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Thanks Given

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It’s my favorite American holiday: no plastic trees or horrible music, no street parties that end in gun violence, no ridiculous assertions of national dominance. Just family, friends, and food, and a clear mandate to be thankful for everything we have, be it health, or children, or love; be it a good job or no job or the freedom to be creative, to worship (or not), to speak freely. 

011-baseballLet’s give thanks to the Giants for giving us the most beautiful place to watch baseball and for, ahem, not raising ticket prices this year. Even more thanks to Alexander Joy Cartwright and the New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club (or, if you prefer, to Abner Doubleday) for getting this party started. I don’t know where I’d be without you guys. (Doing my day job more diligently, probably.)

OK, enough mawkishness. Yesterday’s comments brought up an interesting philosophical debate: who’s worth more, a front-line starting pitcher or a perennial All-Star position player? More specifically, Tim Lincecum or David Wright? Depends on what you mean by “worth,” I guess. To the Giants, who have a wealth of young pitching but a dearth of can’t-miss (or even might-not-miss) position players in the high minors, it seems obvious that David Wright would be more valuable.

Let’s use a geekier tool: Baseball Prospectus’s WARP, which measures the number of wins a player’s overall game contributes to his team. In this excellent article on the N.L. MVP vote, BP’s Joe Sheehan shows that Wright had the second highest WARP in the league this year, tied with Jake Peavy, the unanimous N.L. Cy Young. (Sheehan says Albert Pujols with his excellent defense factored in should have been MVP; the real-world winner, Jimmy Rollins, didn’t even have the highest WARP on his own team.)

So if Wright — in only his third full big-league year — can produce as many wins as the unanimous Cy Young winner, doesn’t it stand to reason that he’s worth more than a great starting pitcher and is head and shoulders above a merely good starting pitcher? And when will Tim Lincecum graduate from being a merely good starter to great? Anyone here want to bet that Lincecum will be a top-10 Cy Young candidate next year? As much as I love The Enchanter, I wouldn’t make that bet. Maybe in 2009, but by then David Wright could have an MVP under his belt.

How good does Lincecum have to be to equal Wright’s value? The past three years, Wright has contributed 26.4 wins to the Mets. Brandon Webb, probably the best pitcher in the NL over that period, has contributed 26.1 wins to the Padres. The best hurler in the A.L., Johan Santana, has added 29.6 wins to the Twins ledger.

Just for fun: In his best three years — 1997, 1999, and 2000 — Pedro Martinez was worth 39.5 wins. Whopping, baby.

Lincecum was worth 3.1 wins in 2007. He’s fun to watch. He could throw a no-hitter anytime he’s on the mound. He could be one of the greats. But David Wright is already great, is likely to be greater still — and comes without the injury risk.

The hypothetical trade that got all this started will never happen, of course. But I don’t think there’s much argument who would be worth more to the Giants right now and for the next three or four years.

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