Let's be extraordinarily, scrupulously, indisputably fair about this.
Oh. Right. I'm always all of those things. So, business as usual around here. Anyway, let's first stipulate some conditions. Over the last two seasons, Tim Lincecum has pitched exactly 383⅔ innings. He's one of 86 pitchers with at least 300 innings over that span, ranging from Eric Stults' 302⅔ innings to Clayton Kershaw's 463⅔. Coincidentally, Lincecum falls almost precisely in the middle of that range. What follows is in the context of that group of 86 pitchers ...
There's some really great Tim Lincecum news! Well, really good news anyway: Lincecum's a strikeout pitcher. He's struck out 23 percent of the batters he's faced, which ranks 17th and is better than David Price, James Shields, Adam Wainwright, Zack Greinke, and a host of other exceptionally talented starting pitchers.
The rest of the news about Tim Lincecum is pretty terrible. His walk percentage is eighth-worst. His ERA- is fourth-worst. His Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs is 13th-worst. His Wins Above Replacement according to Baseball-Reference.com is second-worst. He doesn't throw nearly as hard as he used to. Which might be somehow related to the other terrible news.
Okay, there's some other news that's maybe okay ... FanGraphs tracks fielding-independent pitching, and also modifies that metric to account for the (likely or supposed) vagaries of luck regarding fly balls and home runs. And when you do those things, Lincecum looks quite a bit better. Before 2012, about seven percent of the fly balls allowed by Lincecum turned into home runs. Which did wonders for his ERA. But over the last two seasons, the figure is higher than 13 percent. That's really high! Ninth-worst in our 86-pitcher group.
There are different ways of accounting for "luck" ... but it's not really so hard to conclude that with just average luck, Lincecum's ERA over the last two seasons would have come in below 4, rather than nearly 5. That is, bad luck might have added a full run to Lincecum's ERA over the last two seasons.
And if that's the case and he pitches exactly as well over the next two seasons, he might actually be worth around $35 million. I mean, when you count the shirseys and the bobbleheads and the residuals every time a local radio station plays "Panda and the Freak" and all the goodwill you can possibly imagine.
Oddly enough, this is a $35 million bet on sabermetrics by a franchise that routinely dismisses the value of sabermetrics. Usually I'm happy to bet on sabermetrics. This time? I'm really glad it's not my money.
For much more about all sorts of insanity, please visit SB Nation's McCovey Chronicles.