Two Pitchers Underrated By Both ERA and FIP

The FIP statistic was created because of the inherent shortcomings of ERA; so much that was reflected in the traditional pitchers’ statistic was totally out of their control, and the new metric credited and debited hurlers for that which they did. As it turns out, FIP isn’t perfect either, as not all types of batted-ball contract are created equal. Still, FIP is preferable to ERA in just about every way imaginable, and is a much better anchor upon which to base pitcher evaluations. In any given year, however, there are pitchers who are much better (or worse) than both their ERA and FIP, once you adjust for quality of batted ball contact allowed. Today, let’s look at the two ERA title-qualifying AL starters who were most significantly better than both their ERA and FIP in 2014; Drew Hutchison and Jake Odorizzi.

Hutchison and Odorizzi actually have a number of things in common. Both were high school draftees; Hutchison was the Jays’ 15th round selection out of Lakeland Senior HS in Florida in 2009, Odorizzi the Brewers’ 1st round sandwich pick out of Highland HS in Illinois in 2008. Both qualified for ERA titles for the first time in 2014, Hutchison at age 23, Odorizzi at 24. As we wind through their plate appearance outcome frequency and production by ball-in-play type data, more similarities will become apparent.

There are some obvious differences as well. Hutchison has remained with the club that drafted him throughout his brief career, while Odorizzi has already been involved in two very significant trades. First, he was part of the package headed from Milwaukee to Kansas City in the Zack Greinke deal, and then he was part of the haul, in addition to the more highly touted Wil Myers, received by the Rays in exchange for James Shields and Wade Davis. While Odorizzi has generally been as healthy as a horse throughout his professional career, Hutchison lost a year due to Tommy John surgery in 2012.

Both had significant minor league success, though Odorizzi has a longer track record thanks to his health. Each season, I compile an ordered list of top minor league pitching prospects based on their K rates and K/BB ratios relative to their league/level, adjusted for age. It basically serves as a follow list, with traditional scouting methods then used to adjust the rankings. Hutchison only qualified for the list once, ranking #18 in 2011, while Odorizzi qualified four times, ranking as high as #30 in 2011, and never lower than #69, where he finished in both 2010 and 2012. Hutchison’s one very high ranking, in A-ball, marked him as a high-ceiling guy, but the lack of additional rankings declared him risky as well. Odorizzi’s four separate Top 100 rankings, at all levels, marked him as a high-certainty MLB starter, though his lack of a single truly dominant season cast doubt as to whether he could ultimately front an MLB rotation.

Now, let’s see what makes these two tick, as we take a look at their 2014 plate appearance outcome frequency and production by BIP type data. First, the frequency info:

FREQ – 2014
Hutchison % REL PCT
K 23.4% 122 84
BB 7.6% 105 61
POP 10.4% 127 81
FLY 36.1% 127 94
LD 19.2% 92 22
GB 34.3% 81 11
———— ———— ———– ———–
Odorizzi % REL PCT
K 24.2% 126 88
BB 8.2% 114 72
POP 13.0% 158 96
FLY 36.7% 129 97
LD 22.0% 106 74
GB 28.3% 67 3

Again, there are an awful lot of similarities here. Both pitchers had exceptional K rates in 2014, Hutchison recording an 84 K rate percentile rank, and Odorizzi doing even better, at 88. Interestingly, both walked an above average number of hitters last season (61 and 72 BB rate percentile ranks for Hutchison and Odorizzi, respectively), despite the fact that they both showed well above average control throughout their minor league careers. Hutchison walked 77 in 292 minor league innings, Odorizzi 192 in 605.

Both pitchers generate a large number of free outs via both the strikeout and the popup. Hutchison had a popup rate percentile rank of 81, while Odorizzi was very near the top of the AL heap with a 96 mark. As is the case with most elite popup generators, both Hutchison and Odorizzi both qualified as fairly extreme fly ball pitchers last season, with the former posting a 94 fly ball rate percentile rank, the latter even higher at 97. It is quite rare for a pitcher to allow more fly balls than grounders. Only five ERA-qualifying AL starters did so in 2014, and Hutchison and Odorizzi were two of them, along with Jered Weaver, Colby Lewis, and of course, Chris Young.

These two pitchers’ line drive rates diverged greatly last season, with Hutchison posting a low 22 liner rate percentile rank, and Odorizzi’s much higher at 74. Liner rates fluctuate much more than those of the other BIP types, and it’s way too early in either of these two pitchers’ careers to determine whether either has a liner tendency of any sort.

Based on the frequency data alone, there’s a lot to like here; lots of free outs, and minor league track records that suggest the walk totals will come down. The high fly ball rates aren’t a negative unto themselves, but could be given a sufficiently high level of fly ball authority allowed. To get a better feel for the authority level of the contact allowed by these two, let’s examine their production by BIP type data:

PROD – 2014
FLY 0.304 0.772 121 87
LD 0.663 0.898 103 104
GB 0.257 0.291 113 94
ALL BIP 0.323 0.548 110 93
ALL PA 0.240 0.299 0.407 99 85 4.48 3.70 3.85 3.19
———— ———— ———– ———– ———– ———– ———– ———– ———– ———–
FLY 0.265 0.700 97 103
LD 0.618 0.784 85 97
GB 0.344 0.359 191 107
ALL BIP 0.324 0.519 105 101
ALL PA 0.237 0.300 0.380 94 92 4.13 3.50 3.75 3.42

The actual production allowed on each BIP type is indicated in the AVG and SLG columns, and is converted to run values and compared to MLB average in the REL PRD column. That figure is then adjusted for context, such as home park, team defense, luck, etc., in the ADJ PRD column. For the purposes of this exercise, SH and SF are included as outs and HBP are excluded from the OBP calculation.

Let’s first look at Hutchison. He allowed well above MLB average damage on fly balls, as his .304 AVG-.772 SLG mark translates to 121 REL PRD. Once you adjust for his hard/soft fly ball rates allowed, his fly ball ADJ PRD plummets to 87. Hutchison was hurt quite significantly by his outfield defense; according to my Defensive Multiplier method, which I have detailed in some of my other articles, the Jays were the worst team in baseball at defending fly balls in 2014.

Hutchison also yielded more grounder production than he should have based on the authority of the contact he allowed. Hitters batted .257 AVG-.291 SLG against him on grounders, for a 113 REL PRD, while his hard/soft grounder rates allowed suggest a 94 ADJ PRD. On the surface, Hutchison appeared to allow very hard contact, posting a 110 REL PRD on all BIP, but this figure actually plunges to a 93 ADJ PRD once adjusted for context. Toss his solid K and BB data back into the equation, and his REL PRD drops to 99, roughly league average, but his ADJ PRD is a very strong 85 after adjustment for context.

His actual 4.48 ERA is way out of whack with the other listed metrics. He was hurt by sequencing, as suggested by his 3.70 calculated component ERA. His 3.85 FIP underpins his 2.6 WAR figure, but misses the impact of the subpar team defense played behind him, and the relatively limited contact authority he yielded. His 3.19 “tru” ERA, based on his 85 ADJ PRD, is a more accurate barometer of his 2014 performance quality, and marks him as a hurler to watch in 2015.

Now, on to Odorizzi. His actual damage allowed on fly balls fairly represents the authority he yielded. Hitters batted .265 AVG-.700 SLG against him in the air, and his 97 REL PRD was adjusted only a small amount to a 103 ADJ PRD for context. Odorizzi was also quite lucky on liners last season, as his actual 85 REL PRD was adjusted upward to 97 for context.

The source of Odorizzi’s 2014 “unluckiness” was much different than Hutchison’s. While neither pitcher allowed all that many grounders, Odorizzi was incredibly unlucky on them, allowing a .344 AVG-.359 SLG, for a whopping 191 REL PRD that was 2nd highest among AL ERA qualifiers. The downward contextual adjustment for his hard/soft grounder rates is massive, down to a 107 ADJ PRD. Odorizzi is not an elite contact manager, to be sure, but his actual 105 REL PRD on all BIP drops to a 101 ADJ PRD after adjustment for context. Add back the K’s and BB’s, and those marks drop to 94 and 92, respectively.

As with Hutchison, Odorizzi’s actual 4.13 ERA belies his true talent level. He too was undermined by poor sequencing, as suggested by his calculated component ERA of 3.50. His 3.75 FIP underpins his 2.0 WAR figure, but misses the extremely bad luck he endured on ground balls. His 3.42 “tru” ERA, based on his 92 ADJ PRD, is a more accurate barometer of his 2014 performance quality, and also marks Odorizzi as someone to watch this season.

One additional observation, which ties back to the sequencing angle already discussed…. both of these young, still developing hurlers fared way better with the bases empty than with runners on base last season. Performance from the stretch is something that evolves over time, and these two aren’t there yet. It’s likely not coincidental that both hurlers rely heavily on their respective fastballs, which they throw over half of the time. Most pitchers’ fastball velocity drops a tick or two from the stretch, reducing margin for error.

Long-term, I think Odorizzi is a safer bet than Hutchison, though his upside might be a tad lower. Hutchison has two potential plus pitches in his fastball and slider, and is death to same-handed hitters. As we speak, lefties have their way with him, as he is still feeling his way with his changeup. Like many Rays’ hurlers, Odorizzi really knows how to pitch with his fastball, and has actually had more success with opposite-handed hitters thus far in his major league career. Both are already better than we think, and are at the forefront of their age group. Expect major steps forward in the near term, with top five Cy Young Award finishes not of the question in 2015.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Common Sense
9 years ago

Any chance of seeing Calc ERA and Tru ERA on player pages? Perhaps for those who subscribe to fg+?

Also i’ve seen fg’s xbabip mentioned before; same question as above for this and other interesting metrics.