Few words can describe how bizarre Tim Lincecum’s 2012 season has been. The two-time Cy Young award winner has never had a good footing on his consistency this season and his stats paint a pretty accurate picture.
Despite being better since the All-Star break, his numbers still don’t match up with his legacy. He owns a 5.30 season ERA which has trickled down since being at 6.42 before the break. Granted, there have been several factors in his downfall, but there’s one particular variable in the equation that’s going to ultimately determine how well he does in September. That variable is limiting extremely high pitch counts.
Lincecum has always been a strikeout pitcher. He sports a career 9.2/9 strikeout rate and high strikeout numbers naturally entail relatively high pitch counts. Obviously, it takes a minimum of three pitches to record a strikeout, rarely is that the case though. But the best strikeout pitchers find a way to strikeout double-digit batters while still going deep into that specific game. Lincecum fell in that category for four seasons prior to this year.
In his last seven starts, he has thrown at least 20 pitches in the first inning three times. That number obviously isn’t taking into consideration his terrible first-half trends. But the point is, a taxing first frame dooms him of the opportunity to pitch deep into games. To make matters worse, the first inning is generally the worst inning for Lincecum as he owns an 8.33 ERA in the game’s first three outs. In case you were wondering, that’s the worst mark amongst any inning
Lincecum isn’t the only one who pays for stressful first innings. The ultimate victim in the consistent chaos, is the bullpen. And the bullpen has been forced to clean up Lincecum’s mess on multiple occasions this year, as the “Freak” has pitched at least seven innings only eight times. In retrospect, he pitched at least seven innings in 19 out of his 33 starts last year.
So given Lincecum’s lack of working more than just the bare minimum, the bullpen repeatedly gets taxed in result. Not only does a worn out ‘pen pressure the next day’s starter to eat up innings, but it’s just not a good trend to follow for future usage. Fortunately, the roster expansion will give skipper Bruce Bochy a bit more flexibility depth wise. However, that idea should only be used as a fall back plan considering that Brad Penny and Shane Loux aren’t the most dominant of relievers.
The Giants need Lincecum now more than ever. Yes, that has been said at practically every point in the season, but as we all know, September is the final month of the season. Which means stretch runs and lots and lots of drama for teams still in the playoff race, and the Giants will presumably be one of those teams barring a major collapse.
When the calendar flipped from August to September in 2010, Lincecum, himself, flipped from atrocious to Cy Young form. And no, that’s not an exaggeration by any means.
In 2010, he totaled a 7.82 ERA during August. He rebounded with a 1.94 ERA in September, including a 5-1 record, and in the end, carried the Giants to the World series.
Does he follow a similar script in 2012?
Time will only tell.