Tim Lincecum: Why the San Francisco Giants Ace Will Win His 3rd Cy Young in 2011
The Giants right-hander won back-to-back National League Cy Young awards in his first two seasons, becoming the only pitcher in major league history to accomplish that feat.
He led all of baseball in strikeouts in each of his first three full big-league seasons.
As well, he was unhittable in the 2010 postseason, including in Game 5 of the World Series, when he shut down the offensive juggernaut of the Texas Rangers and led San Francisco to its first World Series title in 56 years.
What more can this young man accomplish?
A third Cy Young award, perhaps?
The Competition: Roy Halladay
Roy Halladay. What can you say except that this guy is amazing? He was 21-10 last season with a 2.44 ERA and 219 punchouts. He has two Cy Young awards of his own, and he's a seven-time All-Star.
But Doc's problem when it comes to the Cy Young race this year is that he's 33 going on 34 and now in his 14th major league season.
Have there been Cy Young award winners in their mid-30s? Sure. But this season you have to look at who else is in the picture: the significantly younger and less taxed arms of Lincecum, Ubaldo Jimenez and Josh Johnson.
Another important factor is that Halladay pitches his home games at Citizens Bank Park, widely known to be a very hitter-friendly venue.
The Competition: Cliff Lee
The man Tim Lincecum beat in the clinching Game 5 of last year's World Series will also likely be a competitor in the Cy Young race this season.
Cliff Lee was masterful in last year's postseason until he faced Lincecum and the Giants, who defeated him twice en route to the title.
Lee, like his teammate Halladay, is also on the other side of his prime years. He will turn 33 this year and is off to a rough start—for Cliff Lee standards—to the 2011 season. So far, he's compiled a 2-1 record with a 3.91 ERA. In his second start of the year against Atlanta, he gave up six runs on 10 hits and couldn't survive the fourth inning.
Lee faces the same problem of pitching in the hitter-friendly confines of Citizens Bank Park, and age is bound to start catching up to him.
The Competition: Ubaldo Jimenez
Ubaldo Jimenez is another star pitcher who has been getting shelled as of late. In his first start since injuring a cuticle on his finger, Jimenez gave up four runs on six hits in five innings against the Giants and ended up with the loss.
He's 0-1 with a 7.86 ERA.
Last season Jimenez got off to a historic start. By the All-Star break he was 15-1. But in the second half, things fell apart for the flamethrower, and he ended the season poorly, going 4-7 the rest of the way.
Jimenez pitches his home games at the most hitter-friendly ballpark in all of baseball—Coors Field.
The Competition: Josh Johnson
Josh Johnson will likely be the most formidable challenger during Tim Lincecum's quest for a third Cy Young award. Johnson has been heralded as a Cy Young-type pitcher for a couple of seasons now and is off to a fantastic start in 2011 (3-0, 1.00 ERA, 27 K in four starts).
Johnson is just 27 and, like Lincecum, just approaching his prime. While the numbers for these two have been startlingly similar, there are points of difference.
Areas where Lincecum has the edge:
1. Throughout his career, Lincecum has consistently thrown more innings than Johnson (Lincecum has pitched over 200 innings in each of his three full seasons, while Johnson has reached the 200-inning mark only once in his career).
2. Lincecum has substantially higher strikeout totals than Johnson, both on a year-by-year basis and in a career comparison. Since 2007, when Lincecum came into the league, he has 939 strikeouts to Johnson's 495). Now even though Johnson has not made as many starts as Lincecum over that span, in 2009, when Johnson made one more start than Lincecum, Lincecum had 261 strikeouts to Johnson's 191.
3. Johnson has never thrown a complete-game shutout while Lincecum has four, showing that Tim has the ability to go the distance without losing efficiency.
Lincecum Is Off to a Hot Start
Tim Lincecum has picked up right where he left off last November. Through the first three starts of this season he is 2-1 with a 1.67 ERA. He has struck out 32 hitters while walking just seven and has a WHIP of just 0.89.
His young season already includes a 13-strikeout performance against San Diego in which he allowed just one run on three hits and no walks over seven innings of work.
A hot start doesn't necessarily mean a strong finish, but it certainly doesn't hurt.
Lincecum Is Just Entering His Prime
Tim Lincecum may look like he's 13, but he's actually 26. That's still a very young baseball player. He has already achieved levels of success that veterans toward the end of their careers can only envy, but he's just entering the prime of his career, when his numbers should be at their best.
This means we can expect even more amazing things from Lincecum: more strikeouts, more wins and yes, more Cy Young awards.
Lincecum's Home Is Pitcher-Friendly AT&T Park
AT&T Park is considered one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the game. Its expansive outfield—especially in right-center, where the outfield wall is 421 feet from home plate—makes it a great place to pitch and a terrible place to try to hit.
Tim Lincecum has electric stuff, but his effectiveness is only enhanced by the ballpark he takes the mound in for home games.
Lincecum Has Big-Game Experience
After watching him in his first two seasons, many observers of Tim Lincecum's amazing talent for throwing a baseball wondered: What would happen if this arm pitched in the playoffs?
Well, they got their answer.
In 2010, Lincecum proved that he is a big-game pitcher. He took the mound in the most pressure-packed games of his life and shined.
In the end, Lincecum had gone 4-1 with a 2.43 ERA. He struck out 43 hitters while walking just nine. Ten of those 43 K's were tallied in Game 5 of the World Series, when Lincecum was untouchable for eight innings, getting the Giants to the cusp of the championship.
With all of that under his belt at such a young age, Lincecum knows what it feels like to be under the bright lights and seems to thrive in the most pressurized of environments. The regular season may be a lot different for him in 2011 than it's ever been before since he has now withstood the rigors of the postseason and come out on top.
Lincecum Has More Offensive Support Than He's Ever Had Before
The 2011 Giants have the best offensive potential out of any of the Giants teams Lincecum has pitched for thus far.
With established leadoff hitter Andres Torres, last year's team home run and RBI leader Aubrey Huff, Rookie of the Year Buster Posey, NLCS MVP Cody Ross and potentially rookie phenom Brandon Belt later in the year, Lincecum will stand a great chance to win many more of those games that were lost in years past due to an anemic Giants offense.
This makes it all the more likely that Lincecum will have the first 20-win season of his career in 2011.
Lincecum May Need to Make Room on His Trophy Shelf
A third NL Cy Young award looks to be in the cards for Tim Lincecum in 2011, as he continues to make baseball history with his right arm.