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Stats Corner: Controlling the Pitches

Using Sabermetrics to determine which pitcher is the best at controlling the game.

Colorado Rockies v San Diego Padres Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

On August 4th, 1945 Joe Cleary took the mound for the Washington Senators against the Boston Red Sox. He faced nine batters, allowed eight of them to reach base, with five hits, three walks, and one wild pitch leading to seven earned runs. He was pulled after getting only one out, and was replaced by Bert Shepard. Cleary, who was the last Irish native to pitch in a MLB game, has the highest ERA for any pitcher who got at least one out with 189.00. Shepard went on to pitched five innings while striking out two and giving one run for an ERA of 1.69. It was the only MLB outing for either Cleary or Shepard.

Obviously, in the case of Cleary, the ERA tells you everything you need to know about the quality of pitcher. But what about Shepard? He produced a decent line, even though Washington lost the game. Do the typical statistics (ERA, wins, saves) accurately portray the value of the pitcher? Enter the Sabermetrics for pitchers also known as Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP)

What is Fielding Independent Pitching?

Here is the original Stats Corner covering the Moneyball Statistics. The history of FIP started with Voros McCracken who discovered that the amount of balls that fall in for hits against pitchers does not correlate well across seasons. In other words, once the ball leaves the bat, pitchers have little control over what happens in play. Therefore, so some numbers, which are attributable to the pitcher, are incorrect. McCracken revealed a better way to assess a pitcher’s talent, look only at results a pitcher can control directly, namely strikeouts, walks, hit by pitches, and home runs.

How to calculate FIP

FIP calculates as follows:

FIP = ((13 x Home Runs) + (3 x Walks) – (2 x Strikeouts)) / (Innings Pitched + (Outs (Partial Innings) Pitched / 3))

Therefore, who is the best independent pitcher in the Mountain West? We ran the numbers for the top three pitchers in categories traditionally considered important when evaluating talent. Statistics are from as of April 15th.

Win leaders: Tevin Cadola, Ryan Hare, Davis Moore

Inning Pitched: Justin Slaten, Cameron Jabara, Ryan Anderson

Strikeouts: Andrew Michel, Justin Slaten, Ryan Anderson

Strikeouts per 9 innings: Andrew Michel, Jaime Arias, Kevin Larson

ERA: Adrian Mardueno, Jake Gilbert, Jaime Aries

Saved Games: Fineas Del Bonta-Smith, Jackson Cofer, Malachi Emond

Players drafted prior to college: Owen Sharts, Cameron Jabara, Davis Moore


Pitcher School HR Walks SO Innings Pitched Outs FIP ERA Win Loss Save
Pitcher School HR Walks SO Innings Pitched Outs FIP ERA Win Loss Save
Malachi Emond New Mexico 0 5 25 21 1 -1.641 4.64 2 1 6
Jackson Cofer UNLV 0 5 17 20 0 -0.950 2.70 2 2 8
Justin Slaten New Mexico 1 21 61 52 1 -0.879 2.41 3 3 0
Adrian Mardueno San Diego St 0 19 43 38 2 -0.750 1.40 3 1 1
Andrew Mitchel San Jose 0 34 67 46 0 -0.696 3.72 2 4 0
Ryan Anderson Nevada 1 20 49 46 2 -0.536 3.28 4 1 0
Jake Gilbert Air Force 0 11 26 38 2 -0.491 1.63 3 1 0
Jaime Arias Fresno 3 6 34 24 1 -0.452 2.59 0 3 6
Ryan Hare UNLV 2 9 34 38 1 -0.391 3.29 5 2 0
Kevin Larson Fresno 0 15 23 16 2 -0.060 1.62 1 0 0
Cameron Jabara UNLV 3 12 39 52 1 -0.057 3.10 1 3 0
Fineas Del Bonta-Smith San Jose St 2 4 19 18 0 0.000 3.50 2 1 8
Davis Moore Fresno 3 19 39 41 0 0.439 4.17 5 0 0
Owen Sharts Nevada 3 15 24 42 0 0.857 6.21 2 6 0
Tevin Cadola San Jose 3 22 27 39 2 1.286 3.86 5 0 0

The numbers have spoken and the FIP leader is Malachi Emond from New Mexico with a FIP value of -1.641. It is possible (and preferable) to have a negative FIP score. How does a pitcher who has an ERA of 4.64, a record of 2-1 to go with 6 saves have the lowest score in the conference? Remember that the FIP only considers the things a pitcher can control. Emond has given up zero home runs, only has five walks, to go with 25 strikeouts. Only five times was Emond directly responsible for allowing a batter on bases. The rest of the time, the situation was beyond his control. The worse FIP value goes to 5-0 wins leader Cadola from San Jose State. Cadola has a decent ERA (3.86), but has given up three home runs, 22 walks, while only striking out 27. Moore also has a record on 5-0, but has a positive FIP score as well. Three home runs hurt, especially when added to 19 walks. Wins are good, but baseball teams wins by scoring more runs than their opponent scores. While pitchers usually are given the credit, sometimes the batters score more runs than pitcher gives up, who rightly deserve the win. The losing team for Cadola and Moore scored 3 runs (two) , 4 runs (three) , 5 runs (twice) , and 7 runs (three). Therefore, the record is not due solely to pitchers preventing runs scoring, but from batters scoring more than is given up.

Out of the top seven FIP values, five of them have given up zero home runs, and the other two only one home run each. The bottom five values have all given up multiple home runs. Mitchel may lead the list in walks at 34, usually not a good sign, but he also leads in strikeouts with 67. Combine those with zero home runs, and you have a decent FIP score.

Strangely, the players who were drafted by the MLB teams but decided to attend college Sharts (Texas Rangers (32nd round), Jabara (Atlanta Braves 31st round), and Moore (Chicago Cubs 37th round) are near the bottom and only Jabara has a negative FIP value. Indicating there is work to be down before playing in the major leagues.

No statistic can quantify everything that happens in baseball, and the current number of games only gives a small sampling. It is not always the pitchers fault, or the fielder’s fault, or the batter’s. It is a team sport, but to score more runs than the opponent managers need to determine which players give them the best chance to score runs and prevent the opponents from scoring, that is the purpose of Sabermetrics.

Bert Shepard gave his team a chance to win despite a couple of factors and the previous pitcher giving up seven runs. First, he technically was not a pitcher, he was the pitching coach. After playing in four consecutive double headers, the Senators were out of fresh pitchers so Shepard was sent out to pitch. The other factor, he only had one leg. Shepard had been a fighter pilot during World War II and after being shot down in Germany needed to have his leg amputated. After he made it back to the states, was hired by the Senators, pitched a one game, and had a good stat line, including a FIP value of -.188.