Onescore less six years ago, Voros McCracken brought upon the sabermetric community an idea so revolutionary that it changed the way many of us would think about baseball forever. Defensive Independent Pitching (DIPS) Theory was hardly the Declaration of Independence, but in his Baseball Prospectus article, Voros shared a heretic set of ideas that he had been mulling over for some time.
In this seminal work, McCracken reached two principle conclusions. First, there are four outcomes of pitching independent of the defense: Walks, strikeouts, hit batters, and home runs. Well, mostly. Of course, whether the ball actually leaves the yard can -- in rare cases -- be influenced by defense. Just ask J.J. Hardy.
But, defense can cut the other way on long flyballs, too.
That clip will never, ever get old.
McCracken's second conclusion? To borrow a phrase from Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, he proposed that all batted balls in play were created equal. In his own words:
There is little if any difference among major-league pitchers in their ability to prevent hits on balls hit in the field of play.
Voros recognized the stir he would cause with the statement, acknowledging that it flew in the face of more than a century of pitcher evaluation. Nevertheless, his conclusions proved to be the cornerstone of some of the most powerful and popular metrics that baseball writers and analysts use every day.
Ever quote BABIP as the reason that a pitcher's performance is unsustainable? You can thank McCracken for that. What about Fielding Independent Pitching? FIP combines a pitcher's four defensive independent statistics (and a constant) to show us what their ERA should have been while also serving as a fairly robust predictive stat. I would hazard the guess that not a single day has gone by on this site where FIP isn't referenced. It's even the cornerstone of FanGraphs own Wins Above Replacement calculation, fWAR. So, without DIPS Theory, we wouldn't have that, either. What an unlettered community we would be.
Bill James, the Father of Our Sabermetric Community, looked himself upon McCracken's work and was pleased, offering the following assessment:
1. Like most things, McCracken's argument can be taken too literally. A pitcher does have some input into the hits/innings ratio behind him, other than that which is reflected in the home run and strikeout columns.
2. With that qualification, I am quite certain that McCracken is correct.
3. This knowledge is significant, very useful.
4. I feel stupid for not having realized this 30 years ago.
Voros McCracken became the Thomas Jefferson of sabermetrics when he penned (typed?) Pitching and Defense: How Much Control Do Hurlers Have. Of course, the significance of this document pales in comparison to the Declaration of Independence, which recognizes the right of all women and men to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
But, if you enjoy the analysis of America's pastime enough to find yourself here on the Fourth of July, why not dedicate one of the thousands of fireworks you will deploy tonight in honor of Fielding Independence Day. Just be careful and remember that -- like a pitcher who allows a batted ball in play -- once it launches, you lose control over the outcome!
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