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The Diminishing Value of ERA in MLB Analysis

When you think about how good a pitcher is, you immediately just look to ERA. Earned Run Average has been a staple in our game since 1876. In 1876 George Bradley posted a 1.23 ERA to win the first ERA title. We’ve looked at the ERA numbers of pitchers to determine how truly amazing they are, but is that the most accurate measure for the analysis of MLB pitchers? While ERA does have a correlation to success, is it the most accurate correlation to said success?

Breaking Down the Flaws in ERA in an MLB Pitcher’s Analysis

Earned Run Average values all outs the same and all runs the same. I’m sorry, but a 100 MPH line drive out is less impressive for the pitcher than a strikeout. While yes an out is an out, who did the most to get said out varies. A groundball simply isn’t just the pitcher being good, as they can’t control where the ball goes after contact. A pitcher who strikes a batter out though gets more value for the out as there was no fielding involved. This is the issue with the stat ERA. It gives the pitcher equal credit for outs rather than taking each out into context. You can’t use it to make any accurate predictions or assessments on the legitimacy of a pitcher’s ERA based on ERA, which is where these stats come into play.

More Accurate Performance Estimators

I believe FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) has become familiar with many fans. This stat is an improvement on ERA, but not quite enough for me. Here come xFIP and SIERA, advanced stats that do a much better job at demonstrating how good a pitcher truly was. While xFIP is expected FIP which uses the expected amount of home runs rather than the real amount of home runs. This is based on their fly ball percentage mixed with the league average FB/HR%. It’s definitely better than FIP as it can point out very quickly if a pitcher’s FB/HR% (which is a changing variable uncontrolled by a pitcher) was the reason why they weren’t that great.

The best one however happens to be Skill-Interactive Earned Run Average, a stat that factors everything xFIP does but also factors K-BB% and balls in play. Flyball pitchers are better at preventing hits than groundball pitchers due to the average BABIP on flyballs being lower. This is unless said groundball pitchers get a very low BABIP on ground balls or the flyball pitcher has a high FB/HR%.

These stats are much better than ERA, but is ERA useless?

ERA Matters; Sort of

When compared to SIERA and xFIP usually is my answer. If two pitchers have a similar SIERA and xFIP, ERA and FIP should be the tiebreakers. There are pitchers who just always overperform a little or underperform a little. In 2019 on average pitchers underperformed their xFIP, pitched on par to their SIERA, and slightly underperformed their FIP. I think RBI is useless, the batting average is useless, and fielding percentage is useless. An ERA isn’t in that category of useless. It’s just not the go-to for player evaluation, as it can’t show how good a pitcher was in that outing, only how many runs they gave up. You don’t have to agree with me on this wild take. I just think that it’s time we start to wonder about how great ERA truly is as a stat for analysis.

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