He’s back. He’s hot. Even when he isn’t on fire Tim Lincecum seems to have regained the pizzazz that made him a phenom for the San Francisco Giants when he first broke in during the 2007 season.
Even on Sunday, when he took the loss after four straight wins, Lincecum surrendered just three runs in seven innings. Up until a little while ago that would have been looked at as an achievement for the still-young-enough (30) right-hander – things were that bad. Between starts, Lincecum is sitting on a 9-6 record with a 3.68 ERA.
An unusual fit
Lincecum stands 5-foot-11 and his wispy body is listed at 170 pounds. When he was mowing down National League hitters with alacrity and collecting two Cy Young Award trophies people couldn’t figure out how he coaxed so much talent out of a frame of limited muscularity.
As always scouts and others were prejudiced in favor of big bodies, assuming that because they have lightning in their arms they know how to pitch. Lincecum did not fit into preconceived notions of a big-league, front-of-the-rotation starting pitcher because he didn’t own a body that could also double as a linebacker’s.
In 2008, Lincecum finished 18-5 and in 2009 he finished 15-7 he also led the NL in strikeouts. Then he did it again for a third straight year. To certain experts that did not compute. Lincecum was chalked up as the exception to the rule, not a prototype. Really, though, pitchers come in all sizes and shapes. Some are very tall and wide. Some are even fat. Some are small.
The bottom line is not always speed, but location. If you are smaller and sneaky and your fastball only travels about 85 mph, it doesn’t really matter if you can fool hitters. Ask Greg Maddux, the 355-game winner who stands 6 feet tall and weighs 170 pounds, who is being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown this weekend.
Rise and fall and rise again
Lincecum was young, appealing, talented and seemed to have fun every time he took a turn on the mound those first few years. The real question is what happened after that. In 2012 Lincecum finished 10-15 with a 5.18 earned run average. In 2013 he finished 10-14 with a 4.37 earned run average. All of the skills he showed early in his career appeared to erode and evaporate. Either he couldn’t hit his spots or hitters figured him out.
The Giants won a World Series without Lincecum contributing too much, but they did not completely give up on him, either. Lincecum is still a Giant, still in the rotation, and now that things are clicking again it seems as if San Francisco patience (so rare in the world of pro sports) is paying off for the franchise.
Lincecum is not going to wind up as another Greg Maddux. For a long time, though, it was enough for him to be the first Tim Lincecum. And right now, with more than two months remaining in the 2014 regular season, that does not seem like such a bad thing to be.