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The largest DRA-RA9 differences in baseball: underperformers

There is a mixture of surprises and pitchers you’d expect. Unlike with the overperformers, a few DRAs here are more difficult to understand.

Toronto Blue Jays v Seattle Mariners Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Carlos Rodón’s great season to date and how it is unlikely to be sustainable (his RA9 has since shot up from 2.99 to 3.45). As I mentioned in the article, I was stunned by the fact that his DRA was 2.70 runs higher than his RA9. I wondered who else had a large gap DRA-RA9, whether it be positive or negative, so I decided to find out!

The DRA run values chart at Baseball Prospectus was used for this exercise. Unfortunately, the only filter available is by pitcher name, so I could not sort by qualified pitchers or set any kind of innings pitched minimum. Sorting by largest negative DRA-RA9 gave me a ton of position players at the top. I decided that I will stick to pitchers who have pitched at least 100 IP (a little lower than last time). Obviously this will mean all full-time relievers will be excluded, but I think it would be better to focus on larger sample sizes here to minimize sample size errors.

So why is this important? DRA-RA9 is the improved ERA-FIP. RA9 is just ERA without the silly, arbitrary distinction between earned and unearned runs. It counts everything. You almost never see it in articles, but it is always used instead of ERA in serious sabermetric research. Baseball Reference uses it to calculate its version of WAR. DRA takes that number and adjusts for everything imaginable that pitchers can and cannot control. Naturally, it factors in strikeouts, walks, and home runs, so you could say it has a FIP component to it. Unlike FIP, DRA is on the RA9 scale, not the ERA scale, so comparisons must always be made to RA9. If you want to learn more about DRA, I suggest you clear some time from your schedule. DRA does have its detractors, and I once wrote a response to those detractors.

Here are the selections from the criteria I laid out. The overperformers were done a couple of days ago.

Marcus Stroman

Stroman has spent time on the disabled list this season due to a lingering blister issue, so take his 5.98 RA9 with a grain of salt. His 4.16 DRA certainly implies he’s been better tan his RA9 indicates. That is just slightly higher than his career 3.98 DRA. In fact, all his peripherals are in line with his career rates. His .326 BABIP is a little higher than his career rate, but what has really hurt him is his very low 60.5 percent strand rate. He has also been plagued with one of the worst defenses in baseball behind him, which consequently has caused him to give up more runs. Even Kevin Pillar’s defensive metrics are poor, though watching him this year I can’t imagine that it is anything other than mostly a small sample size anomaly.

Other than a 1 MPH velocity dip from last year, Stroman looks like the same pitcher he has always been. We just don’t know what kind of pitcher that is, exactly. His RA9 last year was 3.67 and 4.59 the year before. Hopefully he will have a healthier season next year so we can gain some clarity on him.

Nick Pivetta

Pivetta’s 4.90 RA9 might not look very good, but it is much better than his 6.16 RA9 last year, and you have to keep in mind that the he has to endure the Phillies’ terrible defense. He improved his strikeout and walk rates to 28 percent and 7 percent, respectively, but he is pretty homer prone, even when accounting for his ballpark.

DRA drops Pivetta’s RA9 all the way down to 3.26. His great strikeout and walk rates are the major driving forces behind that big drop, and I am sure his ballpark contributes to that too. Surprisingly, his out runs raises his DRA. As I mentioned in the last article, DRA does not simply plug in a number from a fielding metric to adjust for defense. It specifically uses the plays the defense did or did not make when the pitcher was on the mound. My best explanation as to why Pivetta did not get a massive positive adjustment for his out runs is that he has been pretty lucky with his defense on the days he pitches.

Stephen Strasburg

Strasburg is another guy who has spent substantial time on the DL. Nationals’ fans have plenty to complain about this year, and Strasburg’s 4.46 RA9 is certainly one of them since it is over a run higher than his career RA9! Like with Stroman, Strasburg does not look too different than he did last year. His walk rate is exactly the same as last year, and his strikeout rate is down by just 1.3 percentage points. His biggest problem is that he has given up the long ball more than he has previously in his career, which is really saying something because he has always been pretty homer prone.

Strasburg’s 3.01 DRA is just a bit higher than it was the past couple of seasons. His DRA run value break down is actually very similar to that of Pivetta’s. Again, we see somebody with positive out runs despite have a bad defense behind him. As long as he is healthy, his RA9 should be much improved next year. He seems to be the same pitcher he has always been.

Kenta Maeda

Maeda has been slightly better this year compared to last, but it looks like the 3-win player from 2016 is gone. He has made a third of his appearances out of the bullpen where he really has not been more effective, which is not surprising. He does not have the stuff that will play up in relief.

He has a mediocre 4.19 RA9, but an excellent 2.89 DRA. His walk rate is up to a league average rate, and his strikeout rate is up to 28.1 percent. As is the pattern here, those factors really work to drive down his DRA. The model also credits him for giving up more runs than he should have given the kind of contact he has given up.

Obviously I am a big fan of DRA or I would not be writing these articles, but Maeda’s DRA is hard to accept. Believe it or not, it is the 17th-best in baseball among pitchers with at least 100 IP.

Steven Matz

Admittedly, this one made me happy! It used to be that Matz was always good when he was healthy, it was just that he was seldom healthy. That being said, it is hard to conclude what to make of him this year, even when factoring in his usual injury struggles. Matz has a disappointing 4.78 RA9 but a solid 3.59 DRA. His strikeout and walk rates are nothing special, and he has been more home run happy than previously in his career.

Again, this one is a bit difficult to figure out. He gets credit for giving up more runs than he should have given the quality of contact against him, but it is not clear to me why his DRA is over a run lower than his RA9. He pitches in a pitcher-friendly park, and apparently his defense has not been bad when he is playing. My best explanation is the quality of competition he has faced. Take a look. Sixteen of his 26 starts have been against playoff contenders, and one more has been against he Rays, who would be playoff contenders if they were in the NL.

James Paxton

This might be the least surprising name here. He has been maddeningly inconsistent, but he also has an excellent 32 K% and a nice 6.9 BB%. Strangely, Paxton has given up 21 home runs this year, which is more than twice his previous high in a season. That is really surprising coming from a pitcher who plays his home games in Safeco Field. Giving up a lot of home runs is a strange trend we are seeing here. One would not think that a homer-prone pitcher would have a dramatically lower DRA.

Paxton has a 3.83 RA9 and a 2.72 DRA. Unlike with the previous two pitchers, this one is easy to explain. His strikeout and walk rates are so good that they are doing a ton of work in lowering his DRA. His DRA was even better last year at 2.52! It would be great for the Mariners if Paxton could get his actual run average that low.

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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.