The FIP & the Pendulum: Jaime Garcia

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 23: Jaime Garcia #54 of the St. Louis Cardinals warms up prior to Game Four of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 23, 2011 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Jaime Garcia burst onto the scene in 2010 with an excellent rookie season that saw him finish third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. Garcia posted a 2.77 ERA (which was good for a 69 ERA-) with two-to-one strikeout-to-walk ratio. In his first season post-Tommy John surgery, the Cardinals wisely shut the southpaw down once the club had fallen out of contention during the home stretch of September. This decision limited Garcia to 163.1 IP for the season. Impressively, Garcia accrued 3.1 fWAR over those innings. Despite a BABIP that was very close to the MLB average for a starting pitcher in 2010, there was good reason to believe that his ERA would rise in 2011.

Below is a table showing stats for MLB starters as a whole in 2010, Jaime Garcia in 2010, and the difference between Garcia's numbers and the MLB average for starters. The stats shown are Earned Run Average (ERA), Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), the difference between ERA and FIP (ERA-FIP), Expected Fielding Independent PItching (xFIP), the difference between ERA and xFIP (ERA-xFIP), Home Run per Fly Ball Rate (HR/FB), percentage of runners left on base (LOB%), and Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP).

2010

ERA

FIP

ERA-FIP

xFIP

ERA-xFIP

HR/FB

LOB%

BABIP

MLB

4.15

4.13

+0.02

4.10

+0.05

9.60%

71.5%

.293

GARCIA

2.70

3.41

-0.71

3.62

-0.92

7.30%

75.0%

.292

DIFF.

-1.45

-0.72

-0.73

-0.48

-0.97

-2.30%

+4.5%

-.001

Even though the theory behind DIPS--that a pitcher cannot control batted balls--has been eroded somewhat by the work of Mike Fast and others, FIP and xFIP still have a higher correlation to the next season's ERA for a pitcher than ERA. When one compares Garcia's 2010 ERA to his fielding independent pitching statistics, the precariousness of his ERA becomes clear. His ERA-FIP difference of -0.73 was the tenth largest ERA-FIP gap where a starter's ERA was lower than his FIP. Due to the small amount of innings Garcia has pitched in his career, his HR/FB rate being relatively low compared to the league average was another red flag. xFIP calculates a pitcher's FIP with a league-average home run rate and Garcia's 3.62; or, 0.92 points higher than his ERA.

Below is a table showing stats for MLB starters as a whole in 2011, Garcia in 2011, and the difference between Garcia's numbers and the MLB average for starters. It consists of the same stats as the table shown above for 2010.

2011

ERA

FIP

ERA-FIP

xFIP

ERA-xFIP

HR/FB

LOB%

BABIP

MLB

4.06

4.00

+0.06

3.96

+0.10

10.0%

71.6%

.293

GARCIA

3.56

3.23

+0.33

3.31

+0.25

8.9%

66.8%

.318

DIFF.

-0.50

-0.77

+0.27

-0.65

+0.15

-1.1%

-4.8%

+.015

While Garcia may not have been as unlucky in 2011 as he was lucky in 2010, he certainly did experience a swinging of the luck pendulum from his rookie season. His ERA-FIP differential is the twenty-third unluckiest amongst big-league starters in 2011. Garcia's ERA-FIP gap is not the sole stat that reveals his 2011 to have been a bit unlucky. Despite having a LD% 0.2 percentage points above the league average, Garcia's BABIP against of .318 was 15 points higher than the league average BABIP against for starters. His 66.8 LOB% was also nearly five percentage points lower than league average. There is reason to believe Garcia's ERA will fall in 2012 due to better infield defense and an evening out of his luck on batted balls and with runners on base. If it does, he will be an elite starting pitcher.

After a rookie season ERA- of 69, Garcia's ERA of 3.56 in 2011 equaled an ERA - of only 96, which is just a hair better than the MLB average. While his ERA rose considerably, his FIP was still exceptional as compared to his peers. In 2010, Garcia posted a FIP- of 88; in 2011, Garcia's FIP- was 86. This ranked him nineteenth in MLB behind teammates Chris Carpenter, who ranked seventeenth with a FIP- of 82.

In fact, Garcia's 2011 line is quite similar to that of Carpenter. Carpenter posted a K/9 of 7.24 to 7.21 for Garcia. Carpenter's 2.09 BB/9 was slightly lower than Garcia's 2.31 BB/9 (which the lefty lowered from 3.59 in 2010). Garcia's 53.6 GB% was seven points higher than Carpenter's 46.6% GB rate. While Garcia's 3.23 FIP was a bit higher than Carpenter's 3.06 FIP. The difference in their numbers is twofold: home run suppression and innings pitched. Carpenter's skill for suppressing homers accounts for him having a lower FIP than Garcia; both pitchers posted a 3.23 xFIP. Carpenter's 234.1 IP to Garcia's 194.2 IP make up the remaining difference between Carpenter's 5.0 and Garcia's 3.6 fWAR.

Garcia benefited from good luck in 2010 that caused expectations for his development in 2011 to be unfairly high. In his second big-league season, the pendulum of luck swung the opposite way and cost Garcia in the ERA column. Given Garcia's lowered FIP last season, there is good reason for Cardinals fans to be optimistic about the young southpaw's third season.

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