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Liam Hendriks posted historic FIP in 2020

In case you didn’t already know he was awesome

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s will almost certainly lose Liam Hendriks this winter. Their All-Star closer, and the reigning AL Reliever of the Year, is a free agent who figures to land well beyond their modest price range, so as usual another big name will leave town.

But for now the A’s aren’t giving us much to talk about in terms of the future, so let’s take a look back at the weird 2020 season.

All of Athletics Nation already knows Hendriks is awesome. According to the headline of the column I never got around to writing last winter, 2019 Hendriks was basically 2018 Blake Treinen, who himself had enjoyed one of the greatest reliever seasons in history. Then Hendriks was even better in the short 2020 campaign.

Amid that legendary performance, there’s one stat we haven’t given its deserved appreciation. Sure, the 1.78 ERA was sparkling, as were the 13.1 strikeouts per nine innings, and Statcast loved him too. He converted 14 saves in 15 tries, helping the team to a 23-1 record in his appearances, and his Win Probability Added was second-highest among MLB relievers.

But the most impressive number of them all? His 1.14 FIP ranks as the seventh-best of the entire Modern Era, since 1900, among pitchers with at least 20 innings. Here’s the Top 10ish:

  1. 0.78, Craig Kimbrel, 2012 (62.2 innings)
  2. 0.86, Eric Gagne, 2003 (82.1 innings)
  3. 0.86, Devin Williams, 2020 (27 innings)
  4. 0.89, Aroldis Chapman, 2014 (54 innings)
  5. 0.96, Sergio Romo, 2011 (48 innings)
  6. 1.10, Carter Capps, 2015 (31 innings)
  7. 1.14, Liam Hendriks, 2020 (25.1 innings)
  8. 1.19, Wade Davis, 2014 (72 innings)
  9. 1.26, Christy Mathewson, 1908 (390.2 innings)
  10. 1.28, Stephen Strasburg, 2011 (24 innings)
  11. 1.28, Walter Johnson, 1910 (370 innings)

What is FIP? Click here to learn about it! It’s like ERA, but by focusing on only what the pitcher can control (specifically, Liam’s 37 strikeouts, 3 walks, and 1 homer), it serves as a better measure of his individual performance. It removes external effects like the quality of his teammates’ defense behind him, and how many lucky grounders make it through the hole, and in doing so it acts as a more accurate predictor of the future than ERA does.

Sure, there are all kinds of asterisks you could put next to this accomplishment. Hendriks only threw around two dozen innings, and if you did that in a normal 162-game season it would mean you missed multiple months. Everyone else in history had to log two or three times as many frames to make this list (or 15 times, if you were pitching in 1910, sheesh), and despite that advantage he didn’t even lead the majors in 2020 thanks to Devin Williams.

But lay off and let us have this one. The latest word is that literally every free agent might be out of our price range this winter, so we need a win, or at least a save. HercuLiam technically had the seventh-best FIP in MLB’s Modern Era last season, and that is neat.