January 22, 2012

Salary Arbitration: Owners vs. Players

With salary arbitration hearings beginning on February 1st let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this process. 

Before we look at winners and losers it is first important to understand the process.  A player becomes arbitration eligible twice under his entry-level contract:  Once in his 3rd or 4th year, depending on when he is called up during a season, and then two years after that.  So a team essentially holds the rights to a player for six years after he is drafted.  If a player becomes arbitration eligible and does not come to an agreement with his club, then both the club and player submit a salary number that they feel is fair and a panel will hear the case.  The panel then decides which salary number best reflects the player’s worth and that is the amount he will earn in the upcoming season.  A player can also be offered arbitration if he is a free agent and the club and player do not come to an agreement before the arbitration period.

Salary arbitration in Major League Baseball started in 1974 with the purpose of adjusting player’s salaries to better represent their play on the field while still under an entry-level contract.  This offseason, 142 players filesd for arbitration.  Most of these players reach agreements with their teams before the process reaches the point of having a hearing, but since 1974 there have been 495 cases heard by arbitration panels.  The process has clearly become a big part of the MLB offseason so who are the real beneficiaries of it: the players or the owners?

When looking at the process from a numbers standpoint alone the players obviously benefit.  In 2010, the 128 players that filed for arbitration had an average salary increase of 107 percent, meaning that on average players were making over double what they were in the previous season.  However this number is very skewed by players who have seemingly reached the primes of their careers early.  Take the Giant’s Tim Lincecum for instance who received the biggest raise during the arbitration period of any player in 2010.  Lincecum’s salary increased from $650,000 to a two-year, $23 million dollar contract.  Lincecum was seeking $13 million in arbitration while the Giants offered $8 million, but like most cases there was an agreement before a hearing.  This increase in salary was 1,131 percent.  This is a huge number that may come off as unfair to the owners because of his age at the time, but Lincecum’s case is unique because of his two Cy Young awards.  Because Lincecum only signed a two-year deal, he is again arbitration eligible in 2012.  He is asking $21.5 million which is just short of Roger Clemens record request of $22 million in 2005, while the Giants have offered $17 million.  The $17 million the Giants offered broke the previous record of the $14.25 million the Yankees offered Derek Jeter in 2001.   The arbitration benefits players who have enjoyed early success greatly because they could still be making a salary around the league minimum ($480,000) and consequently hurts the owners for the same reason.

As steep a price the owners may have to pay, they are still the main beneficiaries of the process.  There is no better system for owners in professional sports than the MLB’s arbitration process.  In the NFL first round picks have previously been guaranteed north of $50 million dollars and fizzled out before doing anything productive in the league.  The MLB arbitration process allows for six years of evaluation of a player before a team has to commit to him long term.  And if during those six years there has not been major progress in a player’s development, his annual salary will hover right around the league minimum.  Every once in a while there is a player who develops into a stud long before he is supposed to, which makes owners cringe at the process. But in reality they are the party with all the leverage.

January 18, 2012

All I Do Is Win Win Win No Matter What

Why do people think that W-L records are the know it all be it all of how good a pitcher is? They don't portray a pitchers true value. If anything it skews it. Sometimes pitchers just get stuck on bad teams or just get unlucky. Look at the 2011 Giants rotation. Lincecum, Cain, and Bumgarner combined for a record of 38-38. Does that mean they sucked? No. It just shows how bad the Giants offense was. A pitcher can’t control how many runs his team scores or how they play defense behind him. His job is just to go out there and keep the team in the game. In games where they gave up 3 earned runs or less, 11 times Lincecum got a loss or no decision. Cain and Bumgarner? 16 and 11 respectively. That’s 38 times the Giants couldn’t score 3 or more runs to help their pitchers get the win. Run support is hard to come by when you have one of the worst offenses in the league The Giants also had 14 blown saves. That’s 8-10 games they should have won but couldn’t close. Those 8-10 games would have put the Giants in contention for the NL West. Another example is Felix Hernandez. In 2010 he had a 2.27 era 3.04 FIP and 3.14 xFIP. But what was his record? 13-12. In games where he gave up 3 earned runs or less he got either a loss or no decision 17 times. If his team was able to score a few more runs in half those starts, he would easily be a 20 game winner, but the Mariners are the Mariners.

It’s just not fans who look at W-L. Writers do it too. I mean look at some Cy Young award winners. In 2005 Bartolo Colon won it over Johan Santana because he had the mighty 20+ wins. His FIP and xFIP that year was 3.75 and 3.91. Santana's was 2.80 and 3.12. Santana had more strikeouts and innings pitched while only giving up 2 more walks even though he pitched 9 more innings. His WHIP was also 0.971 vs Colon's 1.159. I guess that 16-7 record wasn’t as nice looking as Colon's 21-8. In 2005 Roger Clemens won over Randy Johnson cause his W-L that year was 18-4 while Johnson's was 16-14. Johnson's FIP and xFIP was 2.30 and 2.65. Clemens? 3.11 and 3.42. WAR wise? Johnson's 9.9 > Clemen's 6.0. In 1990 Bob Welch took it from Clemens by going 27-6 compared to Clemens’ 21-6. Welch’s era and FIP were 2.95 and 4.19. That calculates to a 1.8 WAR. Clemens? 1.93 era 2.18 FIP and 8.7 WAR.

So as you can see, W-L doesn’t show you how good a pitcher is, it just shows you how the team does during his starts. But as the days of sabermetrics rises, so does the awareness of fans and writers. Lincecum and Greinke both won Cy Young’s in 2009 even though they had less wins than other candidates that year. And in 2010 Felix Hernandez won it with a 13-12 record. The lowest wins and winning percentage for a Cy Young award winner, relief pitchers not included. So here's to the future of baseball and the downfall of W-L records!

January 17, 2012

The Freak vs. The Rocket

Never has there been a pitcher as good as Lincecum this early in his career. I hate when people say that. Don't get me wrong, I love the Giants and Lincecum and think he's one of the top 5 pitchers in the league. But when people say that it makes me think that they didn't know who Roger Clemens was.

Clemens was a 1st round pick (18th overall) of the Red Sox in the 1983 draft. At the time of the draft Clemens was only 20 while Lincecum was 21 when he was drafted. But like Lincecum, Clemens was drafted as a JR. out of college. Clemens started his pro career that same year by pitching 81 innings in the minors. Lincecum had 31.2 innings after he signed. The next year Clemens only needed 46.2 IP in the minors before getting called up to the majors. He ended the year 9-4 with 126 strikeouts and 29 walks while maintaining a 4.32 era and 2.84 FIP in 133.1 innings. As a comparison, Lincecum only needed 31 innings in the minors before he was called up. He finished the year 7-5 with 150 strikeouts and 64 walks with an era of 4.00 and FIP of 3.63 in 146.1 innings.

In 1985, Clemens' 2nd year in the majors, he had surgery to remove a cartilage in his shoulder so he was only able to pitch 98.1 innings that year. For the sake of this comparison we're just going to throw out that year even though Clemens pitched rather well in those 98.1 innings (7-5 3.29 era 3.06 FIP). Here we're going to look at each pitchers first 4 full seasons.

While Clemens did throw 171.1 more innings, pitchers back then were different. Throwing 250+ innings was normal. If you look closely at their numbers, they were very similar players.

Clemens vs. Lincecum

ERA - 2.88 vs. 2.81

FIP - 2.77 vs. 2.82

ERA+ - 148 vs. 144

WHIP - 1.105 vs. 1.173

K/9 - 8.7 vs. 10.0

BB/9 - 2.6 vs. 3.2

H/9 - 7.3

HR/9 - 0.6 vs 0.7

LOB% - 75.8 vs. 77.2

And don't forget, both won 2 Cy Young's in their first 2 full seasons, with Clemens even winning the MVP in 1986. So next time you hear someone say, "Man there has never been a pitcher as good as Lincecum this early in their career" all you need to say is, "The Rocket."