Tim Lincecum and the Angels Are an Ideal Match of Need, Opportunity

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterMay 19, 2016

FILE - This May 6, 2016 file photo shows pitcher Tim Lincecum throwing for MLB baseball scouts at Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, Ariz. The Los Angeles Angels are closing in on a deal to sign the two-time Cy Young Award winner, a free agent trying to come back from hip surgery, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations, Monday, May 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Matt York, file)
Matt York/Associated Press

On today's episode of "Things That Were Meant to Be," we have the Los Angeles Angels and Tim Lincecum.

A deal between the Angels and the two-time Cy Young Award winner had been in the air for a few days and is now complete. As reported by MLB Network's Jon Heyman, Lincecum is heading to Anaheim on a modest contract:

That's the prorated calculation of Lincecum's salary. With the 2016 season about a quarter of the way done, his real pay is more like $2 million plus whatever incentives he makes.

At any rate, the attraction is obvious. For Lincecum, this deal is a lifeline to an extended major league career. For the Angels, it's a roll of the dice they had every reason to make.

When the 31-year-old right-hander held a showcase for teams in early May, Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reported there were representatives for more than 20 teams in attendance. Any one of them could have signed the former San Francisco Giant, who's coming off season-ending hip surgery. That includes the Giants themselves, whose starting rotation has been weighed down by Jake Peavy and Matt Cain.

But nobody really needed to take a flier on Lincecum like the Angels did. As Jeff Sullivan put it at FanGraphs: "The Angels are obvious because they’re out west, because their rotation sucks, and because they’re somewhere around the fringes of the race."

Pretty much. The Angels' 18-22 record puts them in fourth place in the AL West, but only five games out of first and four games away from a wild-card spot. Their rotation has a 4.61 ERA that's not good, but which almost manages to sound pleasant in light of other circumstances.

Namely, injuries. Garrett Richards and Andrew Heaney might be done for the year. C.J. Wilson is still working his way back from a bad shoulder. Tyler Skaggs is on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery, but it's turned into a bumpy ride.

If the Angels are really lucky, Lincecum will step in and regain the form that made him one of baseball's top pitchers between 2008 and 2011. Their best hope, though, is not getting the Lincecum who was one of baseball's worst pitchers between 2012 and 2015.

All the Angels have to go off of for now is what Lincecum demonstrated in his showcase. And from that, there's only so much to take away.

It's no secret that velocity was at the heart of Lincecum's downfall. After sitting in the low to mid-90s in his four-year stretch of dominance, his fastball velocity tumbled like so:

  • 2012: 90.4 mph
  • 2013: 90.2 mph
  • 2014: 89.6 mph
  • 2015: 87.2 mph

The effectiveness of Lincecum's fastball suffered accordingly. According to Baseball Savant, hitters hit .262 with a .379 slugging percentage against his heat between 2008 and 2011. They hit .284 with a .442 slugging percentage against it between 2012 and 2015.

Knowing this, it would have been great to see him light up the radar gun at his showcase. Instead, Sanchez reported that Lincecum sat 90-91 in his first throwing session and 89-90 in the second.

Either velocity range is an improvement over where Lincecum was last season, but that would be more encouraging if 2015 were the only bad year he was trying to put behind him. The Angels must therefore hope against hope that the velocity he showcased was only a starting point. With more reps, perhaps it can climb to where it was in his heyday.

Pictured: Lincecum's heyday.
Pictured: Lincecum's heyday.Ben Margot/Associated Press

What's more likely is that Lincecum will once again be forced to try to downplay his diminished velocity with good command. It so happens that's where the man himself was really encouraged by his showcase.

"I'm happy. I was able to throw strikes on my pitches, stay within myself. I commanded all of my pitches," Lincecum said. "I only had a couple misses, and they weren't [over the] middle of the plate, so that's encouraging for me."

Good command could cure as many of Lincecum's ills as good fastball velocity. At worst, it could prevent him from walking nearly four batters per nine innings like he did between 2012 and 2015. At best, it could erase the many mistake pitches that contributed to him averaging a home run per game in that span.

But for now, this is not something to be taken for granted. Lincecum didn't specialize in pounding the strike zone between 2012 and 2015. He specialized even less in hitting spots. It'll take more than a showcase for him to prove that he's ready to change these ways.

To make a long story short, "Who knows?" is the best answer for what Lincecum might do for the Angels. There's a chance they'll get a veteran pitcher who's found some velocity and learned to throw strikes. It's more likely, though, that they'll get something similar to his 2012-2015 self. 

What's true regardless, however, is that the man himself could have chosen much worse teams and much worse places to silence all of the smarmy skeptics [winks] out there. Breaking into the Angels rotation will not require a long, uphill climb. And once Lincecum gets there, he'll have two distinct advantages.

Angel Stadium of Anaheim is one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the American League, if not the friendliest. Though it's still somewhat early to be looking at such things, the Angels defense began Thursday ranked fourth in defensive runs saved. And as scary as it may sound that Lincecum is about to take on American League lineups, AL offenses aren't actually performing better than NL offenses.

If Lincecum can make the most of his comeback attempt, he'll be a wanted man on the winter free-agent market. Considering that said market is perilously short on talented arms, he could even be a very wanted man.

He has a lot to prove before he gets to that point. But for now, he's at least taken care of the first step of getting a chance to do so.

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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