San Francisco Giants: Why Tim Lincecum Must Be in the Playoff Rotation

Baily Deeter@@deetersportsSenior Writer IIISeptember 29, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 27: Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants walks off the field after the Giants beat the Arizona Diamondbacks in their last home game before the playoffs at AT&T Park on September 27, 2012 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If you look at Tim Lincecum’s stats this year, I’m sure you won’t be impressed.

The former ace is 10-15 with a 5.15 ERA, and he has lost about all of his pitch command. Lincecum hides the ball with his unorthodox delivery, and he used to hit 95 mph on the radar gun. However, his fastball now tops out at just 92 mph, making it much less effective. 

Since his fastball is less effective, his off-speed pitches are, too.

His fastball used to get him ahead of the count and his changeups used to make hitters whiff. His slider had tons of movement, and hitters would be miles off of the pitch. But now, those pitches aren’t as effective, due to the lack of speed on his fastball.

Plus, he hasn’t been locating his fastball, and hitters are pouncing on off-speed pitches left in the zone. But the real problem is that his pitches haven’t been in the zone a lot. More often than not, Lincecum is missing the strike zone.

Could this be due to fatigue? Maybe. When Lincecum was in his Cy Young years, he exceeded 100 pitches nearly every game. Bochy often let him exceed 120, and he threw 138 in a game once (the most ever was 149 by Edwin Jackson).

However, it didn’t really catch up to him in 2010 or 2011. He struggled in August 2010, but he dominated in September and October. He was 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA in the postseason, which is something Bochy must consider when assembling the playoff rotation. Then, he posted a 2.74 ERA in 2011, despite somehow having a losing record.

If it’s not fatigue, it could be a lack of proper preparation. It’s taken Lincecum tons of time to get settled in, and he has a 7.88 first-inning ERA this year.

I can relate to this issue. I’ve seen him pitch twice (at AT&T Park) this year, and he allowed two earned runs in the first inning both times. He didn’t pitch into the sixth in either game, and he lost both.

One of those games was on Tuesday night against Arizona. He never found his rhythm on the mound, and he couldn’t locate any pitches. He only threw 77 on the night, despite being well rested. He threw only 39 of them for strikes, and he gave up seven earned runs and a three-run home run. However, he had looked great before that.

Unfortunately, he didn't look great against the D-Backs. Lincecum pitched scared and didn’t attack the zone. He pitched scared to Paul Goldschmidt, but he missed his target by so much that it was right in Goldschmidt’s wheelhouse. He crushed it down the line for a three-run homer, sealing Lincecum’s 15th loss. Then, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong went out and picked up wins.

Before that, his command was back and his confidence was back. It was perfect timing, and if Lincecum had mowed down a mediocre D-Backs lineup, he would’ve locked up a spot in the playoff rotation. But, thanks to command problems, inaccuracy and those first innings, he didn't.

His first-inning issues are something Bochy must also take into consideration when assembling the rotation. All five starters will be on the playoff roster, and one of them will be used in long relief. Even though long relief means pitching a few innings, you definitely pitch more when starting a game. Pitching less will hurt Lincecum, since he won't have time to settle in. He'll have to be incredibly sharp from the get-go.

Lincecum will face a weak Padres offense on Sunday as he hopes to seal a playoff rotation spot in a huge ballpark. Vogelsong dominated the Padres twice, although it's fair to say he's received some lucky breaks in those starts. Plus, Vogelsong doesn't possess the playoff experience and success owned by Lincecum.

Bochy has confidence in Lincecum, and the real Lincecum will stand up in the playoffs. Vogelsong will crumble under the pressure, when he won't be facing the Padres, but rather the Reds or Nationals.

But it's safe to say Lincecum will attack and prepare well for the start, and that he won't be walking guys. He's shown the ability to command his pitches at times, and I think he can if he bounces back from his horrible start against the D-Backs.

However, a number of things have to go right. He can't let opponents hit .265 off of his change-up, he can't issue free passes and he can't struggle again in the first inning.

It's happened before, but not against the Nationals. He has struggled at times against decent offenses, but he has also gobbled up the Rockies, Phillies, Mets and Dodgers.

Can he revert to his old form? Yes. Will he? That's a question that his performance will answer, but for now, the answer is yes.