One of the bright spots in a disappointing 2012 season thus far for the Milwaukee Brewers has been the pitching of starter Michael Fiers.
Called up from AAA Nashville in late May when Marco Estrada went on the disabled list, Fiers has exceeded expectations in his first six starts for the Brewers. In those starts (and one relief appearance), Fiers has posted a 3-2 record with a 2.29 earned run average. He has not allowed one earned run in his past three starts, a stretch lasting 20.1 innings.
But the question is, can Fiers keep this up?
A few numbers tend to think that he can.
Fiers’ arsenal of pitches is far from overpowering, but it sure is effective. With a fastball that averages just over 88 miles per hour and three offspeed pitches he can throw for strikes in various counts, Fiers has kept opponents off balance over the course of his career.
Hitters are currently batting .302 on balls put in play (BABIP). The league average for this is roughly around .300, so a large dip or rise in this rate at this point is not likely.
Fiers is averaging 9.38 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and 1.83 walks per nine innings pitched. These numbers are not that far off his career averages of 9.36 K/9 and 2.40 BB/9.
Currently, Fiers is stranding 81.6% off all baserunners on base, a rate above average (72%), but a rate that is pretty close to his career average of 83.7%.
Looking beyond earned run average, Field Independent Pitching (FIP) and Expected Field Independent Pitching (xFIP) can often show a better snapshot of just how well a pitcher is pitching. According to the website FanGraphs, FIP “measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a given time period, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average.” xFIP is “is a regressed version of FIP, developed by Dave Studeman from The Hardball Times. It’s calculated in the same way as FIP, except it replaces a pitcher’s home run total with an estimate of how many home runs they should have allowed. This estimate is calculated by taking the league-average home run to fly ball rate (~9-10% depending on the year) and multiplying it by a pitcher’s fly ball rate.”
Fiers’ earned run average currently sits at 2.29, a very solid number bordering on spectacular. But his FIP (2.24) and xFIP (3.24) show that his showing to date has been no fluke. (By comparison, Baltimore closer Jim Johnson has posted a 1.30 earned run average in 34.2 innings pitched for the Orioles, but has a 3.86 FIP and 3.49 xFIP as well as a ridiculous .161 BABIP).
The bottom line for Mike Fiers is this — so far, he’s exceeded all expectations. With a farm system with more heralded prospects like Tyler Thornburg, Wily Peralta, Taylor Jungmann and Jed Bradley, Fiers has found a way to sneak through the cracks and has made a name for himself in the Brewers rotation.
As the league sees him more, they’ll adjust to what he does. All teams do. And it will be up to Fiers to do the same. But based on what we’ve seen so far, as well as what we’ve seen over the course of his career, the Brewers may have found themselves a valuable and effective starter for the future.