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Have Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw been good or bad this season?

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When the outputs don't match the inputs...

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Bryan Shaw is having a strange season. He allowed at least one base runner in each of his first five appearances, four of which ended with him having recorded only one out. His ERA at that point was 7.71, and there were those here at LGT saying that clearly his workload the last couple years had gotten to him. Mostly that talk was ignored, because why try to draw serious conclusions from a week and a half'?

Sure enough, Shaw settled in, and over his next 42 appearances he posted a 1.46 ERA.

Now Shaw has allowed 3 hits in each of his last two appearances, including the 10th inning of last night's barnburner. Because such questions always arise when a reliever has a couple bad games, many will now be wondering if he's wearing out and running out of gas.

Even after these last two bad outings, his ERA is an impressive 2.40. On the other hand, even with that great-looking 42-appearance stretch, his FIP is a not-impressive 3.97.

There aren't any qualified starting pitchers whose ERA and FIP are more than 1.5 runs apart, and there are only 13 relievers with 40+ innings with a gap that wide.

Of those 13 relievers, just 2 have a FIP that is lower than their ERA:

  • Cody Allen 3.97 ERA, 2.08 FIP (1.89)
  • Jonathan Broxton 5.49 ERA, 3.83 FIP (1.66)

Yes, Cody Allen has the biggest gap among all pitchers with 40+ innings, in terms of having an ERA that is worse than his FIP. I'll get back to him in a minute.

The much more common scenario when a pitcher's ERA and FIP are this far apart, is that his FIP is much higher. Here are those 11 relievers, ranked by the size of their ERA/FIP gap:

  • Carlos Villanueva: 1.51 ERA, 3.81 FIP (2.30)
  • Joakim Soria: 2.56 ERA, 4.65 FIP (2.09)
  • Will Harris 1.64 ERA, 3.58 FIP (1.94)
  • Brad Ziegler 1.64 ERA, 3.56 FIP (1.92)
  • J.J. Hoover 1.99 ERA, 3.64 FIP (1.65)
  • Chasen* Shreve 2.01 ERA, 3.63 FIP (1.62)
  • Alexi Ogando 3.81 ERA, 5.41 FIP  (1.60)
  • Joaquin Benoit 2.22 ERA, 3.80 FIP (1.58)
  • Bryan Shaw 2.40 ERA, 3.97 FIP (1.57)**
  • Tyler Clippard 2.58 ERA, 4.13 FIP (1.55)
  • Jared Hughes 2.36 ERA, 3.90 FIP (1.54)

*Please tell me this isn't pronounced the same way as Jason.

**Shaw's gap was substantially larger before last night's trouble brought his ERA much closer to his FIP.

Shaw's strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed paint the picture of a middling reliever, but the number of runs he's been charged with make him look like he's having a very good year?

Bringing Cody Allen back into the discussion, he's the complete opposite. His ERA makes him look like a very mediocre closer, but his strikeouts, walks, and home runs allowed say he's been really, really good this season.

You can't really say both Shaw and Allen have been very good this year, but you also can't really say they've both been bad, or even just okay. One of them has been very good, while the other has been below average.

Which is which?

(At the risk of further muddying the waters, I'll observe that looking at ERA or FIP for a player with 40 to 45 innings of work runs the risk of making you think you know more than you really do. Judging relievers can be tricky work. I find it interesting that the Cardinals, who have benefitted for Villanueva's MLB-leading ERA/FIP gap this season, just went out an picked up Broxton, who is on the complete opposite end of the ERA/FIP gap spectrum, which isn't a thing, but hopefully makes sense all the same.)

FIP has more predictive value than ERA, and so Allen's work this season should encourage more optimism about his results going forward than Shaw's. That said, there's a reasonable argument that in assessing what a player has already done (rather than projecting what they might do in the future), the results are the results, and Shaw has allowed runs at a much lower rate than Allen this season.

Allen and Shaw combine to make an interesting case study, both in terms of results, and in terms of how fans perceive pitchers. Which one of them do you think has had the better season so far?