Is Tim Lincecum Back as a Fantasy Star?

Let’s start with this. I am not simply reacting to the no-hitter that Tim Lincecum threw on Saturday night against the Padres. As impressive as it was, anyone who has followed baseball for a significant period of time knows that in one game, just about ANYTHING can happen.

No, I am reacting to the no-no, in addition to the seven starts that came before it. Take a look at what the freak has done the last eight times he’s toed the rubber.

51.1 42/17 18 57 3.16 1.15

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Now, a relatively quick comeback could be that we’re still talking about a small sample size of innings, and a no-hit shutout can really sway things. That’s fair, so take a look at how he’d done in his previous seven outings before the no-no.

42.1 42/13 18 44 3.83 1.30

Actually, that ERA/WHIP line is relatively similar to what Lincecum did in the second half of 2012, when he had a decent 3.83 ERA along with a gaudy 1.343 WHIP. That suggests an element of luck. But remember something, even at his worst, Lincecum is still one of the better strikeout pitchers in the league. When you can strike out hitters, you can maintain a decent ERA, even if you do allow a lot of runners.

But back to the last eight outings, that is a big gap from one start to the next. Anything above 1.25 can bring you a lot of trouble, while anything sub-1.20 is pretty good. So, the no-no definitely helped his cause in that regard. But Lincecum also had his WHIP jacked up by a few rough outings. Splitting the difference is pretty fair, which would put him around 1.22 or 1.23 over those eight outings, and that’s still pretty good.

But one thing really stands out about this run, and that’s his walk rate.

Over those eight outings, Lincecum has averaged 2.98 walks per nine innings. Also, you can’t claim that the no-hitter helped that. Actually, Lincecum walked four guys in the no-no, so ironically, it brought the average up.

Now, a BB/9 ratio of 2.98 doesn’t exactly look stellar. But looking at Lincecum’s past, it’s actually not that bad. Take a look at his BB/9 ratios in his prime seasons (2008-2011), and see what that did to his ERA and WHIP.

2008 3.3 2.62 1.172
2009 2.7 2.48 1.047
2010 3.2 3.43 1.272
2011 3.6 2.74 1.207

Remember, Lincecum won the NL Cy Young Award in 2008 & 2009. His BB/9 rate over the last eight games is basically right in between those two seasons, and better than he had in very good 2010 and 2011 seasons. In case you were wondering, his BB/9 in 2012 was 4.4. Timmy did struggle in other areas, but that had a lot to do with a 5.18 ERA and 1.468 WHIP.

Much of the talk about Lincecum over the last few years is his lack of velocity. While I don’t mean to diminish that as a factor, I think it’s been a little overplayed. The truth is, Lincecum’s velocity has been in steady decline really ever since his MLB debut, and he was stellar through 2011. Look at those 2010 numbers and realize that that was his WORST season before 2012. How many pitchers would love to have Lincecum’s 2010 year as a floor? An awful lot.

If you look at Fangraphs, you’ll see a relatively steady drop in his velocity since entering the league in 2007, with the exception of the 2011 season. But you’ll also see that he’s still averaging better than 90 MPH with his heater this year, and that is still has a plus-fastball. When you have breaking stuff as good as Lincecum’s, a 90 MPH fastball should not be what keeps you from being an elite pitcher. That hasn’t been Lincecum’s problem.

No, his problem has been the walks. His H/9 innings has also gone up, it was 7.3 from 2008-2011, and is has been just under 9 in 2012 and 2013. Lack of control has a lot to do with that.

  1. It’s a sign of a guy not hitting his spots. If you’ve watched Lincecum as much as I have over the last few years, you’ve seen far too many hits against him when he was up in the count. I’m not talking about a sawed off single either, I’m talking about a lot of line drives. 
  2. If you’re walking guys, you’re also down in the count a lot. When that happens, you have to challenge hitters in the middle of the zone. A 90 MPH fastball is good, but it won’t get by a Major Leaguer who knows it’s coming.

So, back to the question: Is Lincecum back?

It all comes down to the command. If he’s hitting his spots like he has been over the last eight starts, he’s absolutely a guy you’ll want on your fantasy team. The Giants hitters will have a lot to say in what his W-L record from this point on is, but the rest of his numbers should be good. If he’s not, then look for more struggles.

My guess is that these last eight games aren’t just a fluke. While he’s still a rock solid K guy, Lincecum has had to adjust to being a different kind of pitcher over the last few years, and that doesn’t happen that easily. The walk rate is really encouraging to me as a Giants fan, and should be encouraging to any fantasy owners. Over a short-term window, just about anything in baseball can be attributed to some luck, but that doesn’t really apply to walks. If you’re throwing strikes, you’re throwing strikes.

So, what can we expect for the rest of the year? Well, the Giants will have 94 games left to play after the All-Star Break. For now, let’s assume that Bruce Bochy will try to get Timmy some extra rest, which would mean he’ll be the team’s fourth or fifth starter in the second half, giving him 13 more outings, barring injury. How do those numbers crunch?

Lincecum’s Projections for the rest of 2013

81 72/27 30 85 3.33 1.22

That works out to a pretty solid finish to the year. It also doesn’t hurt that Lincecum is in his contract year, and will want to show GM’s around the league that he’s still a force to be reckoned with.

Now, I wouldn’t be that patient with him. If he has a few rough outings coming out of the gate, he could well be another Johan Santana-type, who struggles after a high pitch count no-hitter. But Lincecum is available in about 20 percent of ESPN and Yahoo leagues. The no-hitter and the last few months in general are a sign that he’s worth a risk if you’re in one of those leagues.

Tags: Pitchers San Francisco Giants Tim Lincecum

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