Pittsburgh Pirates Sabermetrics Sunday: FIP


There are few teams in baseball that use sabermetrics as much as the Pittsburgh Pirates do, in the coming weeks I will be helping to explain some of these sabermetrical stats.

Baseball always has been and always will be a game of numbers. However, those numbers are changing. Sabermetrics are becoming a bigger and bigger part of baseball, and there are very few teams in baseball that use sabermetrics more than the Pittsburgh Pirates do.

Prior to becoming the general manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates Neal Huntington worked in the Cleveland Indians’ front office. The Indians, like the Pirates, are a very sabermetrical savvy organization. Quite honestly, the Indians really got the ball rolling on sabermetrics in the late 90s and early 2000s.

Neal Huntington brought these ways and beliefs with him to Pittsburgh when he was hired as Pittsburgh Pirates general manager in September 2007. Huntington began to construct a sabermetrics and advanced stats team in his front office that is led by Dan Fox. This team began to put time and energy into researching defensive shifts, pitcher and hitter tendencies, and the advanced stats of baseball.

Dan Fox, the most important person that Pirate fans do not know
Dan Fox, the most important person that many Pirate fans do not know /

Then in Spring Training 2013, the Pittsburgh Pirates went all-in on sabermetrics. That season Clint Hurdle began to use the data collected by Dan Fox and his team, and the Pirates started to shift almost as often as anyone in baseball. The Pirate front office, specifically Neal Huntington, also uses this research and advanced stats to identifies pitchers to acquire. Francisco Liriano, Mark Melancon, Edison Volquez, and A.J. Burnett are all examples of this.

Even though not many Pittsburgh Pirates fans know who he is, Dan Fox is one of the most important people in the Pirate front office. His work has helped immensely in turning the Pittsburgh Pirates around and making them winners once again. Even though Dan Fox has never played baseball, he is one of the brightest minds in the game.

Okay, so, we got a bit off track there. However, I felt it necessary to give a little backstory to the Pittsburgh Pirates being so sabermetrical savvy. Also, you can not learn about sabermetrics as a Pirate fan without knowing who Dan Fox is.

Back to sabermetric Sundays now. First off, I have to give ROOT Sports some credit here. Two seasons ago, ROOT Sports did ‘sabermetric Sundays’ on each Sunday broadcast explaining a different sabermetrical stat each week. However, many fans still do not understand a lot of these stats. For our first sabermetrics Sunday article we will look at the stat fans should be using when evaluating pitchers.

While many fans look at traditional stats such as wins and ERA when evaluating pitchers, these are not the stats they should be looking at. The best stat to use to evaluate pitchers is fielding independent pitching, or FIP.

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The reason FIP is such a good stat to evaluate pitchers with is because it isolates the performance of the pitcher. FIP takes defense, luck, and sequencing. To really get a good explanation of FIP, check out Fangraph’s sabermetrics library.

FIP is calculated, much like ERA, with a formula. The formula for ERA is simple you take the amount of earned runs a pitcher has allowed, divide that by how many innings they have pitched, and then multiple it by nine. FIP, however, is a bit more complicated.

FIP is calculated by taking the amount of home runs a pitcher has allowed and multiplying that by 13, then you add that number to the the sum of the amount of walks issued and batters hit by a pitcher multiplied by three. Next, you multiply the amount of strike outs a pitcher has by two and subtract that sum from what you got when you added the previous sum. Then you divide that by the amount of innings a pitcher has pitched, and add the constant (3.10) to whatever your sum is.

Got all of that? No, it’s okay I’ll make it easier to understand. Simply put, the formula for FIP is (13*HR allowed) + (3*(BB + HBP)) – (2*Ks) divided by innings pitched + 3.10. Hopefully, that makes the formula easier to grasp.

The reason FIP is such a good way to evaluate pitchers is, as I pointed out above, it removes all the variables around a pitcher. Many times a pitcher’s ERA can be skewed due to good or bad luck, or strong or poor defense. However, that is never a problem with FIP.

For an example of this we will look at Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Ryan Vogelsong. Before going on the disabled list earlier this week Vogelsong had a 3.74 ERA in 21 2/3 innings pitched. Despite having a sub-4 ERA, no on who watched Vogelsong pitch this season will tell you he pitched well and his FIP shows that.

Mar 3, 2016; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (14) throws a pitch during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 3, 2016; Bradenton, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Ryan Vogelsong (14) throws a pitch during the third inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at McKechnie Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

In those 21 2/3 innings pitched, Vogelsong’s FIP was 4.96. FIP is the same as ERA in that the lower it is the better, and, obviously, 4.96 is not very low. This indicates that Vogelsong was helped out by strong defense and a lot of good luck. Vogelsong’s FIP shows that he was not a good pitcher this season, and anyone who watched him pitch would tell you that.

Ultimately, FIP show you what a pitcher’s ERA should be. A pitcher’s FIP is based on how many hits and home runs they have allowed, how many batters they have hit, how many batters they have walked, and how many batters they have struck out. Which are the things pitcher’s should be evaluated on, not the defense being played behind them or any luck they may have had either on their side or against them.

Next: Rangers 5, Pirates 2: Stars And Stiffs

A lot of baseball fans disregard sabermetrics and see people like me who use them so often as know nothing nerds. They criticize us for not having ‘dirt in our veins’ and all that good stuff. However, sabermetrics are changing baseball for the better and they are here to stay. So, you might as well learn about them and start to understand them.