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Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Kyle Wright throws during the first inning of a baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

After a recent start, teammates showered Baltimore Orioles right-hander Dean Kremer with Gatorade to celebrate the first complete-game shutout of his young career. Inside the clubhouse later, the other Orioles tossed Kremer into a laundry cart (as they oddly do sometimes in the major leagues) and doused him with multiple kinds of liquids, some of unspecified composition. It all happened in good fun.

"This is a special night," Kremer said. "This may not happen ever again in my career. But this is a night to remember, for sure."

Kremer, a 26-year-old with just 37 major-league appearances in parts of three seasons, is one of the big reasons Baltimore contended for a playoff spot in 2022 after losing 110 games a season ago. It also can be shown, by combining a widely familiar metric with a newer one created by analysts at Baseball Prospectus, that Kremer is the most improved pitcher in all of Major League Baseball this season.

The most. Number one.

Using these metrics, Kremer is an astounding 78% better than he was a year ago. The next best improvement is by Atlanta Braves right-hander Kyle Wright, who is 60% better than his career line. (Wright, a 20-game winner this season, pitched in just two games in 2021.) The other top improvers are three left-handers: Andrew Heaney of the Los Angeles Dodgers (59%), Jesús Luzardo of the Miami Marlins (56%), and Reid Detmers of the Los Angeles Angels (53%). Detmers also threw a no-hitter this season.

MLB's most improved: Hitters in 2022

Kremer in 20 appearances coming into action Wednesday night had a 3.07 ERA which, when adjusted to ERA Plus — which accounts for external factors like ballparks and opponents — ranked 28th overall among pitchers who have thrown 100 innings or more. Kremer has a better ERA+ than Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers, Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres, Gerrit Cole of the New York Yankees, and Aaron Nola of the Philadelphia Phillies, to name a few aces.

No less important, Kremer is better than himself from a year ago. In 2021, he had a 7.55 ERA in 13 starts. Again making adjustments that tweak ERA into ERA+, only four pitchers who reached at least 50 innings, among 338 total, performed worse last year. Kremer's ERA+ is 124% better than it was.

dERA isn't the only way to evaluate a pitcher, so also using Deserved Runs Allowed (and adjusting it to DRA-), can account for details that ERA overlooks, giving a more complete picture. With a league-wide baseline average of 100, DRA- "focuses on a pitcher's expected contribution and uses a mixed-model approach to isolate the work of the pitcher from other factors like defense, park, and quality of opponent."

Most improved pitchers by ERA and DRA (adjusted)
Player, Team ERA 2021 DRA 2021 Adj.
1. Dean Kremer, Orioles 3.07 7.55 4.65 6.53 78%
2. Kyle Wright, Braves 3.18 9.95 3.65 5.59 60%
3. Andrew Heaney, Dodgers 3.06 5.83 3.14 4.78 59%
4. Jesús Luzardo, Marlins 3.57 6.61 3.94 5.29 56%
5. Reid Detmers, Angels 3.88 7.40 4.64 6.66 53%
6. Tyler Anderson, Dodgers 2.54 4.53 4.32 5.36 46%
7. Dylan Cease, White Sox 2.06 3.91 3.08 3.58 41%
8. Zac Gallen, Dbacks 2.46 4.30 3.20 3.84 40%
9. Michael Wacha, Red Sox 3.06 5.05 4.36 4.59 38%
10. Brady Singer, Royals 2.99 4.91 3.59 4.80 37%
11. José Quintana, Cardinals 3.03 6.43 4.88 3.93 35%
12. Tony Gonsolin, Dodgers 2.10 3.23 3.60 4.57 35%
13. Carlos Carrasco, Mets 3.95 6.04 4.19 4.95 34%
14. Martin Perez, Rangers 2.90 4.74 4.64 6.11 33%
15. Triston McKenzie, Guardians 3.04 4.95 3.68 4.85 32%
16. Mitch Keller, Pirates 3.92 6.17 4.61 5.41 30%
17. Shane McClanahan, Rays 2.51 3.43 3.06 4.13 26%
18. Merrill Kelly, Dbacks 3.13 4.44 3.83 4.50 23%
19. Shohei Ohtani, Angels 2.47 3.18 2.21 3.52 20%
20. Aaron Nola, Phillies 3.28 4.63 3.09 3.44 20%

Kremer's 106 DRA- ranks 82nd in the league among 127 pitchers. That tells us that we should expect Kremer's ERA to be higher (or is likely to go higher) than it is. Even so, it's a 32% improvement over his DRA- in 2021, which is sixth-best among pitchers who have logged at least 100 innings this season.

That's the formula, or most of it. How has Kremer gotten better? By allowing weaker contact, giving up fewer home runs and cutting his walk rate. His hard-hit average against is nearly 5.5% lower, he's given up nine fewer homers in about twice as many innings, and walks have been nearly chopped in half. The Orioles excavating the shorter porch in left field at Camden Yards, removing about 1,000 seats and pushing back the fence helped some — in reality and possibly mentally — but that’s not the only reason for Kremer and the Orioles pitching staff at large making big strides.

Kremer is throwing about as hard as he did a season ago, but his strikeout rate has dipped a bit. It's all about better location and better command of his four-seamer and cut fastballs. They killed him a year ago. He's also doubled the percentage of changeups. Hitters aren't excelling at squaring any of his top pitches.

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Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Dean Kremer delivers during the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022, in Boston. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Who else has improved by the widest margins?

Familiar names like Dodgers left-hander Tyler Anderson (46%), Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox (41%), Zac Gallen of the Arizona Diamondbacks (40%) and Dodgers right-hander Tony Gonsolin (35%) have made notable leaps forward into elite territory.

A first time All-Star, Anderson started the week fifth in the National League in ERA (2.54). A top contender for American League Cy Young, Cease has nearly cut his ERA in half; his ERA+ is nearly twice as good as league average. Gallen pitched 44 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings, the seventh-longest string in MLB history, in the second half. Gonsolin broke out last year, but only Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander has a better ERA+ this season.

Michael Wacha of the Boston Red Sox has cut his ERA+ by 75%, though his DRA- has actually gone up a point to league average. He'll take the improved results regardless. A true rebound season would be more like Texas Rangers left-hander Martín Pérez, who improved his ERA by 40% and his DRA- by 27%.

Two other big breakout seasons belong to Kansas City Royals right-hander Brady Singer (37%) and Cleveland Guardians righty Triston McKenzie (32%). Both have gone from below average in 2021 to well-above it this season.

One other note on starting pitchers: Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani has improved 20%, but his 61 DRA- is 39% better than the average pitcher. He's pitching better than he has been given credit for.

Most improved relievers

Dodgers right-hander Evan Phillips had a 6.68 ERA in 56 career appearances coming into this season, but he has become a key late-inning weapon for manager Dave Roberts. Phillips' 1.20 ERA, when adjusted, is 252% better than league average. He has allowed 30 hits in 60 innings, and he's striking out 32% of the batters he faces.

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Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Evan Phillips throws during the eighth inning of the team's baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Los Angeles. The Dodgers won-6-2. (AP Photo/Raul Romero Jr.)

Ryan Helsley of the St. Louis Cardinals had a 4.56 ERA last year, walked too many batters and couldn't command his fastball to get enough strikeouts. This season, his ERA+ is nearly 200% better than average, He's striking out nearly 40% of the batters he faces, and his walk rate is 5% lower. When you throw 100 mph, these factors make all the difference.

Jason Adam of the Tampa Bay Rays was a mediocre middle man, bouncing around from the Royals to Blue Jays to Cubs since 2018. This season, he has allowed less than half a hit per inning, and he's cut his walk rate in half. His adjusted ERA is 130% better than league average.

Daniel Bard of the Colorado Rockies has had great seasons before, but wildness and other issues led to a six-year absence from MLB until 2020. He was OK the past two seasons but is back in elite territory with a 1.88 ERA (150% better than league average when adjusted) and an unbelievable slash line against of .157/.258/.245. That's amazing for someone who, at 37 years old, plays half of his games at Coors Field.

Rangers left-hander Matt Moore's transition to the bullpen has been a great success. An All-Star with the Rays at age 24, he had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and a 5.26 ERA in 142 appearances from 2015 to 2021, not including a successful side jaunt to the Japanese league in 2020. This season, Moore has got a 2.06 ERA (95% better than league average when adjusted) and has allowed a .193/.297/.285 slash line as a late-inning lefty in the Texas bullpen.

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