Perfect games! Five 20-game winners! Three Cy Young Awards!

OK, easy now. The Rays have a fantastic rotation. One of the best in the big leagues. But let’s see if we can come up with a more realistic idea of what to expect, who might improve, and who might actually take a step back.

To get a sense of just how good each pitcher has been, and where they might be headed, let’s use Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP). In short, FIP is what a pitcher’s ERA might have looked like if they had pitched all of their games in an average ballpark with an average defense. In the long run, FIP is a better indicator than ERA of how good a pitcher is, and how well they will pitch in the future.

Let’s take a look at the year-by-year FIPs for each of the Rays six starting pitchers. Red lines indicate when the pitcher was promoted to the big leagues (approximately).

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Don’t get too caught up in what FIP is versus ERA. Rather, look at: 1) how consistent is the pitcher from year to year, even from the minors to the majors; and 2) keep in mind that average in 2011 for AL starting pitchers was about 4.08. Notes and thoughts can be found below…

Notes on the above charts

  • James Shields has been incredibly consistent. However, his 2011 numbers were clearly below his typical season. Has he figured something out? Or is he due for a bit of a letdown in 2012?
  • Jeff Niemann has also been very consistent
  • Jury is still out on David Price, but the last two seasons were nearly identical. If he can keep that up, he will be the ace we all want.
  • Right now, Wade Davis looks like the weak link. Two straight seasons with an FIP over 4.60 is not a good sign for things to come. So, if you could choose which starter to trade, it might be better to keep Niemann and move Davis, unless you are concerned about Niemann breaking down.
  • Jeremy Hellickson’s 2011 season is a concern. Both David Price and Wade Davis showed similar jumps in FIP in their first full big league seasons. However, Price saw his FIP improve dramatically the following year, and Davis did not. Which one will Hellboy be in 2012?
  • Matt Moore? Well, Moore is awesome. None of the other pitchers had a minor league career as good as Moore’s. Of course, he needs to prove it in the big leagues, but even if his FIP jumps, he will still be very good.


  1. Mike says:

    I would expect Davis to have an FIP closer to 4 than 5 this year. His numbers throughout the minors were very good. Not surprisingly he had a big jump in FIP his first season in the bigs, but his high FIP last year is a little misleading.

    He was absolutely horrible in May last year, putting up an FIP of 7.37 (6.34 ERA). Take out that month and he would he would probably be in the 4.1-4.3 area, which is not bad for a number 5 starter in his second year in the majors. James has Davis projected for a 4.33 FIP in 2012. I would not be surprised if Davis beats that projection, which would make him a very valuable young arm. Given his low price tag and upside I would hate to see Davis traded over Nieman unless he brings a much greater return.

    • Tom says:

      Not sure I see your Logic Mike. James has Niemann at 4.17 and ZIPS also has Nieman projected to have a better ERA by about .2 runs. Niemann had a similar record in the minors and a better record in the Majors. I would like to see them trade whoever brings a better return.

      • Mike says:

        I like Niemann. But- (1) he is 2 years older than Davis; (2) he is arbitration eligible and will make more this year than Davis will in 2012-13 combined and more after that; (3) his injury history is a question mark; and (4) it doesn’t look like he will ever be able to throw 200 innings a year.

        Davis is cost controlled on a team friendly contract, is only 26, and has better pure stuff than Niemann. Plus, he appears durable and can be an innings eater at the back of the rotation for the next several years. James does project Niemann to have better numbers than Davis, but he also has him projected at 159 innings. I would rather have Davis for 200 even if his numbers are slightly worse.

        • Tom says:

          I agree with points 1 and 3. I agree with your general point #2 with the slight quibble that Davis is scheduled to make 1.5M this year and 2.8M in 2013 while Niemann will make either 2.9M or 3.2M in 2012. As to point #4, he threw 180 IP in 2009 and 174 IP in 2010 so I would not give up on his some day throwing 200 IP.

          I guess my argument is that with Price, Shields, Moore, and Hellickson as the top 4 and with Cobb and Torres waiting in the wings, I would not let the issue of whether a team prefers Davis to Niemann to stop me from making a trade.

  2. Sarah says:

    I think any talk of Matt Moore’s amazing potential will just tempt fate. To avoid bringing on the evil eye, I refuse to look at Moore’s numbers here at all. In fact, I think we should avoid saying and writing his name lest the evil spirits find him. From now on he’ll just be MM.

  3. Dave L says:

    What an embarassment of riches! Given the average AL SP is 4.08 what team ever had 6 guys havent hit 5.0 at any level in 5 years
    Maybe since they lowered the mound in the 60′s?

  4. Andy says:

    While this seems like a rather interesting perspective, I wonder how beneficial it is to remove the fielding component from a team w/an excellent defense. I mean, why look at the presumed performance of our pitchers w/an average defense when ours is consistently well above average, if not way above average? Admittedly, any look into the future is speculative, but why handicap it in a way that seems, at least by definition, to weaken the results??

    • Tom says:

      Removing the fielding component gives you a better idea of how much the Ray’s run prevention can be attributed to a particular pitcher.

  5. chrisfwc says:

    MM will have a great season Sarah :)

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