It would probably be reasonable to consider 2008 Gavin Floyd's breakout season, as the pitcher went 17-8 with a 3.84 ERA over 206 innings. But looking at his peripheral numbers (4.77 FIP, 4.56 xFIP), it becomes abundantly clear that while Floyd did take some strides in 2008, it wasn't until the next season that he really blossomed.
His 11-11 record and 4.06 ERA in 2009 weren't as impressive as the previous season, but Floyd is a good example of why those statistics aren't an accurate reflection of individual performance. In 2009, he struck out more batters, walked less batters, induced more ground balls and gave up fewer home runs. Basically, Floyd went through the basic pitcher's "to-do list" and improved in many of the major ways that a pitcher could. He quietly finished the season with a 3.77 FIP, 3.69 xFIP and a 4.5 fWAR, the 8th-best WAR mark in the AL among pitchers.
But coming into this season, the projections were far from bullish. Most projections had his FIP in the 4.30-4.70 range, still somewhat solid but a reflection of doubt in the legitimacy of his 2009 improvement. If you just looked at his W-L record (2-4) and ERA (6.31) this season, you'd think that he was regressing back into the pitcher that didn't stand a chance against major leaguers in the middle part of the decade.
The underlying numbers, on the other hand, indicate that Floyd is far from declining. His FIP is a slightly improved 3.67, although his 4.04 xFIP isn't as impressive. Floyd is walking slightly more batters this year, but he's maintained his strikeout rate and increased his groundball rate 5%, up to 49% this season.
One of the primary reasons for his 2009 improvement was an increased ability to miss bats, and that's something that he hasn't lost in 2010. His contact rate has actually improved this season, progressing from 82% in 2008 to 78% in 2009, and it's down to slightly below 77% now. He's getting more swings on balls outside of the zone, and more swinging strikes in general. So while his ERA does look awfully ugly today, he does seem primed to improve a good deal, and that may have already began in his last start.
Against the Marlins last Saturday, Floyd pitching 6.1 innings, giving up 1 run on 6 hits, while walking 2 and striking out 7. It was his best start of the season based on WPA, and one of just three starts this season during which he's given up less than four runs. Coming into the season, the White Sox were expected to lean heavily on their strong starting rotation to contend, but the struggles of Floyd, Jake Peavy and Freddy Garcia have made things awfully difficult on the South Side.
But Floyd and Peavy all are but locks to improve a good deal from here on out, with each pitcher showing flashes of returning to their previous level. And considering all the questions about how Floyd would pitch this year after his apparent improvement last season, it has to at least be comforting to see that all of the underlying statistics are still there. And the Sox could really use some good news about their starters, three of them have ERAs of 5.68 or higher.