Friday, February 12, 2016

Thoughts on Tim Lincecum

It is quite amazing that after the Giants made commitments totally a quarter of a billion dollars to just 3 free agents over the winter, the player everybody seems most interested in is one who has not played consistently well for several seasons, is a free agent and has yet to receive an offer of any kind.  That would be Tim Lincecum, whose hold on the imaginations of Giants fans is truly extraordinary.  I have lived through the end of careers for Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Will Clark and Barry Bonds.  None of those transitions caused the kind of mourning and angst among my fellow Giants fans as what we are seeing with Tim Lincecum who also is known as Timmy, The Franchise, The Freak and maybe several other affectionate nicknames.

There have been a handful of watershed moments in the history of the Giants franchise going all the way back to New York.  It probably all began with the signing of Christy Mathewson, a college educated player in an era where the vast majority of players were little more than ruffians.  Then came the signing of Willie Mays ushering in an era that lasted for 20 years.  After close to 10 years of mediocrity and despair following the trading of Mays, came the drafting of Will Clark and an era when many readers here became Giants fans for life.  That was followed shortly by the signing of Barry Bonds as a free agent and the whole Bonds era which included the building of the current ballpark.  Then there was the drafting of Tim Lincecum after a brief but painful downturn as the Bonds era drew to a close.

Tim Lincecum was the most electrifying pitcher in college baseball in 2006, a year of unusually great college pitching, especially on the west coast and especially in the Pac 10.  His Friday night battles with the likes of Brandon Morrow, Ian Kennedy, Greg Reynolds and David Huff are legendary to this day.  Yet, 9 teams passed on him in the draft due to his diminutive size and unorthodox delivery.  The Giants scouting staff led by Dick Tidrow did their homework and grabbed him at #10 and with little concealed glee.  That selection was every bit as electrifying for the Giants organization and its fanbase as Timmy's junior season in college.  Even the Giants players, only half jokingly, quickly labelled him The Franchise.  Matt Cain had already made his MLB debut, but Timmy became the focus of the hopes of the fans.  He did not disappoint.  He spent far less than 1 full season's worth of games in the minors.  2007 was a learning year, but by 2008, he was the best pitcher in baseball and won the Cy Young Award in both 2008 and 2009.  The Giants won the World Series in 2010 for the first time since moving to San Francisco in 1958.

It wasn't just the award and championships that made Timmy such an icon.  It was his diminutive stature, the extreme delivery that required a gymnast's flexibility, the hair flying behind his cap on every pitch, the arrest for marijuana possession and the Let Timmy Smoke signs.  He wasn't just the best pitcher on the best pitching staff in baseball.  He was the embodiment of a bond that formed between the fans and the team that went beyond performance on the field to representing the defiant liberalism of the city and the region whether or not Timmy ever uttered a political word.  Giants fans absolutely loved him and fans of rival teams marveled.  I know I will never forget seeing a video of a Dallas,
Texas based news broadcast from the 2010 World Series when a reporter standing near the McCovey statue on the other side of The Cove blurted out "I smell marijuana!" as if he had just discovered a lost tribe in the Amazon or something.  To this day, after 3 World Series Championships and after several years of declining performances by Timmy, he's still the first name that comes up in any conversation I have with my friends who are Dodgers, Angels, Padres or Cardinals fans.

So, I suppose it is understandable that there is a strong sentiment that despite all evidence of Timmy's best years being long behind him, the Giants should sign him to yet another contract even after they spent $40 M over the past 2 years on a player who produced just 0.4 fWAR on the field.  Hope springs eternal.  While most fans and bloggers admit that signing Timmy to be a member of the 5 man rotation is unrealistic, I have read several who envision him taking on the long relief/6'th starter role despite the fact that the Giants have enough faith in Chris Heston to have let Yusmeiro Petit go over the offseason.  Others even foresee a future closer role for him in spite of that being the unlikeliest of roles for a soft-tossing RHP with poor command.  All of this envisioning is based, of course, on just 2 or 3 postseason appearances out of the bullpen in….2012.

While Manager Bruce Bochy and Pitching Coach Dave Righetti remain open to a Timmy return, the blunt spoken Vice President of Baseball Operations threw out a big dose of reality today by calling a new contract for Timmy a "longshot."  Brian Sabean was diplomatic enough to blame his pessimism on  the notion that Timmy would be looking for a SP role while the Giants would be able to offer, at most, a bullpen role.  More specifically, Sabes said the Giants already have a 6'th starter in Chris Heston.  He did say the Giants would send a delegation to see his long anticipated pitching workout whenever it occurs.  It should be noted that GM Bobby Evans is on record from earlier in the offseason saying the Giants consider the bullpen the deepest part of their roster and the part least in need of upgrading.  So there you have it!  Timmy is not coming back!

Now, before you get all indignant, please remember that Timmy is coming off fairly major hip surgery to correct a degenerative condition in the hip, and a promised pitching exhibition for scouts has been delayed multiple times and still does not have a definite date.  While his surgeon and agent express confidence that the surgery will restore Timmy to past performance, the evidence should lead observers to be less optimistic.  This is not a situation where his performance suddenly dropped due to a single specific injury.  Rather, Timmy reached this point after a long, slow decline that started as early as his first MLB season.  Here are some statistical progressions over the course of his career starting in 2007 and ending last year, 2015:

Average FB Velocity:  94.2, 94.1, 92.4, 91.3, 92.3, 90.4, 90.2, 89.6, 87.2.

K/9:  9.23, 10.51, 10.42, 9.79, 9.12, 9.19, 8.79, 7.75, 7.07.

BB/9:  4.00, 3.33, 2.72, 3.22, 3.57, 4.35, 3.46, 3.64, 4.48.

All of those series regress to approximately the same slope with remarkably little deviation.  Let's stipulate that his surgeon was able to repair something that was not right and he does get some improved function of his hip which allows some improved performance.  Where in those numbers is the  starting point for that, the place he is restored to?  I think we can all agree it is probably not to 2008-2009, and it's probably not even to 2010-2012.

Let's say that Timmy is ultimately willing to accept a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training.  The most likely outcome of that is he will not prove to be an upgrade on currently available options which would lead to one of two decisions:  1. Keep him on the roster over a better option because of his history with the team, which would only tarnish his well deserved reputation with the fan base.  2.  Release him or send him to the minors.  Now, if you think there is angst over Timmy not being signed now, wait until he is released or sent to the minors!  That would be a huge embarrassment to both Timmy and the Giants, an enormous distraction as the team is trying to assimilate the newly acquired free agents and get the season off to a fast start.  Personally, I wish the best for Timmy.  If he does manage to resurrect his career with another organization, I will be happy for him.  The probability of that happening with the Giants is small enough, that I am more than willing to take that risk for avoiding the likely distraction of trying to bring him back.


  1. Ah, the painful subject of Timmy. Cutting this cord is worse than watching Will Clark become a Ranger. And, as much as I'd like to see him hang up his cleats than watch this painful drama, I can't blame him. It's a rare athlete, at least at this level, that gives up before all his options are gone.

    1. Every sports executive who has built a sports dynasty has operated by the principle that it's better to let them go a year too soon than a year too late which is in direct conflict with the instincts of a great player who feels like it is better to quit a year too late than a year too early.

  2. Here's what I think is most likely to happen: Timmy won't be able to make it back to a Major League level of pitching due to the hip. The Giants will bring him back on a 1 day contract for a retirement celebration. He'll go out as a career Giant.
    He may try for a while, but I don't think there's enough left for another team to pick him up.

  3. Honestly, I just can't understand the angst of fans & desire to see Timmy continue to pitch for the Giants. In my humble opinion, I would MUCH rather see one of my favorite players of all time simply move on to greener pastures, rather than watch a shell of his old self take the mound and further diminish my memories of the old, Original Time Lincecum!

    He was simply the greatest pitcher I have ever seen on the mound - he was enigmatic both on and off of the field, and approached everything with such a sense of confident but approachable happiness. There was truly no better pitching staff in the world at the time, and I'd pit those four (including Bum and Sanchez) against any pitching staff over all teams & all times (seriously, look up J. Sanchez's stats that year, even he was incredible). But when Timmy came out in game 1 of the 2010 Divisional Playoffs and out pitched a top-of-his-game grizzled veteran Derick Lowe, striking out 14 in a complete game shutout, I think we all sensed that this was a team that could finally be destined for greatness. Tim Lincecum embodied San Francisco, and was our chosen warrior - And when he went to battle with the rest of the league, we knew there was simply none better than our own.

    Really well composed take here Doc, thanks for the article. It's a timely time to write this ode to a departing SF hero.

  4. Nice post DrB. As you mentioned it makes no sense to spend money to bring Timmy back at this time since they have no room in the starting rotation and they have Chris Heston as their 6th starter.. It will be painful to see Timmy in another uniform but they just don't have room for him on the roster. It was painful losing Will Clark to the Rangers since he had good years left in him.. Although painful to see Willie Mays finish his career with the Mets, at least he got to play in 1 more World Series with them.. It was a thrill to see Willie McCovey come back and finish his career with the Giants, so who knows where the future will take Timmy..