I don’t know what the opposite of a lagger is, so we’ll go with non-laggers for the time being. Anyway, two days ago we looked at five pitchers that underperformed their peripheral stats this year, getting saddled with superficially high ERA’s for whatever reason. Now let’s look at the opposite, five guys who have put up shiny ERA without necessarily having the underlying performance to match…
Clay Buchholz | FIP: 3.63 | ERA: 2.33
Just 0.05 points behind Felix Hernandez for the ERA crown (that’s one extra earned run over 180 IP), Buchholz’s strikeout (6.22 K/9) and walk (3.47 BB/9) rates are both below the league average (7.11 and 3.28, respectively). For some perspective, there have been just 196 instances of a pitcher posting a sub-3.00 ERA with a sub-2.00 K/BB (min. 150 IP) in the expansion era, and the Red Sox righty will be just the third to do it since 1999. Just ten others have done that with an ERA as low as Buchholz’s. His .265 BABIP, 79.0% LOB%, and 5.6% HR/FB all skew towards the pitcher-friendly side of the spectrum as well. There’s no denying that Buchholz is one of the very best young pitchers in baseball, but don’t count on ERA’s that hug the 2.30 line until he starts taking matters into his own hands by striking out a few more batters.
Trevor Cahill | FIP: 4.27 | ERA: 3.08
It’s hard to believe that Cahill started the season in Triple-A considering how well he’s performed, but that’s exactly what happened. Sticking with the common theme of the post, his strikeout rate is well below the league average at 5.31, but he makes up for it with a studly 55.7% ground ball rate. The problem is that all those grounders resulted in just a .237 BABIP, the lowest among all pitchers who threw at least 100 innings this year. That doesn’t pass the sniff test. Cahill will always get some help from his ballpark (where foul pop-ups go to die) and outfield defense, but he’s unlikely to keep opponents out of the hit column that well again in the future. Another great young arm like Buchholz, but not one that you should expect to post ERA’s that threaten to dip below 3.00, at least in the immediate future.
R.A. Dickey | FIP: 3.65 | ERA: 2.86
The UCL-less wonder, Dickey has been a godsend for a Mets rotation that seems to be in perpetual flux. He’s managed to limit the free passes to just 2.13 per nine innings despite employing the knuckleball, a pitch that by definition is unpredictable in its flight path. Dickey has also managed to get a ton of ground balls (55.3%) and limit the big flies (no doubt with some help from CitiField). Fair or not, Dickey’s going to have to prove himself again next season just because he has basically no track record at this level, and also because it’s tough to buy into a knuckleballer being a sub-3.00 ERA, or even sub-3.50 ERA pitcher on a consistent basis.
Tim Hudson | FIP: 4.01 | ERA: 2.76
Remember that sub-3.00 ERA, sub-2.00 K/BB club I was talking about with Buchholz above? You can include Hudson in that group as well. His first full season after reconstructive elbow surgery has to be considered a smashing success, simply because he reverted back to the guy he had been his entire career: a ground ball generating workhorse. Hudson has never been one to strike out many batters (5.52 K/9 this year, 6.07 career), but his swinging strike rate dropped to a below league average and career worst 7.0% in 2010. He is what he is at this point, and even though a sub-3.00 ERA is always possible, I’d bet on a return to his mid-3.00’s form next year. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Jonathan Sanchez | FIP: 4.00 | ERA: 3.15
Sanchez is a DIPS theory marvel. He can be flat out unhittable and strikeout out double digit batters, but still exit a start in the sixth inning because he’s walked the farm and one or two of the hits he did allow left the yard. His 9.56 K/9 is third best in the NL, but his 4.35 BB/9 is no better than middle of the pack. Sanchez will always benefit from his ballpark and playing in the lesser league, and the ability to get batters out all by his lonesome should help him limit big innings. Assuming the Giants shore up their defense over the winter (far from a given), Sanchez is very capable of posting low-3.00 ERA’s over the next few years despite all those extraneous walks.