Giants fans would like to see Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and maybe even Ryan Vogelsong receive multiple-year extensions during the winter. Along with these financially-worrisome contract negotiations, management will also have to make important business decisions regarding Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez. While these topics are all incredibly important to the Giants’ long-term success, rewarding Madison Bumgarner with a well-deserved extension should top the list of priorities.
There’s been no shortage of love for Bumgarner around the Giants’ blogosphere in the last few months, and for the most part, it’s been justified. Even those who don’t fully subscribe to DIPS have to admit that his 2.66 FIP, which ranks 4th among qualified starters (trailing only Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, and Cliff Lee), is quite impressive for a pitcher in his second season. Earlier today, Julian showed that his 3.93 K/BB ratio at age 21 puts him in some elite company.
While Bumgarner’s numbers may seem ultra-promising to stat nerds like myself, it’s worth noting that old school stats still tend to underrate him. We all know that wins and losses are totally insignificant, but his 12-13 record makes him sound like a mediocre pitcher regardless. His ERA is still in the mid-to-low 3’s, but even that number doesn’t do justice to his performance this year. It’s a shame that Bumgarner hasn’t very lucky thus far, but at the same time, this is an excellent opportunity for the front office to lock him up at a cheap rate before he becomes unbelievably good.
Generally speaking, an arbitration-eligible player will make 40% of his value on the open market the first time around, 60% on the second, and 80% on the third. While there are exceptions, this is usually how you can estimate a player’s earnings during this period. Unfortunately, according to this article on MLBTR, Bumgarner is set to become a Super Two player (correct me if I’m wrong) like Tim Lincecum. For those that don’t know, this means that he will go through the arbitration process four times instead of three. Bloggers have examined this topic before, and found that most Super Two’s start at 20% of their actual value in their first year and end at 80% in their last, rather than starting at 40% and ending at 100%.
Bumgarner currently leads all Giants pitchers with a mark of 5.4 WAR in 2011, but let’s start with a modest projection. If he pitches at a 3 WAR pace for the next five years, and the going rate of $5MM per win stays constant, he would be paid about $30MM through arbitration. A 4 WAR pace would net him $40MM, a 5 WAR pace $50MM, and so on. While these marks are probably a bit high, I think I’ve made my point: Bumgarner could make a lot of money if he chooses to go year-to-year.
The largest contract for a pitcher with 1-2 years of service time was the 4 year, $15MM extension given to Fausto Carmona. While Bumgarner’s year thus far is clearly better than Carmona’s breakout campaign in terms of FIP, WAR, and other metrics, the traditional stats tell quite a different story. In 2007, Carmona had a 19-8 record with a 3.06 ERA while leading the Indians to the ALCS; in 2011, Bumgarner is currently 12-13 with a 3.32 ERA, and the Giants are all but out of the race. The comparison is quite misleading and unfair, but the Giants can definitely use things like this to their advantage.
If the front office doesn’t like the idea, or if Bumgarner wants to go year to year, fine — it’s not exactly the end of the world. He’ll go to arbitration and get paid based on his performance. On the other hand, if the Giants offer their young lefty a chunk of cash to set up his family for life, it’d be awfully tough for him to refuse something in the 4-5 year, $15-25MM range, especially if it wouldn’t delay his free agency. Extending Lincecum and Cain is undeniably important if the Giants want to sustain their run of success, but it’s also going to be enormously expensive. Giving a long-term deal to Bumgarner has its risks, but it could also be the ingenious move that allows them to keep the rotation together down the road.