ERA is to pitchers what batting average is to hitters. It’s a measure of their most important attribute. For pitchers, that’s not allowing runs to score. ERA fails to take into account the process or the variance of pitching, however. It only spits out a final result.
For this reason, ERA – just like batting average – is being phased out by new school baseball enthusiasts in favor of some more predictive stats. ERA is still extremely widely used, though. Every year, the pitcher who finishes with the lowest ERA in either league wins the ERA title. It is one of the stats of baseball’s pitching Triple Crown alongside wins and strikeouts.
Team with the Best ERA: Tampa Bay Rays (3.01)
The Rays have the best pitching in the league so it’s no surprise that they’d be baseball’s ERA leader.
Several of the Rays pitchers are in contention for the American League Cy Young Award – including Shane McClanahan, Drew Rasmussen, Tyler Glasnow, and Jeffrey Springs (before he hurt his elbow).
McClanahan started the All-Star game for the American League last summer and is 6-0 with a 2.03 ERA to begin 2023. He is looking primed for a second consecutive ASG start, which would make him the first pitcher since Max Scherzer and Chris Sale to start 2 consecutive All-Star games.
Team with the Worst ERA: Oakland Athletics (7.25)
Most casual fans couldn’t name an A’s pitcher if their life depended on it, and that’s part of the problem. It’s pretty obvious at this point that Oakland is not even trying to field a competitive ballclub.
Their rotation is filled with no-name guys like JP Sears, Kyle Muller, Ken Waldichuk, Shintaro Fujinami … and it only gets more obscure in the bullpen.
Stands for “expected fielding independent pitching.” This sabermetric attempts to take the great variance out of pitching and quantify what a pitcher’s ERA would be with average fielding and an average home run rate.
Just like the hitter, the pitcher has no control over the baseball once it leaves the bat. Watching enough baseball and you’ll see plenty of great pitches that turn into bloop hits and accidental meatballs left over the plate which get smashed right at somebody.
We talked in our top hitters stats article how, on average, 12% of fly balls turn into home runs. If pitchers are giving up a lot more home runs than that, it is considered fluky variance and should be expected to regress. xFIP helps to account for this.
Team with the Best xFIP: Minnesota Twins (3.81)
The Minnesota twins have a xFIP than the Tampa Bay Rays – meaning with normal defensive output and league average number of balls leaving the yard, the Twins pitchers are slightly better than Tampa’s.
Of course, the Twins don’t use league-average fielding, they use Twins fielders. However, this is fun to look at and is still considered a very valuable metric by many sports bettors and fantasy owners.
Team with the Worst xFIP: Oakland Athletics (5.84)
Not only are Oakland’s pitchers seeing the least amount of success on the mound of any staff in baseball, but their poor xFIP says they deserve it. Don’t expect a bounce back anytime soon.
Batting Average Against
Just like how batting average is getting phased out for hitters, batting average against is being phased out for pitchers for the exact same reasons. Average is fluky and it doesn’t always reward excellence at the dish.
Nonetheless, it is still a fun stat to look at, and it accurately answers the question of how frequently a pitcher gets the job done – namely, not allowing a hit.
Team with the Best AVG Against: Tampa Bay Rays (.207)
This stat is especially impressive considering Tampa plays their home games at Tropicana Field and its artificial turf. Ground balls really scoot on the turf which normally leads to more base hits. Not against the Rays this year, though.
Team with the Worst AVG Against: Oakland Athletics (.283)
Makes sense. Not a ton to unpack, here.
We discussed in the hitting stats article how it’s very important to always look at a hitter’s BABIP in conjunction with his batting average to account for variance. The same applies to looking at batting average against for pitchers.
BABIP against is an extremely telling stat. A crazy-high BABIP against indicates a pitcher is doing just fine but that balls are finding an inordinate amount of holes through his defense.
Likewise, when a pitcher is cutting right through opposing lineups but he’s doing so with an unsustainably low BABIP, you can assume that his success will be short-term as balls will soon begin to find holes at the normal rate.
Team with the Best BABIP Against: Tampa Bay Rays (.261)
We didn’t know the Rays would have the lowest BABIP against in baseball, but we figured theirs would be low. The league average is around .300, and it’s extremely improbable for a team to finish very far from that mark.
We discussed above how the Rays have a built-in disadvantage to their pitcher’s batting averages against because of the pace of the batted balls on the turf. We fully expect more opposing hitters to find holes and begin to raise this BABIP against.
Team with the Worst BABIP Against: Cincinnati Reds (.344)
Reds pitchers have had their fair share of dud performances in 2023, but it’s not entirely their fault. An abnormally high BABIP against indicates opposing hitters are getting very lucky when facing Cincinnati.
Strong young arms like Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Graham Ashcraft are the future of this franchise. They’ll be just fine.
Talk to young pitchers and they’ll tell you they’re trying to strike out every batter they face. Older, veteran pitchers have usually learned to appreciate the value in getting one or two-pitch outs via contact.
It’s hard to argue against the effectiveness of the strike out, though. By disallowing your opponents to put the ball in the play, you take fielding completely out of the equation.
It doesn’t matter if you have your backup third baseman in, how short the right field fence is, or which direction the wind is blowing when your pitcher strikes out the side.
You don’t have to record a lot of strikeouts to be considered a good pitcher. Low strikeout rates do not mean a pitcher is performing poorly, but a high strikeout rate almost always indicates success from an individual or a staff.
Team with the Highest K%: Minnesota Twins (26.5%)
If Tampa has the best pitching, Minnesota’s staff is 2nd. The Twins hold the lowest xFIP in the league and strike out the most batters. These two stats are actually correlated as K-BB rate is involved in the xFIP equation as it has been found to be predictive toward future success.
Team with the Lowest K%: Oakland Athletics (17.7%)
We just got done saying that a low K-rate doesn’t necessarily mean bad pitching, but in this case it certainly does. How deep will we need to dig before we find a pitching stat in which Oakland isn’t dead last?
Some pitching coaches stress the importance of strikeouts while others stress pitching to contact. There’s one thing they all agree on, though – no walks!
Walks are absolutely killer as you prevent your defense from being able to make a play. Hitters record outs on well over 50% of their balls in play, but you have no chance to record an out when you issue a base on balls.
It is extremely difficult to be effective as a staff when your walk rates are high. There’s almost always a correlation between low walk rates and low ERAs.
Team with the Best BB%: San Francisco Giants (7.4%)
The Giants don’t give freebies. Unfortunately, San Francisco pitchers have been burnt by a bevy of long balls in 2023 which has wiped out any advantage they gain from being walk-free.
Team with the Worst BB%: Oakland Athletics (12.4%)
Did you expect anything else? Maybe the A’s should take a day trip across the Bay Bridge and watch pitching practice on the other side.
The stat is more for the older baseball fans who remember the days when pitchers could win 25 games in a season.
In order to qualify for a win, the starter must last at least 5 innings, have the lead when he is pulled, and then hope his bullpen doesn’t relinquish that lead at any point.
There are some who argue that wins are a stupid statistic because so much of it is out of the pitcher’s control. We get it. However, there is something to be said for a guy who does enough to get his team in a position to win.
It is easy to get so caught up in the new sabermetrics that you forget what the ultimate goal of the game is – which is the win.
Team with the Most Starter Wins: Tampa Bay Rays (18)
The Rays have been winning by such large margins this season that their starting pitchers almost always have the lead when the manager comes out to get them. The Rays’ bullpen is rock solid, so they aren’t blowing many leads.
Team with the Fewest Starter Wins: Oakland Athletics (2)
This one makes sense as the A’s have the worst record in baseball. Can’t get a win if your team never wins.
Getting a win from your starting pitcher is a dream for modern managers, but having your bullpen blow a lead is a problem as old as baseball itself.
Blown leads at any point in the game hurt, but it is so much more demoralizing to a team to let one slip away in the eighth or ninth inning after you could taste the victory.
Strong back ends have anchored many of the famous World Series winning teams throughout history. Many modern bullpens stack their back end with two or even three elite pitchers in an attempt to basically play a 6-inning game. If your team has a lead after 6, bring in pitchers A, B, and C to nail it down. Game over.
The difference between good teams and poor teams in the MLB so often comes down to bullpen performance. The disparity between the best hitting lineup and the worst thing lineup is minimal, but the difference between the best bullpen, and the worst bullpen is staggering.
Team with the Fewest Bullpen Losses: Boston Red Sox (1)
What a dream. We’d be willing to bet that Red Sox manager Alex Cora has slept better than any other big league manager this season.
Team(s) with the Most Bullpen Losses: Angels, Athletics, Cubs, White Sox (10)
The A’s and White Sox are both cellar dwellers. The Angels and Cubs actually have winning records. Imagine how much better they’d be with solid pens.
The velocity of a fastball alone does nothing, but when paired with excellent control it makes for the best pitch in baseball.
Joe Morgan one said that a well-located fastball will always be the best pitch in baseball because it gives the hitter the least amount of time to react. That’s true.
Not all pitchers who throw hard are successful, but many of the best pitchers today can get it up into the mid or upper-90s. Every single team these days has a couple of arms that can run it up into the triple digits. That never used to be the case. Pitching coaches today are placing more of an emphasis on velocity than ever before.
Team with the Highest Avg Fastball Velocity: Texas Rangers (94.7 MPH)
The Rangers have undergone a complete transformation over the past 2 seasons, bringing in a slew of high-priced free agents in an attempt to unseat Houston in the AL West. One of these guys – 2-time Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom – is a flamethrower but is currently on the IL.
Team with the Lowest Avg Fastball Velocity: San Francisco Giants (91.1 MPH)
Earlier, we learned that Giants pitchers walk the fewest guys in baseball. It now makes sense why they must focus so much on control. They ain’t blowing it by anyone.
Average Exit Velo Against
Here’s baseball philosophy in a nutshell: As a hitter, you want to hit the ball hard. As a pitcher, you want to avoid hard contact.
Bloop hits happen all the time, but a pitcher will succeed more often than not when he doesn’t allow hard contact.
Ever since all 30 MLB stadiums were fitted with StatCast sensors in the early 2010s, we now record exit velocity off the barrel of every single batted ball.
This helps us identify which hitters are the best at squaring the ball up, but it also helps us find which pitchers are avoiding hard contact the most often.
Team with the Lowest Avg Exit Velo Against: Chicago Cubs (87.4 MPH)
The Cubbies play in a hitter’s paradise but make it difficult on opposing hitters to put one out. Few balls that are hit at less than 90 MPH off the bat will ever find the seats.
Team with the Highest Avg Exit Velo Against: Cleveland Guardians (90.2 MPH)
The Guardians were supposed to be in contention for the AL Central this season but have looked dreadful over the first 6 weeks of play. It all starts with pitching, and Cleveland pitchers are getting rocked.
FanGraphs’ Z-Contact% and O-Contact% statistics are very fascinating to look at. Z-Contact% percent is the percentage of swings on pitches in the zone that result in contact. O-Contact% is the same thing but for pitches outside of the zone.
Obviously, hitters want their contact rates to be as high as possible and pitchers want them to be as low as possible. Here’s a look at Z-Contact% percentage against, which shows which pitching staffs are getting the most swings and misses on pitchers inside the zone, an indication of a good game plan paired with nasty stuff.
Team with the Lowest Z-Contact% Against: Los Angeles Angels (81.8%)
This is amazing! Opposing hitters are swinging and missing on nearly one-fifth of the pitches thrown in the zone when facing the Angels. We have to believe Ohtani is really elevating this number.
Why ever leave the zone and risk walking the hitter when you can simply pump it right past him dead center?
Team with the Highest Z-Contact% Against: Colorado Rockies (87.9%)
This explains why the Rockies are in last place in the NL West. They play in Coors Field – the most hitter-friendly park in the league – and then really struggle at getting swings and misses.
Pitchers in other parks could better get away with this, but not in the elevation. Any ball put into the air has a decent shot of going out in Coors.
Kreighton loves sports, math, writing, and winning — he combines all of them as a writer for WagerBop. His favorite sports to review are MLB, NFL, NBA, NCAAF, and NCAABB.
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