Jason Sarney Correspondent IFebruary 20, 2008

By Brett Greenfield: 


DIPS, or Defense Independent Pitching Statistics, is one of the most accurate statistics that can be used to determine how well a pitcher has pitched, independent from his defense behind him. After all, most of a pitcher's ERA is determined by his walk rate, strikeout rate, and ability to prevent homeruns.

So, what kind of plays involve a defense in the first place?

1. Any ground ball in play. 2. Any fly ball that is not a homerun.

So then, what does DIPS look at? The four statistics that are controlled entirely by a pitcher, even if there was not one fielder behind him. And they are:

1. Homeruns

2. Strikeouts

3. Walks

4. Hit batters.

Those plays are under only the pitcher's control in the sense that fielders have no effect on their outcome.

Taking a closer look into DIPS, we can analyze a pitcher's ability level. The stats we are looking at won't be effected even if one pitcher's shortstop is John McDonald and another's is Manny Ramirez. Defense-dependent statistics, such as the rate of hits allowed on balls put into play (other than home runs), are almost entirely the result of luck and the skills of the defensive players on the field. Today we take away those infielders and look at which pitchers have the best ability.

Once a ball is put into play the defense behind you can either help you or hurt you. It helped some and it hurt others. (Think about a team with AJones as a their CF vs a team with Nick Swisher as their CF. Think about a team with Brad Ausmus as their catcher vs a team with Mike Piazza as their catcher.)

There were 13 pitchers last year who had DIPS ERA's below 3.50. (View Last Year's DIPS)

1. Jake Peavy -- 2.76 (This was the lowest DIPS ERA since the early 2000's.. Since RJ)
2. John Smoltz -- 3.03 (What if a player's age was withheld for privacy reasons?)
3. Josh Beckett -- 3.04 (What blisters?)
4. CC Sabathia -- 3.09 (Entering a contract year)
5. Erik Bedard -- 3.10 (Out of the AL East)
6. Brandon Webb --3.10 (Still the best pitcher on the Dbacks)
7. Kelvin Escobar -- 3.38 (Should miss the first few months)
8. Scott Kazmir -- 3.38 (12K per 9 and 2.39 ERA led pitchers in second half)
9. Tim Hudson -- 3.40 (Not enough K's to stick with this group)
10. Chris Young -- 3.43 (Just reach 200 innings and you'll be a top 5 pitcher)
11. Joe Blanton -- 3.46 (Quietly had a great year. See Tim Hudson)
12. Tim Lincecum --3.48 (See Chris Young)
13. John Lackey -- 3.48 (I think the wheels fall off this year. Wonder why they loaded up on so much starting pitching this off season.. hmmmm)

These 13 pitchers kept their HR rates down, K rates high, and didn't walk or hit that many batters. Pound for pound these were the best 13 pitchers in baseball last year (OK, and Johan. He was 23rd with a 3.65 ERA). Last year Jake Peavy was touted highly in every one of our articles as having been "unlucky." Sure enough in 2007 he went on to have a career year. It's likely that he pitched the same exact way, but luck turned in his favor.

These 13 pitchers all had ERA's at 4.00 or less. By comparing their DIPS ERA to their ACTUAL ERA we can see which pitchers' ERA's were aided by a strong defense and which pitchers' ERA's were given a disservice by their spotty defense.

John Lackey is the only one on the list who stands out as having been extremely lucky. While he sported an eye-catching 3.01 ERA, his DIPS was 3.48. To boot, his ERC (Component ERA) was 3.41. Both sabermetric standards show that Lackey pitched far worse than his stats show.

Of those 13, should any of them have considerably better ERA's?

I notice three pitchers who should have had better ERA's on paper: Lincecum, Blanton and Beckett.

Lincecum had a 4.00 ERA, but his DIPS was 3.48. HIS ERC was 3.26. He should look better this year.

Blanton finished 2007 with a 3.95 ERA. His DIPS was 3.46 and his ERC 3.42. That's about half a run he should improve upon in 2008.

Josh Beckett's breakout season ended with an ERA of 3.27. His DIPS was at 3.27 and his ERC at 2.99. He's good to repeat for those naysayers.

The rest of the aforementioned crew in the DIPS top 13 had ERA's and DIPS ERA's close enough to not worth mentioning. It's safe to say that a player's DIPS ERA is a quality predictor of their true ability.

Aside from those in the DIPS top 13, were there any other outliers worth noting?

Here are a few pitchers who, based on having a DIPS ERA significantly higher than their actual ERA, should be due for a higher ERA in 2008 than they had in 2007. These guys could be overvalued on draft day due to inflated stats.

Fausto Carmona

His 3.06 ERA is very nice on the outside. However, his 3.92 DIPS ERA gives him the highest differential in the majors. Being a ground ball pitcher, he certainly relies on his defense a lot. Turning double plays and throwing runners out is something he has no control over. Having VMart behind the plate doesn't help either. I'd bet his ERA rises a bit closer to the 3.92 as opposed to staying at the 3.06.

Noah Lowry

His 3.92 ERA looks good, for him at least. A 4.88 DIPS begs to differ. I guess Omar Vizquel helps out a bit but nothing I've researched thus far gives me reason to believe Lowry's ERA will be under 4.00 in 2008.

Brad Penny

Like Carmona, he relies on his defense quite a bit. Who is playing 3B in LA this year? His 3.03 ERA is very different from his 3.66 DIPS ERA. Expect it to be somewhere in between in 2008.

Chad Billingsley

The Dodgers defense was pretty good last year it seems. They definitely helped out Penny and Billingsley. However, neither seems to have earned it. Because of 3.88 DIPS ERA, his 3.31 ACTUAL ERA doesn't look as authentic anymore. I think I've given you enough reasons to avoid Billingsley this year.

Dan Haren

He ended 2007 with a 3.07 ERA. His DIPS ERA was 3.60 though. I wish I could say something positive, really.

Roy Oswalt

His 3.18 ERA looks good. Noting that it was his highest ERA since 2004, the highest WHIP of his career and the lowest strikeout total of his career is nothing new to our readers. What is new, is 3.51 DIPS ERA to go along with a 3.72 ERC. I can't figure out who I'd rather not have in 2008, Oswalt or Haren. (Was that a triple negative?)

Here are a few pitchers who, based on having a DIPS ERA significantly lower than their actual ERA, should be due for a lower ERA in 2008 than they had in 2007. Their true ability might be hidden behind deflated stats, making them bargains on draft day.

Dustin McGowan

Anyone starting to notice some trends amongst sabermetric stats? Because I am. McGowan's 4.08 ERA was good but could have been better. His ERC was an astonishing 3.10. His DIPS was a ripe 3.64. He should surprise many this year. Be smart and take him in round 10 or 11 before someone else does. You won't be sorry.

Greg Maddux

His 4.14 ERA doesn't hurt you but doesn't help you either. His ERC and DIPS ERA were both solid at 3.56. His lack of K's put most of his balls in the hands of his defense. Losing Cameron may not help but Maddux is still underrated.

Jeremy Bonderman

Interesting to see his name here. His 5.01 ERA was one of the most disappointing in 2007. There is hope, if he's healthy though. His ERC was half a run lower at 4.49 and his DIPS was even lower at 3.94. While that doesn't give him an excuse for pitching so poorly (may have been due to injury) it does give us hope that he could bounce back.

Andy Sonnanstine

A top pitching prospect for the Rays, he could be a decent guy to end your draft with. Yes, he had a 5.85 ERA last year in limited time. But, he was leading the minors in K's and has good stuff. Would you believe me if I told you that he hardly walked many batters or gave up a lot of homers? His hit rate was ridiculously high and his DIPS was only 4.07. I mean, the Rays fielders must have been bird watching while he was on the mound. Again, just a reason to look past his ACTUAL ERA and think about ending your draft with him.

Randy Wolf

Let's remember he now pitches in Petco. It does wonders for Maddux, Peavy and Young. Prior and Wolf could be huge sleepers in 2008. Wolf's 4.73 ERA was awful but his DIPS ERA was a full run lower at 3.83. Keep him in mind as you fill out your roster.

DIPS ERA is a great indicator of a pitcher's true ability level. Pitching will always remain in the hands of their defense to an extent. But, pitchers who have low DIPS ERA's have the talent to succeed and repeat successful ERA's and WHIPs. On the flip side, pitcher's who have high DIPS ERA's got lucky in 2007 or were helped immensely by their defense. The truth will come out eventually.


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