Tim Lincecum and the Slow Death of ERA

Last night, Jeff sent me a text that said simply “Lincecum re-signed, 2/35″. My immediate reaction was that this was a hilarious overpay. I had just published a piece earlier in the day explaining why I didn’t see why the crowd thought Lincecum would get 3/40 when Dan Haren was projected for 2/19 and wouldn’t come with the qualifying offer tag. 3/40 for Lincecum, coming off two mediocre years, just seemed like an overpay. He was the kind of guy you should buy low on, and that’s not buying low.

And 2/35, with a full no-trade clause, is even more player friendly than 3/40 would have been. And this is what the Giants paid to keep him from even testing the free agent market; the presumption is that they think his price would have been even higher had they let other teams start bidding. When you factor in the value of the draft pick that would have been tied to signing Lincecum, and the value of the no-trade clause, this contract essentially bets that Lincecum’s market value is somewhere around $20 million per year.

That seems crazy. Last year, he had an ERA- of 124, ranking 74th out of the 81 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title. He ranks right between Jerome Williams and Kyle Kendrick on that leaderboard. And that was an improvement over his 2012 season, in which he ran an ERA- of 139, the very worst mark put up of the 88 pitchers who qualified that year. Over the last two seasons, the only qualified pitcher with a worse ERA- than Lincecum is Edinson Volquez, who the Padres released during the season. By runs allowed, Tim Lincecum has been basically replacement level for the last 400 innings. And he just got valued at around $20 million per year. Crazy, right? Well, maybe not.

We have been writing here, for years, about the flaws of evaluating a pitcher by ERA. There are a ton of variables that are large factors in ERA which are influenced by things other than the pitcher, and just crediting or blaming the pitcher for everything that happens when he’s on the mound can lead to some mistaken conclusions. Run prevention is not synonymous with pitching; run prevention is pitching and defense, along with the sequencing of when the various events occur. The pitcher is a major factor in run prevention, but we should be more interested in isolating his role in the result than in holding the entire result against him.

And that’s just looking backwards, trying to assign credit and blame for things that happened in the past. When we get into trying to project the future, single season ERA becomes even less useful. As Bill Petti noted back in April, the year to year correlation of ERA from 2002 to 2012 was lower than almost every other metric for starting pitchers. It’s not that ERA contains no useful information, but that a lot of the things that drive ERA in one season simply don’t carry over to the next season.

Knowing this, we should not decide that a significant contract for a pitcher with a high ERA is demonstrably nuts. In fact, the crazy thing would be continuing to cling to ERA as a barometer for what a pitcher should be paid for his performance going forward when we know it’s not very good at predicting a pitcher’s future performance. It isn’t clearly crazy to pay a pitcher $35 million when he’s posted an ERA of 4.52 over the last two years; it is clearly crazy to look no further than ERA when deciding what kind of contract a pitcher should get.

And Major League teams have been making that adjustment for a while. This actually looks like part of a trend that began last winter. For instance, here are a few of the more notable free agent starters (without health concerns, which changes all the calculations) who signed last off-season, and their respective performances over the prior two seasons:

Hiroki Kuroda, 1/$15M, 82 ERA-/90 ERA-
Kyle Lohse, 3/$33M, 83 ERA-/103 xFIP-
Zack Greinke, 7/$147M, 93 ERA-/74 xFIP-
Anibal Sanchez, 5/$80M, 95 ERA-/87 xFIP-
Edwin Jackson, 4/$52M, 98 ERA-/96 xFIP-
Ryan Dempster, 2/$27M, 102 ERA-/95 xFIP-

Kyle Lohse was, by ERA, maybe the best starter on the market last winter, once you factor in Kuroda’s age and geographic preferences limiting where he’d sign. Lohse didn’t sign until almost Opening Day. We all chalked it up to the power of the qualifying offer, but his ERA was significantly lower than his peripherals would suggest, and he spent the entire off-season without a serious suitor. Meanwhile, the Dodgers, Tigers, Cubs, and Red Sox spent lavishly on pitchers who had peripherals that were better than their ERAs. Last winter, ERA did little to help one understand how free agent pitchers got paid.

The first deal of the 2013 off-season continues that trend. By ERA, this contract for Tim Lincecum looks crazy. But, more and more, it looks like we are entering an age where teams will bid significant dollars for pitchers who are expected to be better than their recent ERAs suggest. And, of course, Lincecum fits perfectly into that group.

You don’t need a further rehash of Lincecum’s last few years, as everyone by now knows his xFIPs have been pretty good and his ERAs pretty awful. The numbers that are better at projecting future performance think Tim Lincecum is still pretty good. Over the last two years, Lincecum’s 96 xFIP- ties him with Mat Latos and Derek Holland. It puts him almost dead even with Jon Lester, and ahead of Jake Peavy. 2/35 for any of those four pitchers would be hailed as a huge bargain, because their ERAs match up with their xFIPs, and so the public perception is that they are good pitchers. The public is still evaluating pitchers almost entirely by ERA; Major League teams, increasingly, are not.

We have become used to identifying pitchers with good peripherals and bad ERAs as nifty buy low candidates. This, to me, looks like part of a market correction, and the price for pitchers with bad ERAs but good peripherals seems to be going up pretty fast. 2/35 for Lincecum might seem like a dramatic overpay on the surface, but in retrospect, should we really have expected him to sign for much less when we saw what the market said about Greinke, Sanchez, and Jackson last year?

I think the shocking part of this deal is that this is the first big contract for a guy whose results were truly awful. With Greinke, Sanchez, and Jackson, you could make a case that ERA undervalued each of them, but ERA still said they were decent. Teams showed that they were willing to pay high prices for okay ERA/good xFIP guys, but this is the first time a team has shown that they were willing to pay a premium price for an awful ERA/good xFIP guy. This is maybe the strongest rejection of ERA that we’ve seen in free agency.

But this is also something of a logical conclusion to believing in peripheral data more than ERA. If the Dodgers were willing to bet on Greinke’s BB/K/GB rates to to the tune of $150 million, is a $35 million bet on those same numbers really that absurd? It’s the same concept, just on a smaller scale. The Jackson deal is perhaps a better comparison, because Lincecum’s peripherals are closer to the slightly above average numbers that he put up rather than Greinke’s dominating ace type numbers, but again, Jackson was seen as a wildly inconsistent pitcher whose results never matched up to his stuff, and he got $13 million a year for four years. Relative to that deal, the Giants premium in AAV can simply be seen as a trade-off for limiting their risk to only two years.

This deal seems shocking, because we haven’t seen others exactly like it before, but we should have seen the seeds of this kind of deal being planted a year ago. Last winter, the market for free agent pitchers started leaning away from ERA, and the Giants may very well have seen the writing on the wall, knowing that the days of a pitcher with Lincecum’s pedigree and projections being a bargain were over.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the Giants should have signed this deal, or that there weren’t better ways to spend $35 million this winter than on hoping for a Tim Lincecum rebound. I think, realistically, $17.5 million a year, and a no-trade clause, and the lost value from getting a draft pick had Lincecum signed elsewhere, probably does make this an overpay. The Giants may very well have been better off letting Lincecum leave and targeting a pitcher like Dan Haren to replace him, saving money and landing the draft pick in the process.

But I think we now have to revise our expected price for Haren, and pitchers like him, up by a decent amount. The days of simply sorting a leaderboard by the difference in xFIP and ERA and finding bargains might be over. The entrenched hold that ERA has had on pitcher valuations appears to be dwindling. It’s time we stop expecting pitchers like this to sign for peanuts simply because of their ERA. That’s not how major league teams are evaluating pitching anymore.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

138 Responses to “Tim Lincecum and the Slow Death of ERA”

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  1. Dave says:

    Lincecum’s average fastball lost over 2mph over the past few seasons. Are you honestly telling me that GM’s don’t use that info when signing pitchers?

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    • Justin says:

      doesnt seem the giants were too concerned, right or wrong.

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      • AK7007 says:

        The giants saw a no-hitter and said “hold on to that guy.” Jonathan Sanchez was kept way too long based on K rates and a glimmer of what could be. Bet the same things happen with Petit. Point being, I think the Giants really look at a single super awesome performance, and try to extrapolate that into glory, as insane as it is.

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        • Mr. Jones says:

          There is absolutely no way that this could possibly be the case.

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        • Pirates Hurdles says:

          LOL, the Asst Gm actually mentioned the no-hitter in an interview with Joel Sherman yesterday.

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        • Brett says:

          “There is absolutely no way that this could possibly be the case.”

          Mr. Jones, clearly you are not a Giants fan who has nearly torn his hair out over the multitude of ridiculous contracts Sabean has handed out to veterans.

          (Sabean deserves a lot more credit than he gets, but this is his most glaring weakness.)

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        • Randyhalo says:

          Your gonna compare a guy with 2 Cy Youngs to Sanchez?

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      • cs3 says:

        Well Id say they *were* concerned considering the last time they offered him a contract it was for 5 years and 100 mil.
        If they werent concerned then why is this deal 3 years shorter and $65 million poorer?

        Sure, Timmy is 2 years older, but c’mon.

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    • dainla says:

      There are sixteen starting pitchers with at least 380 innings pitched over the last two years who also struck out more than 380 batters. Tim Lincecum is one of those pitchers.

      Of those, 10 are under 30. One is Lincecum.

      There are eight qualified starting pitchers who make batters swing and miss on at least 11% of all their pitches. Tim Lincecum is one of those pitchers.

      Giants relievers allowed over 60% of the runners Lincecum left on base to score. The league average is 28%.

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      • Bip says:

        That last stat is misleading. It’s possible that in Lincecum’s “pull” innings, he typically left runners farther along on the bases and managed fewer outs than the average starter. If a starter leaves in the 7th with a guy on first and two outs, then he is leaving his reliever in a better position than a guy who leaves with the bases loaded an none out.

        What we would have to do is look at all of Lincecum’s bequeathed runners and add up the probability of each scoring, look at the number who actually scored, and compare that ratio to the league average ratio. One can also add the run expectancies of each base-out state that Lincecum left and subtract the RE of none-on, and same number of outs to remove any possible runs that Lincecum would not be responsible for that may score in that inning.

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        • david k says:

          I was thinking the same thing, and also, it depends on how deep the starter can get into a game. If he makes it to the 8th, then he will likely be replaced by the “set-up guy”, probably he 2nd best reliever on the team. If he only makes it to the 6th, he’ll probably be relived by the 4th best reliever on the team, or worse.

          I don’t have the time to look at Lincecum’s starts right now to research this myself, so it’s all conjecture on my part.

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        • Bip says:

          Smart managers often have a kind of “fireman” reliever who probably isn’t as good as the closer but may be the second or third best reliever. This guy will not be dedicated to the 8th, but will instead come into a jam, when the opposing team’s chance of scoring is highest. If not that, then managers will instead play to matchups to get out of the inning, bringing in their lefty killer if a LHB is coming up, for example.

          I don’t know if the Giant’s did any of this or if they stuck to a rigid “4th best guy for the 6th, 3rd best for the 7th, etc.” pattern. I hear that Bochy is a decent tactician, so I presume the bullpen was handled better than that though.

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      • Subfield says:

        There are four starting pitchers with at least 350 innings pitched over the last two years who also walked 10% or more of the batters they faced. Tim Lincecum is one of those pitchers.

        There are three qualified starting pitchers who threw first-pitch strikes less than 56% of the time. Tim Lincecum is one of those pitchers.

        There is one qualified starting pitcher who had the highest line drive percentage. Tim Lincecum is that pitcher.

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        • TKDC says:

          “There is one qualified starting pitcher who had the highest line drive percentage. Tim Lincecum is that pitcher.”

          There is one qualified starting pitcher who had the third highest line drive percentage. Adam Wainwright is that pitcher. Is this really that useful a stat?

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        • Bip says:

          People have often quoted line drive percentage as if it is supposed to be some stable determiner of BABIP. It seems that the quality of contact matters more than the trajectory in actual fact.

          Wainwright does have a worse-than-average BABIP though, and his ERA is almost half a run worse than his FIP. It only looks like a bad comparison because Wainwright’s peripherals are much better than Lincecum’s.

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  2. Froglegs Jackson says:

    Lohse signed in Spring Training, so before Opening Day.

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  3. Justin says:

    Neal Huntington starts crying in a corner. No more Burnetts, Melancons, and Lirianos.

    So now that FIP is no longer a market inefficiency (or at least is quickly losing its inefficiency)…. what do we do now?

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  4. Johnny says:

    Lincecum posted WAR of 1.6 and .9 the last two seasons. They are paying him as though he was a 3-4 win player. Definitely an overpay.

    +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • dainla says:

      Tell that to the shirts he sells and the money he brings in.

      Baseball is not just stats. Never has been.

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      • Sean D says:

        Shirt sales are part of revenue sharing.

        I’d like to see someone make a case that he brings in extra money.

        Beyond The Box Score tried, didn’t seem to add up. http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2013/10/22/4874170/tim-lincecum-extension-reaction

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        • ken woolums says:

          Yep, that’s what I wrote. The revenue impact argument is very weak as many don’t know the facts and trends

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        • AF says:

          “I’d like to see someone make a case that he brings in extra money.”

          It’s hard to show this directly since the Giants sell out every game, and, as far as I know, reliable data on things like merchandise sales are not publicly available. But in any other industry, brand recognition is understood to have dollar value. “Tim Lincecum” generates 2.67M Google results. By comparison, “Matt Cain” results in 1.3M hits, “Zack Greinke” is at 1.52M, “Mat Latos” generates 538,000, “Adam Wainwright” is at 2.25M, and “Clayton Kershaw” is at 2.41M. If the Giants paid a premium for on-field performance, which they may have done, they got a lot of brand equity for their money.

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      • jpg says:

        This is the 1st time I’ve ever seen some get up-votes and down-votes for comments in the same article. Take a bow dainla, your trailblazing ways inspire us all…er…well probably just me.

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    • Jason B says:

      Evaluating contracts solely by historical WAR seems a misuse of WAR.

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      • MrKnowNothing says:

        Have you read Dave’s analysis before?

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        • Jason B says:

          To be fair, this article and the resulting comments are exploring what more the Giants may have seen that led them to this signing. WAR is quite a useful shorthand, but I hate when it’s misappropriated to be the sole point used in (what should be) a discussion.

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  5. Pirates Hurdles says:

    Are we sure this is really happening? Could this not just be an isolated case of Sabean saying – “Hey its Tim freakin Lincecum, two time Cy Young winner, we can’t let him go and offering him a low salary would be insulting to such a popular player in Giants history. Heck he’s only 29 and his ERA was almost a run better in 2013, he’s just a small turn away from being a frontline guy again”.

    How do we know that Sabean made the move based on the correct data and not outside factors.

    +40 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • quincy0191 says:

      It absolutely could be that, but for all the crap the Giants’ FO gets for not being a forward-thinking organization, they do have a substantial analytics department that they actually use. Moreover, this is not a new problem, where we have A and B but no direct causal link, and so question whether A led to B. It’s an issue that philosophers have been tangling with for thousands of years.

      The best we can do is identify patterns and draw logical inferences: “if every time I press this button a light turns on, and the purpose of the button is to turn on the light (or there is another non-correlation reason to believe the button turns on the light), then I can conclude the button causes the light to turn on”. It’s possible they’re totally unrelated and it’s just coincidence, but given the idea that a) teams have more consistently been disregarding ERA as a metric with which to evaluate pitchers and b) Lincecum’s deal pays him more for his peripherals than his ERA, it’s not unreasonable to reach Dave’s conclusion.

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    • TKDC says:

      For example, Andruw Jones still got a 2 year, 36 million dollar deal after a season that saw him tank. He was still young, and had such a pedigree. I honestly don’t believe this isn’t a decent part of this deal. Steamer has Timmy as a 2.1 WAR player next year. Not giving up on the guy would be looking past ERA. This is not just that. Just looking past ERA would result in something closer to the what the crowd said.

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    • Pirates Hurdles says:

      Not much mention of advanced stats here in the explanation given by the assistant GM.

      http://nypost.com/2013/10/23/why-giants-dont-think-35m-for-lincecum-is-crazy/

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  6. Tom says:

    Another factor, as small as I may be, is he is a fan favorite in San Fran. Not worth a ton of money, I admit, but there is certainly a little bit of public relation value in this move as well.

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  7. JP says:

    Sounds like wishcasting. I don’t really believe Sabean did this because he can see past ERA.

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    • JP says:

      Yeah okay. I saw your tweet. At this point almost every team has a stats wing that they listen to to one degree or another. It’s not just that the Giants/Sabean are too dumb to look past ERA (they might be), it’s that there are other more likely explanations. Like, he’s Tim Lincecum – Cy Young winner, or my owner told me to do it, or I just really like that kid, or last time we wildly overpaid a former CY winner we won the World Series.

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      • larry says:

        i enjoy baseball analysis that starts with the premise that a major league front office is too dumb.

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        • JP says:

          It doesn’t begin with that. It begins with a pitcher who posted a 4.75 ERA in ATT over two full years and has seen significant velocity loss receiving the 9th highest salary by AAV for any pitcher in 2014.

          It could be that the team is dumb. Or that it’s secretly smart. I’m going former. A reasonable case could be made for either.

          Even if you do think this is a reasonable contract, a much better outcome was available to them through the qualifying offer process.

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        • JohnnyComeLately says:

          Not only that, but a front office with 2 WS rings in 3 years. They’re the dumbest!

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        • Pirates Hurdles says:

          I’m not saying that Sabean is dumb. For all we know Sabean has some private information that suggests Timmy will rebound even more in 2014. I just don’t buy that this move in isolation means that front offices as a whole are disregarding ERA for advanced stats.

          There are so many variables in this case that could easily make it an exception and not a rule.

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        • pinch says:

          yes, of course, because good results justify bad decision making. my grandmother won the lottery last week, so I told her to go spend all the winnings on lottery tickets, since clearly they’re a good bet.

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        • Shao says:

          Sabean read exactly the same as “dumb ice” in Chinese

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  8. Professor Ross Eforp says:

    I think Dave is reading a bit too much into this. I mean, this is the guy that signed Barry Zito.

    Don’t get me wrong, San Fran obviously realizes that he is likely better than he has pitched, but I think his history with the team (2 WS, 2 Cy Young) likely played a huge role in this signing. I don’t think they would offer the same deal to Joe Schmoe if they had been pitching for the Royals.

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      • Cool Lester Smooth says:

        Like playing Aubrey Huff over Brandon Belt?

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      • Professor Ross Eforp says:

        The facts:

        The Giants didn’t use a full-time closer…after their full-time closer was hurt (and his replacement was ineffective/hurt). This is one of the main points of the author, and he defends it several times in the comments. Fast forward to this year and Sergio Romo tied for sixth in baseball with 52 games finished. It looks like they believed in that strategy so much that they completely abandoned it.

        The Giants like OBP…just like everybody else in baseball.

        The Giants have an IT scouting department…just like everybody else in baseball.

        The evidence does indicate that they have been on the cutting edge of defensive metrics. My point isn’t really that the Giants are anti-stat or anything, it’s just that I don’t see any real evidence that the Giants are solely betting so heavily on xFIP.

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        • Simon says:

          Your argument seems to be.

          1. The Giants are not atypical of MLB teams in the way they evaluate information.
          2. There is a relatively basic sabermetric analysis that would largely explain why they might offer a contract of 2/35 to Lincecum
          3. I refuse to believe a typical MLB team would use such information in deciding to make such an offer.

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  9. Jim says:

    It’s not that his ERA has been bad for one
    year. It’s been awful for two. When you add
    In his lost velocity, uptick in walks and
    lowest career K/9 rate last year and his
    horrible ERA now over 400 innings starts
    to have more validity in my mind. Why
    not put the qualifying offer and pay him for
    one year and hope for a rebound. Do you
    really think there was a team out there
    that would surrender their 1st round pick
    and give him a long term deal with an
    AAV over 14M?

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    • JP says:

      Right, this is the problem. Offer him 1/14. If he declines you get a pick and you can take your cash to Dan Haren, or Scott Feldman, or someone else who can post a 4 ERA in ATT.

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      • Professor Ross Eforp says:

        OR see if he will take $20MM for one year and then offer the Q.O. next year if he succeeds.

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        • Bip says:

          No, you give him the QO because

          If he takes it you have him on a better deal than his current one

          If he declines you’ve suppressed his market among non-SF teams, giving SF more leverage. They could still offer him 1/20, but they’d also have the option of picking up a draft pick.

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  10. Cool Lester Smooth says:

    Would 2 years and $35 million be considered a bargain for Jon Lester or Jake Peavy anymore?

    It’s a hell of an overpay for Lincecum.

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    • Joe says:

      Lester is a 29-year old coming off a 4-WAR season. So yeah, that’d be considered a bargain.

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      • Anthony says:

        Lester is worth 17.5 AAV for sure, but Peavy? Peavy just signed for 2/29 just last offseason and didn’t light the world on fire. The White Sox also declined an effective 18 MM one year option on Peavy last offseason too. Not saying Peavy would be horrible on 2/35, but I hardly think that’s a bargain for Peavy. 2/35 might be a decent deal for Holland, but I also think that’d be an overpay since this was by far his best season. So, yeah, it’s fair/bargain for Lester and Latos, but the maximum IMO on a two-year Holland or Peavy deal.

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  11. Eminor3rd says:

    To me, your argument convinces me he deserves like $10m a year from the open market, which he didn’t even reach. That would be paying him to be a 2 win pitcher, which would still be a significant rebound. I don’t think there’s any way to slice this so that it seems like a reasonable price. $17.5m is several orders of magnitude more than $10m.

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  12. PWR says:

    I still bet Haren and Josh J come cheap

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  13. Tom Greybalt says:

    The whole discussion of draft picks seems odd as the by far most likely team to sign him would have been Seattle which would not have given up a draft pick.

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    • Jim says:

      Seattle wouldn’t give up a 1st round pick but they would still give up a pick. In their case it would be their 2nd round pick.

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  14. Mr Punch says:

    For Lester, a 29-year-old lefty horse who put up 3 WAR this year, the AAV might be plausible but 2 years is awfully short (unless he was hoping for a bigger score later). Peavy … maybe, but it seems high – incentives?

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  15. Bill says:

    Hey, thanks guys for all your input on how the Giants overpay, don’t know what they’re doing, BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!!! You can take that advice and blow it up your keisters. In case you didn’t know, the Giants make pretty good decisions – they’ve won 2 out of the past 3 WORLD SERIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    How have your teams done …. HUH?????????????????????

    -24 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • mfyg says:

      this article must be linked to the drudge report or some shit

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    • Professor Ross Eforp says:

      It is possible to both overpay and still build a winning team.

      I think the Giants make some headscratching moves at times, but I also respect the hell out of what they have accomplished. It’s a difficult balance when judging a team like that, though. They put together two good years and two very good years in a four year stretch. That almost NEVER nets two WS (if even one). It’s comparable to the NY Giants, who have two Super Bowl rings over a short timespan, but a resume nowhere near as good overall as a team like the Patriots in that timeframe. Neither team should apologize, but I think it’s a mistake to consider them infallible because of winning a title.

      +12 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bip says:

        [no sarcasm]Yeah we have to get away from this idea that the teams with the most titles are the best teams[/no sarcasm]. They are certainly the most successful teams, but who really believes that the best team wins the world series every year? The overwhelming likelihood is that the team that wins the WS will not be the best team.

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      • Jeff Gilham says:

        That was an ideal response (and extremely gracious). Tips hat.

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    • Sigg says:

      This can’t be real. The grammar and spelling are too good.

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    • chuckb says:

      My team is in its 4th World Series in the last 10 years and one of the reasons it’s there is because it didn’t overpay a team hero and fan favorite when he became a free agent.

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      • Jerry Dipoto says:

        You’ll rue the day u made that decision.

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      • Josh says:

        You honestly can’t be comparing Albert Pujols’ contract (which is absurdly long and absurdly large) to Tim Lincecum’s. I do believe the Cardinals FO has been doing a stupendous job, and not signing Pujols is a great example of that. But an albatross 10-year contract is not nearly the same thing as a 2-year overpay (a slight overpay at that, relative to Pujols’ deal).

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  16. Rickettsia says:

    I don’t agree that this deal impacts Haren’s at all. The difference in AAV between 2/35 and 3/40 is $3.6M, which if you added to Haren’s 2/19 projection is enough to put him within spitting range of the QO. The Nationals absolutely don’t want him, but if other teams are valuing him at that price, the market says extend the QO and hope for a bounce back, because it would be easier to retain Haren than attract another pitcher of similar caliber but without the historical success for the same price. If the Nationals won’t do this, I’m skeptical that other teams would be willing to pay more for a pitcher they’ve never seen who remains a question mark.

    Given this, I think other teams should simply ignore whatever San Francisco is doing. The Pence/Lincecum deals should be viewed in a vacuum that doesn’t affect baseball, because the Giants aren’t a team that operates on the same valuing system as the rest of baseball.

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    • Bip says:

      Is the difference in their value system a matter of degree or a matter of what they value? So they think players are worth more than they are, or they value different things (things that Pence and Lincecum have presumably) than other teams?

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  17. mlmorgen says:

    I guess the Angels got a huge bargain in Joe Blanton.

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  18. triple_r says:

    How can Hiroki Kuroda have both an 82 ERA- and a 90 ERA-?

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  19. Jim says:

    I really wonder if the Giants would have still done this deal had Cain and Vogelsong not had such disastrous seasons.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Sleight of Hand Pro says:

      “disastrous” seems overly harsh for cain.

      disappointing, sure, but not “disastrous”

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      • Hobbes says:

        Cain got pretty absurdly unlucky for a lot of the season if I remember correctly. Vogelsong, on the other hand, looks pretty done, and I really hope the Giants’ FO has a plan in mind to avoid starting the season with a starting rotation of

        Bumgarner
        Cain
        Lincecum
        loss
        loss

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      • Jim says:

        Disastrous was a little harsh you’re right. My overall point was the rest of the rotation outside of Bumgardner was disappointing this year which may have made them a little desperate to make a move that most of us view as a reach.

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    • cl says:

      i agree
      cain got paid a ton of money and yes he had a terrible year. i think the giants might know that cain isnt a workhorse after all.

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    • Bip says:

      That’s good that you brought up Vogelsong. Continuing to start him would be evidence they don’t put much value in xFIP or its components, wouldn’t it? Or is it an indication of on-field management making decisions independently from the front office?

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      • Hobbes says:

        It could also be an indication of desperation and lack of internal options to replace him or trade chips to find an outside fix

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  20. GilaMonster says:

    The biggest problem I have is that who is to say xFIP is a better predictor of performance than ERA in all cases. 2012 xFIP looked hopeful for 2013. But 2013 was more of the same. Jeff Samardjiza and Rick Porcello had similar cases.

    Lincecum has a home run problem in the best pitchers park in baseball. He aren’t talking about a Sabathia or Gallardo where we can look at xFIP and and write it off on their park. We can’t do that with Lincecum.

    We don’t look at Cain and Weaver and cry regression anyone because we’ve seen that they broke DIPS. Perhaps Lincecum has become Joe Blanton.

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    • Jason B says:

      Joe Blanton = about 2.5 Lincecums by weight.

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    • Bip says:

      2012 xFIP looked hopeful for 2013. But 2013 was more of the same.

      Tim’s 2013 ERA is closer to his 2012 xFIP than to his 2012 ERA. So you’d have been better served by using xFIP.

      The biggest problem I have is that who is to say xFIP is a better predictor of performance than ERA in all cases

      Lots of statistical research is to say that xFIP is a better predictor of future ERA than current ERA, that’s who. Absent other specific knowledge that xFIP doesn’t account for.

      Cain and Weaver don’t break DIPs. They are evidence for what we’ve always supposed but cannot measure: that a pitcher, aside from controlling walk, K’s and batted ball types, can in other ways impact their BABIP and HR/FB rate. However, that does not counter DIPs theory because Cain and Weaver still are not controlling their own defense or luck. As long as ERA counts those two things, it will not be a good predictor.

      Now as for the idea that Lincecum is demonstrating a skill (or lack thereof) that is not being considered by xFIP, which will cause his ERA to be inflated, well, where is the evidence of it? Two years of unexpectedly bad ERA is not good evidence because it is affected by luck and defense. A bad HR/FB rate is also influenced by luck.

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      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        Diminsed fashball velocity, career high BB% and career low K% and a point some people seem to be missing: His xFIP has been far higher than his best years the last two years and not particularly amazing, especially not for the money.

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        • Bip says:

          Does fastball velocity correlate with BABIP and HR/FB rate? The question is why we should use xFIP to evaluate Lincecum, and BB% and K% are part of that.

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        • Ruki Motomiya says:

          I don’t have any studies that show it, but I would imagine that adjusting from throwing at higher speeds to lower speeds would make you get a higher BABIP or HR/FB rate. Think about it this way: You can get away with a lot more pitches when it comes in at, say, high 90s than mid to low 90s.

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        • Bip says:

          That does make sense, but basically every pitcher will decline in velocity at one time or another, and I don’t know if a spike in BABIP and HR rate has been observed in individual pitchers who lose velocity.

          I think part of the issue here is that high velocity leads to more swinging strikes which leads to more strikeouts. So some of the pitches Lincecum got away with when he had great velocity – pitches that are now presumably getting pummeled – may have been whiffs, some leading to strikeouts, which don’t count against either BABIP or HR/FB. So we see a decline in strikeouts with declining velocity, but would we see a corresponding worsening of BABIP and HR/FB? We would see more hits and homers, but that would be because he’s allowing more contact.

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      • GilaMonster says:

        Actually didn’t we find out FIP is the better at predicting future performance?

        Lincecum’s home run problem is a stable one. He has generated close to 350 FB. HR/FB% stabilizes at 400. Home Run rate stabilizes at 1320 TBF. Lincecum has close to 1700.

        If someone has developed a stable problem, whether in BABIP or HR/FB%, should we write it off as luck? I’m just saying at sometime we have to account for skill. One Timmy reaches 400 FB, The sample size is big enough. I think he’ll end up being a 4 ERA with high Ks, bad control, and a homer problem. Bud Norris comes to mind.

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        • Bip says:

          HR/FB% stabilizes at 400 FB for pitchers? Link to that study?

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        • GilaMonster says:

          The Russell Carleton(Pizza Cutter piece)

          While Lincecum needs half a season to meet it. We must realize he is pitching in the most pitcher friendly park. So while even wither regression, we could expect to to be lower, we shouldn’t expect it to be much lower at the least.

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      • RC says:

        “As long as ERA counts those two things, it will not be a good predictor.”

        FIP also counts those things by including IP in the denominator.

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  21. Hurtlockertwo says:

    If you subtract 5 terrible starts for Lincecum last year his line looks like:
    172 IP, 150 H, 65 ER, 63 BB, 173 K’s, 3.40 ERA
    You might pay 2/$35M for that type of pitcher? Yes he threw the bad games too, but overall he wasn’t as terrible as people have stated. After watching all his games, he just lacks consistency, this is what’s keeping him from being a great pitcher.

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    • FeslenR says:

      yeah, but you can’t subtract those games.

      Tim is still on the decline, there’s no denying this.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Subtract Five (5!!!) games? Geez, just about every pitcher would look good under those circumstances. I could see trying to pull that trick if a pitcher had one uncharacteristic start – say, he gave up 9 runs in 0.1 innings due to a blister – but you can’t just take away 1/6 of the guy’s season. How many batters would be MVP-candidates if you took away the worst 16% of their games?

      +7 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Catoblepas says:

      Even if you accept that he just lacks consistency, what makes this a good deal? The Giants clearly aren’t able to make him consistent, or else they would’ve before he threw those 5 terrible starts, and you can’t reasonably expect him to just figure things out all of a sudden.

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    • chuckb says:

      Then subtract out his 5 best games and recompute. I’ll bet the new line is pretty close to the old line.

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    • Jason B says:

      “If you subtract 5 terrible starts for Lincecum last year his line looks like”

      Statistics are henceforth moving into a shelter to get away from their abuser. (And who can blame them? Good lord.)

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  22. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Problem with this analysis: Lincecum is not worth 20 mil by any measure, including FIP and xFIP. Steamer projects a 3.44 FIP (With a 3.72 ERA) which, according to FanGraphs (Which uses FIP for WAR), is only 2.1 WAR, over the course of 2 years that is 4.2 WAR or a little over 20 mil at 5 mil per win, which means that projection qualifies Lincecum as a 15 mil overpay. Not to mention his peripherals are trending in the wrong direction: Worse K%s of his career the past two years and he’s ALWAYS walked a lot of guys. His xFIP- the last two years? 98 and 94, where 100 is average…so he isn’t much better than average, but is being paid ace money.

    By any measure save one that says Lincecum will bounce back without any risk, this deal is poor.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Hobbes says:

      He’s always walked a lot of guys, but never this many guys. His last 3 years have been his highest 3 full-season walk rates.

      I hope you have something up your sleeve, Giants FO.

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    • Bip says:

      I think that $5 million per win number is pretty out of date now. It’s closer to $6, if not greater.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Ruki Motomiya says:

        6 would be 24 mil. 28 for 7. For Lincecum to be worth this deal at a projected 4.2 WAR, wins would have to be worth just under 9 mil, and the market to me doesn’t seem to have inflated so large except on the highest end.

        And that isn’t counting the risk of him not performing to his projection, given the fact his peripherals have been down all around and he has lost major fastball velocity.

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  23. Helladecimal says:

    Look at the SPs potentially available for this offs-season:
    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/cots/league-info/potential-free-agents-for-2014/

    Many of the better performers will likely re-sign with their current teams (veterans like Hudson, Colon, Kuroda . . .), while others are either plain and simple innings eaters without Lincecum’s career highs (Saunders, Dice-K, Arroyo), and yet others are relatively unknown quantities that a contending team probably won’t want to give a big rotation spot to (Harden, Ubaldo, etc.). And do you think the Giants would actually bid on Garza? That’s not what I’d call a good fit.

    So how would the Giants fill that hole? Lincecum really isn’t that bad of a choice, considering their minor league call-ups didn’t look great throughout the 2013 season.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Garza, when considering moving to AT&T, would probably put up numbers close to Lincecum’s projections, maybe slightly higher, but with lower risk.

      Phil Hughes is cheap, has put up more fWAR the past two years than Lincecum, Steamer projects him for more WAR than Lincecum (And a lower FIP) and his tendancies would work perfect in AT&T. AND signing him opens you up to the possibility of signing some sorely needed innings eater to fill the bottom of your rotation due to being so much cheaper, like say Scott Feldman, Paul Maholm (Who could work well at AT&T), and so on.

      This deal makes no sense even when looking at FAs.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  24. brendan says:

    I think the problem with judging Lincecum by last 2 years xFIP is the way he’s given up those runs. Seems to me he’s been hit _hard_. He’s making a lot of mistakes in the zone, and those mistakes get punished with homers/doubles.

    I don’t have a lot of confidence that his ERA will regress towards his xFIP. I’m very concerned he will only be a 1-2 WAR pitcher going forward.

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  25. cs3 says:

    “The Giants may very well have been better off letting Lincecum leave and targeting a pitcher like Dan Haren to replace him, saving money and landing the draft pick in the process.”
    ===========================================

    What is precluding the Giants from still signing Haren or another FA pitcher? The fact is they HAVE to sign another pitcher. Brian Sabean even publicly stated that this Lincecum deal would not affect their ability to sign another pitcher.

    The Giants have tons of cash, they can afford to spend as much as any non-Yankees team.

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  26. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Also, something else I want to point out: This article uses Kyle Lohse as an example of a good ERA bad FIP pitcher…but it ignores the fact that Kyle Lohse didn’t really have all that great of a track record by ERA. He had the year before with a 3.39 ERA, then his best is 3.78 and he has a bunch of bad ERAs, despite having good WARs some of those years (2007, 2008), not to mention missing time pretty recently and being old (IIRC, he was 34). There’s a lot of reasons for even someone who likes ERA to dislike him as a big buy.

    By comparison, Greinke had a Cy Young season people would point too and his 3.48 ERA was considered more of a “return to form”, while Lohse was basically “old guy with fluke year”. In addition, while his 3.83 ERA loses to Lohse’s 3.39 ERA in terms of looking back, Greinke’s poor 2010 beats every Lohse season until 2008…also Greinke is 5 years younger, which is a huge thing that affects contract discussions. Not to mention Greinke has great K numbers, which people love to see.

    It’s hard to see Edwin Jackson is a huge win for xFIP because his ERA- and xFIP- are pretty close, as are his ERA and xFIP for that year…also, Edwin Jackson is pretty much 6 years younger than Kyle Lohse, has been healthy this whole time and only got 2 mil more per year compared to Lohse…I’d say the difference in their deals basically comes down to the age and health. Especially since Edwin Jackson seems like the titular 2-3 win pitcher by ERA, which fits in perfectly with about a 13m-per-year pay.

    Anibal Sanchez had a better ERA than Lohse most years, had just lowered his BB% significantly and was on a two year K% high compared to his previous years…and, oh yeah, was SEVEN YEARS YOUNGER. Well, okay, more like six and a half. Make Anibal Sanchez the same age as Lohse and I bet he doesn’t get a significantly different deal. Sanchez was a guy who even by ERA looked like he could be a good 3.50-3.60 guy for years to come, given his past 2 seasons, and combining that with his age meant that if he hit the open market he’d be pricy…and let’s not ignore the fact that Anibal’s Tigers ERA was lower (3.74) and that he had the mythical excellent postseason (1.77 ERA) that people love. And, again, SIX AND A HALF YEARS YOUNGER. If Kyle Lohse was 28 going on 29 in last offseason, he would have made off with a haul.

    Ryan Dempster is the best comparison to Lohse and is, in my opinion, the only one that can honestly point to teams favoring xFIP over ERA, given their similiar age(Dempster being a bit older) and the fact Dempster had not had an amazing year before…but I do feel the need to point out he still had a 3.35 ERA that year and 2008-2010, if you look at it through the lens of ERA, blows Lohse’s entire career out of the water outside of the one year Lohse was signed. I do want to note that Dempster did have one important skill over Lohse, or luck if one wants to see, which is health, something I imagine the Red Sox greatly valued considering the year before their entire pitching staff was schlop, so a guy who looked like he could provide 170+ innings of 3.85 ERA baseball seemed appealing. Still, Dempster seems like he could show the xFIP/ERA disparity.

    But the rest? No. Just look at Kuroda, who is Dempster age but has shown to be consistant, unlike Lohse, and ergo got 15 mil, it’s just that since he is almost a decade older than Anibal Sanchez (Feb 10 1975 vs. Feb 27 1984 or basically 9 years), he is never going to get a big 5 year deal. You’re ignoring too many other factors in the differences between Lohse and everyone save Dempster, most notably the fact that they are all much younger and that Lohse has been poor most of his career, to draw any really notable conclusions between them, in my opinion.

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    • Bip says:

      It looks like teams are willing to consider peripherals for players who have had fluky years. If their ERA doesn’t paint a consistent picture, then they look to other factors to try to discern which view of the pitcher is closer to the one they should expect to get. However, I agree with you that teams are generally going to let ERA determine the big picture, and in a way that makes sense.

      I think another thing at work here is the winner’s curse. That was definitely in effect with Greinke. Think of it like this:

      A player’s best season is going to be considered his minimal ceiling, unless there is a reason to think he can no longer reach that (age, velocity, injury, etc…). Of all the teams in the market for a player, we’d expect at least a few will see that player as being of that caliber. After all, whether it was last year or a few years ago, he’s done it, so why couldn’t he do it again?

      Let’s be honest, if we remove Greinke’s 2009, what sort of pitcher is he? Despite some good peripherals, it would be hard to consider him an ace, but that was how he was presented during free agency. And the Dodgers paid him like an ace, though not quite like what he would have received if 2009 was every year for him.

      So my point is that is that player’s contract will always be inflated unduly by their best ERA season. A pitcher with past 4 year ERAs of (4,3,4,4) will be paid somewhat more than one with (3.75,3.75,3.75,3.75), in my estimation.

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  27. Dubious Data says:

    Dave, your post is an overly long apology for over-reliance on FIP. Time to be a bit more flexible and remember that, in the end, ERA is still important. Now we can say that Lincecum’s 2012 FIP (4.18) pointed to improvement in 2013 (a 4.37 ERA vs 5.18 the year before), and that because of that his 2013 FIP (3.74) points to further positive regression in 2014. But don’t forget that his 2011 FIP (3.17) did nothing to predict his 2012 ERA (5.18), so the “this year’s FIP = next year’s ERA” formula is overly simplistic, to say the least.

    This isn’t to say that Lincecum won’t improve again in 2014, but that there’s a hefty portion of guess work involved and at some point the usefulness of FIP is not particularly great. There’s a fair amount of confirmation bias going on here, methinks.

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  28. Johnny Ringo says:

    Has anyone listed Tim’s pitching home and away splits? I would think that pitching in a ballpark like San Francisco would yield more benefits to a pitcher than they take away.

    I know that’s simplistic, because guys can double and single you to death, but the home run always seems to be the biggest blow.

    Who would you have rather had in 2013? Scott Feldman or Tim Lincecum? No way Scott gets 2 years and 35 million. Seems like it would be better for the Giants to get a couple of defensively oriented infielders and use the savings elsewhere for a bat or a better arm.

    Not even talking about FIP or ERA, you would think that the BB to strikeout numbers alone would give pause.

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    • subtle says:

      The Feldman comp is how I feel, too. It’s about getting the most effective starter the market will allow you for the money.

      He was in the bottom 30 for K/BB ratio last season among qualified starters and bottom 15 for BB/9 rate. His control is a serious issue at this point.

      I can’t imagine Lincecum was going to get this kind of deal on the free agent market except due to name recognition.

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  29. Eric says:

    29 years old. FIP 3.74, xFIP 3.56 last year. Career 3.2 and 3.33. K/9 8.79 last year and 9.63 career. For only 2 years at a high price, but not super premium price. That’s not bad. He threw a no no last year, he still has great stuff.

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  30. I think that everyone can agree that this deal does not make sense by any current measure available regarding his recent past performance, whether simple ERA or advanced sabermetrics.

    What this amounts to is a huge bet by the Giants that they think that Lincecum is on the cusp of making the transition from thrower to pitcher. They are betting on their scouting and coaching seeing something that the numbers don’t show. There are signs of a turnaround that has not been discussed here.

    First off, Lincecum screwed himself physically over 2011-2012. He went on an ill-advised weight training program prior to 2011 season, what he called his “In-N-Out” diet, as he was eating double-doubles for lunch and dinner to gain weight and improve his velocity. But he found it made him sluggish and caused pain in joints, so he then lost all that weight before 2012, which killed his stamina. He got in better shape for 2013, but it was a short off-season, and I think he tired out at the end again. Given that he did this all on his own, you can imagine that he hasn’t been in the best of baseball shape over the past three seasons but should be better in 2014.

    Second off, until mid-2013, Lincecum has been an artist, a thrower, he never studied hitters. Apparently Gaudin’s habit of studying hitters with Posey got Lincecum to finally do this, sometime during the 2013 season, becoming more of a pitcher. His last 12 starts of the season, he had a 3.82 ERA, 2.44 K/BB. If he is now starting to use the Giants guidance on how to pitch to hitters, what to avoid, that should help reduce the number of mistake pitches he’s made in key leveraged situations.

    A key thing I’ve wondered for a long while is the Fangraph study that found the Giants as a team has been able to keep their HR/FB lower than the 10% mean sabermetrics assume for all pitchers (hence xFIP). The pitching coach Righetti, was mentioned as the common link, but it is not like he’s in their head all the time, so I’ve never quite bought that reasoning. However, once it was brought up about studying hitters, that is where the Giants might be differentiating themselves.

    It has been exposed in previous news and interviews that the Giants have been studying advance defensive metrics for a long time, “behind their kimono” as Sabean would characterize it. Many don’t know, but when Fieldf/x was betaed with teams, AT&T Park was one of the test sites, and it was reported that the Giants were very excited about that because of their prior defensive metric work. Assuming they did similar advanced work with Pitchf/x, what if they figured out a way to prep their pitchers beforehand so that they can reduce the chances of a homer being hit? That would explain how it was not just Cain but all the Giants pitchers who were able to keep their HR/FB down as a team. Of course, just my speculation.

    Also, people point out his high walks, but a study here or THT showed that as long as a pitcher can keep his K/BB above 2, that is what is more important, not so much his walk rate, FYI.

    Third, and this was sort of mentioned, Lincecum had been hurt by inherited runners. Here are the exact numbers: 65% of his inherited runners scored, vs. 28% for the average pitcher. That’s 7 runs, and roughly drops his ERA 40 points. Even if adjusted for where the runners were, lets call that half of the 7 runs, then that’s 20 point drop of ERA. If the second half Lincecum represents around where he is now that he studies hitters, that would drop his ERA from 3.82 to 3.62. So the argument could be made that Lincecum going forward is a mid-3 to low-4 ERA starter going forward, based on that, and that hews with his FIP and xFIP as well.

    Fourth, his contract basically values him around 3+ WAR for both years. Looking at WAR at 3+ (http://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=pit&lg=all&qual=y&type=8&season=2013&month=0&season1=2013&ind=0), the pitchers’ FIP and xFIP were basically in the mid-to-high 3 range. As noted just above, that’s where Lincecum’s was for 2013.

    So, yes, the contract just looks to be the most overpaid contract ever, on the surface, but per Dave’s point, advanced metrics suggest otherwise, that it is actually on par for those advanced metrics. Furthermore, even ignoring that sabermetric aspect, there are other extenuating factors, which I’ve described above, which could yield that there is at least some probability that Lincecum will perform at the level necessary to earn that 3+ WAR.

    I would also note that should the need be to switch him over to relieving, if starting isn’t working out in 2014, his stint in the 2012 playoffs suggest that he could be a new type of reliever, much like how Bochy used him. A sort of Back to the Future, of how Gossage and other pitchers used to be used in the 70′s, but a hybrid, where he could go long one day, set up another day, close on the third day, piling up IP like pitchers used to in the past, but used in key situations, wherever they may show up. More IP along with great pitching would yield a pretty high WAR, Romo earned 2.0 WAR in 2011, double the IP at that performance, and that’s 4.0 WAR. Now, of course, could he do it, who knows, but that’s another avenue of generating value not discussed here. It doesn’t look probable, based on his 2012-2013, so it will be interesting.

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    • People also have not mentioned this angle: Ned Colletti in LA. He has a fixation on former Giants. He gave Schmidt $18M per year for 2 years and that was many years ago, and I knew Schmidt was done so I was glad for that. Lincecum at least had some positives, as I noted above.

      Ned now has even more money to play with and the same Giants fixation. It just takes one team…

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