All of the talk around San Francisco these days revolves around one question.
“Is Tim Lincecum back?”
After two Cy Young seasons and two world championship seasons, Giants fans want to know if The Freak is back to his form from 2008-11 after a very bumpy stretch since 2012.
Well, one way to answer that question is to say Tim Lincecum has, in fact, never been better.
After his past four starts since June 25, Tim Lincecum’s stats are as follows …
- 30.1 innings pitched
- 10 hits allowed
- 1 earned run
- 9 walks
- 24 strikeouts
- 0.30 ERA
Now compare that to his best four-start stretches over his career.
July 16-Aug. 1, 2007: 2-0, 26.1 IP, 14 H, 4 ER, 13 BB, 26 K, 1.37 ERA
April 19-May 4, 2008: 2-1, 27.1 IP, 24 H, 3 ER, 11 BB, 23 K, 0.99 ERA (3 scoreless outings out of four)
Aug. 12-27, 2008: 3-0, 27.2 IP, 13 H, 3 ER, 12 BB, 35 K, 0.98 ERA
July 27-Aug. 12, 2009: 2-0, 32.2 IP, 21 H, 4 ER, 6 BB, 37 K, 1.10 ERA
April 5-23, 2010: 4-0, 27 IP, 19 H, 3 ER, 6 BB, 32 K, 1.00 ERA
May 4-21, 2011: 2-1, 29.2 IP, 21 H, 3 ER, 11 BB, 30 K, 0.91 ERA (3 scoreless outings out of 4)
July 9-28, 2011: 3-1, 25 IP, 15 H, 3 ER, 15 BB, 26 K, 1.08 ERA
Aug. 7-24, 2011: 3-1, 29.2 IP, 18 H, 3 ER, 11 BB, 29 K, 0.91 ERA
Clearly, he’s never had a four-game stretch that was as good as his current run in terms of run prevention. In fact, it’s not even close.
It’s also important to note that his strikeout rate on the current stretch is not as high as in his previous impressive stretches.
But also in only two of the previous stretches did Lincecum give up fewer walks than his current streak, and in none of his previous stretches did he allow fewer hits than his current one. Again, it’s not even close.
So is Tim Lincecum back to being the pitcher he was in 2008-11.
No. He’s a different pitcher. But he’s getting the results.
Now some folks out there are still a bit skeptical, and they take Lincecum’s recent run with a grain of salt.
Freak me once, shame on you. Freak me twice …
They’ll point out that with all of his recent success, his ERA still sits at 3.66. Lincecum hasn’t had an in-season ERA that low (after May 1) since the end of the 2011 season.
But consider this. If you remove Lincecum’s two worst starts of the season (April 9 vs. Arizona, 4 IP, 7 ER; June 3 vs. Cincinnati, 4.1 IP, 8 ER), and Lincecum’s ERA drops down to 2.86. That represents 17 of his 19 starts.
Also consider he has posted quality starts in six of his past seven starts (just missing one — 6 IP, 4 ER — vs. Arizona on June 20), and in nine of his past 12 starts. And one of those non-quality starts was when he was lifted after 96 pitches despite throwing five scoreless innings vs. the Cubs.
Yes, Lincecum still has a big home-road disparity in his numbers. But 9 of his last 12 starts at home. So it’s hard to tell if his recent success is due to pitching so often at home, or if his high road numbers are due to the fact that he made four road starts prior to May 8, and only three since, when he has started to figure out how to pitch without being overpowering.
So while the jury is still out for some, we are impressed and encouraged by Lincecum’s recent success.
Will he be the Cy Young-winning super stud of 2008-09?
Maybe not. But can he be a top-of-the-rotation quality starter?
We’re beginning to think “yes.”
Johnny Vander Meer didn’t have to wait long to pop that champagne bottle in heaven.
There would be no repeat of Vander Meer’s back-to-back no-hitters when Tim Lincecum took the mound on Monday against the Reds.
It took six pitches before Shin-Soo Choo lined a double to left on a 3-2 pitch to open the game to record the game’s first hit against Lincecum.
And unfortunately for the Freak, there would be eight more hits by the Reds before Lincecum was lifted from the game in the fourth inning.
In the end, Lincecum got tagged for eight runs (all earned) on nine hits and one walk in 3 2/3 innings. He also gave up three homers, a far cry from the no-hitter he tossed in San Diego nine days before.
So he went from one of the best starts of his career to one of his worsts. It was the first time in his career that he got tagged for eight earned runs.
It was not his worst start, statistically speaking. That honor would go to his April 11 start of last season, when he got tagged for six earned runs in 2.1 innings in Colorado (a 23.48 ERA for that start). But Monday’s start (19.62 ERA) would rank as second-worst if you used ERA as the measuring stick.
And before you start thinking it, Monday’s outing was also not the worsrt ever pitched by a pitcher coming off a no-hitter.
I started research the 273 starts the followed no-hitters in baseball history (I excluded no-hitters thrown by combined pitching efforts), and I only had to go back to 2008 to find a start worse than Lincecum’s follow-up effort.
That belonged to Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs, who on Sept. 19, 2008 — five days after he no-hit the Astros — got tagged for eight runs on six hits and three walks over 1.2 innings against the Cardinals.
Philip Humber of the White Sox got tagged for nine runs in his starter after no-hitting the Mariners last season, but he did that over five innings.
I don’t know if Zambrano’s start is the worst following a no-hitter, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one worse than eight earned in 1.2 innings.
So now, naturally, come the questions of whether than 148 pitches Lincecum threw in his no-hit effort against the Padres played a role in Monday’s start.
Lincecum said no, and I tend to believe him.
“I mean, I felt just as normal as I have in recent starts,” Lincecum said. “So there’s no toll.”
If you’re looking for another culprit, you might look at the eight days off between the two starts.
Lincecum is a prisoner to his unusual mechanics. And we’ve seen him get out of whack repeatedly over the years. And that’s what happened Monday.
“I think just repeating, you know?” Lincecum said. “I wasn’t consistently hitting spots with my fastball so that meant I had to go to my secondary pitches. I think I just used them up a little too much early and let them see them a little too much.”
Also circumstance had a hand in the debacle as well.
Choo’s lead-off double looked like the kind of ball Giants fans had gotten used to see Gregor Blanco catch in left field. But he didn’t and it went for a double.
The Giants then didn’t pounce quickly enough on Derrick Robinson’s clear sacrifice attempt and the speedy Robinson beat it out for a single.
After Lincecum struck out Joey Votto, he got Brandon Phillips to tap back to the mound for the second out.
Then he got up 0-2 on Jay Bruce before, in a very Lincecum fashion, couldn’t put him away and walked him.
That was followed by a hit-me fastball to Todd Frazier, who hammered it over Andres Torres’ head for a bases-clearing double.
The 31-pitch first inning likely led to more trouble later in the game for Lincecum.
Lincecum gets the Cubs at home this weekend, and Giants fans can only hope to finds his mechanics again and gets a little help along the way.
Tim Lincecum has accomplished a lot in his seven-year career with the San Francisco Giants.
He’s a two-time Cy Young Award winner, a four-time All-Star. He was the NL All-Star starter in 2009. He was the Giants’ opening day starter 2009-2012. He started Game 1 of the 2010 NLDS, NLCS and World Series. He pitched the Giants to victory in the clinching game of the 2010 World Series. He’s a two-time World Champion.
But one thing he hadn’t accomplished was pitch a no-hitter.
So I understand how many Giants fans watching the last few innings of Saturday’s win over the Padres with nervous trepidation.
However, I wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t nervous because I just didn’t think he could throw a no-hitter.
Prior to Saturday, Lincecum had just five shutouts in his career and only eight complete games. None since 2011.
So as Lincecum piled up the strikeouts Saturday, his pitch count continue to rise to more than 100 by the end of the sixth inning. At the pace he was on, it would take 153 pitches to complete nine innings of work. And as he had never thrown more than 142 pitches in a game in his career, it seemed as if time was not on his side.
But he found a way. There’s something about July nights, the San Diego Padres, an unlikely pitcher that lead to no-hitters.
You’ll remember when Jonathan Sanchez threw his no-hitter in July of 2009, he had just returned from being demoted to the bullpen when he no-hit the Padres.
Lincecum got 13 of his 27 outs on Saturday by strikeout, most on swing-and-misses. Here are his blemishes on the night
- A two-out walk to Chase Headley in the first innning
- He hit Jed Gyroko with a pitch with one out in the second
- A one-out walk to Everth Cabrera in the sixth
- A two-out walk of Headley in the sixth
- A two-out walk to Cabrera in the eighth
Of balls put in play, there were three scary plays
With Cabrera and Headley on base with two out in the sixth, Carlos Quentin hit a hard liner right at shortstop Brandon Crawford
Jesus Guzman hit a bouncer behind the bag at third that Pablo Sandoval gloved and make a strong throw to first for the out to end the seventh.
Alexi Amarista hit a sinking liner to right that Hunter Pence made a diving, rolling grab to end the eighth.
The left the ninth, during which Lincecum struck out Headley and got Quentin and Yonder Alonso to fly out to Gregor Blanco to set off the celebration.
It was a stirring, 148-pitch gem from Lincecum during a time when the Giants needed a spark the most.
What other surprises does Lincecum have in store for Giants fans during the second half of 2013
You remember back in the spring of 2011 when Tim Lincecum’s steady diet of double-doubles from In-N-Out was all anyone could talk about?
Well, The Freak has changed his ways and now eats a more healthy diet as he tries to recapture his former Cy Young form.
Lincecum appeared to be closer to his old form as he held the Marlins to one hit through five innings. But in the end, those old In-N-Out burgers came back to bit Timmy on Friday night.
Miami’s Marcell Ozuna delivered a game-tying infield single off Lincecum in the sixth and later drove home the go-ahead run with another hit in the eighth as the Marlins beat the Giants 6-3 on Friday.
The win was inexplicably the Marlins’ ninth in a row at AT&T Park.
Just as surprising was Ozuna’s pre-game meal.
Before batting practice the Marlins rookie downed three In-N-Out cheeseburger and three cookies, although some Miami teammates told a different story.
“My teammates say five (burgers),” Ozuna said. “Just three cheeseburgers and three cookies — 3 for 3. That’s a good deal.”
Ozuna, who delivered a clutch two-run pinch-hit single in Thursday’s win, also make a big defensive play when he threw out Andres Torres trying to stretch a double into a triple in the sixth inning.
Ozuna spoiled another solid start from Lincecum, who sports a June ERA of 2.92. Lincecum also recorded his second career triple two batters after Torres was thrown out at third base.
“It’s about spotting the ball,” he said. “That can be game to game, whether or not you feel you need to dig deeper. Today, pitches were coming out with that extra oomph.”
I think it was during a game in 2010 in San Diego that Giants announcer Duane Kuiper first coined the term “Giants baseball: Torture.”
Well, Friday’s game in San Diego felt a lot like 2010 all over again.
Tim Lincecum pitched a quality start (he gave up two runs in seven inning, striking out nine). But it didn’t matter because two runs were all the Padres needed to win this one. Even Luke Gregerson had a shutdown inning.
The 2013 Padres are not the 2010 Padres. And the 2013 Giants are not the 2010 Giants.
But for one night, it looked that way.
The Giants wasted some early opportunities to score more runs, then the hitters went into shutdown mode.
Angel Pagan opened the game with a single, stole second, went to third on a Marco Scutaro groundout and scored on a wild pitch in the first inning. Buster Posey then added a two out single.
The Giants got two more hits in the second, but got nothing to show for it thanks to a double-play ball.
In the third they put two on and nobody out, but the Padres’ Andrew Cashner retired Pablo Sandoval, Posey and Hunter Pence in order to end that threat. It started a string of 19 consecutive Giants hitters to be sent down.
Needing some ninth-inning magic YET AGAIN, the Giants almost pulled it off. Posey lined a one-out single to right. Brandon Belt added a two-out single to put runners on first and third. But Brandon Crawford grounded to second to end the game.
And the Giants wasted a nice outing from Lincecum.
The Freak got into a funk in the second and third innings. He wriggled himself out of a jam in the second, thanks to a double play. And he almost did it again in the third. But a pair of two-out singles plated the Padres’ lone two runs of the game. Other than that, it was six more scoreless innings.
That makes 29.2 innings thrown by Lincecum this season. All 12 earned runs he’s allowed have come in four innings. The other 25.2 have been scoreless. He lowered his ERA to 3.64.
The loss makes three in a row for the Giants. But never fear, Barry Zito is here.
The Giants have won 13 games this season. Seven of those wins have required a save. Two others were walk-off wins. The other two were 10-0 and 5-0 wins with Barry Zito on the mound.
So with Zito pitching, we can all just sit back, relax and enjoy an easy win.
Tim Lincecum is 2-0. He was had a win-loss record two games over .500 in 2012. He was never one over .500. The best he was in 2012 was 2-2 after five starts.
Tim Lincecum’s ERA is 3.97. The only time his ERA was that low in 2012 was after he retired the first batter he faced IN THE ENTIRE SEASON.
The Giants won a game by shutout when Lincecum started. That only happen once in 2012 — on June 27 against the Dodgers.
And the Giants are 4-0 this season when Lincecum starts. In fact, going back to September of last season, the Giants are 9-1 in Lincecum’s last 10 regular-season starts.
So everything is right with Tim Lincecum, right?
Well, we aren’t about to go that far, but Saturday’s win over the Padres was by far his best start of the season.
He avoided the blow-up innings that hurt him against the Rockies and Cubs. And he didn’t put himself in dangerous situations by walking batters, like the seven he walked in his first start of the season against the Dodgers.
The bottom line for Lincecum on Saturday: 6.2 IP, 0 runs, 4 hits, 2 walks and 8 strikeouts.
“I just went out there today with purpose and knowing that every pitch has got a meaning to it,” Lincecum said. “When I can go out there and do that and you can stick to your game plan and know that it’s going to work, it gives you something like a springboard to jump off of, instead of kind of going out there aimlessly.”
The only time Lincecum really got himself into a tight spot came in the third inning, when he gave up a lead-off single to Alexi Amarista. After striking out John Baker and getting Andrew Cashner out on a sacrifice, Lincecum walked Everth Cabrera before Will Venable loaded the bases on a swinging bunt.
A blow-up inning looked possible when Chase Headley came to the plate and worked the count to 3-1.
“I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to walk this guy, I’ve got to challenge this guy and be aggressive,’ ” Lincecum said. “That’s what I was thinking all day. I’m not going to try to nitpick around these guys like I have in the past. Even if it’s down the middle, I’ve got throw every pitch with a meaning and that was the difference today.”
Lincecum ran a fastball in on Headley, who may have helped Lincecum out by swinging at the pitch. He grounded out to second to end the inning.
Lincecum set the side down in order in four of the seven innings he started. He stretched to scoreless streak to 10.2 innings. In fact, he has not allowed an earned run in 19.2 of the 22.2 innings that he’s pitched all season.
Has Timmy returned to his former self? Too early to tell. His next start will come next Friday against these same Padres in San Diego, but we may not get a real good answer until his next start which comes against the Diamondbacks in Arizona, where trouble seems to find him.
But he was on Saturday, and the Giants needed him to be. They only mustered four hits and scored only when Pablo Sandoval sent a two-run home run to right in the fourth.
So when you were in school, did you prefer teachers who graded on letter grades (A, B, C, etc.) or on a strict percentage basis (100%, 90%, etc.)?
I preferred the letter-grade system. Why? Under that system, a failure is a failure. If you bomb a quiz, you regroup and come back next time.
But under the percentage system, there are degrees to failure: 50 percent, 40 percent, 30 percent, etc. If you bomb a quiz under this system, it could take you a long time to recover.
If people use the ERA as way to grade pitchers, the majority of Giants starters are failing. But ERA penalizes degrees of failure, which are very difficult to recover.
If you give up six runs in a game, you’re probably going to lose. So if you give up an seventh run, eighth run or ninth run, those runs generally don’t turn many wins into losses. But they can blow up an ERA.
And it’s easier to blow up an ERA than it is to fix it.
So let’s break down the Giants starters.
First off, we’re going to excuse Madison Bumgarner from this exercise, because’s he’s been the teacher’s pet with his 1.77 ERA. Go out and play, MadBum.
Barry Zito: 4.86 ERA, 9 ER in 16.2 IP
Eight of his nine earned runs came in 2/3 of an inning on Monday. In his other 16 innings, he’s allowed one run or an 0.56 ERA.
Tim Lincecum: 5.63 ERA, 10 ER in 16 IP
Nine of his 10 earned runs came in two innings of work. In his other 14 innings, he’s allowed one run or an 0.63 ERA.
Matt Cain: 5.94 ERA, 11 ER in 16.2 IP
Nine of his 11 earned runs came in 2/3 of an inning against the Cardinals. In his other 16 innings, he’s allowed two runs or 1.13 ERA.
Ryan Vogelsong, 7.15 ERA, 9 ER in 11.1 IP
Seven of his 9 ER came in two innings. In the other 9.1 IP, he’s allowed two runs or 2.00 ERA.
Even if you looked at the team’s ERA, which includes the bullpen, right now the Giants rank 11th in the NL with a 4.26 ERA.
But if you removed Cain’s nine-run inning and Zito’s eight-run inning, suddenly the Giants’ team ERA is 3.08 or second-best in the NL.
Bottom line, blow-up innings are rare, but damaging to an ERA. They skew the numbers. If you look harder, the Giants pitching is just fine.