Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Homemade Analytics: A Look At the Lions Rotation With FIP

Some of you may be scoffing at the use of math in baseball. And during my short time following NPB, I've been disappointed at the lack of statistical information beyond ERA and the usual counting statistics. In fact, not even specific game logs for the starting pitcher are easy to find.

I've always been fascinated by information, and without massive amounts of information, I feel improper when creating an opinion without the proper use of information. It's impossible to get too complicated with Japanese statistics, the only way that can be done is when Japanese ballparks install the proper "f/x" technology in all their stadiums. F/x technology has been installed in all 30 ballparks in MLB and has allowed for new age tracking of defensive analytics that properly assess defensive performance and makes statistics like errors and fielding percentage completely obsolete. With that, it's still impossible to assess Japanese players defensively.

With the stat FIP, we can assess pitchers' performance with a true assessment of what's in their control. As is explained more on fangraphs, studies have shown that the majority of pitchers have little to no control over what happens on balls in play. He has no control over defense, luck, or anything of that variety. All he can control are walks, hit by pitches, strikeouts and home runs. And that is exactly what Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) measures.

ERA is a great way of determining how many runs are scored in a 9 inning period, but it doesn't show anything about how lucky or how unlucky the pitcher was during a given time. And that's where FIP comes in, I urge all of you to use these stats next to the ERA of that pitcher to create a good representation in your mind on what kind of pitcher he is.

First a quick demonstration of how to calculate these statistics.

FIP is calculated with the following formula:


*'s are multiplication signs, remember your order of operations.

All that is then divided by IP

You then add the NPB Constant (2.74) which is determined by the run producing environment (in MLB it's usually around 3.2), to the number you just calculated and then you have your FIP.

As you can see from the equation, Home Runs are a severe penalty to a pitcher when measuring FIP, while strikeouts are a good way of lowering the number. The perfect FIP pitcher is one that has tremendous control, is crafty and can throw a lot of strikeouts, while rarely being punished by the long ball. And if anyone finds this pitcher tell Norio Tanabe!

You should read FIP just like you would ERA, a sub 3.00 ERA or close to it is tremendous and anything over 4.00 ERA is not very good. Same goes for FIP.

Now it's time to get to the analytics.

Let's start with Ken Togame.

Here's a look at Togame's previous seasons.

FIP: 3.19, ERA: 2.72 (only started one game this season, 53.0 IP total this season)

FIP: 3.15, ERA: 3.45 (started 26 games and threw 165.1 IP in total)

FIP: 3.94, ERA: 3.66 (made 8 starts in 59.0 IP)

2015 so far
FIP: 3.76, ERA: 2.02

Judgments based on the numbers, there's not a lot of data to base off of his career in total as a starter but judging off of his 2013 season, Togame would've remained in the rotating during the 2014 season. It turns out that 2014 was an injury-ridden season for Togame, a hip injury limited him, with that knowledge in mind, you can throw that season out.

It should be noted that it's still early in the season, and a full season sample size is best when looking at FIP, but it's still fun to be a fan and assess performance at this point in the year. So far in 2015, Togame has seen a small spike in his strikeout rate (he's never had a K per 9 innings higher than 7.0, it's now at 7.7), a level of control that compares to his walk rate in 2013, and while seeing more home runs given up than ever before in his career. Too early to really make any clear judgments, especially with 2014 being almost completely thrown out of the statistical debate. The question is, will his defense continue to allow his ERA to outperform his FIP by such a considerable margin? That's something we will have to monitor as the season goes on.

Next up: Kazuhisa Makita

FIP: 2.46, ERA: 2.61 (Was a closer for much of the year, then was put into the rotation: 127.2 IP)

FIP: 2.58, ERA: 2.43 (Full time starter with 178 IP)

FIP: 3.56, ERA: 2.60 (Full time starter with 166.0 IP)

FIP: 3.55, ERA: 3.74 (Full time starter with 170.2 IP)

2015 so far
FIP: 3.16, ERA: 2.08 (Full time starter, sample size of 52.0 IP)

Not a big strikeout guy, Makita shows impeccable control and controls the long ball quite well. With the lack of strikeouts (his highest K/9 was in 2011 at 6.1), a reliance on his defense is required for his ERA to outperform his FIP. So far in 2015, his ERA has proven to be a great indictment on the Lions defense behind him.

The year 2015 proves to be a make or break year for a true representation of Makita's typical FIP, especially with the past two years being almost identical and his first two years having similar impressive marks. The normal for Makita (who's 30 years old and nearing the end of his prime as a starter) is probably somewhere in between, what to look for going forward is the amount of home runs he gives up, if they spike, he'll probably end with a mark like 2013 or 2014. If it declines or stays the same, look for him to have an FIP close to 3.00.

Next Up: Ryoma Nogami

I skipped the first couple years of his career due to a lack of a sample size that's worthwhile. He was also a bullpen member in his first few years with the team.

FIP: 3.86, ERA: 2.97 (Started 18 games for a grand total of 115.1 IP)

FIP: 3.92, ERA: 3.95 (started 24 games for a grand total of 152.2 IP)

FIP: 4.38, ERA: 4.49 (started 21 games for a grand total of 120.1 IP)

2015 (coming into today's start)
FIP: 3.05, ERA: 1.98 (started 6 games for a sample size of 36.1 IP)

This one is really hard to explain, with marks so ugly in the previous season and with a decent sample size, just when we seemed to have Nogami figured out he has a start to the season like this. At the same time, it is a case of 6 starts and Nogami has all of a sudden become allergic to the home run, which had been a problem in his career in previous years (the past two years, Nogami has finished the year with a HR/9 over 1.0). He's also seen better control come his way, at 2.0 BB/9, this is the lowest of his career.

All in all, the FIP smiles on these trends. Nogami is much like Makita, another guy who strikes out very few, in fact his already meager strikeout numbers are down this year, add that all up and you can see that the Lions defense has dramatically improved from their 2014 edition. I don't expect this to continue, even at the best case scenario, I expect Nogami to come back down to earth and probably finish with an FIP at 3.75 or higher.

Now: Wade LeBlanc

FIP: 5.43, ERA: 3.43 (42.0 IP)

Since there's nothing to compare to, it's really hard to make a judgment off of 42 innings but this is ugly. Watching LeBlanc pitch, I've said to myself, "That the only way teams keep giving him jobs is just because he's a lefty." and sometimes he makes it work even though he seems to have nothing in his stuff at times. A problem early on with LeBlanc has been having trouble putting away hitters, and that shows with his 5.1 K/9. He's never really been much of a strikeout guy, especially when he was pitching in MLB. The one thing that's surprising about LeBlanc is his lack of control, his BB/9 is up to 3.9 and that's just atrocious. Especially since that's never been a problem during his career elsewhere, so you have to expect that this number won't last.

Add that up with a home run rate that is just not going to get the job done (his HR/9 is 0.9) and you have an FIP that is as ugly as this one. With all that said, it appears that once again luck and his defense have allowed LeBlanc to get by so far in his first 7 starts. I don't expect that number to stay that high, but a number around 4.00 will likely be what LeBlanc finishes with in his first season in Saitama.

Lastly: Chun-Lin "Kaku" Kuo

FIP: 5.34, ERA: 4.91 (25.2 IP, 6 starts)

Another one that's ugly, but with another small sample size, it's once again a difficult call for the 23 year old from Taiwan. A lack of strikeouts, lots of walks, and an affinity for dingers has made this an ugly exercise for Kuo. Once again, the defense makes things look a little better but in the end, Kuo seems to not be doing a whole lot right on the mound for the Lions.

There will be another post on this subject when it comes to the bullpen. We will have to revisit this later on in the season, perhaps at a good midway point and then really we'll see how things are going. We might do a post on Kikuchi if he continues to get starts. And most importantly, once Kishi returns to the rotation, we'll probably have a statistical analysis of Kishi when he returns.

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