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Knowledge Drop Sunday May 6 – Willie Mays edition

We thank you for your patience as we construct, revise and edit our website and newsletter formats to your liking and preferences. As a reward, we are giving away the Big Mac Knowledge Drop and membership for through May, as we gear up for Fantasy football season as well. Please help us spread the word about Big Mac.

*May 6 is Willie Mays’s birthday. The legendary Mays turns 87 today.   



Pitching Overachievers and Underachievers

While it is still early and sample sizes are still too small to be definitive about almost anything, we are going to look at pitchers whose ERA is demonstrably higher or lower than their xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching), which is essentially an expected ERA based on an average defense. 

If you’re a long-time reader you know that we believe an unlucky pitcher whose ERA is well above his xFIP will not only regress to the xFIP, but often below it.  We’ve used this tool to help identify studs such as Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola the years they emerged.  We love unlucky pitchers, particularly ones with higher K numbers and who throw ground balls.

So today we’ll look at starters whose ERAs are demonstrably higher or lower than their xFIP and what we think will become of these pitchers. First, the unlucky.  We’ll look at the top pitchers with an xFIP under 4.25:

Pitcher ERA xFIP
Marcus Stroman 7.52 3.74
Luis Castillo 7.01 4.02
Marco Gonzales 5.19 2.73
Chris Archer 6.05 2.44
Andrew Heaney 5.31 3.04
Yu Darvish 6.00 4.10
Jon Gray 4.99 3.42
Eduardo Rodriguez 5.29 4.02
Robbie Erlin 4.09 2.96
Zack Greinke 4.10 3.02
Shohei Ohtani 4.43 3.35


One name we omitted from the list was Josh Hader: His 1.80 ERA against a 0.72 xFIP seems like the ultimate “First World Problem” to us.  He’ll be just fine. Let’s dig in on some of these names:

Greinke, Gray, Archer, Darvish: We won’t talk much about them because you know who they are.  Darvish and Archer will frustrate but improve and Greinke and Gray are obviously much better than their early numbers.

Marcus Stroman is throwing a 60 percent groundball rate, which is great. He walks over four batters per nine, which is obviously not. His strand rate is only 50 percent, which will certainly move closer to the mean of 70+ percent. His HR/FB rate (the real killer on the unlucky list) is 20 percent.  He’ll get better for sure, but the BB rate is worrisome.

Luis Castillo: A BABIP of .349 will hurt any pitcher, but we like Castillo and think you should go get him.  His strikeouts are a modest eight per nine, but he’s a 50 percent ground ball guy and his control is “okay.”  He’s just 25 so there is obviously growth involved, but we think he’ll be a steady mid-rotation guy who will help your team. Go take him off someone’s hands in a minor deal.

Marco Gonzales:  Do yourself a favor – stop reading this and go pick up Marco Gonzales.  He’s likely available and he could be a cornerstone of your rotation the rest of the season. Here’s a pitcher with a 9.87 K/9 rate and a 1.56 BB/9 tally.  His 1.44 WHIP is singularly the product of a .400 BABIP.  A 2.73 xFIP is a steal in early May.  He’s pitched six innings in three consecutive starts and is on the right track.

Shohei Ohtani: We traded for Ohtani recently not because we’re all in on him. He’s an immense talent and having him on your roster, more than any player perhaps, has the ability to get you exactly what you need for your team via trade.  We believe he’s a stud, but it’s a long season and we anticipate he’ll tire or struggle at some stretch. But he’s really good. We like him as a trade chip most.

Andrew Heaney: Heaney and Gonzales have a similar profile: Promising lefties who needed Tommy John surgery in the minors.  Heaney had just a half-season back last year, so he might need the first half to get his command back. Gonzales is a bit further along, but Heaney owns a 10.6 K/9 and a 2.21 BB/9 rate, so he’s got stuff and could be on the fast-track to the stardom once predicted for him. Like any young pitcher beware inconsistency and the inability to pitch many innings late into the season. But Heaney should be on most rosters.


The Lucky Ones…

Pitcher ERA xFIP
Jarlin Garcia 1.09 4.55
Reynaldo Lopez 2.43 5.65
Johnny Cueto 0.84 3.88
CC Sabathia 1.39 4.42
Matt Boyd 2.48 5.23
Carlos Martinez 1.40 4.00
Chad Bettis 2.05 4.52
Trevor Williams 2.63 5.01
Junior Guerra 2.33 4.52
Justin Verlander 1.13 3.27
Hector Velasquez 2.38 4.51
Sean Manaea 1.63 3.62
Jon Lester 2.73 4.68
Chase Anderson 3.38 5.12
Tyler Chatwood 3.31 5.04


We could do this all day – there are so many overperforming pitchers right now. Many of the names on this list either have spent time in the bullpen or they will due to future struggles.  We’re not bullish on Verlander or Lester – we thought during draft season that they might struggle to earn a 3.50 ERA and we still believe that.

We won’t break down individuals on this list – they are essentially the same (with the Cueto/Verlander/Lester exceptions)

Only three of the pitchers (Guerra, Verlander, Chatwood) on the list own a K rate higher than 8K/9; only four of them have HR/FB ratios above 10 percent; Only Chatwood and Martinez have a GB rate over 50 percent (and therefore should stay afloat all year). 

 It’s going to get worse for most of these names, so ride out the hot streaks, stream them against good matchups, but do not treat any of them as aces, even Verlander. They’re all essentially expendable, particularly if you can flip them to fill some holes on your roster.


Today, @BatFlipCrazy looks at Sean Newcomb’s trends: 

Sean Newcomb showing improved control & relatively stable skills: F-strike: 64.8% 2018 / 58.6% 2017 O-swing: 27.5% / 30.9% SwStr: 11.5% / 11.1% Interesting pitch changes: – 2 pitches 60+% GB – Change +7.3% – Curve -6.2% in SwStr, but 71.8% GB

Follow @BatFlipCrazy on Twitter and read more in-depth data analysis at


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Thursday’s Riddle: You are all alone in a dark room with a match and matchbox. Nearby you have 3 objects: a candle, an oil lamp and a log of firewood. Which thing do you light first?

Congrats to Paul Shapiro for correctly guessing that of all the items you have to light the match first!


What do you do when you see a space man?

You park, man.



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