Pavano Pitching Well

Over the past four years, few pitchers have been the punchline to more jokes than Carl Pavano. He was a total bust in New York, taking $40 million from the Yankees and offering nothing in return. His inability to stay healthy, or to pitch effectively on those rare days he did take the mound, made him despised by fans and teammates alike.

Over the winter, he hit the free agent market, and not surprisingly, there wasn’t a ton of interest in his services. He ended up signing an incentive laden one year contract with the Indians that guaranteed him just $1.5 million. Expectations were understandably low.

After his ninth start yesterday, Pavano’s ERA stands at 6.10. It would be easy to assume that he’s just continuing his downward descent out of baseball, and that Cleveland was simply the latest team to throw money away on the guy. It would also be remarkably untrue.

Pavano’s FIP currently stands at a robust 3.74, thanks to outstanding peripherals – 2.03 BB/9, 7.40 K/9, .92 HR/9, 45.9% GB%. Pavano’s racked up 40 strikeouts against just 11 walks in 48 2/3 innings, giving him a strikeout to walk rate equal to pitchers such as Erik Bedard, Aaron Harang, Jake Peavy, Ted Lilly, and Cliff Lee. That’s some pretty nifty company.

Pavano’s ERA has been inflated by a .370 batting average on balls in play, which will almost certainly improve as the year goes on. In fact, after a pessimistic preseason ZIPS projection that pegged him for a 5.18 FIP in 2009, the updated ZIPS now pegs him for a 4.36 FIP from here on out. After posting an ERA of 6.10 over 48 2/3 innings, ZIPS has been impressed enough to slash his projected FIP by 0.8 runs.

There’s probably no better example of why ERA isn’t a useful tool for evaluating pitchers anymore. Pavano’s got one of the highest marks in the league, but based on how he’s actually pitched, we should be revising our estimates significantly upward for his expected performance from here on out. His recovery probably won’t come in time to help save the Indians season, but a smart team may get a bargain at the deadline when they call Mark Shapiro and make a deal to bolster their pitching staff.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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14 years ago

Thanks for the thorough analysis. Please CC this report to about 90% of the sports writers in America as why ERA is useless.

14 years ago
Reply to  Joe

I agree that over a couple of months, FIP is undoubtedly better than ERA. However, over a longer period (several seasons +) ERA is more useful than FIP or the like. I don’t remember where I saw it or what the exact reasoning is, but there is a reason that some pitchers (like Johan Santana) continually outperform their FIP.

14 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Some pitchers have the ability to control their BABIP, or they become “better” in tight situations. However, their are very few pitchers like that. Most of the time, I would go with FIP, unless you can pinpoint a specific reason, and give some kind of evidence for that.

14 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

If a player has been on the same team for several years, ERA is more useful than FIP; it takes into account the defense behind it, which then has a constant value.

Taking out fielding stats doesn’t necessarily improve the value of the statistics, it depends what you are looking to predict.

14 years ago
Reply to  Andrew

Defense is rarely a constant value.