The Pittsburgh Pirates found some of their most reliable pitching through the use of SIERA, but mainly xFIP or expected FIP. Gone were the days of wins and losses, saves totals, and ERA. Each is extremely flawed in their own way, especially a pitcher’s wins and loss record which is totally swayed by run support. Basically, win/loss record is a dependent variable to runs scored per game, and the team’s overall defense.
But let’s look at three pitchers nobody thought would be as good as they were when the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired them: Mark Melancon, A.J. Burnett, and Francisco Liriano. Three of the best and most important pitchers for the Bucs 2013 playoff run.
Melancon was acquired by the Pirates from the Boston Red Sox for Joel Hanrahan, and Brock Holt. Why would anyone give up an All-Star level closer and a utility prospect for a guy who posted a 6.20 ERA, and gave up eight home runs in only 45 innings? Well look past those numbers for just a second.
Melancon was very, very unlucky. He may have had a 4.54 FIP, but his xFIP was 3.45. That would have put him in the top 50 of relief pitchers in baseball had he kept that up through an entire season. His 3.15 SIERA also would have put him in the top 50 relief pitchers in 2012. This value was what the Pirates were looking at when they acquired Melancon. We all know how he did in 2013. His ERA and FIP fell all the way below to at 1.39/1.64 through 71 innings of work. His xFIP took another step down, to 2.05 and his SIERA was 1.73. Overall, his 2.5 fWAR was the third highest in baseball, pacing Koji Ueraha and Greg Holland who tied for the first place spot at 3.1, and the highest in the National League.
Burnett was coming off a rough 2011 season before being acquired by the Pirates in 2012. On paper, nobody would want a pitcher who had a 10-15 record, ERA above 5 (5.26), and 1.51 WHIP. Especially one that was being paid $16.5 million. Well, Burnett had a solid 3.86 xFIP and 3.89 SIERA. He was a 3.80 ERA pitcher that got unlucky and had an ERA above 5.
Almost like clockwork, his ERA in 2012 closely represented his xFIP and SIERA from 2011, at 3.51. His xFIP and SIERA also barely budged in 2012, going down to 3.40 and 3.48. Then in 2013, Burnett had one of the best seasons from a Pirate pitcher in the decade. He clocked in with a 3.30 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 209 strikeouts in 191 innings, gave up just 11 home runs, and had a 3.03 SIERA and 2.92 xFIP.
Liriano was considered one of the worst pitchers in baseball in 2012. A 5.34 ERA is not good. Although, his ERA predictors weren’t projecting him to be an ace, they projected him to be much better than he was. Liriano’s 2012 xFIP was 4.14 and SIERA of 4.19. That’s over an entire run difference between that and his ERA. Those numbers were roughly league average in 2012 with a 100 xFIP-. It doesn’t look like a good idea to sign a pitcher who had an ERA above 5 to be one of your starters, let alone a two-year deal. Well turns out that two-year deal was extremely valuable for the Pirates. In 2013 and 2014, Liriano posted a 3.20 ERA, 3.26 FIP, and 1.26 WHIP.