Is Tim Lincecum Being Pushed by the SF Giants for the Cy Young?

Dimitri ZagoroffContributor ISeptember 15, 2008

It will be a shame if Cy Young voters overlook Tim Lincecum’s performance this year just because his team is in a rebuilding cycle.

It will be an even greater shame if a late push for the award puts unnecessary strain on “the Franchise.”

But why else did manager Bruce Bochy leave Lincecum in to throw 138 pitches in Saturday’s complete-game shutout of the Padres?

I’m not saying that Lincecum’s pitch count should determine when he comes out.

While they are useful as a guideline for maintaining health, pitch counts can also become a form of bureaucracy that gets in the way of actually winning—they can even hurt a pitcher’s development, if he is never asked to go deep in a game.

And I understand that Lincecum is a special case.

While I’m not convinced that he’s immune to arm fatigue, it’s clear that he gets stronger as the game goes on.

So I’m not saying that Bochy should have called the bullpen before Lincecum reached 100 pitches. Nor was it a crime to expect him to finish the game after a clean bottom of the eighth. The Giants were up just 4-0, closer Brian Wilson had pitched the previous night, and Lincecum had only thrown 118 pitches.

But after Lincecum scored the second of San Francisco’s three runs in the top of the ninth, Bochy should have thanked the kid for a job well done and sent him to the showers.

Again, this isn’t some knee-jerk reaction to letting young pitchers pitch deep into meaningless games. But with a seven-run lead, why ask Lincecum to return after a long half-inning that included eight batters, three insurance runs scored, and a pitching change? Sure, he wasn’t sitting on the bench, but running the bases doesn’t do much to keep your arm loose.

The result? After a couple of groundouts and back-to-back singles from Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Kouzmanoff, Edgar Gonzalez struck out on Lincecum’s 20th pitch of the inning.

Nobody scored.

Nobody’s arm fell off.

But it still doesn’t make any sense.

Back in July, Bochy took some heat for removing Lincecum after just 111 pitches (and 13 strikeouts)—not least because the Giants' bullpen couldn’t hold the lead. His response was to note that Tim had thrown 121 pitches in his last start, and after all, “you don’t want to overwork him.”

Not exactly the Joba Rules.

With apologies to the president (and Governor Palin), let’s call it the Bochy Doctrine. Not an overprotective set of limits that sacrifice the short-term success of the team for the long-term health of one player.

Just a common-sense approach to developing a young pitcher.

Square that with Lincecum’s past two starts. Saturday’s 138-pitch complete game was preceded by 127 pitches over more than eight innings against the Diamondbacks on Monday. (He threw only 92 the previous time out in Colorado, but that was over five innings in which he gave up five runs.)

So much for the Bochy Doctrine.

Hopefully, the ninth on Saturday was just one of those things. Bochy had already indicated that Lincecum would finish the game when he sent him to the plate in the top of the inning. He had looked fine up to that point, getting through the eighth on only 12 pitches. Maybe Bochy just wanted to do his young pitcher a favor and let him earn his first ever complete game.

If that was the case, I’m good with it—so long as they go easy on him for the rest of the season.

But with the Cy Young being the only race that’s heating up the Bay this autumn, you have to wonder if San Francisco is trying to help their young pitcher pad his resume.

Besides the fact that Lincecum has nothing to prove, having already out-pitched Brandon Webb and CC Sabathia on the season, it would be incredibly reckless.

The Brewers can afford to send Sabathia out for nine innings start after start, precisely because they can’t afford to sign him after the season. The Giants are counting on Tim Lincecum to be the foundation of their franchise for the next decade.

It’s also pointless, in all likelihood. Unless voters break with tradition and look past wins and losses, Lincecum probably won’t finish first, even if he throws three more complete-game shutouts to finish the season.

It wouldn’t be the first time that the league’s best pitcher didn’t win the Cy Young, and it almost certainly wouldn’t be the last.

The San Francisco Giants have some of the most loyal fans in baseball. They don’t need a Cy Young award to know what they’ve got in Lincecum.

They do need “the Franchise” taking the mound every fifth game next year.

And if talented youngsters like Pablo Sandoval, Nate Schierholtz, and Travis Ishikawa continue to perform, they may need him to pitch deep and give his team a chance to win games that actually matter.

Now that Tim's got his first complete game out of the way, there’s no reason to jeopardize that over the last two weeks of a lost season.


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