Clone Wars: Zack Greinke and Tim Lincecum

The wins are less than the typical total for a Cy Young winner, but as the times change seasons like Tim Lincecum’s get more attention. Lincecum pitches for the worst offense in baseball and Zack Greinke‘s Royals are not far behind, as they rank sixth from last in wOBA. On the defensive side Lincecum gets much more help with a 4.4 UZR/150 behind him, while Greinke has to contend with the third worst defense in baseball. First lets look at the numbers to see how they match up.

               IP        ERA       W         K         K/9       K/BB      HR/FB     BABIP     LOB%      xFIP
Zack Greinke   210.1     2.14      14        224       9.58      5.09      5.00%     0.314     79.40%    3.27
Tim Lincecum   207.1     2.3       14        244       10.59     4.14      5.40%     0.301     77.20%    2.84

Zack Greinke

MLB: AUG 19 Royals at White Sox
19 August 2009: Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke works off the mound at US Cellular Field. The White Sox defeated the Kansas City Royals 4-2 at U S Cellular Field, Chicago, IL(Icon/SMI)

Anyone need not look further than Joe Posnanski’s blog each day for the daily update on Greinke’s run to the Cy Young. He really has been dominant this year with one of the top K/BB rates in the league at 5.09. He has always been a solid pitcher, and has improved numbers in each of his seasons. The result his that he has now reached elite status despite playing on a poor team.

His K/9 has gone up every season since 2005, when he threw a 5.61, to his current 9.58. This gain has made his solid walk rate that much more impressive as it started around 2.0 and gone to 1.88 this season. Only four other pitchers this season have a K/BB over 5.0; Roy Halladay, Dan Haren and Javier Vazquez. He is also ranked 86th of all time in K/BB for a single season. He has elite numbers this year and truly Cy Young material.

If Greinke has to contend with such a poor defense, why is his xFIP so much higher than Lincecum’s? He has been having a bit of luck on home runs so far. He holds a HR/F of five percent despite a career rate of 8.9 percent. That’s a bit of a jump, but since Kauffman Stadium depresses homers we can expect him to have an ERA that is lower than his xFIP most seasons. Greinke can drop his home run rate by continuing to up his groundball rate, which has increased to 40 percent this season.

Tim Lincecum

The Freak is only getting better and it seems only health could slow him down at this point. He has a solid strikeout rate of over 10.0 per nine innings and has even improved his walk rate, decreasing it by almost a full walk per nine innings. His K/BB is a great at 4.14, but the extra strikeouts really help him relative to Greinke.

His loss in fastball speed is a bit concerning, as he’s gone from 94.1 mph to 92.5 mph over the course of the season, but he has relied less on it this season. he is throwing the change-up more and getting very good results. His change-up value per 100 pitches is up from 1.23 in 2008 to 5.05 in 2009. This makes sense as he has a 10mph split between fastball and change and hits the zone with all his pitches well.

Ground balls are up this year for Lincecum, and with such a good defense behind him, he’s managed to hold his BABIP at .301. He is also doing a good job of keeping fly balls in the park, with a HR/FB of 5.4 percent. This is fairly normal for Lincecum, as he pitches in a lot of NL West parks, which tend to depress homers. His career rate is 6.3 percent a look at him and Matt Cain shows they can maintain lower HR/FB numbers in San Francisco. This is one of the faults of xFIP; FIP, which has Lincecum at 2.22, seems like a better tool to project a pitcher like Lincecum.

Lincecum had to be scratched this month because of back spasms, but has since made an impressive start against the Colorado Rockies. His numbers looked good and he struck out 11 hitters in seven innings. The Giants are nearly eliminated and should be winding down Lincecum and limiting his innings. While many speculated that his previous workload could cause him to deal with injuries this year, he has once again totaled over 200 innings and is contending for another Cy Young.


If you have to pick between these two you are the envy of your league. In keeper leagues they are at the top of the heap for pitchers, but come with limited upside for wins. When it comes time to pick between the two I have to go with Lincecum. He has superior K/9 and GB% numbers, and also has a better defense behind him and better track record for a HR/FB. In no way do I think Greinke will take a huge fall, but he isn’t quite at Lincecum’s level right now.

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Tim Stoeckel
Tim Stoeckel

“He is also doing a good job of keeping homers in the park…”

Yes, all the great pitchers keep those homers in the park. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Thanks, Troy, for a nice summary of the great year these two guys have had.

Troy Patterson
Troy Patterson

I guess those would be inside the park homers and they wouldn’t be a good thing.  Obviously I was intending to say keeping fly balls inside the park.