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Minor League Ball Daily Discussion: Replacing ERA?

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Should ERA be replaced, and if so, how should it be done?

Tim Lincecum
Tim Lincecum
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Bryan Grosnick at Beyond the Boxscore posted this article last week, arguing that ERA should be eliminated in favor of RA/9.

Bryan runs down the various arguments about ERA and FIP and similar numbers. I think his sabermetric case is solid. But there are counterarguments, and Bryan considers these:

I can understand why some people might say that converting our way of thinking from ERA to RA9 is a mistake, or a waste of time. ERA and RA9 are very close, most of the time. The difference between a pitcher's RA9 and ERA is relatively small. This is true in most cases, but the areas where we see outlier performance are probably importantt enough to note. ERA takes an imperfect grasp at removing a pitcher's accountability for events outside of his control, true, but we have other metrics (such as FIP) that do that in a more rigorous way.

The biggest argument against will always be the widespread acceptance of ERA -- how deeply ingrained it already is into the familiar baseball discussion. Why try to teach a wide audience this new statistic when there are literally dozens of others jockeying for position in the hearts and minds of baseball fans?

Because it's better, and because it's more accurate, is why. And even if it doesn't immediately gain traction, using RA9 in analysis provides for a clearer, less biased picture than ERA does. That's worth something, even if it represents just another "battle" in the world of statistic acceptance.

ERA gives us a skewed view of how defense affected a pitcher's runs allowed, and a biased view like that just doesn't have the same value as the raw data of RA9. . .We have the ability to easily replace ERA with RA9 in the popular lexicon. And it's about time we do it.

If I understand correctly, and perhaps I don't given my recent medical problems, Bryan is arguing that the analyst community should stop using ERA at all, even in articles meant for popular consumption, in an attempt to change public consciousness with a form of shock treatment.

What do you guys think about that? In my own work, I have always taken a gradual approach to using new stats, at least in what I write for general consumption. I've been considered a dinosaur by some for that approach, but it is deliberate and is based on my ideas about sociology and psychology.

I think Bryan is correct from a purely empirical point of view. If a new stat is better, we need to use it. But I think eliminating discussion of an old stat overnight, trying to change the lexicon by subtraction rather than addition, drives casual fans away.

It has to be introduced gradually. Understanding and appreciation of OBP is widespread now, but that is because it gradually entered the baseball discussion over a period of 20 years to the point that even casual fans know what it means. But if batting average had just been taken off the table 20 years ago by the powers that be, and people who still liked it or wanted to know about it were told that they were stupid,it would have alienated a lot of people.

FIP and similar measures are entering the broader discussion of the game, because it is being done gradually as a compliment to ERA. In 10 years the casual fan will understand FIP and similar ways to look at pitcher effectiveness.

It is unrealistic and, in my opinion, counterproductive for the sport to throw away old stats. Keep the old ones, add new ones, explain them, and gradually the superior ones will take hold.

But that's just me and I could be completely wrong. Perhaps Bryan is right and analysts should stop referring to ERA at all. What do you guys think?

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