After he won the 2008 National League Cy Young, many people thought San Francisco Giants ace Tim Lincecum couldn’t really get much better than what he did in his first full major league season.
Dude racked up strikeouts like they were going out of style, shot up the ranks as one of baseball’s best, and did all of this on a team that finished 20 games under .500.
However, adorned with his new rock star hair and a couple of new toys to play with, "The Freak" has had an encore season to make any doubters believe the sophomore slump does not exist.
First, the numbers through 16 starts:
2008: 9-1, 2.38 ERA, 109.2 IP, 93 H, 114 K, 43 BB, 1.24 WHIP
2009: 8-2, 2.37 ERA, 114 IP, 94 H, 132 K, 28 BB, 1.07 WHIP
Those are eerily similar, aren’t they?
The thing that is making Lincecum’s 2009 better than his 2008 are the two stats categories at the end of each year’s line.
2009’s version is certainly a different product than what we saw a year ago. After adding a changeup to his arsenal at the beginning of last year, Lincecum has evolved it into quite possibly the best pitch he has to offer.
A power fastball that goes into the high 90s, a hammer for a curve, a slider that is still getting better, and now a changeup that just drops off the table? Would you like fries with that?
Add up all of his service time, and it equals about two years total, the time where young pitchers are just hitting their stride and beginning to have things click. In Lincecum’s case, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime package getting even better.
Did I mention he just turned 25 two weeks ago? Yeah. Scary.
Lincecum offers hitters to pick their poison, but honestly, they usually don’t stand a chance regardless. And this year, he is controlling the pitches better than ever before.
He’s walked nine batters in both May and June, something that any pitcher would take in a heartbeat. Lincecum has had one outing where his strikeout-to-walk ratio is less than two and just once since the season’s first week.
The Franchise is being uberly efficient with his pitches this season, having walked as many as four batters almost as many times (five) as he has walked none (four).
What’s one of the first things we learn as pitchers? Keep runners off the bases, and you’re going to be successful.
In his most recent gem, a career-best two-hit shutout against St. Louis Monday night, Lincecum needed just 95 pitches, carrying a perfect game into the fifth. He went to a three-ball count only twice, both coming in the first two innings against the Cards.
Then Lincecum got some runs, one in the first and three in the fourth, and it was cruise control from there. You never want to that to happen when you’re in the opposing dugout.
Oh, and he blew away Albert Pujols with ease in the first inning.
After his outing against the Cardinals, Lincecum is just decimal points behind Dan Haren for the National League ERA crown. He again leads all of baseball in strikeouts (shocking, I know) and is tied with teammate Matt Cain for the top spot in the NL with three complete games.
Finishing games, however, is something new to Lincecum in the big leagues.
Last season people were crying bloody murder that Lincecum wasn’t getting the chance to finish games because of apparent concerns over his pitch count. His first complete game, which was also a shutout, came in his third-to-last start of the year, even though he had numerous chances to do so.
Those concerns are gone. Bruce Bochy must be secretly smiling somewhere after he leaves the ballpark every night Lincecum pitches.
He has gone the distance in three of his last four starts, two of which have been shutouts, and is racking up strikeouts (37) in the process.
But this is what the Giants have come to expect from Lincecum in the month of June this year. Dominating performance after dominating performance, and most importantly for one of baseball’s biggest surprises, some more wins.
With the roll he is on, any repeat of a July 2008, where he went 2-2 with a 4.09 ERA, looks absolutely slim to none right now.
Fear not, Giants fans, there’s no signal that he’s going to be hitting any kind of roadblock now, in August, or three years down the road.
The kid’s a throwback with a modern twist. He racks up strikeouts like there’s no tomorrow, yet gets his outings done in time for dinner to still be warm on the table. Pair that with the ability to play the game the way it's supposed to be played, and you have all the makings of a superstar.
Sorry Mr. Haren, but you have to think Lincecum is starting the All-Star Game next month for the Senior Circuit in St. Louis, right?
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