This post is inspired by R.J. Anderson’s great piece on Jonathan Judge. If you haven’t read it yet, go read it. After the hyperbolic, click-bait title, there’s an interesting history of Judge’s involvement with BP and sabermetrics, and a layman’s breakdown of Judge’s new pitching statistic, Deserved Run Average (DRA). It boils down to this: FIP was revolutionary for being a fielding independent statistic; DRA is revolutionary because it uses linear weights and a mixed model in an attempt to be independent of fielding, but also umpiring, catching, weather, base running, handedness, quality of opposition, and pretty much every blade of grass on the baseball field.
I won’t pretend to understand all the math behind it, but I already love it. Because why just stop at fielding? If you’re already acknowledging that the pitcher doesn’t have complete control over his run-based results, wouldn’t you then try to account for all the things he can’t control instead of just one? Using FIP instead of DRA would be like your boss telling you it wasn’t your fault that you were late because of traffic, and then blaming you the next day for being late because there was a snowstorm. Boom, logic!
The DRA Darlings
Now let’s use DRA to find the pitchers who didn’t deserve their ugly ERAs in 2016. To do this, I filtered out all the relievers and then simply subtracted each pitcher’s DRA from his ERA to find the largest discrepancies. Then I sorted by ERA-DRA and cut the list off at a ERA-DRA > 1.00.
I highlighted in green the pitchers who had sub-3.00 DRAs because those are the guys who we really care about. The guys who go from being pretty shitty to elite when we switch from ERA to DRA.
Aaron Nola actually had the third-lowest DRA of any starter in baseball, behind Clayton Kershaw (2.03) and Jose Fernandez (RIP; 2.23). Those three were the only starters in the top-20 of the 2016 DRA leaderboard. Clearly DRA – like FIP – places a lot of value in strikeouts and walks, because Kershaw (29.6%) and Fernandez (26.9%) were #1 and #2 in the league in K-BB%. Nola, had he enough innings to qualify, would rank #19 with his 25.1 K% and 6.0 BB%. In fact, Pineda, Archer, Ray and Price all rank within the K-BB% top-20.
Michael Pineda is a perennial FIP darling. His career ERA is almost a full run higher than his career FIP. While he posted a career-high strikeout rate in 2016, he was bitten by the long ball and his command issues resurfaced. One reason to be optimistic for next season is his slider. It’s always been a plus pitch, and it seems like Pineda has finally gotten comfortable with it. He upped his slider usage 7% in 2016, and could lean on it even more heavily in 2017. The fastball is where hitters did most of their damage, but it’s worth noting that after a slow start his velocity crept up to an average of 95 MPH by the end of the season.
Robbie Ray is in danger of turning into Pineda 2.0. He struck out 28% of the batters he faced, but he also walked 9% of them. He also excelled at generating ground balls and pop ups. And he ended up with an ERA touching 5.00. By all accounts he was extremely unlucky in 2016. You could point to the .352 BABIP or the 15.5 HR/FB ratio. No doubt part of the blame can be hung on the atrocious Diamondbacks defence, but you have to wonder what other factors out of Ray’s control led to his 2.95 DRA. A comparison of his July and August splits are revealing:
More or less the same amount of strikeouts, walks and home runs — completely different result. Ray’s July was a microcosm of what can go wrong even when your doing everything right. The 63.5% LOB and .382 BABIP are borderline ridiculous. Indeed, a quick perusal of the LOB% leaderboard turns up Ray’s name (#12) along with Pineda’s, Archer’s, Price’s and other DRA darlings. Which is a reminder that stone-age statistics are still fairly accurate proxies for all the sweat and brainpower poured into newfangled stats like DRA.
Ray is my favourite guy on this list from a fantasy perspective because his trajectory reminds me a lot of Max Scherzer. Besides the Tigers/Diamondbacks connection, Scherzer also struggled with walks early on, but once he shaved a few points off his BB% he took a huge leap forward. Another parallel is their fastballs, which both get great late life through the zone. Scherzer threw it around 70% of the time in his first few seasons, and it was only when he mixed up his arsenal that he truly broke out. Ray currently throws his fastball 70% of the time and his slider the rest of the time. If he can develop his curve and change over the next few seasons, Ray could easily lead the league in strikeouts.