San Francisco Giants: Are Tim Lincecum's Best Days Behind Him?

Mark ProbstCorrespondent IMarch 23, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 01:  Starting pitcher Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants looks on against the Texas Rangers in Game Five of the 2010 MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on November 1, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Tim Lincecum was the king of aces during the Giants' 2010 postseason run. 

Going head to head with the best aces in the league, he was 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA over 37 innings.

It was vintage Lincecum as he dominated with velocity and control during all three rounds, capping his performance with a closeout victory against the Texas Rangers and Cliff Lee in Game 5 of the World Series.

The stats also show that Lincecum finished the 2010 regular season with 16 wins, an ERA of 3.04 and 231 strikeouts over 212-plus innings.

Lincecum had a good season by most accounts, but the regular season numbers don’t tell the entire story; in fact, if the Giants had not overcome the Padres and made their run through the postseason, one of the stories of the offseason would have been Lincecum’s subpar year.

Subpar is definitely a relative term when you finish the previous two seasons with back-to-back Cy Young awards and a .733 winning percentage and over 500 strikeouts combined.

To say that Lincecum has set the bar high is an understatement, but fans should not forget about the regular season struggles Lincecum endured just because the Giants won the World Series and Lincecum was a major part of it.
The inconsistency he experienced with his mechanics, coupled with the loss of velocity and control, could be the warning signs that all Giants fans have feared is the inevitable. At some point, Lincecum’s pitching arm, which is attached to his 165-pound frame, is not going to be able to sustain his above-average fastball and his well-documented violent pitching motion.
The question for most baseball analysts is not if, but when and how effective can Lincecum be without an electric fastball.

2010 brought out the best and the worst of Lincecum’s big league career.

Obviously, the best was displayed at the most opportune time as Lincecum showed the entire country on the biggest stage what he is capable of.

With the season ending the way it did, the worst slump of his career has temporarily been forgotten, as Lincecum went 0-5 in August surrendering 33 hits and 22 earned runs in 25.3 innings, plus walking 13 for a 7.82 ERA. He also surrendered five homers, his most in any month since he became a major-league player in 2007.

Even worse than the awful numbers Lincecum put up during his August slump was the loss of his velocity and control which ultimately led to a loss of confidence on the mound.

It was painful for Giants fans to watch as Lincecum starting tinkering with his mechanics, his signature motion changed, he wore his socks different, but the result remained the same. He was shelled outing after outing.
There were multiple rumors surrounding the slump. Perhaps Lincecum was experiencing a serious case of dead arm due to all of the innings he had thrown over his first three seasons.   

Another rumor stated that Lincecum had stopped training hard and his diet was lacking of proper nutrients.

Whatever the case, the slump displayed a dazed and confused Lincecum as his pinpoint control was gone, the sharp break in his curve ball was missing and his fastball was topping out at 89 miles per hour.

Anyone who has followed Lincecum’s career since he came up in 2007 knows that Lincecum has steadily been losing velocity on his fastball every year. What used to be a consistent fastball in the mid- to high-90s has become a fastball that regularly clocks in the low- to mid-90s.

Part of the velocity change is maturity as Lincecum purposely chooses when he wants to dial it up depending on the count and hitter, though I’m positive an August fastball registering in the high-80s was not by choice.

Thankfully, his development and maturity have also allowed him to pitch out of tough situations without his best stuff, relying on his deceiving changeup and knowledge of hitters.

More and more Lincecum has been forced to rely on his control and pitching savvy as his ability to simply blow guys away is not always available to him.

The August slump wasn’t the first slump of Lincecum’s career; it wasn’t even the first of 2010.  After a 4-0 April with a 1.27 ERA, I, like every other Giants fan, had already etched Lincecum’s name on his third consecutive Cy Young award.

Then came May, a month in which Lincecum’s ERA was 4.95 as he started six games and recorded a 1-2 record.

Lincecum seemed to recover in June with a 3-1 record, but he still had an ERA over three.  More importantly, he gave up the same amount of hits (33) that he surrendered in his worst months of the season, May and August. If you factor in July’s total (42), between May and August, Lincecum was giving up over a hit an inning with a 4.72 ERA.

Thankfully for all Giants fans, Lincecum recorded a 5-1 record in September with a 1.94 ERA, surrendering only 31 hits over 42 innings.  

His velocity was back in the 91 to 94 miles per hour range, his control was excellent and his confidence followed suit.

Lincecum’s September, coupled with his postseason dominance has all but washed his regular season woes away for the average fan, but it shouldn’t be forgotten.

Lincecum’s struggles in 2010 were not just your average slump that every pitcher experiences throughout their career, they were more than that. They were the signs of incredible wear and tear on an arm and body that have been asked to exceed their average potential on every outing.

Lincecum’s first four years in the big leagues reminds me of another back-to-back Cy Young Award winner (three total), Pedro Martinez. Martinez came up with the Dodgers in 1992 as a 160-pound, hard-throwing right-handed pitcher who consistently was clocked in the 97 to 98 miles per hour range.

After many seasons of mowing guys down with his electric fastball, Martinez’s velocity started to drop down to the low to mid 90s. The hard-throwing phenom also started to go through bouts of dead arm and eventually had to undergo surgery for a torn rotator cuff.

Martinez was able to adjust his game and he became a masterful pitcher, changing speeds and location, which allowed him to remain as one of the top pitchers in the league for over a decade before his velocity had dropped to the mid to high 80s and his arm strength was gone.

Giants fans can only hope they are as lucky with Lincecum.


    Trout's Bases-Clearing Knock Helps Angels to Beat D-Backs

    MLB logo

    Trout's Bases-Clearing Knock Helps Angels to Beat D-Backs

    Washington Post
    via Washington Post

    Giants Hold Off Marlins in Spirited Contest

    San Francisco Giants logo
    San Francisco Giants

    Giants Hold Off Marlins in Spirited Contest

    via MLB

    Giants’ Posey, Marlins’ Brinson Drilled in Tense 2nd Inning

    San Francisco Giants logo
    San Francisco Giants

    Giants’ Posey, Marlins’ Brinson Drilled in Tense 2nd Inning

    via SFGate

    Rays Stop Astros Win Streak at 12

    MLB logo

    Rays Stop Astros Win Streak at 12

    Joseph Zucker
    via Bleacher Report