Tim Lincecum – Changing My Mind On The Hour

For a myriad ofreasons I originally tagged Giants’ pitching prospect as a future
closer and prospect-ranked him behind Homer Bailey, Phillip Hughes,
Adam Miller, and Yovanni Gallardo. Not that there’s anything wrong with
being a Top-Five pitching prospect, but the results at the end of April
have forced further review.

 Bailey’s
early tenure in the Triple-A International League has gone as smooth as
one could hope, posting a 1-1 record through four starts with 1.69 ERA,
a 0.980 WHIP, and an opponents batting average of .167 through 21 and a
third innings. The only blemish statistically is a 13/9 K: BB rate;
good for a mediocre 5.48 strikeout-per-nine rate. But I’m still very
comfortable with his placement, my recently revamped method for
evaluating power pitchers still untested; will be until the current
crop has been major leaguers for a few years.

 I
feel the same way about Hughes; currently up for what will likely be a
short stay, and hit hard in first start, but unlikely to stick or fail
to improve as the season progresses. Miller has been impressive as
well, giving up a few too many hits in his first start – likely due to
inclement weather conditions – but hung tough netting a 2.88 ERA in
four starts with a 23/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio through 25 innings. The
Triple-A minor league test is often about facing adversity and Miller
passes the early trial. But Gallardo over in the Pacific Coast League
has been the most dominant of the four breezing through the trial with
a 3-21 record in four starts, complete with a 2.35 ERA — artificially
high due to a tough opening day outing – while his next three were pure
giving up two runs in total. A 33/8 K: BB ratio gives him a 12.91
strikeout average and a 0.910 WHIP.

Despite these four
outstanding early successes Lincecum is the talk of the high minors.
Including Sunday’s six-inning shutout performance in which he allowed
three hits and no walks while striking out 14, he’s now allowed one run
in five starts, that coming in his previous no-hit outing earlier in
the week where a bout of wildness had him walking a half-dozen. He
currently sits at 4-0 despite a lack of run support with a paltry 0.29
ERA, a 0.74 WHIP, an opponents batting average of .119 accompanied by a
13.35 strikeout rate.

Since
the minor league season began I’ve tracked these five with more gusto
than usual, viewing the starts when possible and looking at film. In
the case of Lincecum, one might argue I’ve virtually stalked him the
past 10 days, reading and processing everything I could lay my eyes
too. After Sunday’s start, I sat and watched his pitching motion
frame-by-frame for 90-plus minutes, looking for a mechanical
imperfection or some key to evaluating his future. While his motion is
recklessly fast and violent there are few flaws I noted, none seem
fatal. I’ve read interviews with him, his father Chris, his former
coaches, and reviewed his history, his makeup, his physical prowess,
and his perceived intangibles. I then corresponded with the few
professionals I know to see if they had any additional kernels of
wisdom on the issue; one grinned like the cat that ate the canary,
hinted, but refused to share, one turned the question back to me and
yet another hide behind old-school logic. I changed my mind a number of
times over the evening, but early this morning I eventually came to a
final conclusion, a shoe I found comfort in, but continue to hold the
right to change again should I find an expert opinion on one nagging
question.

 I
find my earlier analysis flawed, believing I put too much faith in the
hands of others, who knew as little as myself on this unique situation, and placed too much
emphasis on traditional thinking. Always look to history, remembering
the Dodgers blunder of trading promising pitching prospect Pedro
Martinez – and John Wetteland – for Delino DeShields, on the basis that
he was too small by the common scouting standard. Looking past
Lincecum’s petite stature, the volatile pitching motion he uses to
create the upper 90s velocity from the slight frame should be cause for
concern as a starter, especially while laboring in a long inning. But
the facts in evidence are he’s been doing it for a decade without
injury, he’s extremely strong for his size with gymnastic-type
athleticism, and he’s almost perfect through the motion. And he’s
thrown 110 pitches previously without incident.

 So
despite my original misgivings, he should be a starting pitcher, the
better use of his extreme and unusual talents. But also with an eye on
history comes one glaring concern. His father taught him to throw like
Sandy Koufax; a great, dominating pitcher for a short time before
succumbing to injury. If we assume everything noted is inline and he
can pitch long outings with the motion, it’s due largely to his
athleticism, buoyed of course by youth. What happens as he ages? Will
it be a short career, or a short career as a starter? Perhaps one of
the experts in this field will take up my cause and write a prognosis
that answers this question.

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2 comments

  1. Aubrey

    So what did you think about Lincecum’s start on Sunday? To me he seemed like he has major potential and the nerves just got to him a little. He gave up two homers, one to Shane Victorino and one to Ryan Howard. Which blows but it could have happened to any other Giants pitcher. Overall I think it was ok for his first big league start. I didn’t have the opportunity to see him while he was in Fresno but my dad did and he said he was amazing. I think he could be great for the Giants who always struggle in the pitching department. I’m going to a couple Giants games over Memorial Day weekend so maybe if Tim is still starting in Ortiz’s spot I’ll get to see him!

  2. Dan

    Sorry for the delayed response; I don’t post here often, and rarely check, thinking nobody was reading. My bad…. I’ll probably post more often –at least three times per week — going forward.

    I thought the Lincecum start was as you observed, noting I believe the occasional bout of wildness should continue, at least for this season. The speed of the motion is the cause. He’s always been prone to it when things are not perfect; the first-start adrenaline the likely culprit. I’m not going to base his near future on Sunday, nor this Friday’s in Coors. Unless something drastic happens, I doubt we’ll see him back in the minors; Ortiz seems more likely to move to the pen than Lincecum sent back.

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