In the first three entries of this series, Steve Mancuso showed us how to effectively evaluate a pitcher using a plethora of different stats and technologies. Today, I’ll be using these methods of evaluation as a filter to take a look at the 2019 Reds pitching staff.
At Redleg Nation we aren’t shy to use “advanced” statistics. I don’t think I’d be doing a disservice to any of the amazing writers here if I said we all wish these statistics were made more readily available to the average Reds fan, whether through radio and television broadcasts or being featured more prominently on the scoreboard at the ballpark. We use these statistics because A) They aren’t that much more complicated than ERA (an average baseball fan can calculate ERA just as easily as they can xFIP), B) They can tell a better, more complete story of a pitcher’s ability and level of success (see the rest of the entries in this series), and C) As a somewhat large source of opinion and analysis in Redsland, this is one of the only places the average fan might stumble across these numbers.
So let’s take a look at how the Reds starting rotation fares when using these tools to evaluate. We’ll also compare them to the top performer in each category, as well as to Dallas Keuchel, a favorite free agent target for many Reds fans. All of the tables below refer to 2018 statistics, and if available, sorted by Starting Pitchers only.
If you’re uncomfortable using advanced statistics to evaluate pitching, that’s fine too! Many of our readers grew up reading ERA on the back of baseball cards. The point of keeping statistics in the first place is so that fans can keep track of how their team and their favorite players are faring over the course of a season, a decade, a career. You can do that with ERA to a certain extent, and can get a pretty good idea of performance. For many fans, this is enough.
Predictably, the Reds don’t show up well on the ERA table. And since ERA is still the primary way the majority of fans evaluate pitching, it’s easy to see why the Reds are still seen as bottom dwellers by many. Hopefully the rest of this article will show you that this sentiment is questionable at best.
Also, note Dallas Keuchel’s ERA here. He’s commonly labeled a #1 starter by many fans who would like very much for the Reds to sign him. If we look at ERA alone, he’d certainly be in the conversation as one of the best options for the Reds starting rotation. We’ll continue to keep tabs on him as we run down the list.
FIP & xFIP
From earlier in the series:
“Fielding Independent Pitching measures how the pitcher actually pitched. The pitcher gave up those home runs and walks. He struck out those batters.”
“Let’s say we wanted a version of FIP that “normalizes” home runs hit across luck and stadium dimensions. The way to do that would be to remove HR from the equation and replace it with a variable representing a pitcher’s FB% in relation to the league FB%. That statistic is called xFIP.”
“It is possible to adjust certain statistics for park effects. The convention among baseball statisticians is to put a minus-sign at the end and scale the statistics to 100. You can find ERA-, FIP- and xFIP-. Every point below 100 is a percentage that a pitcher is better than average. For example, a pitcher with an FIP- of 90 is 10 percent better than average, taking into account ballpark.”
That’s more like it! As we pointed out earlier in the season, FIP and xFIP do a much better job of accurately evaluating pitcher performance. The whole point of these statistics is to see how pitchers actually pitched, stripping away other factors.
We see the Reds who were on the team in 2018 show up really well specifically in the xFIP leaderboard. This makes sense because xFIP normalizes HR/FB rate, and because Great American Ballpark turns fly balls into home runs more than just about every other major league park, Castillo and DeSclafani get some credit back to their names here.
Keuchel continues to look decent here, but maybe not the frontline starter many Reds fans claim he might be upon signing.
“SIERA assumes the pitcher has average luck, defense, sequencing, park factors and home runs. It incorporates strikeouts, walks, HBP and FB% as things under the pitcher’s control. What SIERA adds to xFIP is an attempt to model the small fraction of batted balls that the pitcher can influence. Studies show that SIERA is a better predictor of future pitching than xFIP, FIP and ERA.”
If we believe that SIERA is one of the best ways to predict future pitching, the Reds certainly look to be in good shape for 2019. If we agree that there are 30 #1 pitchers, 30 #2 pitchers, 30 #3 pitchers and so on, the SIERA leaderboard suggests the Reds have three #2 pitchers and two #3 pitchers making up their rotation. That’s not bad at all.
A few things are becoming more clear as we work down this list: Luis Castillo was great last year, except for when he wasn’t. Without those bad few outings, Castillo would easily rank near the top of all of these lists. With him being so young, that’s a good thing.
Alex Wood isn’t far behind him, either. Wood is consistently the top one or two Reds pitcher on all of these lists, suggesting he might be the best pitcher on the staff. That’s interesting for a guy not many believe will pitch Opening Day.
Lastly, Anthony DeSclafani might be back. The ERA wasn’t great, but all of Disco’s fielding independent stats scream #2/#3 starter. If the Reds can get that kind of production out of their #5 guy, it’ll be a good season for pitching.
“Velocity is highly correlated with strikeout rates…Strikeouts are a huge factor in pitcher success. Strikeouts prevent the ball from going into play. It’s the one outcome where hitters won’t get on base and runners don’t advance. Fly balls and ground balls can produce hits. Small increases in pitch velocity can make a big difference in a pitcher’s success. It’s a great way to evaluate pitchers.”
For those of you wondering, Noah Syndergaard had the fastest average 4-seamer (97.6), Sinker (97.3) and Slider (92.0) of qualified pitchers (minimum 1,500 pitches thrown). Dylan Covey had the fastest Cutter (93.0), Tyler Glasnow had the fastest Changeup (91.7) and Lance McCullers Jr. had the fastest Curveball (85.9).
I’ve color coded these cells for easy reading. Immediately a few things pop out. The difference in speed from Luis Castillo’s hard stuff (4-seam, Sinker) and soft stuff (Slider, Changeup) is pretty huge. It has to be hard for hitters to sit on any of his pitches with that sort of disparity. Anthony Desclafani throws a lot harder in comparison to the rest of the league than I would have thought. And Alex wood should be interesting to watch – he’s got slow fast stuff, and fast slow stuff.
“(Aaron) Sauceda finds that ACES (Arsenal Combination Estimate Scores) produces a tight evaluation of pitchers. The correlation of an ACES score from one year to the next is 76% or seven times higher than that for ERA. The ACES score doesn’t include any batted ball outcome or run production, just actual pitch characteristics, and it better predicts ERA than ERA itself.”
ACES basically tries to evaluate the actual “stuff” a pitcher has. While we don’t have access to the ACES scores (it was developed by Fantasy Baseball people, and a subscription to SportsLine is needed to gain access to the leaderboards), the creator of ACES Aaron Sauceda released the top 10% of ACES scores when he first announced the score back in February. According to ACES, Luis Castillo has the 9th best “stuff” in baseball, ahead of guys like Jacob DeGrom and Blake Snell, and just behind Chris Sale, Charlie Morton and Zach Wheeler. Those of us who watch Castillo pitch every 5th day aren’t shocked by this, but it’s nice to see the fantasy guys getting it right.
So, how does this evaluation make you feel about Reds pitching heading into 2019? What stats do you use to evaluate pitching for yourself? Has this series made you rethink the way you’ll evaluate pitching going forward? Still think the Reds should sign Dallas Keuchel? Let us know in the comments!