Lincecum and Arbitration

In an article on Yahoo Sports yesterday, Tim Brown discusses Tim Lincecum‘s upcoming arbitration filing. Brown argues that, as a two time Cy Young winner with super-two status, Lincecum blows up the system of comparable pitchers used to determine salaries in the arbitration process, and that Lincecum may just file for $23,000,001 (one dollar more than Sabathia’s AAV) to drive home the point of how unique his circumstances are.

It’s true that very few pitchers achieve this much success so quickly in their major league career. It is not true that Lincecum is an historically unique player without comparison, however. We saw this same scenario unfold 22 years ago in Boston, when a guy named Roger Clemens took the baseball world by storm.

Clemens debuted in the majors in 1984 at age 21, but didn’t pitch a full season until 1986. He threw 254 innings with a 2.48 ERA, winning both the Cy Young and MVP awards. He followed that up in 1987 by throwing 281 innings with a 2.97 ERA, winning another Cy Young Award (but inexplicably falling to 19th in MVP voting).

At age 24, after the equivalent of three full seasons in the big leagues, Clemens had two Cy Young awards, 60 career victories in 104 starts, and a 3.08 ERA in about 767 innings of work. For the numbers that arbiters are likely to care about, Clemens’ case was even stronger than what Lincecum can offer today, with 33 percent more wins and an MVP award to go with his multiple Cy Youngs.

His 1988 salary? $1.5 million, a 230 percent raise from his 1987 salary and a 567 percent premium over the league median salary, which was $265,000. That was a nice paycheck back in the day, but it didn’t even crack the top 25 salaries of the season, nor was Clemens the highest paid player on the Red Sox team that year – Wade Boggs ($1.7MM), Jim Rice ($2.2MM), and Dwight Evans ($1.6MM) all earned more than Clemens.

If we just took those percentages and applied them to Lincecum, the numbers wouldn’t come out as rosy as his agents might like. Lincecum interestingly made the same $650,000 last year as Clemens did in 1987, and the median salary in 2009 was $1.4 million. A 230 percent personal raise would slot Lincecum in at around $1.4 million, while a 567 percent premium over the 2010 projected median (2009 median with 1% inflation) would put him at $7.9 million.

Its safe to say that Lincecum will file for a number north of those two, and no doubt his agents will argue that the economic climate of the game has changed in the last 20 years. While that is true, it’s also true that the 1987 version of Clemens had a better resume than the 2009 version of Lincecum, so an argument that he should be treated significantly better is unlikely to be convincing.

If we agree that Lincecum shouldn’t get more (relative to today’s dollars) than what Clemens got 22 years ago, then a realistic cap for his 2010 payday looks to be about $12 to $14 million, which would put him in the same area in ordinal rank of payroll (just outside the top 25), but would also reflect that baseball players are earning more money now.

He can take his two trophies to arbitration if he wants, but he’s not getting free agent money as a guy with two years of service time. He’ll get more than Ryan Howard did in 2008, but probably not much more. He’s a great pitcher, but there are comparable performances for the arbiters to look at – you just have to go back a little farther than normal.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

45 Responses to “Lincecum and Arbitration”

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  1. Logan says:

    Call me a n00b- what’s “Super-Two” status?

    Other than that, great analysis, as always.

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  2. Dave says:

    What did Doc Gooden get? He had an even more blazing start then either of them IMO

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      Unfortunately, USA Today’s salary database only goes back to 1988. I know there are a few people working on salary databases, so perhaps when those are made public, we’ll be able to expand our comparison back to include Gooden.

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    • Steve says:

      Gooden filed for 6 eight balls, and the Mets countered with 4. obviously, he won.

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      • Logan says:


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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Reminds me of something a comedian once said, “Darryl Strawberry doesn’t like cocaine, he just likes how it smells.”

        The Doc K and TL55 comparisons is actually a pretty darn good one considering their 1st 2 years and how they took the baseball world by storm.

        I am envisioning the arbitration meeting going something like this …

        “I’d like 25M a year.”

        “What? Are you high?”

        “Yes. Yes, I am. I still want 25M.” … then TL55 gives his agent the “Wassup” head nod and a wink.

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  3. Richie Abernathy says:

    Doc Gooden’s 1985 season as a 20-year-old immediately came to my mind as well.

    Dave, great work.

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  4. Gabriel says:

    Clemens’s arbitration case came up after 3 years of collusion. Would that have any impact on this analysis?

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Collusion was on the FA market. As far as I’m aware, it didn’t extend to the arbitrators.

      Dave, does the database indicate whether Clemens’ award was his bid or the Red Sox’s bid?

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  5. Fresh Hops says:

    Clemens had a slightly higher WAR over his first two seasons as a starter as well.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Rally doesn’t have ’09 WAR numbers up, so we really can’t compare the two.

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      • Fresh Hops says:

        Well, my guess is that fangraphs WAR numbers won’t deviate by more than +/-0.5. If they do, then one of these two metrics is suspect, since with ~250IP, any decent defense independent pitching metrics should converge very closely. So we can use fangraphs’ WAR for Lincecum. Lincecum was 7.5 and 8.2; Clemens 7.9 and 8.4.

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Baseball Projection doesn’t use DIPS, they use actual run average adjusted by team defense.

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    • Logan says:

      Wait, it’s not like I just spent the past hour pouring over those figures… *puts hands in pocket and looks up at the sky*.

      I guess they see a much more pronounced difference between Pujols and Utley. Interressin’…

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      • Keep in mind that Rally adjusts his linear weights to reflect team scoring, whereas FanGraphs does not. This doesn’t mean that one is better t han the other, they just tell you different things.

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  6. Nice analysis and case in point.

    I am wondering why you used the median salary instead of the average salary? Wouldn’t the average salary be more indicative of the money being spent in baseball on free agents and post-arbitration players? At minimum, it would be interesting to see what that would yield.

    I think that range appears to be right, above Howard, with a cherry on top, but not close to what top pitchers are getting. Hopefully the Giants will be smarter with their offer than the Phillies, but it was their mistake with AJ Pierzynski that allowed him to win his salary amount.

    FYI, one of the Giants beat writers, Hank Schulman, noted that had the Giants waited another week to bring up Lincecum, he would not have made Super-2. That’s probably one of the most expensive weeks ever in baseball history, about $10M or so.

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  7. walkoffblast says:

    I wonder if the Giants would have any luck arguing the economics of baseball has changed some since the Howard decision?

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    • Matt Harms says:

      Only one way to really prove that, to be honest. League owners would have to open up their books, which they’ve been deathly opposed to in the past.

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  8. joser says:

    But Clemens was a weak little guy pitching to batters in the steroid era while not using PEDs hims…. oh, nevermind.

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    • joser says:

      BTW, that was intended as humor, not as a troll. (We have a couple consistent PED trolls around here, and the humor was intended to be as much at their expense as Seabiscuit’s; I certainly don’t want to be mistaken for them)

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      • Roland says:

        And I was going to call you out for trolling… I didn’t, though, but because I feel like I’m in a hard place when it comes to Roger and Barry; I hate them, but on a personal level!

        Both were truly great players, easily Hall of Fame, but both were egocentric, self aggrandizing jerks. That they both cheated (allegedly, but obviously) to get where then got in the game should diminish their achievements, but one can’t discredit them and give a pass to the middle relief aces or AAAA mashers who used drugs also.

        Roger was a head-hunter. He intentionally endangered the careers (maybe lives?) of opposing batters. He did so intentionally and unapologetically. He was arrogant and disrespectful to the media and fans alike. If he admitted he took the drugs because he was afraid he couldn’t compete any longer I could find some sympathy for him, I could see him and an aging champion clinging to glory. But he wouldn’t admit even that much humanity, he’d throw his teammates, even his own wife, under the bus, but Roger would never admit defeat.

        I fault MLB for the drug use, not the players. The players needed to compete to make a living, and the drugs work too well to ignore. The league had the responsibility for protecting the players from an inescapable more hazard. Still, some men are contemptible, their actions deserve scorn and repudiation, and Roger is on that list for me. To use the drug use against him might be unfair, but he isn’t someone for whom too much fairness is warranted.

        (ok, that was a longer rant than I intended… I have the week off, I don’t know what to do with my self!)

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      • Darren says:

        “Roger was a head-hunter. He intentionally endangered the careers (maybe lives?) of opposing batters. He did so intentionally and unapologetically.”

        Roger Clemens faced more than 20,000 batters in his career. He threw more than 70,000 pitches. How many times did he hit a batter in the head?

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      • Roland says:

        Roger is 10th all time on the HBP list, and he has a couple of knuckleballers ahead of him. Obviously I can’t look up the location of the batter’s bruise, nor look up all the pitches that missed up-and-in so far that the batter ducked.

        I didn’t mean to say that I hate headhunters (pitchers that throw at batters) per say, just that I should be able to hate them if I want to!

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  9. Rich in NJ says:

    SF should seek to buy out Linceum’s arbitration years and sign him to a long-term contract.

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    • joser says:

      They should, but then again they should have done that last year. It’s going to be expensive. There’s an equally interesting situation in Seattle with Felix this offseason.

      I wonder if Greinke wishes he’d waited to negotiate his buyout? Not like KC is going to blow the roof off anyway, but now he’s locked in through 2012. Of course, there was always the injury risk.

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  10. Buck Henry says:

    Dave, I love your work, but to diminish what Lincecum has done by making a simple comparison to the Rocket’s first three seasons is somewhat short-sighted, is it not? Roger played for a better team than Lincecum has played for, especially offensively, which explains why the Rocket won almost 58% of his starts over those first three seasons while Lincecum has won 45%.

    While you rightly tout Roger’s innings, wins, ERA, and MVP award, you didn’t mention that the comparison is not a direct one, since Lincecum has pitched a significantly fewer number of innings and started 15 fewer games over an “equivalent” first three seasons, with a better ERA. And again, he’s played for a team that doesn’t hold a candle to the Red Sox teams Roger played on.

    When Lincecum pitches the additional 169 innings and gets to a similar 767 innings, a stat comparison may look different.

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    • joser says:

      I don’t see how having to go back 22 years to find anyone similar “diminishes” Lincecum in any way. You have a very strange interpretation of what Dave wrote.

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      • Not David says:


        If anything having to go back over two decades in order to find a suitable comp of such high quality is a compliment.

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    • Everett says:

      I don’t understand how being compared to a Hall of Famer and one of the top 10-20 pitchers of all time diminishes things.

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      • Jimbo says:

        Anything less than a comparison to Pedro’s 1999-2000 or Sandy Koufax is an insult to Lincecum the Great.

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  11. SharksRog says:

    As for what the Giants should have done, they should have signed Lincecum long-term when they brought him up. They may not have know he was THIS good, but they had a very good idea he was going to be exceptional. His ERA in five AAA starts was 0.29 for crying out loud. He struck out twice as many batters as he allowed to reach base.

    Perhaps they thought to do so but were concerned that they had already (foolishly) committed $126 million to Barry Zito.

    I don’t expect the Giants to go to arbitration with Lincecum. Brian Sabean has admitted that in arbitration a team tries to say bad things about a player (weaknesses) and that there isn’t anything they can bring up about Tim.

    Could the Giants have negotiated an Evan Longoria-type contract with Tim back in 2007? I don’t know. But it is hard to argue that they shouldn’t have tried.

    Pitchers are considered higher health risks, and not without reason, but I believe the Giants were convinced when they drafted Lincecum that he was a less-than-average health risk.

    Hindsight is 20/20 of course, but some were recommending the Giants attempt to negotiate a long-term contract with Lincecum from the day he was called up. It is a shame the Giants didn’t pay more attention.

    Of course those fans who were recommending the long-term contract for Lincecum were likely the same ones who decried the lengthy pact for Zito.

    The Giants had the right idea. They simply picked the wrong guy. That wrong decision might cost them close to $200 million.

    Of course, the Giants have had a history of overpaying for second- and third-tier free agents, and they may never have had a young player as good as Lincecum in the free agent era.

    Yet another mistake they appear to have made was not to draft Rick Porcello when Rick was available with their 22nd-overall pick in the 2007 draft. That choice may also have been related to the $126 million they owed to Zito, which by that time was evident as a large mistake. The Giants did reverse their position in 2008, spending big bucks on catcher Buster Posey.

    At just 20 years of age, Porcello was one of the top rookies in baseball in 2009. Posey will likely achieve at least that status in 2010.

    This seems unreal, but the Giants had a potential young rotation of Lincecum, Matt Cain, Porcello, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez. And in theory they could have locked them all up for a lot less than they are spending on Zito alone.

    The Giants still have the potential for a fabulous starting rotation. In theory at least, they could have had the potential for a starting rotation for the ages.

    But then it is said the Braves had the chance to sign Willie Mays and that the Giants had the chance to sign Hank Aaron.

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    • Richard says:

      Where did this idea come from that the Giants didn’t want or try to sign Lincecum to a longer deal when he was brought up? As a Giants fan, I can tell you that it came from non-Giants fans.

      Lincecum and his agent have been very outspoken about going year-to-year from the beginning of his career. They are playing it smart, provided his health holds up.

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      • SharksRog says:

        I didn’t mean to give the impression that the Giants didn’t want or try to sign Tim Lincecum when he was brought up. My point was that they didn’t do so.

        I believe that was the time to do so. Certainly Lincecum and his agent had lots of confidence in Tim, but even with Tim’s fine mechanics, the possibility of serious injury always looms — especially for a pitcher.

        I can’t say how much the Giants would have had to pay Tim to lock him up long-term. I can’t even say they could have done so at any price.

        What I can say is that they almost certainly could have locked Tim up a lot cheaper than he’s going to be year-to-year.

        In addition, if the Giants don’t lock Tim up long-term at least a year before he is eligible for free agency, they run a high risk of losing him to one of the money-is-little object teams.

        If Tim keeps winning Cy Young awards, the Giants may not be able to afford him, horrific as that would be. Had they taken what I believed and still believe would be a prudent risk in signing him early, at least they would have had cost certainty.

        The Giants have three somewhat horrendous contracts right now.

        Edgar Renteria’s $9 million per year pact ends a year from now. That should give the Giants some temporary relief, but could be 50% or so offset by another Lincecum arbitration. And the Giants may need to bank that savings to prepare for Matt Cain’s impending free agency eligibility after the 2011 season.

        In fact, if I were the Giants, I would be banking money this winter. Even if they add a couple of middling free agents as is their wont, I doubt they’ll seriously challenge in 2010.

        Aaron Rowand’s $12 mill per season pact ends after the 2012 season. His money could be banked for Lincecum, although the Giants have little present evidence of a Rowand replacement even three years down the road.

        Barry Zito’s contract is set to expire right when Lincecum is eligible for free agency. But if Barry continues to pitch as he did last season and the market for pitchers rises at all, the Giants would likely exercise his 2014 option at $18 million rather than pay a $7 million buyout.

        With success come money problems. The Giants need more creativity from the general manager’s office than they have gotten heretofore.

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    • james says:

      i sure as heck can come up with something negative to say about him… he’s only been in the league 3 years and here’s what Dave Cameron said… ship it!

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  12. Rory says:

    I love how Dave managed to scrounge up some precedence, especially when it seemed the wide belief was that none existed. I believe both the Giants and Lincecum would submit figures of between 12 and 16 mil. I was apparently wrong about the Giants. How do you not submit a figure of at least 10 mil to equal Howard’s award? Sabean and that front office just continue to baffle me and it’s quite painful being a diehard G fan. I’m sure Dave can relate from the Bavasi days and rejoice for the Jack Z’s.

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