David Price’s line heading into tonight’s showdown versus the Orioles is not pretty. He has a 4.63 ERA, has given up 10 home runs in just over 80 innings and boasts a piddling 95 ERA+ (via B-R). But by at least one measure Price has been the best starter on the Sox, and it’s not because of his whopping paycheck.
Here at Baseball Prospectus, he have Deserved Run Average, which calculates exactly what it sounds like it calculates. If you want the grisly details you can read this and this, but to paraphrase Bruce Willis in the excellent time-travel movie “Looper,” if we get too far into the weeds on this we’ll be here forever. To place a foot in them, however, here’s a key passage from DRA’s 2015 unveiling:
DRA does a very good job of measuring a pitcher’s actual responsibility for the runs that scored while he was on the mound—certainly better than any metric we are aware of in the public domain. And only DRA gives you the assurance that a pitcher’s performance is actually being considered in the context of the batter, catcher, runners on base, as well as the stadium and stadium environment in which the baseball game occurred.
These are good things to know, especially for David Price, whose DRA sits at a 3.14 — pretty much exactly where we expected his ERA to be at this point. What’s really instructive is to see the pitchers who have DRAs higher (i.e., worse) than Price’s, because it’s a list of some of the best hurlers in baseball, and Steven Wright. Here’s a curated list of guys you would likely not expect to see here, along with their DRAs:
Bryan’s Point-Proving DRA List
David Price 3.14
Jake Arrieta 3.25
Julio Teheran 3.31
Max Scherzer 3.32
Jon Lester 3.39
Steven Wright 3.42
Rick Porcello 3.61
Jacob deGrom 3.62
I’d like to specifically focus on Wright, the former Rainbow Warrior boasting a 2.06 ERA and league-leading 3 complete games who, with a salary of just over $500,000, will make about as half as much money this season as Price makes in a single start. Wright’s season is, to this point, pointedly evocative of Tim Wakefield’s 1995, when the Pittsburgh reclamation project came out of nowhere to look like Boston’s best pitcher, ahead of Opening Day starter Erik Hanson and some guy named Roger Clemens.
To that end, here’s the latest of Wright’s Captain Insane-O knucklers:
Steven Wright made both Joe Mauer & his catcher look silly with one knuckleball https://t.co/drQH8sVnih
— The Cauldron (ICYMI) (@CauldronICYMI) June 11, 2016
In 1995, Wakefield put up comparable counting stats to those Wright is posting now. He finished the year with a 16-8 record and 2.95 ERA, good for 3.8 WARP. We didn’t have the advantage of DRA at the time, but if we had, we might have noted that his 4.09 mark was nothing to write home about. We also would have noted that it was still better than Clemens’s 4.47 mark. The Rocket put up a pedestrian 10-8 record with a 4.19 ERA and 2.1 WARP. No matter how you measured it, Wakefield was better.
He was not, however, the best pitcher on the team by DRA. That honor goes to Hanson, whose 3.76 DRA and 4.3 WARP put him in league with such luminaries as Atlanta-era Steve Avery (3.72 DRA) and Yankees legend Sterling Hitchcock (3.77 DRA). Viewed this way, the knuckleballer’s stats play the same trick on us that the knuckleball itself plays on batters: it makes us see things that aren’t there. When your narrative is getting owned by Erik Hanson, it’s time to rewrite it.
Fortunately for us, we have the opportunity to course-correct in real time. Price’s DRA tells us not only that he has been clearly the best pitcher on the Red Sox this year, he’s been one of the best in the league overall. Wright has been a nice surprise, a bargain buy turned legitimate second-starter, and he seems like a great dude for whom it is easy to root. But for all our hand-wringing about Price, he’s been not just better, but plain excellent — and this is with seemingly everything going wrong. With just over a half season remaining, it’ll be crazy to see what happens when the bounces start going his way.
Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images