Friday, November 20, 2009

Lincecum: 2 Cy U Later

Congrats to the two-time in a row winner of the NL Cy Young Award, Tim Lincecum!

According to the Baseball Writers' Association of America website (which will probably change with the next award it gives out), it was a historic vote in many ways.

First, Lincecum had the lowest victory total of any starting pitcher who have won the award in either league (for a season with a full slate of games). The previous low was Brandon Webb for Arizona in 2006 and Zach Grinke of KC this year. Lincecum had a total of 100 points, 11 firsts, 12 seconds, and 9 thirds.

Second, it was only the second time that a pitcher won the award without receiving the most first place votes. He was named first on only 11 ballots, while Adam Wainwright of St. Louis got 12 votes and his teammate Chris Carpenter got 9 himself. They were the only ones to get first place votes out of the 32 ballots. He and Wainwright were the only ones listed on every ballot, which allowed three votes, one for first (worth 5 points), one for second (worth 3 points) and one for third (worth 1 point). Only Tom Glavine did this previously, in 1998.

Lincecum beat Carpenter by 6 points, which was tied for the third closest election in the NL since the ballot expanded from one to three pitchers in 1970. And the 10 point difference between him and third (Wainwright tallied 90 points) was the second closest in NL voting since 1987, when Steve Bedrosian was only 3 points ahead of third place, who was Rick Reuschel, the year he joined the Giants.

The only consecutive repeat winners, a great list to be on, are:

  • Greg Maddux (4)
  • Randy Johnson (4)
  • Sandy Koufax (2: 1965-66) (NL)
  • Roger Clemens (twice 2: 1986-87 and 1997-98) (AL)
  • Denny McLain (2: 1968-69)
  • Jim Palmer (2: 1976-76)
  • Pedro Martinez (2: 1999-2000)

Of course, if Denny McLain were not on the list, it would be a great precursor to a great career. Now the warning is, hope he's not a Denny McLain.

BBWAA-HA-HA-HA: Change, My Ass

Now, I've seen some articles that state that this is a sign that writers today are moving past the old ways of voting where wins and fortitude counts big, but stats not as much. I would disagree.

I would say that this is more of a sign that writers has shown the same bad traits that they showed before: wins-mania and favoritism/familiarity. The only reason Lincecum won was because it happened that the other top two candidates were on the same team and the writers could not rally behind one or the other.

He was named below first on 21 ballots, meaning two thirds of the voters thought there was a better pitcher than he. And 9 of them (roughly 30%) thought that there were 2 pitchers better than he.

I think the argument can be made that he and Chris Carpenter were too close to tell. That I can buy. Just look over Baseball Reference's NL Pitching leaders. ERA, Carpenter and Lincecum, 1-2. WHIP, 2-4 (Haren 1, Vazquez 3). Reverse in H/9, Lincecum 2, Carpenter 4. Carpenter was way better than Lincecum in BB/9, third (Haren 2nd), but he still had a good rate, 2.7. And, of course, K/9 Lincecum was way better than Carpenter.

Where I think Lincecum comes out ahead, and tips things his way, is in games started: he had 32 starts while Carpenter only had 28. Both our local writers (Schulman and Baggarly ) thought Carpenter was better than Lincecum. Carpenter missed almost a month of the season. So how did he show up ahead of Lincecum on so many ballots? If two writers didn't show Carpenter any love and voted for Vazquez 2nd and Haren 3rd, leaving Carpenter off their lists, it would have been even closer, he would have had 98 points to Lincecum's 100 points. In that case, only one voter had to swap the two and it would have been Carpenter ekeing out the win instead.

Then what about Wainwright? He had the 4th best ERA, but 10th in WHIP, nowhere in H/9, BB/9, K/9. He was 4th in total strikeouts, but that was a function of him pitching the most innings, 233.0, and starting the most games, 34 (tied with many others). And, of course, he did lead in wins with 19, which shows again that wins matter to a large percentage of the voters.

He had 12 first-place votes, one more than Lincecum. Wins matter. Carpenter got 9 first-place votes, when he missed a full month and wasn't demonstrably better than the other pitchers. He bettered Lincecum by 5 ER (the number he needed to equal Lincecum's ERA). Wins matter. Basically Lincecum was ranked third by 9 voters and the only two pitchers who were probably ahead of him on those ballots: Carpenter adn Wainwright, and what areas are they better than Lincecum? Wins matter.

Glaciers Thawing

But there apparently is some change afoot, though, so while Lincecum's election is not the sign people think, there is a definite thawing. Javier Vasquez only had 15 wins too, but great ERA, WHIP, H/9, BB/9, K/9, IP, strikeouts, and games started. One could argue that he should have been one of the three spliting votes, not Wainwright.

I would love to see the ballot that put Vasquez 2nd: who did the writer vote for 1st and 3rd? Given that he voted for Vasquez, and both Lincecum and Wainwright was on every ballot, one would think that, of course, Lincecum was first on that ballot. But then how did Wainwright beat out Carpenter for the third place vote when the only things he did better than Carpenter was start 6 more games, strike out a lot more, and won 2 more games.

People think that Lincecum getting voted for is a sign that voters are changing, but really, that's a fallacy. There are two things that voters like. Wins, obviously, is one. The other I would add is strikeouts. It is like HR for hitters, voters love the big strikeout guys. And Timmy has it and with flair and a personality.

It is that plus the fact that Carpenter and Wainwright split votes that Carpenter might have gotten if not for Wainwright winning 19 games. Those are why Lincecum won, not because the voters have suddenly seen the light and embrace saber-stats. That's baloney (or bologna, as Jim Gaffigan might say).

Arbitration Mania

Now for the scary part: seeing what Lincecum will get in arbitration. Ryan Howard got $10M in his first year in arbitration. He was averaging 50+ HR for each full season, so he did have that, plus leading the league in HR before. Won ROY then followed with MVP. Pushing down a little because of the bias towards hitters over pitchers, but then add back some baseball salary inflation, and the Giants are looking at paying Lincecum at least $10M.

That's because Lincecum now has that shiny Cy Young #2, which trumps even what Howard did. I would guess $12M at least, maybe as much as $15M, depending on whether the Giants are stupid with their arbitration offer (like they were with AJP years ago) and underbid. And that high end is possible, as Howard was the test case, got the lower Phillies $10M but then had another monster year in 2008 and so the Phillies signed him to an extension and jumped him to $15M for 2009. As long as they are in the ballpark, they probably can meet Lincecum's agent in the middle and sign him without going to the arbitrator.

That's why the Giants can't sign Lincecum to a long-term contract in hopes of holding down his salary. He's going to get scary sized awards in arbitration. Let's say he does get $12M. If we do the math for the 4 years he's in arbitration - maybe $12M, $15M, $18M, $21M - for a total of $66M. So let's sign him to that.

Bargain, no?

But what if his decline in the second half was related to something physical, and not to him partying hardy last off-season after his great 2008 season? Like what happened to Noah Lowry. Then that bargain contract becomes a huge albatross of a guaranteed deadweight on the team's payroll for the next 4 years.

Pitchers are much different creatures than hitters. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with them than for a hitter. And, as much as I love that he does what he does, as great as he does, he is most definitely an outlier, physically.

So I would prefer the Giants treat this on a year by year basis. If Tim is willing to sign for a contract with a nice home discount, say $40M for the next 4 seasons, I can see that as acceptable risk on both sides. But with him probably getting $12-15M this season, that's chump change for the next three seasons, so I don't see him signing any long-term contract for less than $50M for 4 years, and he probably wants something closer to the 3 year, $54M that Howard got, which with the extra year is much like the $66M I was talking about above.

I expect a one year contract this year, then perhaps the Giants by next offseason would be willing to sign Lincecum to a three year contract for around what Howard got, maybe $45M for 3 years. At that point, Lincecum might be willing to accept less than what he could get in arbitration in order to lock in guaranteed money for 3 seasons, and the Giants would not be as daunted as Lincecum would have another year in the league under his cap (presumably healthy else forget about it).

Otherwise, I would be OK with going year to year, he's going to be here for the next four seasons even if we don't sign him, as long as he's healthy.

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