Fantasy Baseball Reaction: Tim Lincecum’s First Start

The season’s barely a week old, but 2013 has already been an interesting season for aces, or at least one time aces. Clayton Kershaw has been unhittable. Yu Darvish has been pretty spectacular himself, while Jon Lester (of all people) has been a rock. But as Clave pointed out, Sunday produced ugly starts for Cole Hamels, R.A. Dickey, Matt Cain, Yovani Gallardo, James Shields, David Price, Stephen Strasburg, and an injured Jered Weaver.

Roy Halladay was shaky in his first start, and followed it up with a similarly bad second start. But today, let’s take a look at another former Cy Young Award winner’s first start, Tim Lincecum.

Anyone who saw Timmy’s first start of 2013 probably came away describing it with any of all of these words: Ugly, lucky, gutty, clutch.

Having watched every pitch, I’ll say that every one of those words is accurate. Take a look at his line:

  • 5 innings, 0 earned runs (2 unearned), 3 hits, 7 walks, 4 strikeouts.

It certainly wasn’t perennial Cy Young contender (or winner) that we saw from 2007-2011. It wasn’t even the dominant “Freak” that we saw in the 2012 Postseason as a mid-long reliever.

But it was also a far cry from the guy that we saw all too often during the regular season in 2012. The guy who frequently lost hitters when ahead in the count, who had the worst ERA in the league, the guy who just looked lost in big spots. The Tim Lincecum we saw on Wednesday wasn’t that guy.

So, is there anything we can learn from that outing when looking ahead to the rest of 2013? Well, let’s take a look.

Before offering any predictions, let’s take a deeper look at the numbers from Wednesday:

  • Of the 11 outs not recorded by strikeout, 8 were flyouts, 3 were groundouts.
  • Lincecum threw 91 pitches — 46 strikes, 45 balls
  • While the 2 runs were unearned, he had a lot to do with both being scored.
  • 4 of the 7 walks came after the Giants opened a 4-1 lead.
  • Three of Lincecum’s walks came against Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis, and Josh Beckett, the 7-9 hitters of the L.A. order.
  • While it’s not the best stat for measuring how well someone pitched, Lincecum did pick up a win.

It wasn’t pretty. Walking guys is always risky, but when you’re up by three runs, there’s no excuse for not challenging the hitters. Walking Juan Uribe (who sports a .296 career OBP) is never easy, and while Josh Beckett is a capable hitting pitcher, it’s never okay to put your opposite number on base for free.

But despite all of that negativity, I am encouraged by his outing and think it bodes well for the rest of 2013.

Look, I don’t think we’re ever going to see the Cy Young Award winner again. But Lincecum doesn’t need to have his 2007-2011 form to be a valuable fantasy arm. As a matter of fact, when you factor in his strikeouts, he still carried some value in 2012, despite a dismal season.

So, why am I encouraged? Well, let me walk you through a scenario that I saw an awful lot of in 2012.

  • Two outs, men on second and third, Lincecum facing a hitter towards the bottom of the lineup, jumps ahead in the count 0-2. And proceeds to allow a hit. Not a blooper, a scalded line drive to the outfield, possibly to the gap or even over the fence.

If you followed the Giants closely in 2012, you saw a lot of that scenario, or something pretty similar to it.

There was none of that on Wednesday. Yes, he did allow a few loud outs on long fly outs to center, but I look at that as him using the biggest part of a pitcher’s yard. Sure, there’s some luck there, but where the ball is located by the pitcher has a lot to do with where it goes once hit.

Lincecum didn’t have his best stuff on Wednesday, but still limited the damage and allowed his team to win the game without a massive offensive output. That’s something we didn’t even see a lot of from Lincecum when he was at his best. Yes, he was on more often than not, but he’d still have a start or two where his stuff was off and when that happened, the numbers were horrible across the board, even in the Cy Young years.

There was a certain toughness that we saw on Wednesday that makes me think Lincecum has turned a corner from last year. A good sign of a strong pitcher is that he’s able to limit damage when his stuff isn’t at its best. Even if you say the two runs allowed were on him, two runs in five innings isn’t terrible when someone’s not on his game. Heck, if that’s his average start, you’re looking at a 3.60 ERA. Not great, but respectable, especially for a guy with Timmy’s strikeout rates.

Lincecum takes the mound tonight against the Rockies. With Troy Tulowitzki, Michael Cuddyer, and Carlos Gonzalez healthy, they are still a very capable hitting team with young talent. But they’re a much better offensive team at Coors Field, and until Monday had yet to play a game in a pitcher’s park (3 in Milwaukee, 3 in Colorado). But my hope for Lincecum also looks at his next two outings, assuming he takes the hill every fifth Giants game.

Over the weekend, he’ll take the hill in Chicago against the Cubs, and then it’s back home against the Padres. There are some decent hitters in both lineup, but neither appears to be particularly daunting. My optimism believes that Timmy will find a good groove early in the year something he didn’t have a great chance to do in 2012, when he started the year with starts in Arizona and Colorado.

While I don’t think he’ll be the Cy Young Award winner again, I do expect him to be closer to that form than the struggling pitcher that we saw in 2012.

Tags: Fantasy Baseball Pitching San Francisco Giants Tim Lincecum