Wednesday, June 23, 2010

How Does the Giants' Tim Lincecum Stack Up Against the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez?

The hot talk this year has been all about Ubaldo Jimenez, and for good reason. In addition to throwing the season's first no-hitter, he has a 13-1 record and a 1.15 ERA going into today's start against Boston. Chances are, if there is any Cy Young talk, Jimenez is always the first guy mentioned.

However, would you believe me if I said that on paper, Tim Lincecum's 2010 is more impressive than Jimenez's?

First off, this is strictly a look at the numbers. I'm not saying Lincecum has been better than Jimenez or that Jimenez isn't impressive. Jimenez's stuff is incredible (he averages 96.5 MPH on his fastball), and I think Giants fans can attest to that after watching him dominate at AT&T Park earlier this year.

Other than the eye test though, as well as the wins and ERA (which as we all know, can be flawed measures of evaluating a pitcher's success), Jimenez's numbers pales in comparison to Lincecum.

Let's take a look at some of the advanced numbers for both pitchers.

Jimenez: 7.82 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, 2.44 K/BB, 0.27 HR/9, .185 AVG., 1.00 WHIP, 91.2 percent LOB %, 2.94 FIP, 3.62 xFIP.
Lincecum: 10.10 K/9, 3.49 BB/9, 2.90 K/BB, 0.45 HR/9, .226 AVG., 1.21 WHIP, 76.7 percent LOB %, 2.73 FIP, 3.14 xFIP.

Lincecum dominates Jimenez's in the strikeout department, and while Jimenez has an advantage in the walks department, it really doesn't make that much of a difference (for Jimenez's K/BB is still lower than Lincecum's). I find the most startling stats his FIP and xFIP numbers, which are higher than Lincecum's. For as dominating as Jimenez's stuff has been, it seems, just looking at his FIP numbers, that he has gotten a lot of help from his defense and has gotten luckier in comparison to Lincecum. I believed this even more when I took a look at this stat:

Jimenez: .239 BABIP.
Lincecum: .313 BABIP.

Jimenez's BABIP is 63 points BELOW the league average, while Lincecum's is 11 points ABOVE league average. As good as Jimenez has been, there is no way he can sustain a BABIP that low for the remainder of the season. Yes, a good defense behind him, and the lack of good contact against him (his line drive percentage is 13.8 percent, while Lincecum's is 22 percent) may explain why hitters haven't been able to find hits against Jimenez. However, in the grand scheme of things, Jimenez's BABIP will only go up, which will affect his other numbers such as ERA and wins (unless the offense picks him up, which is possible because the Rockies have a good offense).

Another reason why I like Lincecum more than Jimenez this season? Lincecum has allowed less contact to hitters in 2010 than Jimenez. Lincecum has a contact rate of 72.2 percent this year, and a swinging strike percentage of 11.9 percent. Jimenez on the other hand has a contact rate of 79 percent (almost two points higher than last season) and only has a swinging strike percentage of 8.5 percent (Jimenez has never had a swinging strike percentage in double figures, while Lincecum has never had a swinging strike percentage under 10 percent).

What does this mean? For as wicked as Jimenez's stuff is, he simply doesn't get batters to miss as much as Lincecum. While this is not necessarily a bad thing (as Greg Maddux showed), this kind of pitching style can be subject to inconsistency. Sure, Jimenez is dealing now because the balls are going to infielders. That being said, should the luck run out or the defense decline behind him, Jimenez's numbers will look far less impressive. As for Lincecum, because he can strike guys out more consistently, and induces less contact than Jimenez, his numbers will be more stable, because he's relying less on his defense and luck.

I'm not trying to take away anything from Jimenez. He has been impressive, and I've seen a lot of his starts, so I can attest visually, he's a real deal ace. In my mind, comparing Jimenez and Lincecum is like comparing "The Godfather" against "Goodfellas" in terms of which is the better mob movie. They're both good, but it's all a matter of opinion really. (And if those two are those movies, then Todd Wellemeyer is "Fatal Desire." Seriously, if you have Netflix, add it to your instant queue. It may be one of the most unintentionally funny Thrillers ever made.)

What I am trying to prove though is that Jimenez's season so far may not be as impressive as everyone would like to think, and that Lincecum's season may not be as down as some baseball fans would like to believe as well. Jimenez is bound to regress, and Lincecum is bound to take care of his control problems and improve.

Giants fans saw that last night from Lincecum against the Astros. I am interested to see how Jimenez will do against Boston tonight.


  1. The other thing that you posted but didn't comment on his the strand rate. There is no way that Jimenez can continue to have people left on base at a 90% rate. League average is about 72%, so in adition to his BABIP being low his strand rate is high, both of these are bound to adjust towards the mean as luck evens out.

    Still he is an awesome pitcher with some nasty stuff. However his secondary stuff doesn't hold a candle to Lincecum's.

    Nice post, nice to see that even in a "down" year Timmy still stacks up well against the other big guns in the NL.

  2. Good point Scott on the strand rate. This was the main argument people had against Matt Cain last year (low BABIP and high strand rate), and yet, not many people (sans those at Fangraphs, but they're looking to defend Cliff Lee more than anything) are mentioning those things about Jimenez.

    Bottom line? Jimenez has been dominating, but I am curious how a guy can be so dominating with a mediocre K/BB ratio and some other questionable numbers. I think he'll have a good season, but I think this first half will be as good as it can possibly get. I expect some regression in the second half.

    Lastly, agree with you on Lincecum. He hasn't been totally lights out this year (his LD percentages suggest he's getting hit harder when they make contact), but he's still been very, very, very good. I would argue that he deserves an All-Star bid, just because of how good his advanced numbers are, and the fact that he's doing it against other Aces regularly.