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What a revised pitching stat says about Yankees pitchers

With the new edition of Deserved Run Average, we get a better explanation of how good the Yankees staff might be.

New York Yankees v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I am a huge fan of pitching statistics research. Of all the excellent work being done by public sabermetricians today, I can say that nothing is better than the work being done by Jonathan Judge and the Baseball Prospectus stats team on Deserved Run Average. DRA, for those uninitiated, is a pitching statistic that is on the same scale of RA9, but tries to answer the question of how many runs were deserved to be credited to a pitcher controlling for a variety of outside circumstances: opposing lineups, defense, park, weather, catcher, and umpire, for example.

In its first instantiation, it has proven to have a better predictive value than any other pitching statistic out there. But that doesn’t mean it was perfect. I’ve written about this a few times, and the best case of where DRA might go wrong is with Michael Pineda. I openly questioned why a system might say he’s one of the best pitchers in baseball, and it seems we have the natural response to that.

Yesterday Judge released a new version of DRA, and it seems to answer the Pineda criticisms that popped up over the past year. It now adds more descriptive value, which means it also has the power of describing the here-and-now and not just trying to forecast (this is why RA9 can be very effective). He says:

The effects on the likes of Pineda and CC Sabathia, another beneficiary of this system, are fascinating. In the 2016 version, Pineda and Sabathia were rated at 2.95 and 3.16 DRA, respectively, and now find themselves rated at 3.49 and 4.16.

This is probably a good thing for the baseball stats world, showing that these metrics are at least trying to merge the underlying truth that someone like Pineda strikes out a ton of batters and doesn’t walk that many, and that our eyes are telling us he consistently gets hammered and fails in big situations. Something similar can be said for Sabathia: there was no way he was as good as 3.16 DRA, and something closer to league average makes a lot of sense based on his metrics and what we saw over the course of the season.

The flip side of that, as far as Pineda is concerned, is that DRA would argue that his RA9 (which was 5.02 last year) will probably regress positively, and I say that with hesitance because I just can’t get too excited based on—again—what I and many Yankees fans have seen with our eyes.

With DRA now with the descriptive power of RA9 and the predictive power of FIP, I can confidently say that it’s the preeminent stat out there, and I really can’t imagine seeing it as anything other than the best thing we have in achieving the ultimate sabermetric goal of isolating talent and finding objective reality, which is the field’s ultimate goal (one that is unreachable, as we know).

What this all means for Pineda is unclear. Russell Carlton of BP once spoke of the “N=1 paradigm,” whereby sabermetrics continues to improve predictions on the aggregate, but they still do a poor job at predicting the events of individual players. We may know that pitchers like Pineda tend to do well, but Pineda is his own person. Players like Sabathia tend to be league average, but we just don’t know if he will be.

I’m a fan of the stat if I’m building my fantasy team, that’s for sure, but I hold my breath as far as individuals go. This stat certainly comes closer to the answers we’re looking for, but there will always be a Pineda causing us to scratch our heads., no matter the precision.