ASU Baseball: A sabermetric look at the Sun Devils. Is Brett Lilek getting lucky?

Brett Lilek currently boasts a stellar 2.18 ERA, but an advanced metric suggests he may be due for some regression.

Earned Run Average (ERA) is arguably the most mainstream of the baseball pitching statistics. It spits out a number that represents, on average, how many runs a pitcher would allow over the course of a nine-inning outing.

It is an easy stat to judge a pitcher by, but it is far from perfect. It reflects how many runs were allowed without any attention to how the runs were scored. Every base hit has certain variables that ERA does not address.

If a fly ball is hit into the gap in left-center field, it will either fall for a hit, be caught or fall for an error. The outcome depends on the talent of both the left fielder and the center fielder, not the pitcher. A team with excellent defensive outfielders, like Arizona State with Jake Peevyhouse in left field and Johnny Sewald in center, will have the fly ball result in an out more often than a team with lesser fielders that will let the ball drop for a hit or an error.

Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is a stat that measures a pitcher's ability based on the four true outcomes of a plate appearance: home run, strike out, walk or hit-by-pitch. These are the four things that can happen in which the only tangible variables are the pitcher and the batter.

The idea behind FIP is that a pitcher has no control over the ball once it leaves his hand, and he should not be held responsible for what his defense does, either good or bad.

FIP attempts to judge a pitcher without the variables, and says what a pitcher's ERA should be correlated to how many of each true outcomes he has. It is placed on a scale similar to ERA so it is easily understood. A FIP of 2.95 is excellent, 4.00 is average and 5.00 is awful.

FIP is calculating by weighting each of the four true outcomes, then dividing by innings pitched and adding a constant to place it on the ERA scale. The constant is the league-average ERA subtracted by league-average FIP (without the constant). Because the data is not available for college pitching, we will use 3.20, which is typically the number close to the constant.

A home run is more damaging than a walk or a hit-by-pitch, which are both equally bad for the pitcher. Those weighted totals are then subtracted by a weighted strikeout total, which is obviously good for the pitcher. Here is the equation for FIP:

FIP = ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP))-(2*K))/IP + constant.

We'll start with Brett Lilek. The sophomore left-hander has a 2.18 ERA. So if his FIP is higher than 2.18, it means his defense may be helping him out, or that he might just be getting lucky. Anything below 2.18 means his defense may be hanging him out to dry, or that he might just be getting unlucky.

Lilek has yet to allow a home run this year and has 41 strikeouts in 41 1/3 innings, which will help his FIP. He also 20 walks and eight hit-by-pitches, which will hurt it.

FIP = ((13*HR)+(3*(BB+HBP))-(2*K))/IP + constant.

FIP = ((13*0)+(3*(20+8))-(2*41))/(41.33) + 3.20

FIP = ((0)+(84))-(82))/(41.33) + 3.20

FIP = (2)/(41.33) + 3.20

FIP = .048 + 3.20

FIP = 3.25

According to FIP, Lilek has had a good combination of stalwart defense and a little luck on his side.

Take a look at Lilek's last start for evidence of that. He allowed a single and two walks to load the bases with one out in the inning. On the fifth batter, the batter hit a scorching grounder to the ASU third baseman Dalton DiNatale, who stepped on the bag and threw to first for the double play and bail Lilek out of the inning.

In reality, Lilek didn't do too much right that inning. The entire inning went: single, sacrifice bunt, walk, walk and a double play that was hit very hard. Had DiNatale not been so sure-handed - had he bobbled the ball and only got one out - a run would have scored without an error being charged. An earned run would have been charged to Lilek's ERA.

FIP claims that Lilek might not have been as good as his numbers suggest. But it goes the other way, too. Sophomore righty Jordan Aboites has an uninspiring 5.21 ERA, but he has not allowed a homer, has more strikeouts than innings pitched and has limited the free passes he has allowed.

All that equals out to a sparkling 2.83 FIP, best on the team among pitchers with at least 15 innings.* The 2.34-point difference is also the largest on the team

Now all that's not to say that Aboites is the best pitcher on the ASU baseball team. Even though his ERA might not be pretty, the metrics say that number will fall closer to his FIP total and that coach Tim Esmay should keep giving him the ball.

All ASU pitchers with at least 15 innings pitched sorted by FIP, with ERAs in parentheses:

Jordan Aboites- 2.83 (5.21)
Darin Gillies- 3.17 (5.30)
Brett Lilek- 3.25 (2.18)
Eric Melbostad- 3.70 (3.21)
Ryan Kellogg- 3.71 (4.56)
Ryan Burr- 4.19 (3.26)

FIP = ((13*1)+(3*(27))-(2*32))/30.33333 + constant.
13+81-64


*The true FIP leader on the team is freshman right-hander Eder Erives, with a 1.10 FIP compared to a 1.80 ERA, but has only thrown 10 innings on the season. As with any data set, the numbers get more clear the bigger the sample size, and Erives's outings have been sporadic throughout the year Including all pitchers would create an untrue assumption that Erives pitches frequently. I chose 15 innings as a qualifier because that would only include the pitchers the Sun Devils use with regularity. Among them, Aboites leads the team.

*Equations courtesy of Fangraphs.com, you can also visit this site for more information on Sabermetrics.

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