jon lester cubs feature

By now, everyone and their mother is familiar with ERA and what it stands for (earned run average…just in case).

We’ve been using earned run average for years and it continues to be the Johnny Depp of baseball statistics (you get its appeal, and you used to like it for a while, but now your not sure if you really need it anymore). [Brett: Bravo, Michael.]

In its place – or rather, to be used alongside ERA – there have been several new additions to the pitching stat party over the years (FIP, xFIP, SIERA, etc.). One of the most recent, and most interesting additions, DRA, was created over at Baseball Prospectus just last season.

DRA – Deserved Run Average – is presented as an alternative to ERA, although it comes with a fairly different form of calculation. In BP’s own words (Jonathan Judge) “DRA sets out to explain the runs a pitcher should have given up, rather than those that happened to cross the plate and be charged to him.” While some pitching statistics focus on the actual result of a play, DRA focuses on the “likelihood that the pitcher was actually responsible for those outcomes.”



What should have happened? vs. What happened? 

Because DRA relies on context, BP has to wait a few weeks before they can release the current seasons statistics (for a much deeper dive on DRA and what changes were made after it’s inaugural 2015 season, check out this primer here at Baseball Prospectus). However, now that we’re about a month into the season, BP has released this seasons’ DRA numbers thus far, and you might be surprised to see where the Cubs pitchers land.

Before we get right into the Cubs numbers, I’d like to give you a little context for good, bad and average DRAs in 2016. At the top of the list, you will not be surprised to find names like Dellin Betances (1.70 DRA), Noah Syndergaard (2.07 DRA), Clayton Kershaw (2.10 DRA) and Craig Kimbrel (2.22 DRA) leading the way.



At the bottom, some familiar names like Taylor Jungmann (6.83 DRA), Adam Wainwright (6.83 DRA), and Doug Fister (6.33 DRA) are among the worst in baseball by DRA. For 2016 so far, the league average DRA looks to be right around 4.10.

Okay, so let’s get into the Cubs (through Thursday’s games):

  • Hector Rondon – 2.40
  • Pedro Strop – 2.88
  • Justin Grimm – 3.08
  • Jon Lester – 3.41
  • Adam Warren – 3.82
  • Jake Arrieta – 3.86
  • Travis Wood – 3.89
  • Neil Ramirez – 3.94
  • John Lackey – 4.11
  • Clayton Richard – 4.35
  • Kyle Hendricks – 4.55
  • Jason Hammel – 4.56
  • Trevor Cahill – 5.33

Pretty surprising, yes?

Let’s start with the Cubs starting pitching, highlighted in bold. Early on in the 2016 season, we have come to be very pleased with the Cubs starting rotation, haven’t we? After all, through the first 27 games, the Cubs starting rotation has the best ERA in baseball (2.27), and it hasn’t been all smoke and mirrors. The team has the third best FIP (3.05), behind only the Mets and the White Sox, the second best xFIP (3.22) behind only the Mets and the third most fWAR overall (5.2) behind those same two teams. The Cubs starting pitching has been good, hasn’t it?

Well, according to DRA, it hasn’t been quite as good as we may have come to expect. Indeed, according to DRA- (a version of DRA scaled to 100 where 100 is league average) only Jon Lester (94) and Jake Arrieta (98) have been better than average pitchers so far this season (94 indicates that Lester has been about 6% better than average over the course of the season, Arrieta, then, would be 2% better than league average).

For what it’s worth, BP is aware of this specific and unusual occurrence as it relates to Jake Arrieta and they even wrote a dedicated piece on it here. The problem, as it is, seems to be a combination of well, Jake Arrieta isn’t quite as good as he was last year and he’s figuring out how to be successful in different ways. More specifically, Arrieta is walking more batters and striking out batters less in 2016 (3.08 K/BB) than he did in 2015 (4.92) – that’s the “he’s not as good as last year” partBut Arrieta is getting a ton of ground balls and continues to induce an exceptional amount of weak contact (better even than last year).

Point being, don’t pick apart DRA too much simply because it doesn’t love Jake Arrieta like we all do. Arrieta might be something of an anomaly because, well, Jake Arrieta is a pitching anomaly.



Moving to the bullpen, though, we see a bit more of what we’d otherwise expect. The Cubs back end triumvirate of Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justim Grimm ranks out in the relative order that we’ve come to expect and at a level of production that is very impressive. Indeed, Rondon (10th), Strop (39th) and Grimm (54th) are among the top pitchers in baseball by DRA (470 pitchers total).

In addition to those over achievers, Adam Warren, Travis Wood and Neil Ramirez all come in above average and round out what has been a somewhat surprisingly good bullpen for Chicago. Indeed, the Cubs bullpen comes in at sixth overall by ERA (2.81) and FIP (3.18). They’ve induced the most ground balls (55.1%) and have the highest strikeout rate in baseball (30.3%). The Cubs bullpen is one of the best in baseball and DRA does a great job of capturing that fact.

DRA isn’t the end of all other pitching stats as we know it, but it a nice one to use. On their own, no one stat can tell you everything you need to know about a pitcher or a performance, but when combined a clearer picture begins to form. In that way, I’m thrilled to have DRA back in our lives. It’s very useful, very interesting and helps paint a better, more accurate picture of what we’re trying to understand and evaluate every single day.


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