Scott White and I had a conversation about xFIP on our Fantasy Baseball Today podcast this morning, as I argued that the advanced pitching metric could be used to find low strikeout pitchers capable of a low ERA. After all, xFIP is an estimate of what ERA would be if we controlled for factors -- namely defense and luck -- that are out of the pitcher's control, so it can unearth pitchers who compensate for low K-rates by doing other things exceedingly well, even if those things don't always show up in the ERA.
For some pitchers, like Jered Weaver and Kyle Lohse, xFIP can't be used to appreciate the full extent of their value, as they can be especially good at inducing popups or stranding runners, which are factors unaccounted for in the formula. However, a scan of 2014 year-to-date xFIPs can tell us a few things about some starting pitchers of interest to Fantasy owners, whether they strike batters out at a high rate or not. (The following xFIP data points are from FanGraphs.com.)
David Price's (4.75 ERA, 2.64 xFIP) seems to have put his brief foray into contact pitching behind him, and his skill set has been as good as ever so far this year. However, he's been victimized by a 1.5 HR/9 ratio and 64 percent strand rate that are highly likely to improve.
Chris Archer (4.11 ERA, 3.01 xFIP) continues to be a very good control and ground ball pitcher, but his ERA doesn't reflect it, as he has stranded just 66 percent of his runners.
Jake Peavy (2.87 ERA, 4.36 xFIP) is looking like a bounceback candidate so far, but his control issues are getting papered over by an 87 percent strand rate. His 1.37 WHIP doesn't lie, and he could be due for a hard fall.
Tom Koehler (2.97 ERA, 4.64 xFIP) has gained in popularity recently, but he has benefitted from a fluky-looking opponents' .159 batting average on grounders. The Marlins' defense just isn't that good, so Koehler looks like a terrific sell-high right now.
One pitcher who hasn't been of much interest in Fantasy is Brandon McCarthy, but xFIP suggests that he could be a sleeper. McCarthy continues to be a very good control pitcher, and he's getting more swinging strikes, strikeouts and ground balls so far this year. While his 5.54 ERA says to stay away, his 2.90 xFIP says there might be something good here. The Diamondbacks haven't given him much run support, but even so, the 0-5 McCarthy should get some wins eventually in addition to a svelter ERA.