FIP’ing The Birds And The Infinite Multiverse Theory

FIP or “fielding independent pitching” provides a type of at-a-glance reference to measure a pitcher’s effectiveness at controlling that which the pitcher can theoretically control.  I’d explain exactly what it is, but it’s easier if you just get off your lazy butt and Google it yourselves.  Or not. Just know that in a general sense, I find it (and xFIP) useful for comparing what a pitcher has done versus what could’ve happened in an alternate timeline.

In one such alternate timeline, Carlos Martinez still has a spectacular 1.43 ERA, but his FIP isn’t a lofty-by-comparison 3.38.  Instead, he’s narrowly missed a few of the guys he’s plunked and is guilty of only 4 HBP instead of 8.  In another alternate reality, he isn’t walking one out of every 9.3 hitters he’s faced and still celebrates home runs by making it rain.  On the other hand, there is a version in which he still has 40 strikeouts, a 3.38 FIP, and double the 1.43 ERA.  If you are a believer in some kind of infinite multiverse theory, then there is a reality in which Yadier Molina has an above average sprint speed, and I think that pretty much closes the book on the plausibility of the infinite multiverse theory as applied to baseball.

FIP and xFIP are the product of a voodoo priestess in league with a reformed numerologist working with a disgraced biochemist and a math prodigy to win the lottery.  Instead of hitting Powerball, they produced something substantially more useful than ERA for doing whatever it is one would do with ERA.  Just as one might overgeneralize with ERA, one may also do the same with FIP, and I’m about to do just that.

The Cardinals rank 9th in baseball in FIP by starters at 3.79, yet they rank 4th in ERA (3.32).  Meanwhile, the Memphis/St Louis bullpen collective sits 17th overall in FIP (4.12) and 11th in ERA (3.46).

To paraphrase a line from J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel about America’s pastime – “I don’t understand your FIP half as well as I should like, and I like your ERA less than half as well as you deserve.”

The results for the starting rotation and the relievers are slightly better than FIP indicates that they should be.  Both seem to be within reasonable margins of error (which may be an outright lie), but there is room for regression as well as improvement.

The case for starter regression focuses primarily on Martinez and Wainwright.  Martinez is beating FIP like a kettle drum at a middle school band concert, and Wainwright’s ERA would need a stepladder the size of an actual Adam Wainwright to be within sight of his FIP.  Martinez certainly seems capable of holding down a sub-2.00 ERA for a season, but smart money says he can’t do it while handing out 4 free passes every 9 innings.  As for Wainwright, he’s probably trending in the direction you’d expect a high mileage Ford Escort to trend – there’s a chance it gets you from point A to point B, but there’s an equal likelihood that you have to push it the last block or two.

The case for starter improvement focuses on Martinez but also shines a spotlight on Luke Weaver.  If Martinez can lower his walk rate and extend his starts even an extra out or two per game, he’ll reduce the degree of divergence between ERA and FIP by reducing FIP.  Weaver’s 3.52 FIP gets overshadowed by his 5.17 ERA and rightly so.  If he can bring the two brothers from another mother closer together while still giving the team 6 innings per start, he can become a much skinnier and more personable Lance Lynn but with multiple pitches.

Because relievers have thrown a relatively small number of innings through the 1/6 mark of the season, you could convincingly argue that some statistical “settling” will take place given time.  That settling may not be pretty for the Cardinals.  Jordan Hicks throws roughly 170 mph, but his 1.17 ERA looks about as sustainable as Tesla’s payroll when compared to his 5.39 FIP.  He’s responsible for one fewer walk than Luke Weaver but in less than half the number of innings.  Roughly every fourth batter to face Hicks gets to advance 90 feet without passing “Go”.  As much as I enjoy watching a guy break the “No Pepper” sign hanging up behind home plate (Major League reference or something), it’s hard to envision him going full Oprah every four hitters and succeeding for long.

On the other hand, he throws a 101 mph sinker, so maybe he can defy FIP.  There really isn’t a precedent for this except maybe in “MLB The Show”.

At the other end of the spectrum you’ll find Luke Gregerson whose 7.71 ERA might as well be hiding from his FIP behind a stack of Encyclopedia Brown books in the Library of Congress.  That’s basically earth-to-the-moon far from his 3.39 FIP, and the two have to somehow find each other eventually, even if it’s just to wave at each other in passing.

Obviously, you can draw your own conclusions, but if you believe in “luck”, then just know that the Cardinals have been lucky so far.  If luck stops favoring them, then at least a couple of the everyday position players hugging the Mendoza line will have to wake themselves or their bats up with quick dunk in the same ice-filled water bucket that has twice defeated Kolten Wong.



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