Another chance to bash my arch-enemy: FIP

Posted By on May 8, 2011 11:00 am

I happened to be otherwise occupied throughout the entire time that Justin Verlander was working on his no-hitter Saturday, so I missed it all till after it was over. Fortunately, had compressed the game in a handy little package that showed all 27 of his outs, one after the other, in about five minutes. So I watched the whole thing, and as I did I couldn’t help but notice an awful lot of really weak contact. Verlander only had four strikeouts, but there were lots of easy popups and grounders.

And that made me think, once again, about one of my pet issues with a segment of the baseball community. I’ll just call ‘em the FIP People. It’s not just those who value Fielding Independent Pitching, but all of those who still believe in the underlying premise of FIP, which is that pitchers have no control over anything but walks, strikeouts and homers.

Giants and A’s fans, you’ll want to hang with me here, because this comes up with guys like Matt Cain and Trevor Cahill, who foolishly allow batters to put the ball in play rather than striking them all out.

Yes, I’ve written about this a few times, like here and here and here, but that’s the definition of a “pet peeve.” Might also call it beating a dead horse, but what the hell. It’s my blog.

Anyway, back to Verlander. As I’m watching all these soft outs, it occurs to me that there’s just no way that it’s some lucky coincidence that all nine Blue Jays are making soft contact all three times through the order. Nine different hitters. Nine different swings. What’s the common denominator? Verlander.

So, if Verlander is doing something right to induce that soft contact over a whole game, why couldn’t someone do it over a whole season? Or even a whole career?

Obviously, the statistics show that it’s really hard to do it over a whole season and really really hard to do it over two seasons and really really really hard .. well, you get the idea. But just because something is hard to do doesn’t mean it’s not a skill. It just means it’s a difficult skill.

Matt Cain and Trevor Cahill both have held opponents under the normal BABIP throughout their young careers. The FIP People don’t like that. They want to hang the word “lucky” over guys like that. Surely they are just benefitting from good defense and pitchers’ ballparks. I can’t argue with the latter, but the former grinds my gears.

Ask any pitcher or any pitching coach what the pitcher is trying to do when he’s got the ball in his hand, and you’ll hear that he’s trying to disrupt the hitter’s timing. That’s it. There are a few rare times when you are actually trying to throw it by the hitter, but no one lasts very long in the game if that is his focus.

My pal Lowell Cohn wrote his column for Sunday on Cahill. He asked Cahill about Tim Lincecum, and the A’s pitcher said this:

“He’s a strikeout guy. If there’s a guy on third and less than two outs, I feel I can try and strike guys out. But for me to throw 110 pitches throughout a game I’m not going to be able to throw strikeout-type stuff the whole time and stay healthy. I’ve got to change speeds and try and get weak contact.”

This is what baseball is, at its most basic level: The hitter is trying to put the barrel on the ball and hit it hard. The pitcher is trying to prevent him from doing that. I don’t know why we want to give the hitter credit when he hits it on the barrel, but not give the pitcher credit when he doesn’t. If good pitching beats good hitting, doesn’t that mean the pitcher should get credit not just for strikeouts, but for all outs? Perhaps not full credit, but certainly some. (As an aside, there is luck involved in strikeouts, too. Umpires make bad calls. Hitters miss pitches over the middle and get a piece of nasty pitches they shouldn’t touch.)

Funny thing about this whole topic is I think a lot of analysts in baseball actually agree with me, and have moved on to more scientific tools than FIP/DIPS/etc. My issue is with those fans who have read Moneyball or some other five- to 10-year-old work and get all self-righteous about how enlightened they are because they can see beyond ERA.

They’re just looking too far in the other direction.


4 Responses to “Another chance to bash my arch-enemy: FIP”

  1. Henry says:

    Agreed. If anything, Cain is unlucky, not lucky.

  2. Jason says:

    FIP fails to account for the fact that pitchers do have some control over the type of contact that they induce. I’d like to see a stat that takes into account line drive percentage (some estimates have line drives falling in about 70% of the time), groundballs (about 26%), and fly balls (about 14%).
    Not all non-home run hits are equal. FIP fails in that it assumes otherwise.

  3. Sharp says:

    I don’t think anyone has said that a pitcher should get ZERO credit for their low BABIP, but history has shown very clearly that a player’s BABIP going forward has a MUCH higher correlation with the league average BABIP than it does with his past BABIP.

    It’s also shown that FIP is easily a better predictor of future performance than ERA is.

    If you want to make an argument on this subject you’ve got to deal with stuff like that, the actual facts of the situation. An anecdote about Verlander inducing some weak contact does not an argument make.

  4. The problem is exactly as Jeff notes, there are these people who have a rudimentary understanding of DIPS and YES, they do give pitchers ZERO credit for their low BABIP. Because, you know, DIPS sez so, no pitcher can control their BABIP, which is as Sharp says, gives the pitcher zero credit for balls in play.

    They never moved on from DIPS to read, for example, Tom Tippett’s excellent study of DIPS THROUGHOUT the HISTORY of baseball, not just one or two years as was originally done with DIPS. Tippett found that while DIPS do indeed apply to most pitchers, there were numerous classifications of pitchers who did not fit under that generalization, in other words, there were exceptions to the rule. Most of the people arguing against Cain and Cahill just do not understand this. And Tippett only wrote this, oh, 7-9 years ago.

    If one hasn’t guessed, this is a pet peeve of mine as well that I’ve beaten up all over the internet, anytime I’ve seen an article about how lucky Matt Cain has been, makes me cringe…

    I think the next step in the evolution of this is as the above commenter noted, one that takes into account the type of hits off the bat. However, I don’t think that will take flight until this new system the MLB installed which measures each batted ball as to speed, direction, etc., has generated at least 2-3 years worth of batted ball data to analyze.

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