Braves starter Javier Vazquez has always been a pretty decent pitcher, but this year he has really stepped up his game. Before 2009, in his whole career Vazquez only had one season where he struck out more than a batter per inning, and that came back in 2003 when he was still with some team called the “Expos.”
But so far in five starts this year Vazquez is on an incredible pace of 12 K/9. If he were to keep that pace up all season long, he would wind up with a ridiculous 309 strikeouts.
How well is the new found ability to blow away the opposition translating stat-wise for Vazquez? Well, he is off to a pretty decent start, at 2-2 with a 3.38 ERA
But here’s the thing. Vazquez is getting incredibly unlucky on the balls that do get put in play, yielding a brutally high .383 BABIP. His FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching), which models what his ERA should be given league averages, is a miniscule 1.73.
So is Javy Vazquez secretly of to an unbelievably awesome start to the season, which is obscured only by some really bad luck on balls in play? Has he really pitched well enough that he deserves to have a 1.73 ERA?
My answer is “No.” I think this is a classic case of what I view as a serious problem with FIP and K/9 as stats, especially when they interact with a high BABIP. The high BABIP means that batted balls which normally should be outs are dropping in for hits. Which means that Vazquez is getting many, many more chances to get strikeouts per inning! If his BABIP were normal, some of those batted balls would be caught for non-strikeout outs, and Vazquez’s K/9 would be much lower.
At least as far as I understand it, this means that FIP is significantly underestimating what Vazquez’s ERA should be. In fact, logic dicates that any pitcher getting unlucky with BABIP should have an elevated K/9.