Tim Lincecum (2-6, 5.83 ERA, 72 Ks) is a two-time Cy Young award winner, and World Series champ. But, despite his impending little-guy legacy on the sport of baseball, the “Freak” is enduring the worst season of his big league career, and it’s been ugly. The surging San Francisco Giants (33-25) have won 9 of their last 11, climbing within 4 games of the NL West leading Dodgers.
So, what’s the catch? In the Giants’ 2 losses in their last 11, Lincecum is 0-1 in 2 starts, surrendering 5 runs and 9 hits while striking out 14 in 13 innings, dropping his ERA from a whopping 6.41 to a hefty 5.83. The Giants are 2-10 on the season in games which have been started by the infamous “Big Time Timmy Jim.”
Tim Lincecum is 71-47 with a 3.15 ERA in 167 lifetime major league starts. His 14 strikeout performance against the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS jump-started the Giants’ momentous run at the franchise’s first World Series title since 1954. The dude was 3-1 with a sub-3.33 ERA against perennial superstars, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee in the NLCS and World Series respectively, thus vaunting the slim, long-haired right-hander into the conversation of legends. But, since the Giants’ illustrious celebratory parade on November 3, 2010, Lincecum has both suffered his first losing season as a big league Ace, and has begun to endure the looming transition that every prominent, and sustainable, big league thrower must overcome to become freakishly superior: Tim Lincecum needs to become a pitcher.
The “Freak” has increasingly lost velocity on his fastball since hurling 96 mph fireballs at hitters when he broke into the show back in 2007. Lincecum was drafted 10th overall in the 2006 MLB First Year Amateur Draft, a selection which caused a tremendous amount of buzz and controversy alike. It had been touted by scouts and so-called “experts” that Lincecum’s small frame, and awkward style of delivery would ultimately lead to his seemingly inevitable demise as a reliable starting pitcher at the big league level. At 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds, Lincecum is obviously known for his impeccable ability to devour double-doubles and chocolate shakes at the local In ‘N Out, but is ultimately famous for his uncanny baseball talent.
How will Lincecum adapt to the tremendous adversity of transition? It will not become an ounce easier when the offensive juggernaut, otherwise known as the Texas Rangers, visits AT&T Park for the first time since being hammered 9-0 in Game 2 of the 2010 fall classic. It’s likely that slugger, and former consumptive abuser, Josh Hamilton still resents the “aroma” of San Francisco’s center field bleachers, and that the snake bitten Rangers undoubtedly thirst for some level of redemption after their 5-game demise in 2010. But, it also seems relatively honest to expect a big-time performance from the “Freak” when he takes the bump on Sunday, in what could potentially be a rubber match.
The numbers would disagree. Lincecum has surpassed the 7th inning just once in the 2012 campaign, an 8-inning, 5 strikeout win over the lowly Padres (19-38) back in April.
So, what generates confidence in this baseball aficionado?
A simple stat known as StS, for those readers familiar with jargon associated with FanGraphs; Lincecum recorded a season-high 19 swing-throughs in his recent no decision in San Diego. That’s 19 swinging strikes in 102 pitches thrown, essentially meaning that nearly every 5th pitch thrown by Lincecum was a “whiff.” Granted, the Padres team batting average is .224, which ranks 28th in the big leagues. But, Lincecum’s recent stride is an element for future success. When Lincecum is right, his 4-seam fastball ranges from 91-93 mph; his velocity has dipped below 90 in several of his starts thus far this season, however, his 90.92 mph average on his 4-seamer in his most recent start (6/5) is encouraging. That pitch topped out at 92.9 mph, and was thrown for a strike 26 times in a 40 count.
The slider is evolving as Lincecum’s most potent pitch in his repertoire, generating an insane percentage of swinging strikes. But, his change-up has become his best strike-out pitch, producing a near 40% Sts rate. For the change-up to be effective, Lincecum has to spot the 4-seamer. Ineffectiveness in the strike-zone has been Lincecum’s downfall so far in 2012. Sunday prompts an opportunity though. It’ll be Lincecum’s 13th start of the season, but don’t bet on bad luck.
Reporters and enthusiasts have dubbed Lincecum’s struggles to “mindset,” claiming he’s out of focus. We’ll find out this weekend when the team he defeated to become a champion comes to town.
**update** Tim Lincecum deserved the loss in a 5 run, 9 hit effort in the rubber match of a 3-game series at AT&T Park, forcing the Giants’ team record to 2-11 when Lincecum takes the bump.
(for those keeping track… that means I was wrong).
*For more information on Pitch FX, visit FanGraphs.com, or BrooksBaseball.net