Once upon a time Tim Lincecum was one of the elite pitchers in the game…

When you say it like that it feels like ages ago, doesn’t it?  Of course, that’s far from the case.  Lincecum was one of the best pitchers in the league as recently as last season and viewed by most as a Top 5 option entering 2012.  So, when you see these types of numbers through 8 starts, you obviously have to be curious as to what is going on:

2 Wins
43.2 Innings
5.77 ERA
1.56 WHIP
48 Strikeouts (9.89 K/9)
22 Walks (4.53 BB/9)
.346 BABIP

Yes, there has been enough bad luck at play (his BABIP as well as his 60.4% strand rate) to make us think that better days are definitely ahead.  That’s definitely a fair stance to take, but we need to look at the other numbers as well.  Unfortunately, there are things that have got to be concerning.

The first one is his control.  Prior to this season his worst career BB/9 was 4.00, and that came in his rookie season of 2007.  In the four subsequent seasons he’s posted marks of:

  • 2008 – 3.33
  • 2009 – 2.72
  • 2010 – 3.22
  • 2011 – 3.57

In other words, we know he has better control then what he’s shown thus far this season.  You would have to think that, if healthy, things would rebound in this department.

The other major concern is two-fold.  Opponents are teeing off on Lincecum, with a 24.8% line drive rate (career mark is 19.3%) and, at least in part, we can point to a major drop-off in his velocity as a reason why.  Just look at his average fastball speed since making his Major League debut:

  • 2007 – 94.2
  • 2008 – 94.1
  • 2009 – 92.4
  • 2010 – 91.3
  • 2011 – 92.3
  • 2012 – 90.0

It’s obvious that we shouldn’t expect him to be averaging 94 mph, like he did over his first two years.  Whatever the reason (if he simply changed his approach), he had dialed it back and was still among the most successful starting pitchers in the league.  However, seeing the drop once again, coupled with the line drive rate, is obviously eye opening.

There is going to be speculation that he’s injured, but until there’s news from San Francisco that is just pure speculation.  Whatever the reason, Lincecum is throwing his fastball softer (though still throwing it 51.9% of the time) and opponents are ripping it.

Would I think that he’s going to get things turned around?  I would, but there obviously have to be a few caveats like if he’s healthy and if he can get his velocity back up.

That said, I’d be willing to roll the dice on him if an owner in your league has grown frustrated and is willing to part with him on the cheap.  If I had to pay a premium for the pitcher he was from 2007-2011, or at least that upside, then I’m not buying.  There is too much risk and too many things that need to change for him to get back to that pitcher.

If I can get him at the price/risk his 2012 numbers provide, then I’m willing to roll the dice.  Unfortunately, based on what we’ve seen thus far, I’m not so comfortable that he’s going to return to the pitcher that he was.

What are your thoughts on Lincecum?  Would you be willing to take the chance on him?  What would you be willing to give up to acquire him?

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