In my previous article on Effective Velocity, I discovered that the pitchers who had EV Adherence rates above the 80th percentile collectively had an ERA that was 10 points below their FIP between 2013 and 2016. Put differently, the pitchers who most closely followed the principles of Effective Velocity seemed to be able to consistently outperform their peripheral numbers, presumably because their sequences of pitches had large perceived differences in velocity for hitters, which kept those hitters off-balance and generated weaker contact on average. That is a pretty notable finding because EV Adherence is a strategy that anyone can pick up, and my research for this week’s article demonstrates that many pitchers have done so in recent seasons and found success.
In total, 18 starters since 2013 have increased their EV Adherence rate from below the 80th percentile in one season to above the 80th percentile the next season while qualifying for the ERA title in both seasons.
|EVAdh%||ERA – FIP|
Don’t read too much into Clayton Kershaw’s name being on top of this leaderboard. I’ll say more about that in a bit, but notice that he and Marco Estrada in the No. 2 spot both actually saw their ERA – FIP differentials increase with their EV Adherence. That runs counter to the trend from my previous article, but you can still see that, more often than not, that trend holds: 11 of the 18 names here saw their ERA – FIP differentials decrease from one year to the next, implying that Effective Velocity helped them generate better results on the balls they allowed in play. Meanwhile, taken collectively, these pitchers saw their ERA – FIP differentials decrease by 15 points in the year they joined the EV 80th percentile.
I’m unsure how much I should read into any specific player here, but there are some interesting names. Jon Lester’s EV Adherence rate increase coincided with his reinvention as a pitcher, but there are potentially other factors in play. For one, 2014 was the year Boston traded Lester, so perhaps park or league effects influenced the improvements. In addition, he increased his K-BB% from 11.2 percent and 12.2 percent the two years prior to 2014 to 19.4 percent and 19.3 percent the next two seasons. Perhaps EV had something to do with that, but that is not something I’ve found with overall trends.
A few other pitchers enjoyed breakout seasons when they increased their EV Adherence rate, such as Rick Porcello (for the first time) in 2014 and Zack Greinke (for the third time, I guess) in 2015, but in a lot of these cases, EV looks like it might have saved players from seeing a decline in ERA in seasons where their peripheral numbers slipped. Also, Greinke and several other guys at the bottom of the list saw minimal EV Adherence rate changes that just happened to fall at the threshold for the 80th percentile. I’m unsure if those small changes are really meaningful.
|EVAdh%||ERA – FIP|
Only one fewer starter fell from the ranks of the EV 80th percentile than joined them over the last few years, so I guess that Effective Velocity isn’t sweeping MLB just yet. Meanwhile, notice that some pitchers appear among the leaders and trailers in consecutive seasons, like Kershaw in 2014 and 2015, Lester in 2014 and 2015, Yordano Ventura in 2015 and 2016, Rick Porcello in 2014 and 2015, among several others. Are these pitchers just randomly seeing year-to-year variance in their EV Adherence percentages? It certainly looks that way—and I’ll have to test that at some point—but the implications of that adherence on their statistics do not seem random. These pitchers who fell from the EV 80th percentile saw their ERA – FIP differentials drop by 17 points, and the fact that many of them are the same pitchers in the leaders and trailers makes this trend even more significant to my mind.
Pretty much every angle I’ve taken on Effective Velocity has so far proven to be evidence that it has a real impact on the game. And so, at this point, I think it’s worth looking at the pitchers who, although have an admittedly small sample of pitches in 2017, appear to be making the leap into the 80th percentile of EV Adherence rate this season.
|EVAdh%||ERA – FIP|
Especially over just a handful of starts, I’m going to ignore the names at the bottom of the list who are seeing less than a three percent bump in their EV Adherence rate. Just above that, though, there are some interesting players. Gio Gonzalez has been red hot through his first three starts, but the combination of his track record of consistent performance and the fact that his 1.33 ERA is more than two runs below his 3.59 FIP makes him a classic sell-high candidate. EV could be suggesting that, despite Gonzalez’s veteran status, he could be enjoying strategy-based performance improvements. Obviously the 1.33 ERA is unsustainable, but for Gonzalez’s career, his 3.70 ERA has run 13 points higher than his FIP. If EV can help him run 10 points below that same FIP over the course of this season, Gonzalez could carry an ERA and WHIP that make him mixed-league relevant even with his meager strikeout totals.
Apparently, this list is all about the low-K guys. Somehow, Jeremy Hellickson has just five strikeouts over his first 17 innings this season, but both he and Hector Santiago are sporting sub-2.00 ERAs with FIPs north of 3.00. From a fantasy perspective, Jake Arrieta and Kevin Gausman are probably more interesting names. This seems particularly important for Arrieta, who saw his once-miniscule FIP creep up to 3.52 last season. If Arrieta’s ERA climbs to match that FIP, then he may no longer be an elite starter. But if EV—not to mention the exceptional Cubs’ defense—can help him outperform his peripherals, then that strikeout rate will continue to prop him up in fantasy.
These 12 starters have combined to throw 223.2 innings so far this season, which is pretty much a full season for one durable starter. In other words, take their numbers with a big grain of salt. That said, these guys have to this point continued to follow the EV Adherence trend. Combined, they have seen their ERA – FIP differential drop by 41 points so far this season.
Perhaps some of them can keep it up and provide fantasy owners with unexpectedly low ERAs.
This article includes research on the theory of Effective Velocity, which was created by Perry Husband. The research presented here estimates EV but is less sophisticated than Husband’s work. To read more about Husband’s work or to learn about the services he offers, check out his web site.
Scott Spratt is a fantasy sports writer for FanGraphs and Pro Football Focus. He is a Sloan Sports Conference Research Paper Competition and FSWA award winner. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @Scott_Spratt