San Francisco Giants

San Francisco Giants: Can Tim Lincecum Become the New Dennis Eckersley?

Would a move to the bullpen jump-start Tim Lincecum's career?
Would a move to the bullpen jump-start Tim Lincecum's career?Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Martin TelleriaSenior Analyst IIIJune 3, 2013

Tim Lincecum’s recent proclamation of being open to a bullpen role, via Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News, is not surprising. It’s become almost inevitable at this point.

The Cy Young award winner is long past his prime. He still shows flashes of brilliance, but has been unable to sustain his old dominance over the course of an entire game.

The bullpen is an easy remedy to the problem. Unleash him for one or two innings and let him throw the kitchen sink. After all, we’ve seen it done before.

Before the era of Lincecum was a man who we all remember to be one of the greatest closers of all time: Dennis Eckersley.

What we don’t remember is the journey he took. Long before he became the pitcher we remember him to be, Eckersley did his damage from the starting rotation.

While he wasn’t nearly as dominant as Lincecum in his prime, he was still pretty darn good.

Three seasons of a sub-three ERA, nine at sub-four. Those are amazing credentials. Sure, he had some down seasons in between, but for the most part, his body of work as a starter was impressive.

Then in 1986, it appeared that the wheels had fallen off. He posted an ERA of 4.57 and looked like his days as a starter were numbered. And they were. But that wasn’t the end. It was simply the end of the opening act, an act that was to be followed by a far superior one.

A change of scenery to the Oakland Athletics and a change from the front of the rotation to the end of the bullpen revitalized his career.

In his new role, Eckersley once more became a force, culminating in one of the greatest pitching seasons in history, his 1990 campaign. While the 48 saves were only the second most in his career—51 in 1992, his Cy Young and MVP-winning season—the mind-boggling 0.61 ERA is without a doubt his most impressive feat.

Enter Tim Lincecum. Is he capable of a career renaissance as well? Can he become what Eckersley was before him?

He still possesses that nastiness in his pitches that made him so renowned, and he is more than capable of being the guy that goes out and gets you those last, crucial three outs.

At the end of the day, just as it is now in his starting role, it will be his ability to find the control of his pitches that will elevate him once more. The inability to find the strike zone has spelled doom for many promising pitchers.

Lincecum can be the Eckersley of his generation, a once-renowned starting pitcher who was forced to reinvent himself midway through his career. Like Eckersley, this major bump in the road does not need to be the end.

He was fantastic out of the bullpen during the Giants’ 2012 championship run. For all we know, that could have been a precursor of the things to come.

Obviously this becomes a moot point if he somehow rediscovers his form as a starter within the next few weeks. Based on the last couple of seasons, however, this seems unlikely.

A move to the bullpen is the smartest step for Lincecum to revitalize his career. The blueprint is there, set by Eckersley decades before him. It will be up to the Freak to embrace the role and in the process, salvage his reputation. 

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