Ricky Nolasco was one of the biggest disappointments in baseball last year, posting a 5.06 ERA when he was expected to be a front-line starter for the Marlins. However, if you peruse the leaderboards at FanGraphs, you may notice that Nolasco actually pitched really well most of the time; his 3.28 xFIP (which stands for Fielder Independent Pitching, and evaluates a pitcher based on his walk rate, strikeout rate, and ground ball rate) ranked fourth in the National League, ahead of both Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter. That bodes well for Nolasco in 2010.
Earlier today, Tom Tango listed a few pitchers who are bound to regress in 2010. I'm here to do the opposite. Along with Nolasco, here are seven other hurlers whose 2009 xFIP gives reason for optimism this season.
Getting back to Nolasco for a moment, the reason his ERA was nearly two full runs higher than his xFIP is because he was remarkably terrible with runners on base. With no one on, opponents hit just .222/.254/.351 off of him, but they teed off for a .317/.371/.562 line with a runner on base. As a result, Nolasco had a LOB% of 61.0 percent, the lowest of any NL starter by a huge distance. Mike Pelfrey had the second-lowest LOB% of any qualified starter at 66.7 percent, with league average being close to 70 percent.
Performance with men on base does not generally carry over from year to year, which is one of the reasons xFIP is a better predictor of future performance than ERA. For instance, in 2008, Nolasco was actually better with men on base than with the bases empty, and he was dominant with runners in scoring position, stranding 75.7 percent of runners. We should expect him to perform much more evenly between those two situations in 2010, and his ERA should go way down, even if he doesn’t really improve as a pitcher.
Below is a table of pitchers with who posted an ERA at least half a run higher than their xFIP in 2009 -- you should expect this group to post substantially better results this year.
Ready To Rock
A low xFIP+high ERA=future success.
Dave Cameron is an author of FanGraphs