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October 27, 2010

World Series Prospectus

Game One Pitching Matchup

by Matt Swartz

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Tim Lincecum: 3.43 ERA, 3.16 SIERA 
This might have seemed like a more insurmountable challenge for the Rangers a year ago when Lincecum won his second straight National League Cy Young award, but the 25-year-old’s ERA increased by 0.95 runs in 2010. However, his SIERA only went up by 0.43 runs, indicating some of his return to mortality was rooted in bad luck. His strikeout rate did decline from his lofty 2008 and 2009 levels of 28.6 and 28.8 percent to 25.8 in 2010. While striking out as many hitters as any starting pitcher did during his Cy Young years, Lincecum was able to get away with mediocre walk and ground-ball rates. However, as his velocity declined, he became slightly more hittable and batters were able to get more runs off him. Lincecum did put up a career-best 50 percent ground-ball rate in 2010, suggesting that he is learning how to pitch smarter. However, he also had some bad luck as well—his BABIP was .315, primarily due to a 20.9 percent line-drive rate. This sounds bad, but line-drive rate is the least persistent pitcher statistic. In his career, Lincecum has allowed a .301 BABIP, so there is little reason to expect this to change. Lincecum will still strike out about a quarter of hitters he faces, and in the 2010 postseason he has struck out 34 percent of hitters he has faced. While this came in part due to striking out 14 of 30 Braves in Game One of the NLDS, he still struck out 16 of 59 Phillies he faced in the NLCS. The righty may not be the best pitcher in the league anymore, but he definitely is among the best. As the Giants go up against Cliff Lee in Game One of the World Series, Lincecum will probably need to be on top of his game, but there is little doubt that The Freak is a formidable opponent.

Cliff Lee: 3.18 ERA, 3.03 SIERA
After following up a Cy Young season with a stint as a playoff hero just a year ago, Lee actually improved his strikeout rate in 2010 from 18.7 to 22.0 percent while dropping his walk rate from 4.4 to a microscopic 2.1. Lee's batted-ball rates were reliably average yet again, but he was able to keep runs off the board thanks to his incredible walk rate. The key to beating Lee is getting hits because he is not going to let you on base on his own, as he walked only 18 hitters all year. They say that knowing is half the battle, but it is difficult to see how simply knowing that Lee is unlikely to walk you will get you halfway to a win. He has struck out 34 of 87 hitters in three post-season starts in 2010 and walked only one hitter, upping his game in the playoffs for the second year in a row. He has won three of the seven games that the Rangers needed to reach the World Series and will get a chance to give them two of the remaining four, beginning tonight. The Giants lineup is easier than that of the Rays and Yankees, but he will probably not be able to meet expectations this evening for no other reason than the fact that he has set the bar so ridiculously high for himself. At the same time, the Rangers have the better pitcher on the mound, and it is easy to envision another brilliant performance from the rent-a-mega-ace.  

Matt Swartz is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Matt's other articles. You can contact Matt by clicking here

3 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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R.A.Wagman

How confidant are you really that the Rangers have the better pitcher on the mound tonight? Is the difference in SIERA large enough for that type of statement?

Oct 27, 2010 12:13 PM
rating: 3
 
chriscaroy

Does SIERRA account for the difference in leagues, in that lincecum faces pitchers ~3 times per game (or is that so small that it's in the noise), so he'll inherently have a higher k and gb rate (assuming pitchers typically strike/ground out more than any american league DH). Does it just remove these pitcher (throwing) vs pitcher (hitting) outcomes?

Thanks!

Oct 27, 2010 13:09 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Matt Swartz
BP staff

SIERA does not account for league differences, so that's part of the reason why I'm inclined to say Lee is better than Lincecum. At the same time, Lincecum facing pitchers 2x per game probably wouldn't have an overwhelming impact. Some of the league difference in skill level comes from BABIP differences both on offense and defense, so I'm inclined to say that maybe a quarter of a run difference in skill level might be reflected in peripherals, but that could be off.

Even still, saying Lee is better than Lincecum is not a statement I could make with 100% certainty, so perhaps I should dial that back a bit. In my opinion, I'd certainly pick Lee over Lincecum in terms of skill level but both of them are fantastic. Tonight should be a treat!

Oct 27, 2010 14:11 PM
 
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