With the first half of the season in the rear view mirror, Tim Lincecum and the Giants can officially start to panic. In his final start before the All-Star break, Lincecum gave up six earned runs in just 3 1/3 innings (including two home runs) as the Giants lost to the first-place Pittsburgh Pirates 13-2.
While the media and fans have been in full panic mode for the past two months, Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean and the rest of the Giants' front office have remained calm and steadfast as they’ve tried to rectify one of the quickest meltdowns of a superstar in recent history.
What initially was coined as a slump—ballooned into mechanical and mental breakdowns—is now a full on catastrophe with many questioning if Lincecum can ever regain his velocity, control and mental toughness to excel in the league again.
Stand By Your Man
Clearly the hottest debated topic in San Francisco over the past two-and-a-half months has been how could Lincecum fall so far so quickly, and what can be done to fix it. It’s been suggested that Lincecum should skip a start, stop throwing the changeup so frequently, be sent to the bullpen to figure it out, take a rehab trip back to the minors, or gain the weight he lost in the offseason.
Regardless of credentials or firsthand knowledge of pitching in the big leagues, everyone’s had an opinion about what should be done about Timmy.
As early as three starts ago, Bochy remained adamant that he and the team were completely behind Lincecum and the plan was to keep running him out there every fifth day. Lincecum then went out and threw one of his best games of the first half, tossing seven shutout innings against the Los Angeles Dodgers and dropping his ERA to 5.60.
Bochy was encouraged after the outing saying, "He carried himself with so much more confidence the last couple of outings. The confidence factor is so important. ... He realized how good he is."
Then came Lincecum’s last two starts against the Nationals on Tuesday, and the Pirates on Sunday. Lincecum couldn’t make it out of the fourth inning in both outings, surrendering a total of 13 runs as his ERA exploded to 6.42.
Lincecum’s first half has been inexplicable. He is one of two National League pitchers with double digit losses, and has the worst ERA and WHIP (The average number of walks and hits by a pitcher) in the major leagues among pitchers with enough innings to qualify.
Probably the most glaring and damming statistic is the Giants' record of 4-14 in games Lincecum has started.
While he’s experienced rough stints before, nothing tipped the Giants off that Lincecum's struggles could last this long. In August of 2010, Lincecum went 0-5 as he lost velocity on his fastball and struggled with command. There was a similar uproar in the media and among fans, but Lincecum rebounded mightily, going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA in September, and then pitching masterfully though the postseason as the Giants won the World Series.
Last year, Lincecum won one game in six starts in June, sporting a 4.84 ERA and again losing velocity and command of his fastball. The following two months, Timmy bounced back in dominant fashion, keeping his ERA under 1.90 in eleven starts.
Talk To My Agent
The Giants clearly weren’t concerned about some of Timmy’s past hiccups as they offered the two time Cy Young award winner a five-year, $100 million contract in the offseason. Lincecum and his agent turned down the deal to sign a two-year, $40 million deal, leaving most people who have the ability to do basic math shaking their heads.
The thought process was clearly to pitch through the two years (assuming the market would be higher in 2014) in hopes of getting a huge payday from a potentially big-spending perennial powerhouse. Part of that theory also assumed Lincecum would continue to put up “Freak” type numbers as the ace of the Giants' staff.
Bochy has already affirmed that Lincecum will start the second game back from the break in San Francisco against the Houston Astros. Commenting about Lincecum after the loss Sunday, Bochy said, "He's got to put this first half behind him....He's got to regroup. We need him. He's got to be determined to turn things around, and have a better second half.” Bochy added, "There's not much you can do right now."
It’s clear that Bochy seems to be out of answers except to say that Lincecum will continue to start and try and figure it out. Lincecum also seems to be at a loss, alluding after the game Sunday that he’s never felt lower than he does right now.
"You never want to say, 'Hey, I've hit rock bottom,' or anything like that, but when things are going as bad as they are right now, you've kind of got to go out there like you've got nothing left to lose. Leave it all out there on the field and what see happens."
For now that’s the plan, but it could change quickly. If Lincecum gets shelled next Saturday, he could find himself skipping his next start or in the bullpen. With the Giants just a half a game out of first place in the NL West, they cannot afford to run a struggling Lincecum out there every fifth day.
One argument during the first half contended that Timmy was still the best fifth starter in the league, and that’s just not true. Lincecum’s numbers are the worst in the league among starting pitchers and it’s something the Giants cannot continue to ignore.
Mark Probst is a Contributor for Bleacher Report. Quotes were taken by Chris Haft of MLB.com.