Advanced stats can help owners navigate more efficiently
The advent of advanced baseball statistics, which attempt to put a numerical representation to a player's value, creates a dichotomy for fantasy owners.
A player like Joey Votto has a high value through advanced stats, yet with only nine RBIs and a .279 average is also frustrating to a fantasy owner. The standard stats employed by the majority of fantasy leagues do not tell the full story of a player's value but comprise the entirety of the basis of fantasy baseball.
For instance, most people agree that wins are not necessarily the greatest indicator of a pitcher's ability. Likewise, many followers of the game are beginning to realize that runs batted in are hardly the most important determinant in whether or not a hitter is productive.
During the first month of the season, advanced stats may help an owner decide if his players' performance is apt to continue, to improve or to decline. The two best measures for pitchers in this regard are batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and fielding-independent pitching (FIP).
The two stats, which I have discussed in previous years, take into consideration the luck factor that is included in the early portion of the season. Maybe a pitcher gives up three or four bloop hits in a row and allows multiple runs to score. Perhaps his ERA is now absurdly high despite not getting hit all that hard.
FIP measures what ERA a pitcher should have, based on the things he can control: strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. BABIP says that the average batter will get a hit about 30 percent of the time that he puts the ball in play.
Examining the BABIP and FIP of some of the struggling and flourishing pitchers in the first month of the season will provide a better idea of how the rest of the year will unfold.
Jarrod Parker, Athletics. Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated warned that Parker's dramatic increase in innings from 2011 to 2012 could spell disaster for the Oakland righty in 2013. So far, those predictions have been correct. Parker, 13-8 with a 3.47 ERA in 2012 is 0-4 with an 8.10 ERA this year.
On the positive side, Parker's BABIP is .393, so he has been relatively unfortunate on batted balls. Once this normalizes, his ERA is bound to drop. However, his 14-to-13 K-to-BB ratio has his FIP at 5.97, meaning his ERA is only likely to dip two more runs unless he avoids issuing as many bases on balls. Owners have no reason to keep Parker in the starting rotation until he locates his 2012 form.
Brandon McCarthy, Diamondbacks. Parker's former teammate, McCarthy is 0-3 with a 7.48 ERA. Better news looms for McCarthy than Parker, though. McCarthy has an FIP of 3.61 and a BABIP of .396. He has had good control this year and will shows signs of life once that unsustainable extra 10 percent of batted balls find gloves instead of holes.
McCarthy should stay on fantasy benches in the short-term, but he is worth keeping on the roster with the intention of using him more often come late May or June.
Matt Moore, Rays. Nobody expects Moore to keep his perfect record and 1.04 ERA for the duration of the season, and a deeper look indicates that he is likely to regress to a slightly above-average pitcher. Walking over four batters per nine innings, his ERA will slowly approach his FIP of 3.40. He has been able to maintain such a low ERA with the walks because of a ridiculously low .143 BABIP. Moore remains a must-start fantasy option, as long as owners realize that they have been the beneficiary of untenably good fortune.
Max Scherzer, Tigers. Scherzer had a great 2012, going 16-7 with 231 strikeouts in just 187.2 innings. He is off to a slower start this year, with a 4.12 ERA masking a 2-0 record. Most owners are wisely continuing to use Scherzer due to his strikeout rate, even if his ERA is deceptively high.
Scherzer's BABIP is over .400 and his FIP is a healthy 1.55. Of course, it is highly improbable that Scherzer's actual ERA will move all the way down to 1.55, despite pitching well enough to deserve an ERA in that vicinity.
Any owner searching for a pitcher prone to overcome an unimpressive April should explore trading for the Detroit right-hander.
Dan Massey's Fantasy Sports appears each Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.