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DRC+ Offers New Take On Pirates Hitters

MLB: Pittsburgh Pirates at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, Baseball Prospectus unveiled a new way to measure a batter’s performance: DRC+.

DRC+ (deserved runs created plus) works similarly to FanGraphs wRC+ and Baseball-Reference’s OPS+. It takes a player’s offensive production, weighs it based on factors like their home stadium, and then puts it on a 100 scale. A player with a 100 on any of these three scales is considered an “average” hitter by that metric. If they score a 120, they produced 20% more offense. If they score an 80, they produced 20% less.

For a crash course on DRC+, these links are a good start (1, 2). In short, the main differences that we know right now are DRC+ weighs park factors differently than the other metrics and they take the pitcher faced into account. After all, it’s a lot harder to hit a home run against Clayton Kershaw in Dodgers Stadium than versus Brooks Pounders in Coors Field. They’re both homers, but not “equal” in determining a batter’s offensive prowess, if that makes sense.

To see how DRC+ differs from its predecessors, let’s start by comparing wRC+ and OPS+. To do that, I took a pair of all-time great Pirates- Willie Stargell and Roberto Clemente- and current Bucco Josh Bell to see how the two figures stack up to one another. To widen the sample, I pulled out the 2016 edition of the Pirates media guide, closed my eyes and pointed at a couple names.

Career OPS+ and wRC+. Courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

The spray and pray method worked pretty well. It’s obviously an incredibly small sample size, but this is a decent collection of players from different decades with varying levels of plate appearances. Both systems think similarly of these seven hitters, varying only a couple points at most.

That isn’t always the case with DRC+. Their scores tend to hover around 100 a little more than FanGraphs or Baseball-Reference’s models, and it can have some wildly different opinions on some hitters.

Career OPS+, wRC+, DRC+. Courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus.

Giving Clemente a career 107 DRC+ means that they think he was a slightly above average hitter. Adam Frazier had a 107 DRC+ last season. This may come off as a controversial statement, but Clemente is a better hitter than Frazier. There may be a few kinks to work out, at least in a historical context.

One of the main selling points of DRC+ is it is the best predictive model out of the three. There’s less year to year variation for most players. Since the majority of players have a similar offensive profile throughout their career, this can be helpful.

Let’s use Starling Marte as an example. Throughout his career, Marte’s offensive game has stayed roughly the same. He has a good batting average with a little bit of power, but doesn’t draw a lot of walks. Excluding his suspension shortened 2017, Marte’s wRC+ over the last five seasons has a range of 19 points. In that same stretch, his DRC+ has a range of just seven points.

Courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.

DRC+ is also the best predictive model for players who change teams. New Pirate Lonnie Chisenhall has had a DRC+ of 113 and 109 the last two seasons. Eyeballing it, that’s in the range of what Gregory Polanco and Corey Dickerson did last season. To be fair, OPS+ and wRC+ tell a similar story, so this hardly new information.

The Pirates currently have nine players on the roster who received a significant number of plate appearances in 2018. This is how their DRC+ compares to OPS+.

Courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Baseball Prospectus.

And this is how it compares to wRC+.

Courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.

All nine players rate as above average hitters on all three scales, but DRC+ isn’t as kind to the Pirates as the other advanced metrics. A double digit drop is a significant swing, and Colin Moran is the only player not in the red.

Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs grade PNC Park as more of a pitcher’s park than BP does. The pitching the Pirates faced also was a factor. Three of the Pirates’ NL Central rivals finished in the bottom five in NL starting pitcher FIP last year. Other causes for the gap will likely be explained next week once Baseball Prospectus unveils the math that goes into calculating the value.

The premiere “+” stat is a matter of opinion right now. OPS+ says “tomato,” wRC+ says “tomahto,” and DRC+ says “it’s actually a berry.” There isn’t a checkmate argument to refute any of the three. Expect it to pop up in some Pirates coverage and in the greater baseball landscape as a whole.

To play around with DRC+, here is BP’s landing page for it.