For as long as kids have looked at the back of baseball cards, they’ve had a general understanding of ERA (Earned Run Average). If you look up the definition, the general consensus is “A measure of a pitcher’s performance by dividing the total earned runs allowed by the total of innings pitched and multiplying by nine”. My baseball education taught that it was earned runs multiplied by nine, divided by innings pitched but the numbers come out the same. The premise of the statistic was to not burden a pitcher with runs that had been enabled by errors or passed balls. In other words, eliminating from the calculation events that were out of his control.
If you’ve watched enough baseball to give the definition a personal “eye test”, you already know that numerous runs score in a game that don’t necessarily fit the criteria. If a pitcher leaves the game with the bases loaded (through hits & walks) and the relief pitcher gives up a triple, the original hurler just gave up three earned runs while he was sitting in the dugout. If there are runners on 2B & 3B with two outs and a weak groundball trickles under the glove of the shortstop into left field, two earned runs score whether the fielder in question was Pee Wee Reese or Pokey Reese. Outcomes like these are what motivate the development of advanced baseball statistics.
In an attempt to move beyond ERA, we now have a stat called DIPS (Defensive Independent Pitching). The essential theory is that pitchers can only really control strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed. To that end, analysts have come up with a formula to determine a pitcher’s skill based on those three factors and once that number is calculated, they tie it to MLB’s run scoring environment so that it aligns with ERA.
The question for those of us playing Fantasy Baseball is if the DIPS numbers can assist in determining the value and predictability of pitchers. Many a team has been torpedoed by a couple of starting pitchers that didn’t perform to expectations and we’re always looking for an edge. As a 20+ year fantasy veteran has said many times, “I hate pitchers”. Just taking a superficial look at DIPS results for 2017 reveals the following tidbits.
> For the season, only eight (8) major league starting pitchers had an ERA under 3.00, while just four (4) had a DIPS under the same threshold. The members of the exclusive club that land on both lists are Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg & Max Scherzer.
> Let’s look at the other four sub-3.00 ERA hurlers and see how their performance matched up when teammates were taken out of the equation. Clayton Kershaw’s DIPS number of 3.02 was significantly higher than his 2.31 ERA (2nd best overall). Could it be that his season wasn’t quite as good as it looked on the surface? Luis Severino’s 3.06 DIPS number was very close to his actual 2.98 ERA, so that performance looks solid. The other two posted numbers that make you think twice on their Fantasy (and real-world) value. Gio Gonzalez had a DIPS figure (3.87) almost a run higher than his ERA (2.96) and Robbie Ray was in a similar category with a DIPS number of 3.59 compared to a 2.89 ERA. While these are certainly two very good Pitchers, the question is, are they as good as they seemed in 2017?
> So, if you’re a Fantasy owner or a real-world GM, how can these new statistics help your cause? Let’s start with free agent SP’s still on the market (as 1/7)…
* Yu Darvish, 3.86 ERA / 3.73 DIPS – Looking for a six-year deal?
* Jake Arrieta, 3.53 ERA / 4.04 DIPS – In his 30’s looking for a nine-figure contract?
* Lance Lynn, 3.43 ERA / 4.73 DIPS – Is this worth four years and $50-$60 Million?
* Alex Cobb, 3.66 ERA / 4.12 DIPS – A contract similar to Lynn’s?
* Andrew Cashner, 3.40 ERA / 4.73 DIPS – Should be represented by Penn & Teller because this is smoke & mirrors.
> What other rotation members might be slightly over-rated or over-priced? In other words, you might want to temper your expectations.
* Drew Pomeranz, 3.32 ERA / 3.82 DIPS
* Marcus Stromen, 3.09 ERA / 3.90 DIPS
* Sonny Gray, 3.55 ERA / 3.86 DIPS
* Zach Davies, 3.90 ERA / 4.19 DIPS
> How about the hurlers who might have had some bad luck in 2017?
* Chris Archer, 4.05 ERA / 3.34 DIPS
* Jeff Samardzija, 4.42 ERA / 3.52 DIPS
* Jose Quintana, 4.15 ERA / 3.57 DIPS
* Michael Wacha, 4.13 ERA / 3.58 DIPS
* Jon Lester, 4.33 ERA / 3.97 DIPS
* Tanner Roark, 4.67 ERA / 4.00 DIPS
> And, of course, every team wants stability on their staff.
* Aaron Nola, 3.54 ERA / 3.23 DIPS
* Zack Greinke, 3.20 ERA / 3.27 DIPS
* Jacob DeGrom, 3.53 ERA / 3.36 DIPS
* Michael Fullmer 3.83 ERA / 3.70 DIPS
* Carlos Martinez, 3.64 ERA / 3.81 DIPS
You’ll notice that Win-Loss records aren’t part of this analysis. Fantasy players have long understood the cruel category of “Wins” but the real game has begun to catch up. With starting pitchers going less innings and teams spending $8 Million on middle relievers, the concept of a 20-game winner is a thing of the past. In 2017, no big-league Pitcher even won 19 games…Yu Darvish won 10 games! MLB teams are no longer concerned with starters going deep into games because they’ve got lock-down guys in the bullpen. What they want is quality innings.
> Who’s the worst when it comes to DIPS? 2017’s bottom five are Jeremy Hellickson (5.64), Jose Urena (5.11), John Lackey (5.06), Ricky Nolasco (4.89) & Julio Teheran (4.81).
As always, Fantasy success comes from balance, both on your team and in your scouting, so maybe DIPS has a place in your toolbox. And, the next time one of your baseball buddies asks how you are, you can reply, “I’m feeling much better now that I’m monitoring my DIPS”.