Tim Lincecum was gone. No one had heard from him. No one knew where he was – he had vanished like a mystical creature. It was an odd ending for one of the game’s elite pitchers. He came, he saw, he conquered, he vanished from the spotlight. Yet Lincecum’s career is one that should be studied and admired. Let’s take a dive down memory lane while we look back at the man the Giants fans lovingly nicknamed “The Freak”.
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What Shouldn’t Have Been
There is no reason Tim Lincecum should have been a major league pitcher. This was a scrawny kid from Bellevue, Washington who barely hit 5’11” with just a generous 170 lbs. to his frame. Lincecum had a great relationship with his father growing up. His father, Chris, taught Lincecum his now-famed unorthodox motion. This crazy motion allowed Tim Lincecum to have the plant foot of a 6’4 pitcher at Lincecum’s small frame. It was unheard of for a pitcher like Lincecum to throw as hard as he did while being as successful as he was. Yet, Lincecum defied odds.
Tim Lincecum was drafted 10th overall in the 2006 draft by the San Francisco Giants. Tim immediately held out for a larger signing bonus so his father could retire. Once signed, Lincecum made a grand total of 13 minor league starts before debuting with the Giants in 2007. This was the beginning of Lincecum’s run of dominance. The scrawny kid known as “The Freak” made 24 starts for the Giants that year pitching to a 4.00 ERA, 3.63 FIP, 3.81 xFIP, and a 3.0 WAR. This would be his least successful year in MLB until 2012. From 2008 – 2011 Lincecum pitched to a WAR of 7.1, 7.6, 4.3, and 3.5. These seasons also included leading the Giants to their first World Series in 50+ years in 2010, 2 Cy Young Awards in ’08 and ’09, four all-star appearances, as well as leading the NL in strikeouts from 2008 to 2010.
However, 2012 began a major drop off in production. Lincecum’s ERA, which previously had never been higher than 4.00, now remained there. He would top a 1.0 WAR only once after 2011 and after a failed attempt to come back in 2018, Lincecum did his vanishing act. The true question is, what happened?
What Could Have Been
There are several factors that led to Tim Lincecum’s sudden crash down to earth. The first one being his aforementioned motion. Lincecum’s crazy, unorthodox motion was what got him to the big leagues. It may have also factored in his end. Lincecum’s motion put a lot of strain on his lower half, this eventually led to hip issues. Lincecum would have surgery in attempts to correct it. but he was never really the same afterward. His average fastball went from 94.1 MPH in 2008 to 87.7 MPH in 2016. Lincecum was a power pitcher with a fantastic changeup. However, when the speed difference between a changeup and a fastball is next to zero, that changeup becomes extremely ineffective.
Another possible reason Lincecum’s body broke down was the workload. Lincecum threw for over 200 innings from 2008-2011. That kind of workload on a frame like Lincecum’s likely caused his body to deteriorate at an even faster rate. For example, Madison Bumgarner threw six straight seasons of 200+ innings. Bumgarner is 6’4 250 pounds. Lincecum was a measly 5’11 170 pounds. The wear and tear of a 200-inning season will effect Bumgarner’s frame at a much slower rate than Lincecum’s. It is safe for Giants fans to wonder what could have been if the Giants had given Lincecum an innings limit.
I do wonder what Tim Lincecum could have done in MLB with the knowledge and medical advancements that things like Statcast help provide. However, I do want to acknowledge the great career he had and regardless of what could have been, what he was, was pretty damn incredible.
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