[We interrupt our regularly scheduled all-Price-all-the-time fascination to return for a moment to our previous obsession, all-Homer-all-the-time.]
The conventional wisdom among Reds’ fans that Tim Lincecum’s new deal means Homer Bailey will be even harder to sign long-term is absolutely right, but maybe not exactly for the reason many people are thinking.
In case the news didn’t penetrate the wall of sound caused by everyone preaching accountability, yesterday the San Francisco Giants announced they had reached a two-year deal with Lincecum that pays the 29-year-old righty $35 million, or an average annual value (AAV) of $17.5 million.
What that means for Bailey is not, simply: Wow, look at how much clubs are paying for even mediocre pitching these days. It’s that, but with an important nuance. The Lincecum deal is compelling proof that major league baseball clubs are using advanced metrics for valuing their players.
There’s an insightful article by Dave Cameron at FanGraphs today that makes this point. Here’s the summary in case you don’t want to read it all: There are much better measurements than ERA for how a pitcher has and will perform. The Lincecum contract is the latest installment in the growing pile of evidence that major league baseball teams are paying more attention to stats like xFIP than they are to ERA. Cameron makes this case in great detail. The article is well worth the read if you have the time.
Smart major league teams are implementing the latest iteration of Moneyball – acquiring players who are undervalued when judged by traditional statistics. Lincecum’s past two seasons were downright awful when measured by ERA. But looking at FIP, xFIP and SIERA, he’s been well above average. And therefore, in the Giants’ view, worth $17.5 million/year. (Keep in mind that San Francisco paid a premium to reach a short-term deal.)
Baseball’s front offices are buying the evidence that those advanced stats are better predictors of future performance than ERA. Or, to borrow Bob Castellini’s paraphrase of Bronson Arroyo, they’re freakin’ intelligent.
And clubs are putting their money where their multiple regression is.
Homer Bailey is probably busy with his bow and arrow right now, oblivious of the Lincecum deal. But you can bet his agent isn’t. While Bailey has made steady progress in lowering his ERA (from 4.46 in 2010 to 3.49 in 2013), he’s a genuine superstar when measured by the advanced stats. Homer’s ERA is 40th best among all pitchers in baseball, which is respectable (Lincecum’s was 70th). But his FIP is 23rd, his xFIP was 18th and his SIERA was 14th best.
That’s elite. And, to Texans, cash on the barrelhead.
The implications for the Reds and Redleg Nation: Homer is going to be even more expensive to re-sign. Homer is worth it, so the Reds should pay-up. And third, Homer is too important of a piece for 2014 to trade.
An old school fan may not give a rip for FIP or have a care for SIERA. It’s even your Selig-given right to judge pitchers based on Wins if you must. But it’s becoming clearer that to make sense of today’s baseball headlines and develop a reasonably informed opinion on what tomorrow will bring, we need at least a passing familiarity with the fancy new ideas.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.