An early glimpse at the free agent market plus a prediction (updated)

I’m going to give you the stat lines of two right-handed starters who were set to enter the offseason as free agents. These stat lines contain each player’s numbers over the last two seasons.

For the sake of a decent chuckle, let’s compare the two, shall we?

Player X: 20-29, 4.76 ERA, 383 2/3 IP, 72 ERA+, 1.389 WHIP, 1.0 HR/9, 3.9 BB/9, 9.0 K/9, 2.31 K/BB
Player Y: 22-27, 4.50 ERA, 346 1/3 IP, 84 ERA+, 1.265 WHIP, 1.5 HR/9, 1.8 BB/9, 7.6 K/9, 4.25 K/BB

Player X just landed himself a two-year contract with the Giants worth a whopping $35 million. His name is Tim Lincecum.

Player Y said his performance this season left him embarrassed and, at times, considering retirement. His name is Dan Haren.

What’s that? You want just the two players’ 2013 seasons side-by-side, feeling that this comparison is bound to show that Haren was the far worse pitcher this year?

Here you go:

Lincecum: 10-14, 4.37 ERA, 197 2/3 IP, 76 ERA+, 1.315 WHIP, 1.0 HR/9, 3.5 BB/9, 8.8 K/9, 2.54 K/BB
Haren: 10-14, 4.67 ERA, 169 2/3 IP, 81 ERA+, 1.238 WHIP, 1.5 HR/9, 1.6 BB/9 8.0 K/9, 4.87 K/BB

Haren’s ERA was a bit higher, but his ERA+, which is adjusted based on the ballpark the pitcher pitched in, is better than Lincecum’s. (A league-average ERA+ is 100, and the higher a pitcher’s number is in that category, the better.) Haren gave up more home runs and struck out fewer batters, but his walks were far below Lincecum’s and he allowed fewer baserunners.

Lincecum is 29, a four-time All-Star who won back-to-back Cy Young awards in 2008 and 2009. He worked at least 212 innings four seasons in a row from 2008-2011, but over the last two years has really dropped off.

Haren is 33, a three-time All-Star who finished fifth in the Cy Young voting in 2009 and seventh in 2011. He worked at least 216 innings seven seasons in a row from 2005-2011, but over the last two years has really dropped off.

The comparisons obviously aren’t perfect, as Lincecum was one of the most dominant starters in the game just a few years ago and is four years younger than Haren. The Giants have ties to this guy, and feel that despite his numbers the last two seasons, Lincecum can still be a strong middle-of-the-rotation starter for them. They also feel there’s the chance that he can rediscover his past form and develop into an ace yet again.

But $35 million is a lot of money to hand out for two years of a guy who has truly been a mediocre pitcher the last two seasons.

Many people might assume that because of his deep struggles at times this season, Haren won’t be able to land a decent free agent contract this winter. Haren told me late in the year that he doesn’t expect to have too many choices as far as where he signs, as he thinks many teams will rule him out after the type of season that he had in 2013.

That might be true, but established starters with quality track records are always sought after. We can see with the Lincecum contract that just because a pitcher has struggled the last two seasons, it doesn’t mean he won’t get some decent money.

Haren pitched to a 3.29 ERA over his final 16 appearances this season, and maybe he’ll be able to land himself a pretty solid free agent contract, after all.

Meanwhile, the World Series is set to start tonight, so I wanted to solicit predictions from those who care to share them.

Both the Red Sox and Cardinals have players with postseason experience. They both have strong bullpens with closers that are absolutely on fire right now. They both have pop throughout their lineup and possess strong starting pitching. Both teams were tremendous at home this season, and have solid in-game managers.

This should be a really fun series to watch. Put me down for the Red Sox in seven games. That Game 7 at Fenway Park might just end up being the difference.

What about you; you have any thoughts on how the Fall Classic will turn out? Who you got?

Update: Turns out, I wasn’t the only one to compare Lincecum and Haren within the last 24 hours. Dave Cameron over at FanGraphs wrote something up prior to Lincecum agreeing to his new deal with the Giants, which features the contract value that each pitcher was projected to earn this offseason.

FanGraphs had projected Lincecum to earn $40 million over three years, while they have Haren looking at $19 million over two years.

I didn’t see this story until it was passed along to me just a few minutes ago, but in it, Cameron argues that at those projected values (which are now moot for Lincecum), he would have taken Haren over Lincecum, largely because of the data that I presented above.

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