It’s not often that a two-time Cy Young Award winner and four-time All-Star looks to have a rebound year, especially when considering that his previous season’s stats included a 2.74 ERA and 220 strikeouts in 217 innings pitched. And especially when said ballplayer is still only 27 years of age.
But the San Francisco Giants’ super ace Tim Lincecum is no ordinary baseball player—and he’s certainly not an ordinary starting pitcher. In fact, Lincecum is one of the most intimidating and dominating pitchers in all of Major League Baseball, as evidenced by his .627 career winning percentage and three straight seasons leading the National League in strikeouts (2008 to 2010).
However, considering how lofty expectations are for the diminutive right-hander, last season’s results were substantially substandard. His 13-14 record was obviously disappointing, although the Giants provided him with the worst run support in the league (3.82). But a closer look shows that opposing hitters may simply have figured out a way to slow him down: wear him out.
Lincecum led the league in pitches per plate appearance (4.01), which helped contribute to a career-worst 86 bases on balls. Additionally, hitters batted .269 against him when he fell behind in the count—but .353 when not factoring in the 3-2 count. Yikes!
Breaking down the stats is one thing; and yet, Lincecum still had a wonderful year that most pitchers would be satisfied to have. Instead, it was Lincecum’s health that many attributed to his dip in performance.
Last season, Lincecum had added some additional weight to his slight frame, bulking up to nearly 200 pounds. Standing at a mere 5'11" at best, analysts suggest that his body was not adapting well to the added muscle. Thus, heading into this upcoming spring training, Lincecum revealed that he revamped his work regimen in order to lose that weight and regain his previous build.
It’s reported that Lincecum lost 22 pounds this past winter, falling to a more lithe 175-pound weight class. The aim is for him to be leaner in order to improve his endurance and physical agility. After a tiny setback earlier last week, when he tweaked his back during a bullpen session, Lincecum has been given a clean bill of health, and looks as strong as he’s ever been heading into any spring training camp.
Lincecum’s added weight last season backfired in its intention to improve his strength. His average fastball velocity had dipped over the past few years (although it rose to 92.3 mph last season), which led him to throw his vaunted heater less often than in previous seasons. In 2011, Lincecum threw a fastball only 52.9 percent of the time, according to bloguin.com, opting instead to go to his changeup more frequently as his out pitch.
Hopefully the new physical conditioning from the winter and improved mechanics will get Lincecum’s velocity back at top form. Clearly, despite his enviable numbers, there was concern about him last year. Was he in decline? Would he be as dominant as he used to be? Which led many to question how what to do with him when it came time to discussing his contract last winter. Would the Giants give him a long-term deal? For how many years? For how much money?
All that was taken care of when San Francisco and Lincecum agreed to a two-year, $40.5 million contract in January. With newfound (temporary) security, and a renewed mindset and physical health, Lincecum is amped to reach the level of excellence he has been accustomed to throughout his short career.
To be sure, the Giants as a unit struggled last season as reigning World Series champs. The magic carpet ride from 2010 slowly unraveled, as the team neither met expectations nor surprised anybody anymore. But this year, Lincecum looks to guide the team back to the playoffs, behind the rejuvenated hunger that escaped them in 2011. And behind Lincecum’s determination to prove to critics that he can is still the perennial Cy Young candidate he should be.
Make no mistake, 2012 will be a significant year for Lincecum and the Giants. If the team can generate any improvement in its anemic offense, then Lincecum will be as dominant as he has always been—if not more so.
Look out, National League.
Follow me on Twitter: @nathanieljue