IFFB and What It all Means

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you.  At one point in my life I believed  “Just because.”did not serve as an acceptable answer to any question. In short, I felt it was a dismissive response to something that obviously has some type of importance to the person who asked.

As a parent, I resort to “Just because.”on a daily basis. Often times I do use this as a dismissive tactic to bide time until the inquisition passes. However, as the years have passed I’ve grown to realize just how often “Just because.” can be the right answer as well.

Sabermetrics have become a vital part to fantasy baseball success. The endless stream of data is available to anyone who’s willing to put in the work in order to better forecast what will happen moving forward. A players production to date has only gotten us to where we are; forecasting production will get us where we need to be. It is this very reason that so many become submerged by this data stream, clinging to the hope of gaining even the slightest advantage moving forward.

Over the years the data used in forecasting has become more diversified. When I first began diving into numbers, BABIP was the go-to  in identifying potential ERA gainers or losers. Today BABIP is still used in targeting potential gainers and losers, but now Hard, Medium, and Soft Contact are likely referenced right along with it.

What’s the difference you may ask? Five years ago a BABIP increase above career marks would be deemed unfortunate and bound to regress. Today you would notice the same BABIP increase was accompanied by a 10% increase in Hard Contact. Brakes would be pumped and a certain degree of hesitation would be applied into  forecasting regression for said player.

While the influx of data has made the forecasting model more refined, one has to wonder if all the numbers should carry the same weight. Over the last couple of years IFFB% has become a popular performance metric used by many. IFFB% is the percentage of Fly Balls that result in the Infield variety.

The obvious appeal of the statistic is the run prevention aspect it possesses. The out conversion percentage of an infield fly ball rates alongside that of a strikeout. Outs mean no base runners – no base runners mean no runs – no runs means low ERA, and ultimately leads to more innings.

So now that we’ve established the value potential of IFFB% here’s a look of league averages for IFFB% along with the league leader over the last five years.

Year League AVG IFFB%  League Leader
2016 9.6%
Marco Estrada  16.8%
2015 9.5% Wei-Yin Chen   14.0%
2014 9.6% Jordan Zimmerman  14.2%
2013 9.7% Jose Quintana   15.6%
2012 10.6% Bruce Chen   17.6%

The first thing that sticks out to me in the above chart is the consistency within the number. My biggest question mark regarding IFFB% was just how repeatable the skill set actually is. During this five year span the League Average rate gap has been just over 1% at its peak. While this doesn’t necessarily eliminate some volatility, it does prove the frequency of the event itself can be rather predictable. Below is a look at the current Top-10 starting pitchers in terms of IFFB%.

1 Kyle Freeland 26.1%
2 Dan Straily 23.4%
3 Dylan Bundy 19.3%
4 Yovanni Gallardo 17.6%
5 Blake Snell 16.7%
6 R. A. Dickey 16.1%
7 Carlos Martinez 15.6%
8 Jose Quintana 15.4%
9 Danny Salazar 15.2%
10 Ervin Santana 15.1%

When comparing this data to the previous table, the rates of Freeland, Straily, and Bundy certainly stick out. All three totals would rank above the league leaders from the previous chart. Furthermore the rates of Freeland and Straily in particular indicate IFFB% can be susceptive to small sample sizes.

So thus far we’ve come to accept the value in IFFB% – we’ve established that from a league wide perspective the frequency of IFFB% can be rather consistent.

With most statistics you simply filter by league leaders to identify potential impact options. The rate of IFFB may not follow that same script. We’ve established the appeal of IFFB% as being one of the most assured outs baseball provides for pitchers. However, IFFB% is not a type of rate stat we’ve grown accustomed to.

Marco Estrada lead the majors last season with a 16.8% rate. Jeremy Hellickson ranked 5th with a 14.3% mark. In 172 IP last season Estrada had a 48.2% FB rate while Hellickson had a ground ball lean with only a 34.4% FB rate over his 189 innings of work. Estrada faced 723 batters last season while Hellickson battled with 772 hitters.

Despite the lighter workload and slim 2.5% rate advantage, Estrada managed 39 IFFB last season while Hellickson had only 28. The advantage for Estrada was built solely on his FB tendencies.

I’ve referenced my hesitation toward fly ball pitchers Ad nauseam. Fly balls lead to home runs, and home runs can make an otherwise solid statline much less appealing. If you take IFFB% into consideration, it helps absorb some of that damage potential.

We’ll use Estrada for example once more. Over the last three years Estrada has outpitched his FIP by a half-run or more. During that same time span he has lead the league in IFFB% once and finished above the league average in the other two. In two of the three years his HR/FB% was less than 10%, during those two seasons, Marco Estrada was the only pitcher to establish that feat.

In some cases IFFB% has that “just because” feel to it.  Hitting the wire and adding a Kyle Freeland, solely because his astounding IFFB rate appealed to you, would certainly come to mind. As would  concern for a Jon Lester (2.8%), Michael Pineda (3%), or Mike Leake (0%) and their near non-existent IFFB% that just so happens to be accompanied with a GB% well above 50%.

For some player types, established IFFB% have me more interested than their fly ball rate would typically lead me to be. Estrada’s increasing strikeout totals and track record of home run prevention have me much more willing to overlook his control issues.

It is this mix that has allowed Danny Duffy to outperform his FIP in all but one season at the major league level despite fluctuating strikeout totals and less than stellar control. It is also this very mix that keeps the candle burning for the Drew Smyly’s and Jake Odorizzi’s of the world.

“Why in the world would you burn a candle for Drew Smyly?”, you ask. Is “just because” a good enough answer?


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Josh Coleman

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Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.