- After his ninth start yesterday, Pavano's ERA stands at 6.10. It would be easy to assume that he's just continuing his downward descent out of baseball, and that Cleveland was simply the latest team to throw money away on the guy. It would also be remarkably untrue.
Pavano's FIP currently stands at a robust 3.74, thanks to outstanding peripherals - 2.03 BB/9, 7.40 K/9, .92 HR/9, 45.9% GB%. Pavano's racked up 40 strikeouts against just 11 walks in 48 2/3 innings, giving him a strikeout to walk rate equal to pitchers such as Erik Bedard, Aaron Harang, Jake Peavy, Ted Lilly, and Cliff Lee. That's some pretty nifty company.
Pavano's ERA has been inflated by a .370 batting average on balls in play, which will almost certainly improve as the year goes on. In fact, after a pessimistic preseason ZIPS projection that pegged him for a 5.18 FIP in 2009, the updated ZIPS now pegs him for a 4.36 FIP from here on out. After posting an ERA of 6.10 over 48 2/3 innings, ZIPS has been impressed enough to slash his projected FIP by 0.8 runs.
There's probably no better example of why ERA isn't a useful tool for evaluating pitchers anymore. Pavano's got one of the highest marks in the league, but based on how he's actually pitched, we should be revising our estimates significantly upward for his expected performance from here on out. His recovery probably won't come in time to help save the Indians season, but a smart team may get a bargain at the deadline when they call Mark Shapiro and make a deal to bolster their pitching staff.
Funny thing about Pavano: Entering the season, I figured that he was their biggest question mark; their biggest gamble. ERA aside, the gamble's paid off brilliantly ... and yet the Indians have the worst record in the American League and probably rank as the most disappointing team in the majors.
The lesson here -- aside from the fact that ERA can be terribly deceptive, especially this early in the season -- is that while we spend a great deal of energy in the offseason trying to identify specific reasons why a team might or might not win, each team has so many moving parts that any specific thing can easily be overwhelmed by other things. In this case, Pavano's pitching is overwhelmed by Jhonny Peralta and Grady Sizemore not hitting, by Travis Hafner not playing, and by any number of high ERAs -- gotten the old-fashioned way -- among Pavano's staff mates.