is simply how much of the raw spin rate factors into the movement of a pitch. Buehler does that well.
The one concerning aspect of Buehler's game is the drop in velocity since his debut. Between Buehler's 2018 and 2020 seasons, his fastball averaged 96.5 miles per hour. Last season, it dropped to 95.3 mph. Watch Buehler's velocity closely in the spring, but do not be overly concerned about his much higher FIP.
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