Any way you slice it, 2012 was not pretty for Tim Lincecum. Well, he did win a World Series, so let’s say that it wasn’t pretty for his fantasy owners, anyway. Nash can attest to that.
But when someone so good goes so bad without any real warning, you have to ask the question. Who is the real Tim Lincecum? The guy we saw win two Cy YoungAwards in 2008 and 2009, or the guy who was one of the worst pitchers in all of baseball in 2012?
Let’s take a look at all the good and bad that Lincecum has to offer and see what we can expect in 2013.
The reasons that someone would want Lincecum are obvious. Take a look at Timmy’s average fantasy output between 2008 and 2011.
Obviously, 2012 was quite a bit different, but despite how bad that season was, there are some positives to look at.
- As ugly as 2012 was, he still recorded more strikeouts than innings pitched. Of course that’s not the end all and be all, but 190 strikeouts in 186 innings is really quite good.
- The second half was quite a bit better the first. In 86.1 second half innings, Lincecum struck out 86 hitters while posting a 3.83 ERA, 1.343 WHIP and notching a respectable 7-5 record. I won’t tell you that those are great numbers, but they were significantly better than the first half.
- The numbers got even better in the playoffs, where Lincecum had a 2.54 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 20 strikeouts in 17.2 innings. Certainly that’s a limited sample size and I concede that those numbers were largely out of the bullpen. As a matter of fact, they would have been even better if it wasn’t for a bad outing in the one postseason start he got.
The point is that while 2012 was ugly, most of the ugliness came at the beginning of the season. As it progressed, Lincecum looked a lot more like the pitcher we saw before 2012.
Given Lincecum’s small stature and incredibly unorthodox delivery, it’s entirely possible that he won’t have a career with good years well into his 30′s. But Timmy will turn 29 during the season, which is not old by any means, especially for a guy who hasn’t been plagued by injuries in his major league career. Justin Verlander had a dismal season in 2008, and he’s been pretty good since. Randy Johnson had a very ordinary 4.33 ERA in Seattle in 1998. He then got traded to Houston, had a 1.28 ERA the rest of the year, signed with Arizona before 1999 and won four straight NL Cy Young awards where his worst ERA was 2.64.
Great players will have a bad year every now and again. They aren’t only great for what they do at their best, but how they come back from their worst. While 2012 was bad, Lincecum showed that he was well on his way to coming out of the woods towards the end of the year.
The numbers in 2012 were dismal, but they do not even tell the full story. Lincecum is no longer a pitcher who overwhelms anyone with his power. The problem is that he’s been a power arm his entire life, and he now has to think about becoming more of a finesse guy. It’s just not that easy to make that transition.
Anyone who watched Timmy in 2012 saw something that you just didn’t see from him early in his career. It wasn’t just that the numbers were bad, but it was frequent to see him get up in a count 0-2 or 1-2, and then allow a hit. And these weren’t bloop singles that just found a hole, these were smoked. It’s one thing for a pitcher to allow a lot of hits, but he should not be constantly allowing loud contact when he’s up in counts. That happened to Lincecum in 2012.
Also, 2012 happened while he was pitching in the National League West, which is not exactly a hitter’s haven. The Dodgers will now have Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez for a full year to go along with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and whoever else they’ll sign. The Rockies may not be able to pitch, but they’ll get Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer back to bat around Carlos Gonzalez and a strong group of young hitters. The Diamondbacks still have Justin Upton (or whatever they’ll get if they trade him), Paul Goldschmidt, and Miguel Montero. Heck, even the Padres have good punch with Chase Headley and Carlos Quentin. The point is that things aren’t to get any easier.
We haven’t really even delved into the loss of velocity, or the fact that he didn’t crack 200 innings in a full season last year. Lincecum also allowed more earned runs (107) than any pitcher in the National League and with the exception of Luke Hochevar, Ricky Romero, Justin Masterson, Jon Lester, and Bruce Chen, more than any in either league. That’s not exactly company you want to be compared with if you want to be considered an elite fantasy arm. Actually, with the exception of Joe Blanton, Lincecum is the only National League pitcher in the Top-10 on that list.
There are certainly some reasons to put Lincecum on your fantasy team, but there are plenty of reasons to avoid him as well.
Lincecum is a risk and I don’t know how patient I’d be with him in 2013, but I do expect a return to form. It’s not easy to go from power to pitcher to someone who has to rely more on breaking stuff and finding corners, but Lincecum is making the adjustment. He was absolutely brilliant in the postseason against some of the game’s best hitters. When you consider that his second half was much better than his first and then he continued that into the postseason, you can’t help but be encouraged.
The strikeouts are also just too good to pass. In every one of his Major League seasons, Timmy has struck out more than a hitter an inning. It may be tough to adjust from being a power pitcher, but when you have his breaking stuff, it becomes much easier.
Something else to consider is that Lincecum will have a lot of incentive. This is a contract year for him and he’ll literally stand to lose millions of dollars with another bad season, as most teams don’t see two consecutive poor seasons as a good incentive to give someone a fat contract. On the other hand, a good season will make 2012 look like a complete anomaly in an otherwise stellar career.
The National League West does have some pretty good hitters, but it’s still a good pitching division. AT&T Park is as good of a pitcher’s park as there is in the game. Nobody goes through an entire career without a bad season. Sure, 2012 was bad, but it could have been a lot worse. He showed significant improvement late, and then into the playoffs.
Also, this is not the first time we’ve seen Lincecum struggle and he bounced back well. He was dismal throughout August of 2010, posting a 7.82 ERA and 1.816 WHIP. He recovered to post a 1.94 ERA and 0.936 WHIP in the season’s final month and then in 37 postseason innings, he struck 43 hitters out and had a WHIP of 0.919 and an ERA of 2.43 while beating Roy Halladay once and Cliff Lee twice. That’s a pretty good recovery.
I fully expect Timmy to do that again and look a lot more like The Freak in 2013.
Dixon’s Early Projection Range for Tim Lincecum
|Best Case Scenario||226||178||62||66||19-6||241||2.62||1.06|
|Worst Case Scenario||180||187||79||104||11-17||178||5.20||1.48|