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Among the myriad of new statistical acronyms in modern baseball, FIP is among the most unusual. What is it? It stands for Fielding Independent Pitching, an attempt to measure a pitcher’s performance based only on things he can control.
A good FIP in baseball is very similar to a good Earned Run Average (ERA), or in the range from lower than 2.00 up to about a little higher than 3.00. As with ERA, the lower the better; higher FIP numbers indicate less effectiveness.
An average FIP for Major League Baseball pitchers for a season is about 3.10 to 3.20. The lowest FIP for a season in what is called the Live Ball era (1920 to present) was the 1.39 FIP by Pedro Martinez in 1999.
Very Targeted Data
The FIP basically gives blame or credit to a pitcher based on the number of home runs, walks, and hit batsmen allowed, along with how many strikeouts attained. It attempts to take the ability of fielders out of the equation.
While the ERA ignores runs scored due to errors by fielders, it does not consider the overall quality of the defensive players behind him, or other factors that could impact ERA such as whether a team often built big leads in games. In those instances, a pitcher might be less worried about giving runs, hence bloating an ERA.
The FIP sets a league average for defensive capability, and uses that in an equation that includes homers, walks, hit by pitch, and strikeouts. Or, only things the pitcher can control.
How to Calculate Baseball’s FIP
A FIP equation always has a variable involved, called the Constant (C). To make it easier, the Constant is usually around 3.10. With the Constant, use this formula to calculate a FIP:
FIP = (13 x HRs given up) + (BB + HBP surrendered, then x3) – (2 x number of total Ks) / Innings Pitched + Constant
Got it? Again, it’s generally acceptable to plug in 3.10 as the Constant. Still, some stat-heads might want to calculate their own Constant to as realistically as possible align it with the league average defenses, and league-wide ERA average.
For the math-challenged, the simplest way to gauge a FIP is probably to use an online FIP calculator tool. Or just look it up on any number of baseball statistics websites.
Using FIP to Judge Pitchers
One benefit of the FIP that ERA does not provide is helping gauge how well a pitcher might fare the following season, or into the immediate future. The reason: sometimes a pitcher’s ERA for a season might not indicate just how well he actually pitched.
So let’s say you’re a general manager looking to sign a free agent starting pitcher. A couple you are looking at finished the last season with about the same ERA, around 3.25, which is pretty good. However, a careful look under the hood might reveal that 1 of those pitchers appears to have gotten quite lucky.
The key is to look for a great discrepancy in ERA and FIP for a particular pitcher, especially where the FIP is much lower than the ERA. Pick off those cases, and then look into the team he pitched for, and you’ll probably get the reason.
Then, see if that pitcher will be changing teams the next season, or if his team is expected to be markedly different (e.g. dropped Nomar Garciaparra for Orlando Cabrera at shortstop).
Or, a pitcher may go to a new team that is expected to be involved in more close games. Then there would be fewer “give away” innings ~ where a starting pitcher’s team is ahead early by 5 or more runs, and the hurler is more interested in getting outs (therefore ending the game sooner) than letting some runs cross the plate. (A lot of solo home runs are struck in these instances as pitchers focus on avoiding walks).
The FIP is supposed to indicate a pitcher’s ERA if the defense converted batted balls into outs as the league’s average rate. Hence the Constant, because run prevention abilities vary from season to season (e.g. If a suspected “lively ball” was used; or a temporary stadium with closer outfield fences).
Some Final Words on Fielding Independent Pitching
The baseball statistic Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) is designed to do just what its name implies: to judge pitching performance without consideration of the quality (or lack thereof) of the defense involved. A good FIP is just about the same as a good Earned Run Average (ERA), or at 3.00 or lower.
That does not mean the FIP and ERA are actually the same. At times ~ and this is a major reason why it is used ~ a hurler’s ERA can be unusually high because he throws for a poor-fielding team, or has the ERA bloated by a team constantly with big leads in games.
A low FIP is interesting in trying to find “jewels in the rough” (or real flops) the following season, if that pitcher gets placed in another circumstance e.g. another team.
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