Nearly eight years ago, Tim Lincecum awed the AT&T Park crowd with a blazing 97 mile per hour fastball in his major league debut against the Philadelphia Phillies. While he struggled in that first outing, the diminutive right-hander looked like something special with his blend of heaters and the occasional soft srtuff.
Even in the 2010 NLDS, when he was cruising at 92 mph, he could spot a fastball with nasty, tailing action. His stuff had life. That night, he struck out 16 Atlanta Braves.
Fast-forward to 2015, and Lincecum can barely touch 86.
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It’s not just his velocity that should be a concern for the San Francisco Giants. Kirk Reuter didn’t light up the radar gun, and he remains the winningest left-hander in Giants history.
Simply put, Lincecum is now in his fourth year as one of the most unreliable starters in baseball. He hasn’t had an ERA under four since 2011, and his ERA+ during that stretch is 74 (with 100 being the league average).
When Tim Hudson joined the Giants in 2014, fans were hopeful he would help Lincecum evolve into a finesse pitcher. If Hudson had any influence, it didn’t help. Lincecum struggled to a 4.74 ERA, although he did finish 12-9 that year.
This year, Lincecum reunited with his father to try and turn things around. It worked for a little while (due in part to balls finding gloves more often that usual), but he’s back to an above-four ERA after getting shelled by the Colorado Rockies on Saturday.
The problem is that Linecum had all of his success as a power pitcher, blowing hitters away and not having to worry much about location. It’s not that easy for a pitcher like that to suddenly become a Rueter or Hudson type—you either have command or you don’t.
On Saturday, Lincecum could not rely on any of his main pitches. Even his signature split-change was off.
Since he’s having trouble getting his fastball over the plate, hitters are sitting on offspeed and raking it. The change of speeds is what fooled hitters in his glory days, but his fastball and split-change velocity are not too far apart now, making them an easy read for the opposition.
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Lincecum’s struggles could not come at a worst time for him, though it does help the Giants’ decision-making regarding the rotation. Jake Peavy and Matt Cain are ready to return, and Cain has been popping the radar gun at 94 mph in his rehab starts. Both of their stuff has looked better in Sacramento than Lincecum’s has in San Francisco.
His performance has Bruce Bochy a little concerned as well.
“He’s going to give you all he has, but even with that said, his stuff is down,” Bochy told CSN Bay Area. “I’m a little concerned, to be honest.”
His stuff has been down long enough. Four years is a more than adequate sample size to determine whether or not a pitcher has it anymore.
Make that four years with a 4.68 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and -3.0 WAR.