In the light of Mike Minor’s latest strange outing — he yielded five hits in six innings, but four were home runs — I thought I’d pass along some data presented by Red Reporter in its preview of the Reds-Braves series. (Warning: If your eyes glaze over at the mention of sabermetrics, cease and desist reading.) My two favorites:
That Minor has a left-on-base percentage that’s off the charts, and not in a good way.
That Minor, who now carries an ERA of 6.97, has, at least according to one key stat-geek metric, pitched almost as well as Brandon Beachy, whose 1.33 ERA leads the majors.
The metric in question is xFIP, and it stands for expected fielding independent pitching. Here’s the simple definition — actually, it’s not all that simple — from the really useful site FanGraphs: “ Fielding Independent Pitching measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.” (And the “x” for expected adds a mathematical wrinkle that seeks to measure how many home runs a pitcher should have allowed.)
(An aside: Numbers-crunchers insist there are only Three True Outcomes of a given plate appearance — a home run, a strikeout or a walk. Everything else is subject to the vagaries of fielding, positioning and luck. FIP and xFIP are attempts to flatten out the variables. I’d suggest that fielding can never be separated from the concept of pitching, but maybe that’s just me.)
Back to Minor: Before Monday’s start, his xFIP was 3.82; Beachy’s was 3.83. (In xFIP as in golf, the lower the number the better.) This is at odds with what we’ve actually seen — Beachy has been dominant all season, Minor all but helpless of late — but that’s kind of the point of these metrics. They attempt to remove the eyeball test as a measure. I’m not sure you can do that, either, but let’s press on.
Returning to Red Reporter’s reportage: Minor’s LOB percentage is terrible. With Monday’s start included, Minor has stranded only 42.1 percent of baserunners — the second-worst mark among big-league starting pitchers. (Vance Worley of the Phillies leads the majors, having seen only 10.4 percent of runners score.) And that, I would suggest, actually buttresses the findings relayed by our eyeballs: When Minor gets in trouble, he rarely wriggles free.
And that’s the difference between winning and losing. Minor’s strikeout rate per nine innings is a very good 8.1 — Beachy’s is 6.5 — but only 22.7 percent of baserunners have scored against Beachy. One has managed to control whatever damage is done; the other hasn’t. You wouldn’t have expected that Beachy, who wasn’t drafted, would have mastered this essential technique ahead of Minor, who was taken No. 7 overall in 2009, but that only goes to show: Baseball is a funny game.
Sabermetricians will use those two sets of stats to suggest that Minor really hasn’t been as bad as his record indicates and that Beachy hasn’t been as good, but I’m leery of such conclusions. As much as I enjoy checking the numbers, I’m of the opinion that pitching is a zero-sum game: The more zeroes a pitcher posts — by whatever means — the better.
By Mark Bradley