It was a massive breakthrough. In 2001, Voros McCracken -- who now works for an MLB club -- rocked our baseball world. He found that a pitcher was, by and large, not responsible for the batted ball, but was only responsible for what would be known as the "Three True Outcomes": strikeouts, walks and home runs.
It was, of course, met with vehement opposition. It would be mocked in the mainstream media and by old school baseball types. Until it just became accepted in a modified form. Defense Independent Pitching became -- with Tom Tango's formula -- Fielding Independent Pitching, which was both a better indicator and predictor of pitcher performance than ERA.
What McCracken found became the foundation for how we would understand pitching. There is a wild variance in the batted ball. Defense and luck are huge components in run prevention. What was known as the "peripherals," the strikeouts and walks, would've been better known as the "essentials." For the past 14 years, you could reliably find out how good an outing was by looking at a pitcher's strikeouts and walks.
This breakthrough, as recent as it is, now seems to be blowing up. Extremes in strikeouts and walks are throwing it all off.
I began to notice one strange start after another. Check out this list:
- Brandon McCarthy: 10 strikeouts and 0 walks ... 5 runs.
- C.J. Wilson: 8 strikeouts and 0 walks ... 6 runs.
- Noah Syndergaard: 10 strikeouts and 0 walks ... 7 runs.
- Anibal Sanchez: 9 strikeouts and 0 walks ... 5 runs.
This is NOT supposed to happen. Ten strikeouts and no walks is what Cliff Lee is supposed to be doing, when Cliff Lee is throwing a shutout.
I began to look at how often this was happening. How many times has a pitcher had at least eight strikeouts and one walk or less, while also giving up five runs or more? In 2012, it happened only 12 times. In 2013, it was up to 17. Last year, it went up to 20.
In only about two months of the 2015 season, it has already happened 17 times. Meaning, in 2015, we are going to double or triple the amount of outings where a pitcher is dominant with his strikeouts and walks but is also getting hammered.
It's also happening at the top end -- not just the second-tier strikeout artists -- to some of the best pitchers in the game. In just over 80 innings, Clayton Kershaw has 101 strikeouts and only 19 walks. That's sensational, right? Wrong. He has a 3.36 ERA. After being No. 1 for four straight years, he's now 40th among qualifiers. To illustrate it another way, Kershaw is currently seventh in FIP, but 40th in ERA. His ERA and his "expected ERA," which is what FIP should be, are not matching up.
What about Corey Kluber? He has 91 innings, with 109 strikeouts and just 17 walks. Incredible numbers. Yet, his ERA is 3.53. Kluber is third in FIP, but 46th in ERA.
There are a number of pitchers who, by 2003 standards, are having great seasons. But they are not. I've seen Kershaw, Kluber and Jon Lester all get shelled, and yet at the end of the game, have good strikeout and walk totals. It is more than just the variance of the batted ball. Take a look at some of the top pitchers who have dominated the strike zone, but have also given up a lot of runs:
I'm not saying I have something scientific here. I am saying that something is happening to render FIP a much less reliable indicator of performance. Maybe things will even out as we get deeper into the season. But maybe pitchers have followed the Rays' method of "be ahead after three pitches" to an extreme, where home runs or hard contact have become preferable to a walk. Maybe it's the new wave of players swinging from the heels to the point where a strikeout in and of itself is not what it used to be.
The game is always evolving. What made sense in one era doesn't hold up in another. Voros was right, but this year extreme things are happening. This could be the end of FIP as we know it.