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Baseball Prospectus’ newest hitting metric and how it rates the Indians

In case you needed another number to tell you that Jose Ramirez is amazing

Divisional Round - Cleveland Indians v Houston Astros - Game One Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Did you ever lay awake at night pondering the true predictive nature of stats like wRC+ and OPS+ and wonder to yourself if they ever go far enough before you eventually roll over and give your Francisco Lindor stuffed teddy a tearful goodnight?

Even if you don’t want to admit you have a Francisco Lindor stuffed teddy (or that you lay awake thinking about advanced statistics), the team over at Baseball Prospects debuted a new metric today called Deserved Runs Created Plus (DRC+) that addresses that very dilemma. While the exact formula of their newest metric is kept under lock and key for now, they’ve released a trove of text and video about their new toy, and they have blessed us with fun new leaderboards to sort through in the doldrums of the offseason.

Before getting into DRC+ specifically, it’s important to realize where sabermetrics are as a whole right now when it comes to rating hitters.

For all of their greatness, “plus” status like OPS+ and wRC+ (and really, most stats) are only a smoothed out summary of what a player does, not a consistent predictor of future performance, and they may not even be a complete picture of past performances if a player faced an abnormal number of bad pitchers. They also don’t adjust well to the rapidly changing game of baseball as it is today. There are a lot of quality adjustments and weights put on outcomes in each of these statistics, but at the end of the day that’s what all they are measuring — outcomes.

DRC+ aims to change that by measuring expected outcomes (which is where “deserved” comes from), instead of what actually happened. Of all the articles that Baseball Prospectus released today regarding their new metric, I think this single paragraph best sums up why I’m excited about what sets DRC+ apart:

The first is that DRC+, unlike other park-adjusted batting metrics, is designed to look behind the numbers for the player’s expected contribution, rather than take play outcomes otherwise at face value like wRC+ and OPS+ do. Virtually all outcomes, good or bad, get shrunk to incorporate skepticism and award only partial credit for each play. The effect of this is particularly notable on home runs, which can unreasonably dominate the values of other metrics. Batters without question deserve much of the credit for home runs they hit, and DRC+ certainly gives them plenty. But by recognizing that other factors are often at play, DRC+ avoids letting home runs essentially rule the roost, allowing other (and more stable) accomplishments like walk and strikeout rate to play a more prominent role.

The guiding principle behind DRC+ is that outcomes are not all they are made out to be. Note very home run is the same, not every triple is the same, and walks and strikeouts are extremely important with a heavy emphasis on the important of context. We have a tremendous amount of information about every single pitch and at-bat floating around now, so we no longer have to pretend everything takes place in a vacuum. Instead, DRC+ is taking all those very important context clues and boiling them out to a number scaled to 100 behind league average. Similar to OPS+ and wRC+, anything above 100 is that many percentage points better than league average, and anything below is that many percentage points below league average.

It’s clean and easy to understand if you are not interested in getting into the nitty gritty of a statistic, but for those of you who are interested, Baseball Prospects offers a lot of really interesting teases into what exactly they are doing. From what I can tell, the three main features that set DRC+ apart can be summed up in three things.

  • It uses single-year park factors over multi-year.
  • It looks at factors that cause outcomes, not just the outcomes themselves.
  • It adjusts for quality of the opposing pitcher.

This doesn’t account for the exact math or weights that DRC+ uses over OPS+ and wRC+, of course, because they don’t make that information public. But alongside whatever math juju they are performing back there, using a single-year park factor, looking at what goes into outcomes rather just outcomes, and adjusting for opposing pitchers really seem to set it apart.

Now let’s get down to the Indians aspect of DRC+.

Baseball Prospectus has been periodically posting these easy-to-view lists of every team’s top-10 DRC+ in 2018, and the Indians did come with a couple interesting wrinkles.

Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Michael Brantley, and a bunch of whatever is how you could sum up the 2018 season, and that’s basically what DRC+ says about it, too. For comparison, here are the top 10 Indians hitters of 2018 by wRC+:

  1. Jose Ramirez - 146 wRC+
  2. Francisco Lindor - 130 wRC+
  3. Michael Brantley: 124 wRC+
  4. Edwin Encarnacion: 115 wRC+
  5. Melky Cabrera: 102 wRC+
  6. Yan Gomes: 101 wRC+
  7. Yonder Alonso: 97 wRC+
  8. Jason Kipnis: 89 wRC+
  9. Brandon Guyer: 82 wRC+
  10. Greg Allen: 75 wRC+

There are a couple standout differences here. For one, the gap between Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Brantley is almost nothing by DRC+’s standards compared to wRC+. Besides a pretty substantial home run gap between the two (Brantley had 17, Encarnacion had 32), Encarnacion finished with a higher walk rate (10.9% to 7.6%), a much higher strikeout rate (22.8% to 9.5%), and a lower BABIP (.265 to .319).

Also interesting to note, wRC+ only has the Big Three, Encarnacion, Mekly Cabrera, and Yan Gomes as above-average hitters. DRC+ has Jason Kipnis five percentage better than average and Yan Gomes three percent worse. Again, this shows the emphasis that DRC+ puts on walk rate — Kipnis was tied with the third highest walk rate at 10 percent alongside Roberto Perez. Yan Gomes’ 4.8 percent was one of the lowest on the team, despite his positive .266/.313/.449 slash. In the eyes of DRC+, the fact that Kipnis can draw walks so well says a lot more than Gomes’ ability to find holes in the defense. Keep in mind that the quality of pitchers each of these guys faced have an impact as well.

A small takeaway from this? The Indians may have made the right call in shipping Gomes and Jason Kipnis still has life. There’s much more to it than that, of course, but if the Indians have a souped up version of this metric in their own databases, they likely point to the same conclusion, and probably something similar with Roberto Perez.

And finally, here are some fun tidbits from playing around in the Indians leaderboard:

  • Jim Thome’s monster 2002 season was the highest by an Indians player ever at 191.1, and he’s the only Indians player with a season over 170. The next closest was Manny Ramirez at 167.2!
  • Jose Ramirez’s 154.7 DRC+ season in 2018 was the 18th highest on the list.
  • Carlos Santana’s 133.9 DRC+ season was the highest in 2016 and it’s the 68th all time.
  • Frank Duffy owns the two worst seasons ever in 1975 and 1974 when he had DRC+’s of 61.1 and 64.9, respectively.
  • Michael Martinez does not appear on this list.