Baseball by the numbers: DRA is cutting edge of pitching metrics

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The best DRA of the last 25 years belongs to Pedro Martinez — 1.03 with the Red Sox in 2000. | AP

BY JOHN GROCHOWSKI

For the Sun-Times

Work on modern baseball metrics continues all the time. The goal is to try to sharpen the focus on individual accomplishment while filtering out outside influences, such as teammates and ballpark. Last week, BaseballProspectus.com revealed a new pitching stat called ‘‘deserved run average,’’ and it has created big buzz.

Filtering out teammates’ contributions is particularly difficult with pitchers. Victories rise and fall with run support, and ERAs are influenced by defense.

That’s why fielding independent pitching (FIP) has been gaining in acceptance. FIP, created by Tom Tango in building on work by Voros McCracken, considers only plays where defense isn’t involved: strikeouts, walks and home runs. It has proved to be a better predictor of future ERA than ERA itself. Some ballclubs use it, and FIP was a factor in swinging votes to American League Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber last season.

Now Jonathan Judge, Harry Pavlidis and Dan Turkenkopf have devised DRA, and it features many more factors than most baseball statistics, sabermetric or traditional. There’s far too much involved to give a full description in this space, but you can find the introductory article at http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=26195.

DRA evaluates pitchers based on the run expectancy of each play rather than on the actual number of runs scored. The article uses the example of a starting pitcher who puts a runner on first base, then leaves the game. The starter then is rated on the likelihood that the runner would score in that situation, regardless

of whether the runner actually does so.

The situations a pitcher faces are adjusted for context, including park effects, the specific batter faced, who’s catching, who’s umpiring, the runners on base, how many outs there are, the inning, the quality of defense, even the game-time temperature.

The goal is to tell us how well a pitcher really pitched, given the specific challenges he faced. DRA isn’t yet adjusted for era, though the authors wrote they’re working on that. The best DRA of the last 25 years belongs to Pedro Martinez (1.03 with the Red Sox in 2000), followed by Jason Schmidt (1.23 with the Giants in 2004).

Had DRA been in use last season, it would have scored the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez (2.46 DRA) better than the Indians’ Kluber (2.91). Baseball Reference is using DRA as the base for its new ‘‘pitching wins above replacement player’’ stat, and it lists Hernandez with a 7.00 PWARP in 2014 to Kluber’s 5.68.

As you would expect, Chris Sale (2.38 DRA, 5.33 PWARP that was sixth in the majors) topped White Sox pitchers last season, and Jake Arrieta (2.18, 4.86, ninth in the majors) was the Cubs’ best. New Cubs top-of-the-rotation starter Jon Lester, pitching for the Red Sox last season, was 12th in the majors with a 4.36 PWARP, based on a 3.26 DRA.

Widespread adoption by fans will be complicated by the complexity of the calculation. But the buzz about DRA is so strong that ballclubs and stats sites will be quick to take notice, and you’re likely to be hearing a lot about it in the near future.

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