While Tim Lincecum remains a free agent, working his way back from last year’s hip surgery, word is that the San Francisco Giants are among the 20 or so teams keeping tabs on the former superstar’s progress.
The Giants have publicly stated they would consider bringing Lincecum back as a reliever, since the starting rotation is set. (Translation: we’ve had a front row seat for his struggles the past few seasons; he’s not a starting pitcher anymore.)
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Who knows how serious the Giants brass is about that, or how effective Lincecum can still be on a Major League mound, or even when his supposed showcase for major league scouts will actually happen, after being delayed several times the past couple months.
MLB.com writer Manny Randhawa has an interesting piece on Sports on Earth about Lincecum’s absence from San Francisco as he works on coming back from hip surgery. The story carries an undertone of how weird it feels that Lincecum is no longer part of the Giants. Which is true to a degree; but in a way, it doesn’t feel all that strange.
Lincecum’s absence certainly is noticeable; if, when watching a Giants game, you feel a nagging emptiness but can’t quite pinpoint what it is, it’s probably due to never seeing Lincecum’s baby face—either framed by shoulder-length hair or decorated with a creepy mustache—pop out of the dugout.
But, save for a little nostalgia, Lincecum the player isn’t necessarily missed. The persona of The Freak had long been dead, in its stead a ghost that carried the same care-free brashness and went through the same high-torque pitching motion but failed to dazzle fans and baffle opponents.
Randhawa’s story suggests that his hip problems, which included a torn labrum and an impingement due to bone buildup, were at least partly responsible for Lincecum’s declining velocity. The two-time Cy Young award winner used to overpower hitters with a fastball that reached as high as 98 mph. But that was nearly a decade ago (2007 was his rookie season), and his velocity became a serious problem long before word of his hip issue emerged last season.
It’s common for a pitcher to lose a few miles per hour a few years after he entered the Big Leagues. Lincecum, however, went from a high 90s fireballer to a mid-to-high-80s craftsman…who wasn’t all that crafty. And the decrease in velocity began years before word of a hip issue emerged last summer.
So, maybe the hip condition was partly responsible for his lost velocity. But I would attribute no more than 3 mph to that. If he comes back with some restored velocity, he’ll probably be operating in the 90-92 mph range, which, considering how devastating his changeup is, might be all he needs to be an effective pitcher again.
And if he pitches out of the bullpen, limiting him to one or two innings per outing and 60 or 70 per season (and thus limiting the pounding on his hip), he just might be able to prolong his career—possibly even in San Francisco.