Let’s imagine for a second Albert Einstein played fantasy baseball. In this imaginary fantasy world, sabermetrics would have been invented 60 years before it actually was. So his ace went down midseason and he had to hit the waiver wire, looking for someone to fill his empty spot. Do you think he was gonna hop on his computer (remember still in imagination land) and scroll through the free agents looking at wins, ERA and WHIP to make his choice? I can tell you this with much certainty he would not and neither should you. I’d bet my first-round fantasy pick that he would be looking at a whole different set of stats, those that fall under the category of advanced. Out of those, he would likely be looking primarily at xFIP (eXpected Fielding Independent Pitching). In case you didn’t know, he kind of had a thing for equations, and this one isn’t about converting mass to energy — it’s about converting injuries and trades into trophies.
Take away anything the pitcher does not control and all things aided by luck, the kind of stuff that you just can’t count on for the rest of the season. Let everybody else in your league worry about that stuff, and you have a new stat and a leg up. All you have to do is consider xFIP when deciding who to pick up or what pitchers to target for trades. We all know far to well that you just can’t copy and paste first-half stats to the second half. There can be drastic differences.
When calculating xFIP, what you first have to do is — well, forget about calculating it, there are plenty of good websites that will do the hard work for you. Leave it to the guys who like the equations, because if you were already one of those guys, you probably wouldn’t be reading this article as you already know about xFIP. My personal favorite website to do my dirty work is one I am sure you are familiar with: Fangraphs.
When talking about xFIP, you are talking about a single stat that has multiple uses, especially midseason. Say you open your inbox and there sits an offer, one that includes a pitcher that is sporting a pretty sweet ERA/WHIP for the season. All the other manager wants in return is your No. 2 closer and a pitcher who has underperformed. Whats left to do but click accept and move on. Not so fast, buddy — the other manager happens to know about xFIP and he is setting you up for a trap. You have spent all this time on your team this season to date; why not take a minute and check both pitchers’ xFIP? It could literally save your season and keep you from getting burned.
Just like ERA and WHIP, xFIP goes off the principal of the lower the better and is actually easier to apply to your fantasy players than either of the two. It varies slightly year to year because it’s based on league averages. But all you need to know without getting into the specifics is that it has a scale that pretty much is a safe bet year in and year out. Think of 4.00 as average, and the closer you get to 3.00 the better, and once you get under 3.00, you’re getting into elite range. If a player starts getting into the 4.15 to 4.50 range, I really start to question if he is worth a spot; if he has a name that people know, I start shopping him and unless he has a great matchup. I do not start him. I personally see anyone over 4.50 as a player meant for someone else’s team, while at 5.00 and up he isn’t coming close to my team, even if he has 14 K/9.
When using xFIP, try not to use it after only a few starts, because you have to give any pitcher some time. Even with luck out of the equation, bad games and rough patches do happen to good pitchers, especially with younger pitchers — it can be applied to older ones with a track record earlier. As with any stat, it is not a one-stop tell-all. But it is the best thing we have until the next Einstein comes along with a new equation to help all of us fantasy baseball addicts out.
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