Stats tell tale of MLB deadline deals -- or do they?

July 15, 2019 11:10 PM

Homer Bailey will soon take the mound for the Oakland A’s, his first start since coming over from the Kansas City Royals this past weekend. Bailey joins Andrew Cashner (now of the Boston Red Sox) on what will be a growing list of rotation starters for bad teams being acquired by contenders.

 

Do guys like Bailey help “bolster” a contending rotation? This is something sports bettors (and Red Sox fans sweating the wildcard race) will be considering often in coming weeks. New faces in new places annually impact the championship chase. Bettors should know that the market sometimes has trouble pricing those new faces when backed up by better teams.

 

Bailey’s example is a tricky one. Cherry-picking stats can make the move look brilliant or dumb.

 

Brilliant: Bailey’s ERA is in the mid-3's in June and July. Do that in the DH League with trick baseballs, and you’re getting the job done. Kansas City won four of his last six starts, and they’re barely even trying this season. Maybe Oakland just stole a late-blooming star who finally got things figured out. 

Bonehead: Bailey doesn’t look as dangerous if you don’t focus on that hot recent run. And, even then, his ERA is 6.30 over his last two starts. You can’t count on him to pitch deep into games. He hasn’t completed six full innings in eight of his last 11 outings. A stunning home/road split (4.28 ERA in K.C., 5.60 away) might also be a red flag.

 

Sharps (professional bettors) don’t waste time building pundit-style narratives out of data-minded subsets. They focus on stats that do the best job of expressing skill sets.

 

VSiN has encouraged you often to look at xFIP (available easily at fangraphs.com). That’s a “fielding independent” stat that focuses on what a pitcher has most control over (getting strikeouts, avoiding walks and home runs). No stat is perfect. This one captures “he is what he is” better than others.

 

Check this out:

Bailey in 2018: 6.09 ERA, 4.65 xFIP

Bailey in 2019: 4.80 ERA, 4.62 xFIP

 

Laughingstock in Cincinnati with a 1-14 record one year, coveted by a contender the next. It’s the same guy according to xFIP. Bailey’s just been pitching in better luck. You’ll find xFIP is a superior predictor of future ERA than ERA is itself.

 

Let’s answer the question about bolstering the rotation using xFIP. The four A’s regulars entering the new week: Frankie Montas 3.39, Chris Bassitt 4.80, Brett Anderson 4.97, and Mike Fiers 5.36. Fifth spot fill-ins have largely struggled.

 

Clearly, Bailey’s more likely to help rather than hurt, though that’s partly because Oakland’s rotation has been a weak point (the Red Sox entered the new week with Chris Sale 3.10, David Price 3.62, Eduardo Rodriguez 4.05, Andrew Cashner 4.90, and Rick Porcello 5.20).

 

After Oakland’s current series with Seattle, 26 of its next 31 games will come against current contenders in either the American or National League playoff races. A move had to be made. Good gamble. 

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