But whatever joy statheads derived from Greinke's victory pales in comparison to the giddyness and the sense of vindication that's spreading from a Greinke quote in this NYT piece from Tyler Kepner, emphasis mine:
“But I’m also a follower, since Brian Bannister’s on our team, of sabermetric stuff and going into details of stats about what you can control.”I've referenced FIP many times here over the course of the year. I think it's a telling, if imperfect, statistic that gives better insight into a pitcher's performance than traditional metrics like ERA. I'm glad that at least some players are aware of these new metrics, and not at all surprised that one of Bannister's teammates would be amongst those to pick up on them. That said, I think the items I highlighted are absolute hogwash, and fly in the face of what FIP is supposed to represent in the first place.
Bannister, a right-handed starter, is known for his appreciation of modern pitching metrics, which emphasize the factors for which pitchers are essentially responsible: walks, strikeouts, home runs and hit batters. In Greinke, he found a like mind.
“He’s extremely bright, and he’s really picked up on using all the information out there to make his game better,” Bannister said by telephone. “He’s always had the talent. His confidence level, which is extremely high, combined with his knowledge of the numbers behind the game now, definitely makes him one of the best pitchers in the world.”
Bannister said Greinke has learned to adjust his pitching based on the advanced defensive statistics. Because of the size of the outfield at Kauffman Stadium and the strength of the Royals’ outfielders, relative to their infielders, it sometimes made more sense to induce fly balls.
“David DeJesus had our best zone rating,” Bannister said, referring to the Royals’ left fielder. “So a lot of times, Zack would pitch for a fly ball at our park instead of a ground ball, just because the zone rating was better in our outfield and it was a big park.”
To that end, Bannister introduced Greinke to FIP, or Fielding Independent Pitching, the statistic Greinke named Tuesday as his favorite. It is a formula that measures how well a pitcher performed, regardless of his fielders. According to fangraphs.com, Greinke had the best FIP in the majors.
“That’s pretty much how I pitch, to try to keep my FIP as low as possible,” Greinke said.
First of all, for Bannister to credit Greinke's knowledge of advanced metrics as an element of his success is misleading at best, dead wrong at worst. Greinke is successful because he's a tremendously talented pitcher who strikes out a ton of batters, doesn't walk very many, keeps the ball in the park, and strands a higher than usual percentage of baserunners on base. Whether or not he's cognizant of the value of these attributes is inconsequential. You or I or any number of other baseball loving Americans know that these factors are key to a pitcher's success, but without Zack Greinke's arsenal of pitches, that knowledge isn't going to turn any of us into a Major League pitcher, much a less a Cy Young Award winner.
The rest of it demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of what FIP is. It's Fielding Independent Pitching. As such, balls in play - line drives, groundballs, flyballs, whatever - have absolutely no impact on a pitcher's FIP. And while it might behoove a pitcher to pitch for flyballs if his team's outfield defense is superior to his team's infield defense, attempting to do so demonstrates a fundamental lack of understanding of how FIP works. No matter how bad of a shortstop Yuniesky Bettancourt is, 0% of groundballs result in home runs while approximately 8% of flyballs do. And since FIP values HRs four and a third times as much as BBs and six and a half times as much as Ks, allowing just one HR has a momentous impact upon a pitcher's FIP. Greinke's infield defense could give up basehits on a dozen seeing-eye singles a game; it won't make a bit of difference as far as FIP is concerned. But no matter how great David DeJesus's zone rating is, it doesn't extend any further than an arm's length beyond the left field fence. A single flyball extending an inch beyond that range has a major effect on Greinke's FIP.
Of course, of all that is predicated upon the assumption that a pitcher actually has control over the type of contact made against him. This is not a universally accepted principle in the stats community. In fact, the assumption that a pitcher has no control over such things is often cited as the reason that the vast majority of pitchers, irrespective of talent level, will finish the season with a BABIP against that's within 10 points or so of the league average. Any pitcher who doesn't is considered a statistical outlier rather than some sort of pitching prodigy capable of inducing favorable balls in play. That said, even if Greinke could actively select what type of contact is made against him, shifting groundballs to flyballs would have a favorable impact on his expected BABIP against, since groundballs generally result in hits more often than flyballs, but as described above, would actually have a negative impact on his FIP - which Greinke states he is actively trying to minimize.
Which brings me to last my last gripe. Whether Greinke knows what FIP is or not, isn't trying to keep it as low as possible the whole point of pitching? I mean, unless he's on the hill intentionally handing out HRs, or refusing to strike batters out, or continually plunking batters and issuing unintentional intentional walks, every pitcher - Greinke, Bannister, or the less enlightened - is attempting to keep his FIP as low as possible, consciously or not.
Don't get me wrong. Zack Greinke is a most deserving Cy Young Award winner, and I think it's a good thing that he and Bannister and others are embracing some of the more forward thinking ways of evaluating the game. But, I think Kepner's piece jumps to some conclusions that aren't quite evident. Performance is still predicated on talent level. Advanced metrics like FIP and zone rating are intended to illuminate quality performance in a better manner than their more archaic and generally accepted counterparts (ERA, fielding percentage). Greinke's awareness of these metrics doesn't make him any better, it just makes him smarter. And yet The Times article paints his knowledge as a hidden secret to his success despite the fact that many of the statements are in fact contrary to what the metrics are intending to measure. I wish more in the stats community would take a minute to look at that, rather than simply being happy their work was being acknowledged by the best pitcher in the game.