I wrote my yearly "If the first half didn't exist" article today. The Padres have the best record in the NL after the break. Mike Trout isn't good. That sort of stuff. Here's how I find the players and teams to highlight: I search for second-half splits on Baseball Reference, look for the surprising best and worst performers, then hack out an article. It's both lazy and fun: my favorite kinds of writing.
While doing this, I searched for all pitchers over 50 innings and sorted their second halves by ERA. I'm pretty sure I made a sound like "paffrruuuumnngh" when the results came up. Tim Lincecum has the second-worst ERA in baseball since the All-Star Break, with an 8.39 ERA (and a save!). Lincecum has been exceptionally bad lately, and it probably isn't even a surprise at this point. We're used to it.
The worst ERA in baseball in the second half belongs to John Danks, whom the Giants didn't face when the White Sox were in town because Chris Sale pitched instead. Because of course.
Meanwhile, Yusmeiro Petit has been pitching exceptionally well. He usually gets innings when we're not paying attention -- when the game is well out of hand and we're cursing the starter who just left in the fourth. The Giants' record in his relief appearances is 5-20, for example. But since a loss to the Marlins on May 16, Petit has been fantastic, with a 2.93 ERA over 43 innings, including three starts. The sample is small, of course. But small samples aren't all pushy and arrogant like large samples are. They let you think for yourself instead of telling you how things are, man.
So it's time for a comment starter and a poll. You're Bruce Bochy. Temporarily, at least. Don't put on any sweaters during this thought exercise, or you'll stretch them the hell out. You've been told that the rotation is your business, and you don't have to worry about hurt feelings. You get to choose between Tim Lincecum and Yusmerio Petit. Pick one.
I could have sworn I wrote this exact same column in 2009, but I can't find it. If someone's googling powers are stronger than mine ...
Statistically, everything errs on the side of Petit.
Strikeouts per nine innings
Walks per nine innings
Home runs per nine innings
Beside the sample-size caveat, there's also a built-in advantage for Petit, in that he's pitched more in relief, where a pitcher is more likely to accumulate strikeouts. And the bullpen has been kind to Petit:
So the idea of him in the rotation instead of Lincecum might not even be that exciting. It could be that Petit's stuff plays much better when it's not going through a lineup two or three times.
That's where the poll comes in, because I'm confused. I'm exasperated with Lincecum and the yo-yoing of emotions, of watching him succeed for four starts before a string of eight meltdowns. But I'm also not ready to admit that he's probably worse than Yusmeiro Petit, even if the evidence hints that he very much is. That seems too much, too final. And as much as I like to lick the logic toad, I'm still a fanboy. I still remember just how good Lincecum can look. Against the Padres. Which pretty much doesn't count. But still.
One last category:
Average fastball velocity
Lincecum: 89.8 mph
Petit: 88.7 mph
Petit is basically Lincecum who knows where the ball is going. That seems important, considering that Lincecum's biggest problem is that he doesn't know where the ball is going, and that we tend to say "Boy, it would sure be neat if Lincecum knew where the ball is going!" every five days. There's an asterisk behind the velocity for Petit, as pitchers generally add a little bit of velocity when they move to the bullpen. Still, it's not like there's a huge difference between the two, with Petit's velocity holding steady and Lincecum's dropping every season.
It's just hard to admit, even after three seasons, that Tim Lincecum probably isn't one of the five-best starting pitchers in the Giants' organization. If the Giants are serious about the playoff push -- or at least the playoff to make the playoffs -- I'm not sure how long they can wait around and hope for things to get better on their own.
I guess I just needed someone to talk to. Thanks for being there. Vote in the poll.
(Also, note there's no way the Giants will actually bounce Lincecum from the rotation. This is all theoryland, right here.)