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Why worry about Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants?

By Mark ONeill
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When discussing the starting rotation for the San Francisco Giants in a piece recently, a valued reader opined that, “Maybe Tim Lincecum will figure some things out and become a star again (although I am not holding my breath); stranger things have happened in his career.” Oh, ye of little faith. How could you give up on The Freak?

Timmy’s reliability has emerged as a prominent concern this offseason, especially after seeing him languish on the bench during the playoffs for all but one-and-two-thirds innings of relief. His only appearance (He retired all five batters he faced) came in a mop-up role in a game which had already seen a huge bucket of water sloshed over the Giants, so his performance was drowned out by already existing carnage.

Tim Lincecum typifies the conventional major league ballplayer because no matter how dynamic or clutch a guy can be, day in and day out, each and every one-at different points in his career-ends up struggling. Whether it is a prolonged six-week slump, such as the one Pablo Sandoval endured at the start of the 2014 season, or a more celebrated one (at least in NorCal) such as the Clayton Kershaw double-barreled downer in the recent postseason, or any point in between, rough patches are going to happen.

Preventing inconsistency is about as easy as getting Yasiel Puig to make contact with a postseason pitch, so teams learn to deal with it. How inconsistent is Tim Lincecum? He is as up and down as a ten-year-old with a new trampoline, but unlike that bouncy little guy, when Timmy is up, he accomplishes far more than simply experiencing the euphoria of being high: He elevates an entire legion of devoted followers along with him.

No one can explain Timmy’s popularity except to say that like Pablo, fans are not only willing to overlook his faults, they embrace them.

Fans tend to overlook the faults of their heroes and Tim Lincecum is no exception to the rule.

“Let Timmy Smoke” emblazoned on tee-shirts all over Nor-Cal, was not referring to salmon which originated from Timmy’s home state in Washington, just as Camp Panda was not a summer Boy Scout Jamboree that Pablo Sandoval attended to make new friends and learn to socialize.

Timmy is a complex player with an unorthodox pitching delivery. When he’s on, his performance rivals that of an exotic imported luxury automobile, so when he struggles, he can’t just be towed to the local garage because he needs a specialist. Fortunately, San Francisco has Dave Righetti and he specializes in complicated deliveries.

Aug 10, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum (55) talks with pitching coach Dave Righetti (33) against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

You see, as all exotic imports are want to be, Timmy is only sleek and powerful because of what’s under the hood, and when things get out of synch, it gets ugly. His is no ordinary tuneup and parts must be ordered from places far away, where no English is spoken, so Timmy rides the bench.

But an exotic imported model comes with a guarantee and Lincecum is no exception. The guarantee is that Timmy can still pitch-no one can take that away from him. What he occasionally needs help with are his mechanics and his confidence. There’s a cause and effect thing going on here: Because Timmy gets help with his mechanics, he is then able to regain his confidence. 

As late as July 11th of the just-completed season, Lincecum fired off the  sixth out of seven quality starts, a streak which included the second no-hitter of his career. He compiled a 1.86 ERA and 0.81 WHIP with 37 K’s in those 48.1 innings. Just as this represents Tim Lincecum performing at an unrealistically high level, the counterpart was Timmy struggling to even throw strikes, let alone strikes capable of recreating not only the flailing bat, but his malevolent sneer.

Yes, strange things have happened in Timmy’s career, such as two Cy Young Awards, three World Series rings, and a pair of no-hitters. No, a guy of Lincecum’s caliber does not just lose it, and though he may misplace it temporarily occasionally, it always comes back with the help of his mechanic.

Good thing the Giants have a mechanic who can’t be beat.

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