Analyzing Blue Jays Pitchers with FRIAS
Two weeks ago, I published a simple way to guess a pitcher’s defense-independent numbers in a season by only using the previous year’s peripherals. Using a readily-available set of statistics, K%, BB% and HR% can be projected and converted to a FIP estimate. The method is meant to describe what a season says about a pitcher’s skill level going forward, and is dubbed FRIAS. It’s not a comprehensive projection system; it’s essentially a form of xFIP that deals specifically with the following season. xFIP attempts to describe how well a pitcher performed at the things he can directly influence and FRIAS goes a step further than this as it explicitly singles out the following season as the response variate. I took out the 2014 season to use that year as an out-of-sample test and my method performed well when compared to ZiPS and Steamer, although it doesn’t project nearly as many players as those systems, being limited to pitchers who threw 20+ innings it the preceding season (and the comparison used 2014 seasons of 50+ IP).
This being a Blue Jays blog, I wanted to single out Blue Jays pitchers and see what the team’s 2014 peripherals say about their 2015 outlook. Below are the projections for pitchers who are expected to pitch for the team in 2015 and that FRIAS has a reading on (i.e., pitched 20 innings in 2014). The 2014 FIP constant (cFIP) is used. Marcus Stroman is excluded as he is unlikely to pitch at all in 2015. 2015 innings pitched are projected from Fangraphs Depth Charts.
2015 IP (FGDC)
Brett Cecil projects in a way that shows why the Blue Jays are comfortable with him closing. The 66 xFIP- he posted in 2014 is validated by FRIAS (2.97 FIP), and Steamer and ZiPS also buy him as a signature relief weapon. He is one of baseball’s best relief pitchers and being left-handed shouldn’t hamper his ninth-inning opportunities, as the Blue Jays also have Aaron Loup, who has been very effective against lefties in his career and projects okay by FRIAS.
Mark Buehrle’s stunning career success is not recognized by his 2014 peripherals. With a batted ball distributions that slightly leans towards fly balls and a lack of strikeout projection, he is expected to allow more than a home run per inning by FRIAS. However, my system is not accounting for Buehrle’s demonstrated fielding skill (which can reflect on both ERA and FIP) and may underrate his control. Walk rate is a great predictor of future walk rate, and Buehrle hasn’t posted a BB/9 above 2.25 since 2003. I would not be surprised at all to see him pump out another ~4 FIP year in 2015. R.A. Dickey is projected for a slightly-less disappointing 4.29 FIP. I don’t think we’ve seen the best of R.A. Dickey in a Blue Jays uniform and I am hoping he gets a chance to throw to Russell Martin in 2015, as excellent pitch framing could be especially meaningful to a knuckleball.
If Drew Hutchison can pitch another full season in 2015, perhaps eclipsing 200 innings for the first time, he will likely be very productive for the Blue Jays as FRIAS has pegged for a 3.72 FIP. His strikeout indicators were fantastic in 2014, especially in the second half when he posted the seventh best swinging strike rate (SwStr%) in the Major Leagues at 12.4%. A seasonal number of 10.8% is encouraging too. There is nothing worrisome about his control profile and a fairly neural 2.97 BB/9 is projected (2014 league average was 2.89).
The average for these 11 pitchers, weighted by projected innings pitched, is a 7.13/2.97/1.00 line for a 3.98 FIP. That’s below-average, although the poor and heavily-weighted performances of Dickey and Buehrle may be unfairly pushing the aggregate down. Steve Delabar will likely not get 25 innings in Toronto if he pitches as poorly as his 2014 suggests he will. On the other hand, many more than 11 pitchers will pitch for the Blue Jays in 2015 and it’s probably fair to assume that these other pitchers as a group will pitch to a FIP above 4.00.
To conclude, FRIAS projects the Blue Jays core group of pitchers about as well as I would have guessed it would. Without Marcus Stroman they may struggle to get consistently above-average innings and could really use two of Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Marco Estrada stepping up. Brett Cecil is their only projected “ace reliever”, but bullpens are fickle and the Blue Jays spent the winter stockpiling hard-throwing depth relievers (Matt West, Preston Guilmet, Wilton Lopez, etc.). Miguel Castro and Roberto Osuna may not be fully ready for the Major Leagues, but they seem ready to contribute meaningfully as relievers.
Photo credit to James G (https://www.flickr.com/photos/james_in_to)