Should We Start Working On Tim Lincecum's Epitaph?

LOS ANGELES, CA: Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants watches his single to score Joaquin Arias for a 1-0 lead in front of A.J. Ellis of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second inning at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

If the Giants' ace doesn't start getting more guys out, he might have to think about becoming an outfielder or a catcher or something, and hitting his way into the lineup.

Mark Twain was in England once, and the news got to him from America that he was dead.

He cabled back to the States, "Hey guys, that stuff on the Internet about me dying is ... well, it's too early to say that for sure."

Or he said something like that, anyway. I can't find anywhere to look that up.

But what made me think of it was Tim Lincecum.

Fact: Tim Lincecum entered the 2012 season with a 2.98 ERA.

Fact: Tim Lincecum has a 5.89 ERA in 2012.

Fact: It's really annoying when "writers" present facts this way.

Question: Is Tim Lincecum pitching as poorly as his 2012 ERA suggests?

This comes up again after Wednesday night's loss to the Dodgers. Here's Dylan Hernandez (via the L.A. Times)

Lincecum's early-season problems persisted, as the diminutive right-hander raised his earned-run average to 5.89 by surrendering four runs in five innings. His record dropped to 2-3.

His fastball was more lively than it been this season, as it sat between 90-93 mph. Entering Wednesday, his average fastball velocity was 89.8 mph, according to FanGraphs.com. His fastballs averaged 94.0 mph in 2008, his first full season in the majors.

The Giants don't know why Lincecum isn't throwing as hard as he used to, Manager Bruce Bochy said.

But, Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly said, "the effectiveness doesn't look any different to me."

He's clearly not throwing as hard as he used to. But he threw harder Wednesday night than he'd thrown earlier this season. Before Wednesday night, his fastball averaged a tick above 90 miles an hour; Wednesday night, it averaged a tick above 91 miles an hour. Baby steps? Yeah. A glitch in the PITCHf/x calibration? Perhaps.

But a step in the right direction, probably. He just needs to take another step or two. While he might never average 94 on his fastball again, he averaged 93 on his four-seamer just last year; to be precise, he averaged 93.1 on his four-seamer and 92.5 on his two-seamer. And this season it's been 90.6 and 90.4.

Which seems like a problem, and probably is.

Before we send a cable to London announcing Tim Lincecum's demise, though, we should probably take note of a couple of facts ... Tim Lincecum's strikeout rate is dead in line with his career rate. Same goes for his home-runs allowed. The only real differences in his statistical performance are his walk rate and his batting average (allowed) on balls in play.

Let's work through the math on the first of those. Lincecum's walked 19 guys this season, which makes for a walk rate of 4.7 per nine innings. Coming into this season, his career rate was 3.3 per nine innings. The difference between 4.7 and 3.3 over 36⅔ innings (Lincecum's total this season) is exactly five walks. Should we draw any grand conclusions from five extra walks over the course of seven starts?*

* Fact: That was a rhetorical question.

The other thing is Lincecum's BABiP, which is .359 this season. As you know, major-league pitchers, whether good or bad, tend to hover in the .290-.300 range. Lincecum entered the season with a career .298 BABiP. Even if his stuff isn't what it once was, there's simply no reason to believe he'll keep giving up a BABiP well north of .300. Last season, Ricky Nolasco led all qualifying major leaguers with a .331 mark. Only five guys were above .320, and they weren't bums: Nolasco, Edwin Jackson, Derek Lowe, Ryan Dempster, Madison Bumgarner.

It's quite possible and perhaps quite likely that Tim Lincecum circa 2008-2009 is gone forever. Those two Cy Young Awards are probably the only two that Lincecum will ever win. But it's too soon to say he'll not pitch in 2012 roughly as well as he pitched in 2011. And he was pretty well in 2011.

And yes, all generalizations are false, including this one.

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