Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The Texas Rangers missed an opportunity with Hector Noesi. The Rangers picked up Noesi from Seattle early in April and had Noesi for 3 games. They gave him only five and a third innings while wearing blue bonnet blue. Noesi struggled for Texas and few people so much as blinked when the team cut Noesi near the end of April. Noesi then moved on to the Chicago White Sox and performed far better than he had in either Seattle or Texas. Could Noesi’s bounce back season have been predicted? The answer is yes and there are two key reasons why that is the case. The Texas Rangers’ front office missed on a productive pitcher that they could have used by not accounting for two important things.
Hector Noesi began his career a New York Yankee with 56 innings pitched in 2011. His ERA was 4.47 and his FIP was 4.09; respectable numbers for a rookie. Noesi then moved on to Seattle where he posted a 5.82 ERA and a 5.53 FIP over 106 IP. Perhaps Noesi had been exposed. Noesi was used sparingly in Seattle during the 2013 campaign. He garnered only 27 innings with a terrible 6.59 ERA. Unsurprisingly, when Noesi opened 2014 with two bad performances against the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics, Seattle was ready to part ways with the 27 year old. Upon leaving Seattle Noesi’s 2014 ERA was an unsightly 27.00 (yes you read that right).
The pitcher did not fare much better in Texas. He got only three appearances, mostly mop up work, and was lit up to the tune of an 11.81 ERA. Texas quickly moved on and Hector landed in Chicago. Things changed abruptly for Noesi in Chicago. He threw 166 innings for the team, mostly as a starter. He beat Texas on 7 innings of one run ball and had an ERA of 4.39 while working on the southside. He was worth 0.6 WAR over 27 starts. Had Noesi remained a Ranger only, Yu Darvish, Joakim Soria, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Neal Cotts and Martin Perez would have had higher WAR. His ERA would have been roughly equal to Martin Perez and Nick Tepesch’s ERAs. His ERA would have been better than Nick Martinez, Colby Lewis, Robbie Ross and Miles Mikolas; all of whom got at least 10 starts in Arlington.
Texas could have benefited from Noesi this year and if he were still a Ranger he would be in the discussion for next year’s rotation.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
So why did the Rangers cut Noesi? The right answer is; who knows? Perhaps the team saw things that I did not see, or did not like his stuff. Maybe he is not a good locker room guy or he does not project well over the next few years. The team could be proven correct in their analysis very easily.
There were, however, signs that Noesi was facing some hard luck in Seattle and Texas. Noesi got only 1 inning in Seattle this year, which is a little deceptive since he appeared in two games for Seattle but did not record an out in the second. He also only got 5 innings in Texas. Noesi’s 2013 was not much better, he only got 27 innings in the big leagues at the time. To be fair, he did record over 77 minor league innings with a mid 5 ERA during that span, which did him no favors. At least superficially, both Seattle and Texas seemed to judge Noesi on a very small 2014 sample.
In a small sample bad luck can have inordinate power over a player’s statistics and Noesi was a prominent victim of just such bad luck. In Seattle, Noesi’s FIP was nearly 15 points less than his ERA. In Texas, Noesi’s FIP was a dazzling 2.76 while his ERA was an atrocious 11.81. Small sample lead Noesi’s conventional stats to appear very poor while sabermetrics hinted that Noesi was not nearly as troubled as he appeared.
The White Sox took a flyer on Noesi and were rewarded. Over a healthy sample Noesi produced a 4.39 ERA and a 4.85 FIP, far more in line with his historic numbers.
For those of you not familiar with Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), it takes the things a pitcher can control; walks, strikeouts, homeruns and hit by pitches, to estimate a pitcher’s ERA. The basic idea is that pitchers have little control over what happens to a ball once it leaves the bat. Instead, FIP uses only the stats a pitcher has relatively strong control over to estimate what his ERA should be. FIP more accurately predicts a pitcher’s future ERA than does his previous season’s ERA. Noesi’s FIP in 2011 was 4.09. His 2012 FIP was 5.53 and his 2013 FIP was 4.36. Notice that his 2013 FIP is almost exactly his 2014 ERA with Chicago.
What can the Texas Rangers learn from this? Most obviously, the team can better evaluate its pitchers in advance of 2015 by using FIP instead of ERA from 2014.
Several potential key contributors had their ERA outperform their FIP. Neftali Feliz, Roman Mendez, Lisalverto Bonilla, and Shawn Tolleson all ERAs a full run and a half lower than their FIPs would suggest, meaning that these relievers could be in line for a regression in 2015. Alexi Ogando, Aaron Poreda, Tanner Scheppers, Miles Mikolas, Robbie Ross, and Alex Claudio each had an ERA a full run higher than their FIP, meaning they could have bounce back seasons in 2015.
Other interesting cases include; Yu Darvish, who had an amazing 3.06 ERA but an even lower 2.84 FIP, and Derek Holland, whose absurd 1.46 ERA was not that far from his FIP at 2.19.