Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Pitchers are volatile. One or two seeing- eye singles can be the difference between allowing two runs over seven innings or five runs in five.
Fortunately, we have fielding-independent pitching (FIP) to help us predict the future.
For fantasy owners who aren't into the sabermetric revolution, FIP attempts to evaluate pitchers based on the things they can control -- strikeouts, walks, hit batters and home runs allowed.
If a pitcher has a high ERA but a low FIP, it means he has been performing well in the areas he can control but having some poor luck on balls in play, and vice versa with a low ERA and a high FIP. Since batting average on balls in play (BABIP) usually regress to league average, which in 2013 is .290, FIP can be a good indicator of future performance.
Obviously, BABIP shouldn't be viewed in a vacuum. One area I like to look at when it comes to BABIP is line-drive rate. The MLB-average line-drive rate in 2013 is 20.1 percent. If a pitcher is giving up a higher percentage of line drives than that, it means batters are squaring up his pitches and his high BABIP is more deserved than unlucky.
Below, I'll take a look at some pitchers who have a large difference between their ERA and FIP so far, and answer some pressing questions when it comes to those hurlers.
Edwin Jackson, Chicago Cubs - Jackson has the largest difference between his ERA and FIP in all of baseball. He has pitched to a 6.39 ERA and walked 4.26 men per nine innings, but has a 9.24 K/9 and a 0.47 HR/9. His FIP is 3.18, the 28th-best mark in the game.
Why is his ERA so high? Jackson owns a .353 BABIP this season, and is stranding just 52.3 percent of runners. His overall line-drive percentage is 22.2 percent.
Outlook: Fantasy owners should buy low on the Cubs right-hander. He has allowed just an 18.3 percent line-drive rate with men on base this season, but his BABIP in those situations is .355. That explains why he is stranding around half of his runners. Jackson's career strand rate is 70.9 percent. His high BB/9 is troubling, but he has walked fewer batters (3.32 BB/9) over his last four starts.
Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays - Moore is 6-0 with a 2.14 ERA through seven starts, but owns a FIP of 4.42.
Why is his ERA so low? He's striking out 9.21 batters per nine innings, stranding 96.1 percent of runners and has a .196 BABIP.
Outlook: I endorsed Moore (as well as Scherzer) coming into this season as a potential ace who could be had in the middle rounds of drafts, but I'm not encouraged by what he has done so far. The numbers look great and he doesn't allow hard contact (17.1 percent line-drive rate), but he still has control problems (4.93 BB/9). His fastball velocity is down from 94.1 mph to 92.5 mph, his chase rate is down from 28.2 percent to 24.1 percent and his swing-and-miss percentage has declined from 11.8 percent to 8.2 percent from 2012 to 2013. I still like his potential, but it's time to sell high.
Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers - Scherzer is 4-0 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP, so he has hardly been disappointing, but his 1.98 FIP shows that he has been even more dominant than his ERA indicates.
Why is his ERA so high? It's not actually high, per se, but based on how he has pitched this season, his ERA could be much lower. He has allowed just 16 line drives total (18.2 percent line-drive rate), but has a .333 BABIP.
Outlook: Scherzer is a dominator in every sense of the word and might actually challenge Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez for the best stats in Detroit's rotation this season. He has the third-best swing-and-miss percentage in baseball at 13.2 percent and the fourth-best chase rate at 35.5 percent. The right-hander also has elevated his groundball rate to a career-high 45.5 percent, and his HR/9 is a career-low 0.69. He has struck out 54 batters and walked nine in 39 1/3 innings.
Jeremy Guthrie, Kansas City Royals - Guthrie has been one of the best pitchers in fantasy baseball this season, going 5-0 with a 2.28 ERA in 47 1/3 innings. But his FIP is 4.58.
Why is his ERA so low? Guthrie has a .250 BABIP and is stranding an unreal 93.2 percent of baserunners.
Outlook: Guthrie will come back down to Earth eventually and is a good sell- high candidate if you can fetch a higher-upside player. However, his ERA has routinely outperformed his FIP over his entire career (Career: 4.20 ERA, 4.73 FIP) due to an above-average career strand rate of 73.1 percent. Guthrie also is getting more groundballs than ever before (46.6 percent groundball rate) and has allowed just two homers over his last four starts after giving up five in his first three. His ERA will settle somewhere in the mid- to high-threes.
Brandon McCarthy, Arizona Diamondbacks - McCarthy has a 6.75 ERA and a 1.68 WHIP and has allowed 61 hits in 40 innings this season. However, his FIP is 4.10.
Why is his ERA so high? McCarthy's contact rate is a career-high 88.5 percent. His BABIP is .377, and that is partially deserved since he has given up line drives at a rate of 28.1 percent.
Outlook: McCarthy had a BB/9 below 2.0 in the previous two seasons and his BB/9 this season is just 1.35, but that's where the positives end. He gave up 21 homers the previous two years combined pitching half his games in the spacious O.co Coliseum, but he already has allowed six homers this year. We can't buy him when he's giving up so much solid contact.