Cameron: Tim Lincecum and the slow death of ERA

From Dave Cameron at FanGraphs on October 23, 2013:

By runs allowed, Tim Lincecum has been basically replacement level for the last 400 innings. And he just got valued at around $20 million per year. Crazy, right? Well, maybe not.

 We have been writing here, for years, about the flaws of evaluating a pitcher by ERA. There are a ton of variables that are large factors in ERA which are influenced by things other than the pitcher, and just crediting or blaming the pitcher for everything that happens when he’s on the mound can lead to some mistaken conclusions. Run prevention is not synonymous with pitching; run prevention is pitching and defense, along with the sequencing of when the various events occur. The pitcher is a major factor in run prevention, but we should be more interested in isolating his role in the result than in holding the entire result against him.

And that’s just looking backwards, trying to assign credit and blame for things that happened in the past. When we get into trying to project the future, single season ERA becomes even less useful. As Bill Petti noted back in April, the year to year correlation of ERA from 2002 to 2012 was lower than almost every other metric for starting pitchers. It’s not that ERA contains no useful information, but that a lot of the things that drive ERA in one season simply don’t carry over to the next season.

Knowing this, we should not decide that a significant contract for a pitcher with a high ERA is demonstrably nuts. In fact, the crazy thing would be continuing to cling to ERA as a barometer for what a pitcher should be paid for his performance going forward when we know it’s not very good at predicting a pitcher’s future performance. It isn’t clearly crazy to pay a pitcher $35 million when he’s posted an ERA of 4.52 over the last two years; it is clearly crazy to look no further than ERA when deciding what kind of contract a pitcher should get.

And Major League teams have been making that adjustment for a while.

Read the full article here:

Originally published: October 23, 2013. Last Updated: October 23, 2013.